This is the week many people will be getting back to normal. Kids are returning to school and some parents are dragging themselves back into work with foreboding. Some people will be trudging back into the office, turning off their ‘out of office’ notification and grimacing to see how many emails they’ve got to plough through.
I think it’s probably a good thing that you can’t attach pictures to your out of office as they could make them unbearably smug, such as – ‘Sorry I can’t answer your email I’m snorkelling off the great barrier reef’ or ‘I’ll respond when I’ve got back from the stunning vistas of Machu Picchu’.
If you could attach a picture, the one I’d probably use next year would be the one above. The out of the office could be a little less glamorous – ‘I’ll get back to you when I return from the field south of Bristol where the singer of a Danish thrash metal band is screaming in my face’. This happened a few weeks back at the Arctangent alternative rock festival I dutifully attended with my resident teenager. The singer was nothing if not enthusiastic and it became clear early in the bands set that he was not going to settle for the confines of the stage for long. Rock and roll!
Having worked in open plan offices for years I’ve noticed that some people pretty much cling on waiting for the release of their next holiday. The danger is that a pressure builds for the holiday to be fantastic and restful to make it all worthwhile. This is then followed by the inevitable gloom of returning from the holiday and the comment I have heard countless times that within a pretty short space of time people hardly feel like they’ve been away at all.
I noticed early in my time at the Council when I joined in 2006, way before austerity, that it was characterised by a gallows humour. As I struggled to adjust to my first role, a manager of another team saw me on the stairs one day. ‘How are you getting on?’ he asked cheerfully. ‘I don’t really feel like I know what I’m doing’ I replied glumly. ‘Don’t worry’ he smiled back ‘you’ll get used to that’.
People can get used to talking things down, probably a bit of a defence mechanism. As soon as there’s a cough or a sneeze, some people see an epidemic. When the weather turns people start to grumble. I heard one person this year saying that the nights would start to draw in soon – in July!
I’m sure there’s a bit in all of us that likes a good whinge but as we were reminded in a recent message at my church, words have creative power. The things we think and say, influence and shape things for us and around us. This is one of the areas where I think balance is essential.
One extreme is to see ourselves as the passive victims of circumstances. In this way of thinking we believe we have very little say on anything and life is a series of challenges to be dodged or endured. When we get like this we fail to see that we make choices that shape our lives every day, many of which are about how we choose to respond to our circumstances.
The other extreme is to think we can control everything particularly if we exhibit a constant positive mental attitude (also known as PMA). I first encountered PMA during a very brief stint trying to sell restaurant vouchers door to door as a summer job. Each morning (two to be precise in my case) the troops were given a hyped up pep up talk and sent out to exhibit PMA and sell. It didn’t matter how much PMA I exuded I didn’t sell’ owt and I quickly came to see that the sort of person you had to become to be a good salesman wasn’t someone I wanted to be.
The balance is to see that we have responsibility for the people we are day by day but however hard we try we can’t have total mastery over life. It’s in the day to day I need God more than anything. I believe he offers his presence in the mundane and offers his hope and help so life is about more than survival until the next holiday, adventure or milestone.
On a practical note, I remember the Vicar of St Tom’s in the 90’s saying we should ‘work from rest and not rest from work’. The point where life=work is the point where it’s time to reassess what life is really for. It was for that reason my wife quit teaching this year and why I moved to a 9 day fortnight, which is why I was back in the office – on Tuesday.