When March finally dragged itself to an end, I remember thinking that I hadn’t felt as stressed as I did at the time since 2008, 2008 being a nadir of sorts; one that ended up with me quitting my job and heading back to grad school, my version of navigating a delayed quarter life crisis.
So out of sorts and form did I feel that I took myself away to the Starbucks in Union Square, one Sunday after church, ordered the most decadent hot chocolate with cream on offer and proceeded to have a conversation with myself. What quickly became apparent from that exercise was that there were a number of pressure points which were driving my malaise.
Work was one of those. It has been an interesting – if difficult – year. From being dragged into a project at work with strong personalities on both sides of the table and poorly defined deliverables to the pressures of sub-par oil prices on the long term viability of the North Sea business, trepidation has been the underlying emotion I have associated with work all year. With the pressure to deliver upwards of 20% reductions (75% in the long term McKinsey surmise), in order to bring lifting costs in line with prices, cuts in projects were inevitable and more than a few good people had to leave, voluntarily or otherwise. This had a two fold effect – creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, but also leaving one with survivor’s guilt every time yet another acquaintance got the heave-ho. The question of what constitutes appropriate etiquette around leavers remains open, at least for me. Does one call or text to commiserate, or does the ostrich manoeuvre suffice seeing as HR matters are of a private and confidential nature?
In tandem with the work issues were pressures on a personal level; big decisions I needed to make with wide ranging ramifications, spending which was spiralling out of control due to unforeseen circumstances associated with an acquisition I made at the turn of the year, and a sense of cognitive dissonance over my continuing world view issues.
There is a sense in which April, and NaPoWriMo 2015 was perfectly timed, particularly for the opportunity it presented to process the questions, ambivalence and unseen turmoil I was wrestling with. It was hard going, particularly as prompts weren’t necessarily timely for me given the time differences, but all told it helped that I could ‘steal’ lines from La Reine and feed off the Komunyakaa-esque imagery of some of the pieces Tolu put out with challenging regularity.
I would like to think there has been an upswing (small and barely perceptible, but there nonetheless), the origin of which I would have to trace all the way back to a competency assessment interview I had with an outside consultant brought in to assess the team. Going over my background with him resulted in the unintended consequence of providing some much needed perspective for me; on just how far I have come since being the bumbling twenty something year old new hire hassled by a police man all those years ago in Eket, to leaving (and surviving) 2008 and a few detours later arriving at where I am at the moment.
With time, and more reflection, it has becoming increasingly clear that of the myriad of decisions – some of which I agonised over to no end – that have taken me from there here, only a comparative handful have been truly life defining. The first big fight I had with my parents – over the choice of an under-grad major – in the end mattered very little as both options could have led me here. Ditto for the choice between Newcastle, Manchester and Cranfield for grad school. Perhaps the most critical was one I took most lightly, sending in the application for that first role which set me off on this path of pretending to know a thing or two about rust.
I have learned, and am learning that that ad for that iconic Scottish brew Johnnie Walker Scotch just might have been on to something:
Your entire life; every routine, every risk, every moment, every step forward and every step back, has led you here to the next step and it has the power to change everything… Your entire life, all of it leads to the next step. The chance to define yourself by where you’re headed instead of where you stand.
And so, I keep walking…