There is always some music playing underneath the noise

June 14, 2019

When two wonderful pieces of music are played over each other the clashing, jarring noise that is the result, ruins both and leaves us anxious for the sound to be taken away.

When both pieces of music are played over each other it is impossible to appreciate their joy, or the emotional response we know we would have, or the care and genius of the composer. The clashing chords, the screeching strings and the lack of a discernible harmony or recognisable phrases, leaves us aching for silence.

I sometimes think about this when I feel overwhelmed by my work. While I am very blessed to enjoy every assignment and I have a fondness and a regard for my clients that inspires me to be my best; I can sometimes feel totally overwhelmed. A recurring dream is of being held down beneath waves, fighting to be free to grab some air. I only wake up at the moment I reach the surface, everything before is struggle, fear and fighting.

I am not overwhelmed because I am not useful, or because I lack experience or the expertise to do my work, I struggle because I am in effect trying to listen to too many different pieces of music at the same time.

Before I knew better, my typical response to the noise, was to go faster. I had to push through and keep going until the noise abated. I would tell myself to just work longer and later, because in the end pressing “send” was the only relief. Sometimes I would even work through the night because I was certain the noise would go away if everything got done; to sleep was to postpone.

The truth is of course, that there is never a time when everything gets done. The truth is that the noise does not go away if our only response to it is by punishing our minds, bodies and families.

If we are defined by the number of hours that we work, we can only improve by doing more. If we are defined by being louder than the noise, we never value the silence. If we are defined by surviving in a hostile environment, we will eventually fail.

The need is not to work through the noise, the need is to hear the music; and to hear the music we have to make space and time. A time to breathe, time to unwind, time to share the company of the people we love, time to reflect and think and create. Time for ourselves.

At least one day a week now, and preferably two, I do not travel. I am happy to have calls and to have a busy full day, but I am not going to commute, or drive for hours or get on a plane.

I do not believe being constantly connected serves any useful purpose. I therefore make time every day when I am not connected. I do not have a smart phone. I turn off my dear old Nokia when I am with people, because I want to listen to them not to the “ping” of messages or calls.

In meetings I write notes in my trusty Moleskine notebook, rather than tap into a laptop or screen. I believe my subsequent reflection on the words I have written (along with the doodles and pointy arrows) is a better way for me to understand my thoughts.

If I can, I will walk between meetings with time to stroll. I do not want to arrive flustered and rushed, but instead I want to arrive feeling calm and ready with my thoughts to share.

In any week, as much as I love my work, I want to have something to look forward to that is a thing just for me. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but a couple of hours watching some county cricket, or breakfast with a dear friend, or some jazz or perhaps some writing (like this).

If we are not careful the weeks, months and whole years can spin by in a blur of deadlines and calls and meetings that we cannot even remember. The key for me, and the thing I need most, is therefore the pause. The interruption of the noise, with time that is placed, deliberate and calming.

The pause that enables me to disentangle the cacophony of sounds so that I may once again relish the beauty of the music and not be assaulted by the noise.

I know I am blessed and I truly believe I am the luckiest man I know, but that doesn’t mean, frankly, that I won’t fuck it up if I don’t find the time to pause and allow the music to be heard.

Take care. Paul

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