July 21, 2020

“What are you thinking?”


“No, really, what are you thinking?”

“Really, nothing.”

There are moments in the day when I have no purpose. I am inert. I think it might be when I am at my happiest. No pressure, no expectation, no objectives, no consequences. A perfect state of thinking about nothing.

I have wondered if it would be ok to have no purpose. My purpose is to have no purpose. A man who likes to sit with his thoughts, but not thinking about any of them.

Why do we have to be so driven? Why must there always be a goal or a bloody mission?

This a is a role description for a job I would apply for:

“Please be honest and kind. You know what we want and we trust you will help us succeed. Come into the office or stay home according to what is best for you and the work. Do what you can for others, but ask what you want for yourself as well. Work on what feels important, stop doing anything that is not important. Always say what you are doing and why. If people are rude, unkind or unfair, please say. Please never be rude or unkind or unfair yourself. Rest when you are tired, help others when they are tired. Take the holiday you need, but never judge anyone for taking more or less than you. Work is not more important that your physical health, well-being or family. We will be glad for what you can give us, and we will pay you fairly for it.”

I suspect you may think this is Utopian bollocks, but let me share something of the role description that is more typically observable in real life:

“The work we ask you to do has little relation to the job description we gave you on hiring. Your annual objectives are disconnected from your day to day work. Most meetings you attend are poorly chaired, lack clarity and purpose and are nearly always sub-optimal. Around 80% of your work effort is delayed, postponed or cancelled. You are generally under-appreciated. You struggle to take all your holiday. Other people do not pull their weight and leave you exposed. There are people in your business who undermine you and others who creep you out. You think the CEO is a sociopath and the only way to get on is to be his cheerleader. You think the products and services are ok, but you are not that bothered about any of them. The weekend is your sanctuary.”

If I may be indelicate, I think this is a worse kind of bollocks to my Utopian bollocks.

We accept dysfunction as an everyday reality, even though we are bright enough to know it is dysfunctional. Why? It can only be that we feel it is permanent and that we have to accept it, because surely no-one would sit down and invent this shit from scratch?!

I think it happens because when we join a company with optimism and hope, if we see some rubbish things, we do not want to call it out because we are brand new. We spend the first few months trying to make sense of it and why everyone seems to accept it. Then we question if it might be us and perhaps we are being unrealistic. At some point our priorities change from trying to understand if we are right about the dysfunction, to trying to fit in and not be too frustrated or undermined.

Those who thrive and rise to the top in dysfunctional workplaces have understood that the dysfunction works for them. The people they recruit must be like-minded enough to preserve their privileges. Those who are outliers have two options, find a way to cope or leave, but consequently NOTHING CHANGES.

When I sit without a thought in my head, I have disconnected myself from the madness. No purpose. No plastic values pinned to the walls. No “feedback is a gift”, No stretch targets and no tolerating inadequate men using hierarchy to fan their egos.

As I emerge from my state of blissful thoughtlessness and reset to cope with what is real, I am cheered by the thought that kindness brings light into any environment. We are never completely in the dark if we are kind to someone or if they show kindness to us.

However sometimes kindness is not enough. Sometimes we must change things. The structures we think we cannot change are not built with concrete against our bare hands. They are held together by learned behaviours we have observed and followed over time.

We can change this with our self-awareness, our unthreatening enquiry, our offering of gentle alternatives, our believing in our judgement and trusting our feelings. It might not mean revolution, but it doesn’t perpetuate the status quo either.

I would like to see a quiet and thoughtful momentum for something a little bit better, one step at a time.

I think it starts by sitting without thinking and allowing all the nonsense to take a walk without you.

Take care. Paul x

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