When time is limited

When someone is told (or they decide) that their time is limited, at somewhere or something, I’ve observed an almost primal attempt to do more, fit more in, go further or faster, squeeze maximum effort into the remaining time; that or an almost instantaneous acceptance that time is limited so there’s not much point trying now, accompanied by an inevitable decline in performance/enjoyment/participation*.

One of my most recent personal examples of this was when I decided to quit my job. I had a three month notice period, within that time there was leave to use up and in the end some compassionate leave, but when I resigned I had anticipated, and seemingly most other people had also anticipated, that I would feel an instantaneous relief, that the pressure would fall off and life would gradually return to a more balanced state over the following three months. As it happened my Dad died during that period as well, so I’m well aware that brings it’s own pressures but I quit some months before that and the work pressure didn’t fall off instantly as I’d naively hoped. I’ve been thinking about this period a lot and it seems to me that at the point I resigned, the pressure started to climb (from a level that was already demanding more than I’d routinely hope to give to work, and had done for some time), before reaching a newer, higher peak and then what would have normally been followed by a decline was replaced by more important matters, for me at least, of my Dad’s death.

The simple fact was as soon as my time was limited not only did I attempt to perform most of the duties I’d already been doing (granted I relinquished a few but my workload did not drop considerably at the point I resigned). I tried to finish others that had sat out of reach for some time, I prepared handover and context notes, I met with people who needed reassurance/confidence in the future, I negotiated, brokered and contributed to new business and new bids. I did all of this while trying to support a staff group who were perhaps unsurprisingly delighted for me personally, but with some reservations of the impact for them, and I also wanted to give my time and attention to an exit interview process to ensure learning was captured for other colleagues/the organisation’s benefit. So the pressure and demands just kept growing.

I think I was unlucky in the timings in some way, that I didn’t get to also experience the gradual winding up process, instead that was replaced by family business. I cleared my office out one weekend shortly after Dad’s funeral and then took some time out for a holiday before Christmas. I’ll do more holiday posts in due course and Christmas probably deserves a post of it’s own. It wasn’t a bad one, and I’m not the world’s biggest Christmas fan at the best of times, but there was definitely a Dad, and Grandad shaped hole left since last year. A subtle, but constant reminder, that life is short and our time is limited.

So what I hear you ask. I’ve been so lucky with the support I’ve received from my friends and family, in real life and on social media. I can’t tell you how supported I’ve felt by the contact, the tweets, DMs, messages, the cups of tea, the promises of cake – the people who have not ran in the other direction but have stayed put and gently encouraged me to (re-)engage with life. My blogging has suffered over the last few weeks, I’ve just not been feeling the love for it, or for twitter; two avenues for my energy that have always felt so positive in the past. I think part of the challenge is that I was brought us along the lines that if you couldn’t say anything positive, you shouldn’t say anything at all….and I’ve not really been feeling the positivity (yet). I’ve also not been seeing too much positivity in my twitterstream, lots of people moaning and complaining about life/politics/each other/new business/old business/health/religion/anything else you can mention.

Overall I guess I’ve been feeling a residual pressure, like I’m on high alert. I’ve discussed with a few people the cumulative effect of stress and pressure, from work and my family situation, and the impact that has on your performance and health over time. I’ve spent quite a bit of energy trying to understand where I’m at, I’ve felt quite directionless, lacking drive or energy for most things. Until yesterday, when I fell upon my latest theory, the one at the top of the page about time being limited and it’s impact on performance (and perhaps preference). If my theory re work is in anyway accurate (and let’s be clear it’s my theory scribbled on the back of an envelope, and isn’t very subjective at all), but indulge me, if we go with it then I wonder whether the last few weeks have been my self trying to re-establish an equilibrium. They’ve been about recovery, and regrouping, and observing and identifying what it is, or where it is, that I wish to put my energies next. Almost to be expected really, so I’ve no idea why it’s so surprising.

There were a few catalysts this weekend to remember that time is limited, and that this is no dress rehearsal. There were three articles/blog posts that stopped me in my tracks:

1) Crossword master Araucaria reveals in puzzle that he is dying of cancer – I don’t even do crosswords, I struggle on easy ones never mind cryptic, but as I sat yesterday reading the comments on this article I couldn’t help but feel that what really matters in life is what you give, and you might never know what that is. I’m sure that the Rev John Graham knew he had a talent, and knew he had a fan base, but I very much doubt that he knew before his announcement the way in which he had touched so many people’s lives and given such pleasure.

2) Back for Good from Helen Fawkes – I’ve followed Helen’s journey with cancer for some time now, this is her third diagnosis and she writes an incredibly humbling blog sharing the news and ends with the following I know how I’m probably going to die and roughly when it’ll happen. It’s weird having a likely expiration date. I really hope my Best Before is at least 2023. But you know it’s not the years in your life that matter; it’s the life in your years. Once I have my affairs in order I’m not going to dwell on the dying, I will soon have a new list and a whole lot more living to do.

3) Sad News – Alice Pyne became an online sensation when she wrote her bucket list when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and started raising money for charity. Her mum wrote yesterday: Our darling girl, Alice, gained her angel wings today. She passed away peacefully with Simon, Milly and myself by her side. We are devastated and know that our lives will never again be the same, Vicky. 12 January 2013 #nightnightAlice

All of these reminded me that life, and our time, is limited. Why should we wait until we are told we are likely to die to think about how to spend our lives. Why do we get so readily seduced into thinking that life is what we squeeze into weekends or holidays. Number one priority on Alice’s bucket list was to get people to join a bone marrow register, I’m already on it, if you are healthy and wish to join to you can go here and get a spit pack sent to register, simples.

Alice’s second priority was for everyone to have a bucket list. I’m working on it, going to give it some more thought and start compiling. After all, we all have one life, if ever I was aware of that it’s now. I feel like I’ve an opportunity to consider really what I’d like to achieve/see/do and start doing it now. Watch this space….all suggestions very welcome!

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* This theory may fall short on a number of occasions, such as when exercising or studying – however once the finish line is in sight, nearly every half marathon/10k runner/undergraduate/teenager I’ve ever seen picks up the pace for the absolute final burst

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2 thoughts on “When time is limited

  1. Thank you once again for this post George, you always get me thinking. I have been realising that the highlight moments of my life are rarely those planned but the serendipitous happenings that leave me feeling great. So I suspect my bucket list will never get written but will get filled anyway. I hope so, otherwise it may just be my inability to plan.

  2. A wonderful, touching post George. I think everyone needs to use the time they have not to achieve or pursue more but to focus on the quality of their experience, not the quantity. Being present is, I believe, the most important aspect of living a full life. We don’t need things to become who we are – as much as I love the idea of bucket lists – but rather the deep interaction with people, nature and our the few things we hold dear to us.

    best wishes
    – Julian.

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