It was minus 7 so I got up early to scrape ice off the car windows. The journey to the train station that followed felt like torture. I got stuck behind a JCB for 10 miles with nowhere to pass. It reached a peak of 20mph and I kept glancing at the clock anxiously. Was I going to make it? I could feel the frustration like a tight knot in my stomach. Every passing moment felt like slow motion. I kept looking ahead, hoping for a clear stretch to overtake. It took forever. When I finally did get past, I felt like waving an angry gesture at the JCB driver. ‘How could you be such a *£%!&$* pain?!’
I left the car and jogged the final 10 minutes to the station. According to the clock, I’d missed the train but adrenaline spurred me on. On arrival, breathless, I discovered the train was running late. I caught it, stepped on board just as it pulled into the station. I sighed with great relief. Yet what a waste of nervous energy. The pressure I put myself under not to miss the train. The imagined exaggerated consequences if I were to arrive late. The risk of dangerous driving in icy conditions. My ungracious attitude towards the JBC driver. The life draining stress of an impatient journey.
How much of my life I live under self-imposed pressure. The deadlines I create for myself. The expectations I place on myself. The determination to arrive on time, never to be late. The avoidance of risks that could lead to a mistake. The drive to do everything perfectly. The unwillingness to let a ball drop. The desire always to do well, never to fail. Such pressures can drive me inwards, close me down, cause me to lose contact with God, lose contact with people. It leaves me tired, stressed, anxious, irritable, frustrated and self-centric. It’s not the kind of person I want to be.
I can almost hear God whispering to me, ‘Stop…look...listen...look up and around you…breathe…’ It’s about regaining perspective, keeping the most important things in view. Not losing sight of the people, the things, the issues, the actions that matter most. It’s about loosening my grip, learning to prioritise, learning to negotiate, increasing flexibility. I know these things in my head, I practice them in my work, but the experience this morning has flashed into consciousness with renewed energy and vision. It’s something about learning to live, to love and to know peace.
It was a long journey home today. 8 hours, 6 trains, 2 taxis and two other car journeys. Incredible to think I was only travelling a distance of 100 miles. When the train came to an abrupt and unexpected stop out in the middle of nowhere, I had that half-surprised then sinking feeling. The driver’s announcement was even more bemusing. ‘We’ve come to a halt and we don’t know why’. I liked his honesty but it didn’t instil confidence in the passengers. People around me smiled ironically, exchanged sarcastic comments and reached for their phones.
It was curious timing for me. I had spent much of the journey writing a journal article on OD. Organisations are, too, places of unpredictability where unexpected things happen and, sometimes, we don’t know why. We set out on a journey, filled with confidence and anticipation, and sometimes weird stuff happens that we just can’t make sense of. Key people leave, team members fall out with each other, processes throw up problems that we hadn’t anticipated, critical systems break down when we least expected it.
It turned out the problem on the train line was faulty wiring ahead. The problem was fixed and we reached our destination, later than expected but nevertheless got there. Organisations as dynamically complex human systems are often more difficult to ‘fix’, the problems more tricky to identify, the solutions less obvious, the implications less predictable. We can feel powerless and frustrated, make premature decisions with unintended consequences, throw ourselves into at actions that aim to restore our sense of control.
We can also experience unexpected blessings, like the person who spoke to me when the train stopped, an unusual moment of connection and humanity, the friendly glances between people as the train started moving again, the fresh sense of gratitude and relief when we finally made it into the station. It reminded me to look for the good things, the signs of life and hope, the unexpected possibilities for insight and relationship that proverbial spanners in the works can create.