Take the stage…

I often mention my job in my posts, but only in passing, usually in the context of it being a nine to five office-based one. I have also probably mentioned how I am becoming less and less engaged with it the older I get and the more engaged I become with my other life, namely the outdoors, fitness, this blog, you lot and general well-being. I used to think that one of the few talents I possessed was in managing to hide it from the people who pay my salary and generally bluff my way through each day. Unfortunately this is not the case. My current job is, by a bloody long mile, the most corporate I have ever had to circulate in. Without dragging my political beliefs into this (a sure way to gamble with respect) it’s not an environment I enjoy or thrive in and has accelerated my disinterest, and combined with a seemingly never-ending plethora of unnecessary meetings, I am well and truly adrift. Put simply, it is not my arena.

A few weeks ago, I had an ‘end of year review’ where supposedly anonymous colleagues tell a supposedly neutral colleague confidentially what they think of me. The neutral colleague then has to break the news. It may come as a shock to the reader that I emerged as a generally all-round smashing chap, except for one thing – I don’t speak enough in the pointless meetings I have to attend. What a flawed character I am. The shame. Anyway, so my line manager (horrid term), decided that, instead of respecting my nature for how it is, I should pick a subject of my choice and be forced to deliver a talk on it at one of these hot-air meetings. I could have told her to stick it, dug my heels in, kicked up a stink – but no. I’m rarely one to back away from an opportunity to step outside my comfort zone, so I accepted. In honesty, mostly when I push my comfort zones it’s physical, so this would be interesting; me in front of a good few people, both in the room and on video call.

I saw this as an opportunity in more ways than one. My first thought was to talk about something that I feel informed about, and enthusiastic enough about so as to come across as engaging and confident. My second thought was to talk about something that would spark conversation and shed light on a me that they didn’t know. I have to be careful there because a bit advice I tend to give out is to keep a little bit of yourself back, just for you, that no one knows and can touch, so the extent to which I was willing to go to had to be carefully thought out. I definitely didn’t want to talk about myself for twenty minutes, prattling on about marathon training and heart rate zones, so I decided to write about well-being in the workplace. Trying to avoid another rant here, but I thought about writing about little (big) tips (or hacks as they’re known amongst millennials and dickheads) for people who either don’t want to discuss their problems openly (despite what the company says is possible) or whose struggles are daily and reaching out to helplines all the time is not feasible. I focused on three things that I hoped would be beneficial tips to people; breathing techniques, screen breaks and exercise. I won’t bore you with the details, but whilst I was out of my comfort zone in one sense, and feeling like I was rambling at a room of blank faces, the reality, it turns out, is that I came across as very articulate, knowledgeable and confident. More surprising was the feedback that my voice and demeanor was very relaxing – who knew. I always thought I had a voice like a goose farting in the fog. And now, just when I thought I had pushed myself and got the experience out of the way for good, my apparent success has bit me in my derriere. I have been asked to deliver the talk again – twice. Could be the start of a short career as an unmotivational squeaker, coming to a village hall near you soon.

Sod it. It’s an adventure.

My Friday morning started as it usually does – get into dress-down attire for work, get on the train and thank my lucky stars it’s the end of the working week. This one was somewhat different however. The normal exchanges with my partner on text were not our usual style. She floated the idea of going away for the weekend. “Great”, I thought. It sounded brilliant. One thing niggled me though, and that was the fact we hadn’t booked anywhere. Camping probably wasn’t a good idea, given the cold weather and approaching storm front, and judging by the places were were looking at going to, hotels were a no-no. Our chat tennis went on for an hour or so, even when I was at my desk, getting the death stare from my boss. Eventually the day ended, and we had a shortlist of places to go, just nowhere to stay. So over dinner we raided a well known accommodation site and found a nice looking solution.

We had a low budget, and didn’t really fancy occupying a room in a house, so our search rapidly reduced and left us with only a few options. Guided by the photographs, I suggested a tin shepherd’s hut on the side of a hill overlooking a valley. Granted, the photos looked superb – clear blue sky, sunny day, greenery and scenery. So we went for it, and booked it. In correspondence with us, the vendor said something along the lines of, “So, you’ve definitely checked all of the information and you’re happy with it?”. Of course we had…not. It turned out, this summery retreat offered no electricity, a compost toilet, and an outside shower. And it was February. And there was going to be one hell of a storm.

There are many times that test couples. This potentially could have been one of them, and it was definitely an indicator as to if we were on the same page. Luckily, we looked at eachother as if to say, “Sod it, it’s an adventure. Let’s do it.” We arrived in fairly pleasant weather, no sign of the impending storm, and had lunch in the local pub. We found our digs and settled in. Just one room – a cosy-looking sofa bed, sink, gas cooker and a wood burning stove. First things first, the stove was lit. Candles lit as it gradually got darker. A few cups of tea, quick dinner and a game of chess later, it was dark outside yet still only 6pm. This is how it must have felt for Victorian farmers. It was perfect to switch off, go off grid and just spend uninterrupted time together, away from people and technology.

As the wind and rain battered us from outside, inside was a warm haven, sheltered from it all. Constantly feeding the fire meant that after a few hours I was down to shorts and t-shirt and we had to open a window. The only brave venturing outdoor we had to do was to use the toilet, which was a composting loo – an advanced hole in the ground effectively.

We had planned to get up in the morning and go for a walk into the hills. This was looking less and less likely as the night wore on with the wind whistling around us and the rain lashing the windows. It actually sounded like we were in a car wash.

Morning came and just like the way we decided to stay in an electricity-deprived tin shed, we decided to head out anyway. An hour later we were battling just to get out of the car with the wind pummeling us from each direction. The local sheep, unfazed by such conditions, seemed to look on amused. All in, we managed a three mile trek up to the ridgeline and back. The high wind on top, combined with horizontal hail, effectively forced us to retreat the way we’d came. The real fun began when we had to get changed in my five-door hatchback. Never before has my yearning for a campervan been so strong. The warm buzz from being exposed to the elements then slowly drying out and thawing lasted for a couple of hours, helped by a Sunday roast in the pub. It’s funny, it’s probably on a par with the buzz I get from a really good run.

I think it’s safe to say, we’re not ones for backing away from adventure. Bring it on.

Lifted.

Everyone needs a break every now and then, be it from a hectic life, a stressful situation or just a multitude of negative feelings. These breaks can sometimes be deliberate, like a Sunday afternoon walk, a meal out or a spa weekend being rubbed up and down by a bloke with an indeterminate sexual preference. Or, sometimes it’s accidental, like a few posts back where I wrote about walks that unexpectedly turn out to be great. An accidental break came for me on Sunday. I’ve had, quite honestly, a testing few weeks, the last two being particularly full on for many reasons and finding myself flung out in the face of adversity. Luckily, for the most part I have stayed true to my beliefs but I’m also very aware of the long-term implications. It’s worth pointing out that this break was more of a break from a spiralling mental state than a day trip down to Weston-Super-Mare.

On Sunday morning, in the grip of the washing machine that has been my life for a while, I had my first running event of the year; the test to see if my fitness has held up over winter. The early signs weren’t good as I was in pain during the warm up, so just decided to do it and see how I ended up, and accept it. Before the race I spotted a friend of mine through the crowd, and was amazed to see he was talking to a guy who works in my office, whom I only know by sight. To put it in perspective, there’s a thousand people at my place of work, so it is a small world indeed. During a brief chat on the start line, my friend turned to my distant colleague and said, “This is the guy I tell you about who runs in the military fatigues!”. My reputation is spreading.

This particular race is cross country, very muddy, and has a very challenging start, with steep hills. Feeling in pain from the starting gun, by mile five I’d consigned myself to the fact that I was just going to have to suck it up and go with it and just float along and see where I ended up. I had an energy gel, moved slightly over to the left to allow runners to overtake and plodded on. Shortly after, my mate from the start caught me up. We had a chat, comparing ailments and apparent plummeting fitness levels, whilst being overtaken by the race’s fastest female (who, incidentally, had a chest infection). I’m not entirely sure what happened after that, maybe it was the energy gel working, or maybe it was a second wind, but either way, I found myself tightening the screw, dropping my friend and overtaking all the people who had sailed past me. Long, boring story short, I finished with a narrow personal best and finished 42nd out of nearly 500 people.

It could have been negative feelings and thoughts pushing me to dig deeper, or it could have been sheer determination. I know that after a couple of weeks floating in a wilderness of self-doubt, ever-lowering self-esteem and wobbling life compass, it was just what I needed to lift me up and help me feel useful and purposeful again. Knowing what I have ahead of me this week also, feeling like I’m standing in the shadow of a huge cliff wondering if I have the necessary kit to get me up and over it yet again. Remains to be seen.