I lay in bed last night with lights out trying to sleep and wondered if I might not be better off giving it all away – job, lifestyle, easy habits, lazy routines. It triggered a reflection – where did it go wrong? And so my mind went back, searching for the moment when I went left instead of right?
They were dire thoughts and the product of pain. My whole mouth ached and throbbed, and I wondered if I would manage to sleep at all. Chronic pain is diabolical because it attacks the mind as much as it does the body. It makes pessimists of all of us. When you can’t get away from it comes to cloud your mind and judgement.
I shouldn’t speak too loud, for I managed to sleep soon after, and mid-morning the day after, I feel better than I have for some time. By now, generally, I can feel the ache resonate through my jaw (it seems to have spread), building towards something I can only manage with painkillers. Today, I have awareness, but it merges into the background if I turn my mind from it. Let’s hope it stays that way and continues to improve.
The day after, I still find myself pondering the scattered and hysterical thoughts of last night. I recognise their provenance, but I still wonder if in extremity there is some wisdom to be gleaned?
Work has been on my mind for many months and the source of anger, frustration and disappointment. To some degree, I’ve also been working under duress – from the psychological impact of my despair and battling the combined physical ailments dragging me back.
The simple thought came to me last night: if it causes you so much unhappiness, why do you keep doing it? It seems a very sensible, clear-headed question to ask. The obvious and conventional response is if not that, then what? I can’t afford to live without working, and who’s to say the next job – or any job – will improve my state of mind? It was a tempting notion last night, though, and it is today also. The answer is: I don’t know.
When you’re feeling crook and having such thoughts it’s easy to get into a depressive spiral. It’s very easy to wonder where it all went wrong. How did I get here? And so, very thoroughly, I went back in memory to find where I took a wrong turn.
It’s very easy to nominate some of the big-ticket events, even though not all of them were in my control. There were things that had a catastrophic impact on my wellbeing – mum’s sad death, being embezzled, the loss of my family, and homelessness ultimately. But mum would have died no matter what decisions I made, and I’d likely have lost the other half of the family just the same. As for the others – who knows?
To my surprise, I happened upon a decision I made back in 2004. I was contract consulting at the time and had just come off a job where I had travelled to Hong Kong and NYC to implement a new finance system for a client and remotely supervised the roll-out in Auckland, Singapore and Dublin. I was lauded for the successful completion, and my name must have gone around the traps, for soon after, I got a call from the head of a consulting firm offering me a job – in Brisbane.
To put it in perspective, I wasn’t the conventionally ambitious type, but I was hungry – hungry to do it my way, have fun, and maintain my individuality. I was a bit of a machine and hard at it, and I wanted riches and fame, but I was also focused on living well and enjoying the journey along the way. I wanted only to do interesting things, to soak up life and experience, and learn. Paradoxically, for a guy without a formal qualification, it was a philosophy that had served me very well.
I probably ummed and ahhed and debated the decision, but it seems to me my mind was made up pretty early. It seems surprising now, but I thought I was making the sensible decision. Sensible! I’d never had any concern for that! I figured once I got into a permanent consulting role, I’d be set. I thought it would underwrite my career from that day forward. It was, I figured, the strategic move – but it was also the conventional move, and that wasn’t my thing.
In reality, I left my family and friends for a (dull) city where I knew no-one, the job was boring, and I suffered under the constraints that professional services place on you – every billable minute, every mercenary concept, and a conservative mindset. I wasn’t made for that – I was better being free-range.
I returned after a year and was glad of it. My career didn’t suffer from it – I went on to flourish and make many more dollars doing things my way before I crashed and burned. You could argue it was no more than a blip in the scheme of things, but it was the wrong call, and I wonder what might have happened had I chosen to stay?
Back in 2021, perhaps I face a similar choice. It feels closer than you think. I have 7 weeks of leave up my sleeve, and just the thought of tossing it in and getting myself right, body and soul, before the next challenge, is enticing.