14 Feb Trusting the ebb and flow
This week our fantastic associate Elloa has shared her thoughts about trusting the ebb and flow. Enjoy…
‘A couple of weeks ago, a participant in a resilience workshop shared that one of the things he wanted to practice was to trust more in the natural ebb and flow rhythm of work in his job. That phrase – trusting in the ebb and flow – has stayed with me ever since.
Many people’s roles have a natural ebb and flow in them. There are times when we are really ‘slammed’ with work, rushed off our feet and finding ourselves with hardly any time to pause, reflect and take our foot off the pedal. (Some people’s roles are like this all the time – we’ll get to that in a moment.)
Then there are times when things slow down a bit, with a bit more space, fewer meetings and deadlines, and quite simply less to do. These down times can be just as challenging as the full on time for many of us, particularly in a paradigm that values us for what we do, produce and create. Doing less can bring up a whole host of gremlin stories: I’m lazy, I should be doing more, who do I think I am to take it easy when everyone around me is working so hard, people are going to think I’m slacking off, I’ll be judged… if your gremlins are anything like mine, they will go on and on, the anxiety feeding on itself relentlessly.
Challenging this set of societal stories (stories which I think are very damaging to our well-being and overall personhood) is essential if we are going to protect ourselves against living in a state of long-term exhaustion and eventual burnout. However, it’s not just about avoiding burnout; at Bird we talk a lot about how resilience is also about being buoyant and energised as we journey through our days, weeks, months and years.
That is why I love the image of the ebb and flow – it connects me to nature, which can feel difficult to remember when we spend most of our time running around concrete jungles. The sea ebbs and flows, and the bursting forth of summer is mirrored beautifully by the stark bareness of winter. We need slower times. We are not machines that can keep going and going.
Our working lives have been set up in a way that runs contrary to nature. We show up to our jobs every day for roughly the same block of hours week in week out, with just a few weeks’ holiday a year. For me that’s even more reason to trust the ebb and flow; when there’s less ‘to do’ on our lists, perhaps we can practise allowing this, letting things be, taking a breath and preparing ourselves for the next wave of busyness, which is only inevitably a short time away.
If we work in roles in which we feel ‘hammered’ day in, day out, there might be bigger organisational or cultural issues to address, or we might need to look at our ability to prioritise, set boundaries and negotiate what kind of work we take on, and when we agree to deliver that work by. I would actually argue that in the absence of any inbuilt ebb and flow in our working lives, the need to build this in for ourselves is even more paramount.
Going slower – which let’s face it, still usually means being fairly busy, given the way modern life tends to work – is not a luxury. It is, like self-care, essential. Physiologically, it allows our nervous systems to rest and repair. We spend so much time in the sympathetic nervous system, running on the fight/flight hormones –adrenaline and cortisol. Learning to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system is vital.
Ultimately, I don’t want to look back in ten, twenty or thirty years and feel like my predominant descriptors of this time in my life were ‘overworked and overwhelmed.’ One of my favourite memories from my first job was when I would take a lunch break – even though my colleagues judged me for it, saying, “Ooh, you’re taking lunch again are you?” – and go down to the river, breathing in the air, looking at the houseboats and noticing the taste of the food in my mouth, the feel of the wind on my face, and the way my feet pounded the concrete. That’s what living is about, for me – being a human being, not just a human doing. I remember barely any of the emails I sent in that job, but I do remember and value those lunch breaks.
Here’s to the ebb and flow. To trusting it, even when it feels difficult, and trusting that the ability to settle in and perhaps even enjoy the slower times is waiting for us on the other side of the discomfort.’
With love, Elloa and Hannah at Bird