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Keep going...and the breakthrough may not look like you expect

We are not yet “post pandemic”. 

Yes, most of us can…. do things now. Visit places which were closed before. See people live and in person. Go to restaurants, museums, parks. Book a holiday cottage and stay there with family. Even hug people! It’s so exciting. 

But the last year to 18 months has taken a heavy toll on us all, and I am seeing it every day in every person I interact with. Online, or offline. There’s a weariness, an uncertainty, a grief we are working through. There’s a tangle of emotions which is riiiiight at the edge and the smallest thing can tip us off or tip us over. We’re a little more anxious or snappy or grumpy or quick to laugh hysterically. 

Some of us are working through it by...working. Almost frantically. Hurrying back to “everything we did before” - the office spaces, the morning visit to a coffee shop on the way, the racing, the rushing. There’s a comfort in what was familiar and an almost desperate need to pretend the last year never happened. 

Some of us are pulling back. Not sure yet about doing the things and going the places and seeing the people, so just...waiting. Feeling a little guilty, perhaps, like we ought to be relieved and excited but we feel nervous.

Some of us are trying to find the balance. Doing things, and then resting. Saying yes to a few things, but saying no to more things than we ever used to. Rising, and then falling. Enthusiastic, and then tired.

I feel like I’m in all of those categories. 

Work feels comfortable - we’ve never had offices (even pre pandemic), so I’m still working from home, like I always was, like I did all through the past year. But I am starting to meet up with some of my team members and clients when I’m in the area, or planning a visit. I like it. And I’m still figuring it out. 

I had a few weeks of Doing The Things - took a holiday on the isle of Mull, saw the puffins, did loads of walking, visited the distillery, traveled the island. Met up with people in restaurants for dinner and for drinks. Had people over to my house for dinner, or went to others’ to visit. Loved all of it...and then got sick for a week. (#notcovid sick, but still felt miserable, like my body didn’t know what to make of all this change and all these places and people.) 

I’m consciously saying yes, and also saying no. I’m trying to think more carefully about the impact each activity will have on my energy, my spirit, my body. 

I’ve started seeing a new counselor. That was hard to do, and also encouraging. I told a friend (and this new counselor) that I’d say I’m in a “high functioning depressive state”. It means I’m still doing my work, and even enjoying it. Writing a book, but slowly. Not hiding away entirely, but choosing that some days. Grateful, and still sort of blank. I’ve got a new me to figure out and we are not there yet. (And that’s okay.)

Breakthroughs don’t happen when we think they will, or in the way we imagine. 

They are the accumulation of small decisions, small steps, little actions and contributions. Hour by hour, day after day, month after month. 

We keep swinging the pickaxe, pushing through the dark and the dirt. The diamonds are ahead, but we have no idea how far ahead. One more swing? Twenty? Are there years of work still to go? 

We don’t know. I don’t know. You don’t know. But I’m wondering now whether it’s less about figuring out how far ahead the diamonds are, and more about pausing to make sure I’m in the right place moving towards the right diamonds. 

Sometimes we push through all that dirt towards a reward we imagined we wanted, and when we get there discover they’re not real diamonds - they’re fake. Or they are diamonds, when really what we wanted and needed was sapphires. (Or turquoise or maybe just slate.)

The past year-plus has been heavy and hard in so many ways. I believe I am, at least for now, in the right place digging for the right things. I’ve gone off on some tangents, into some tunnels which weren’t helpful, over my life, but I’m still moving the direction I want to be. 

I’ve had some hints of breakthroughs, but if I know anything about a breakthrough it’s never as wildly exciting or climactic as i imagine. It’s just one swing of the pickaxe, and a little tiny diamond falls out of the dirt. 

And that’s not the end, either. I don’t pick up that diamond, pick up my pickaxe, turn around, and walk out of the tunnel. I pick up the diamond, gaze at it in wonder, and then peer into the darkness further figuring out which direction to keep digging. I dig some more. A few more diamonds fall out, or none. I turn a different direction. I try another tunnel.

And even once I hit the motherlode, there then will be gathering of the diamonds and cleaning of the diamonds. And how am I going to use those diamonds? And who will I share them with? Or will I sell them, and will I go back into the tunnel or stay above ground for a while? 

So yes, keep going. 

But also….turn around if you need to. Sit and grieve if you need to. Try another tunnel if you need to. Enjoy the few diamonds you’ve found so far. Ask for help. Get another pickaxe. Join a team. Go back up to the surface and feel the sun on your face, and then go back down. It’s not as simple as “just keep going”: it never is. 

Because it happens in pieces. In stages. Quietly, and usually in the dark. 

That’s how breakthroughs happen. 

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