It’s interesting at this time of year how easily we all start to slough off our work personas and begin thinking about spending a week or two with our families, safe in the knowledge that everyone else is doing the same. It’s a time a of year when it is reasonable to unavailable, there’s nothing much going on and no one expects particularly urgent results.
But this is only very briefly during a universally acknowledged break in the western year; by early January everyone will be hard at it again. So what do we do when external forces oblige us to slow down when we least expect it? How do we manage when an unexpected break forces itself on us? It’s all very well planning our work around a forthcoming holiday, a birth, a family event, but it’s the situations we hadn’t planned that cause the big problems.
By their nature, these situations have multiple impacts. A sudden illness, bereavement or accident needs to be dealt with in stages because we can’t plan for them. The shock can make it hard to think clearly and one’s ability to prioritise is almost certainly compromised. Other people have to pick up the slack, inadequately briefed and having, in their turn, to drop things.
In the early stages it is natural to anticipate getting back to normal in short order and everyone is all too willing to help. They sympathise, they ask what they can do. Children get collected from school, colleagues take meetings, things are rearranged. In the longer term, though, recovery can take longer than we expected and it is unreasonable to keep leaning on others. Furthermore, questions begin to be asked about whether you should continue. The world moves on, even when we are not ready to do so.
It is at this point that we have to make hard decisions. We need to be practical about them; rushing back to work when we are not ready helps no one. Furthermore, depending on the cause and nature of the interruption, it could turn out that we are never going to be ready to return to our old life. I often find myself talking to people who’ve come out the other side from traumatic experiences so profoundly changed that their old life seems like another country. Getting to the new place has been a hard and slow journey, involving a number of false starts and blind alleys, but they are usually in a better place by the end.
For many people, this is the start of a Pluralist career. Being able to dictate terms of engagement with the world of work can be hugely beneficial to someone whose choices have been removed abruptly and painfully. Skills acquired over many years in a conventional job should not be wasted because the person holding them can no longer undertake 9-5 work. Indeed, those skills, targeted at a couple of individual roles, can be substantially enhanced if the holder is able to be focused and in control. Whilst most of us would very much prefer to avoid an unanticipated upheaval in the first place, the outcome can be better than you ever imagined.