This summer has been no vacation for me. Sometime in June I started in my first management role at work, leading a large collaboration of scientists trying to do a lot of challenging work on something of a shoestring budget. Having largely avoided a lot of responsibility until now, I am learning fast! All the collaboration’s problems are now my problems. The most difficult ones are to do with people, and money, and they are difficult to solve. I am lucky to have a very good mentor, who is passing on his long-amassed wisdom before he retires in a few years’ time. Here’s an example: there are many decisions to be made, and my instinct is to let them sit while I think them through - but this, I am told, is not a good idea. Bad things happen in leadership gaps, and so I am to remember, in order of preference, it’s: good decision, bad decision, no decision. It’s a new way of thinking for me, that is not coming at all easily.
My pauses of decisiveness have been longest when there’s a person hanging in the balance - someone who’s career advancement, or quality of work life, now depends on me. I have found myself distracted and anxious, seeking to do something but confused about what, and fearful of the consequences of my actions. Malinda has quickly learned the signs: she’s concerned that I will stroke my beard off when I’m in this state! She pulls me back, to be looked after, and I am grateful. I have always found it hard to say “no” to people at work: I am perennially struggling to finish my to-do lists, because I will put them down as soon as anyone comes looking for help. So I am left wondering more than ever these days, how can I be present with the people who I am now responsible for out there, while still present with myself and my family here? I’m going to need to learn how to separate, to switch between people cleanly, to focus quickly on the person in front of me and temporarily let go of the others - but I can tell that I’m going to need a good deal of practice at this, and some forbearance in the mean time.
This week I was in Arizona for a week-long meeting, working on many of my new problems at once. By Wednesday I was exhausted, and had to beat a tactical retreat to catch up on sleep. On Thursday morning I got up early, moved my hotel room’s patio chair out of the shadows, turned it towards the East, and just sat in the sunshine for a few minutes. You know the feeling, because we all do it, don’t we? We turn towards the Sun, to feel its heat directly on our faces and its light flooding through our eyelids. Held steady in its warmth, I was re-orienting myself. I remembered that this is what summer is supposed to be like: a pause in the action of Spring and Fall, when so many of us living things look up at the Sun, and grow stronger. I should remember this when the fog rolls back in - to pause between the problems to remember which way is up, and to keep looking for the sunshine.