And just like that, we've reached the end of 2022. As usual, the year that has passed has had its fair share of ups and downs. Except I don't remember too much of them. Mostly because I was too busy working.
I reflected on this, particularly on Christmas day when we were all together as a family unit, where the kids threw presents at each other, rather enthusiastically I might add. During this time, I remembered that they're not really kids anymore. And that as we all move forward, full family gatherings such as the one that we just had would most likely become fewer.
It was an apt reminder of just how precious time actually is. How every moment matters and how important it is to spend the time we have wisely.
Purpose. Doing something to make the world a better place. It's something I've been chasing for a while now to make life feel more meaningful. Especially since the kids have gained their independence. And the older they get, the more I realise how quickly time keeps marching forward, irrespective of whether or not we've done a good job of whatever it is that we're attempting to accomplish.
Recently, I actually changed my tag line on LinkedIn to "Working on a variety of things to make the world a better place". Mostly because I wasn't particularly fond of the one that the marketing consultants had asked me to change it to. It didn't feel real, or at least, it wasn't a reflection of me.
Truth be told, I'd prefer to go back to my original one: "Breaking bikes since 1980". Perhaps not the professional image I should be putting out, but realistically who really cares. At least it's real.
With that thought in mind, I'll say that I haven't been entirely convinced that the path I've taken since leaving my job helping people with disabilities has been a more purposeful road. And while I was reflecting, I've been questioning whether I've done any meaningful good in the world.
Someone actually called me out on the LinkedIn tagged line. They asked me what it was that I was doing to help make the world a better place. I thought it was a very good question.
I answered by mentioning that in the day job, I was guiding a business to help industry reduce energy and resource consumption - that's been the company vision for a while now. And personally, I was raising funds for a charity by holding guided mountain bike tours. The person that asked the question didn't respond.
And at about the same time, on a different social media platform someone questioned the intent and validity of one of the mountain bike tours I'd set up to help raise money for Baby Give Back. In a group forum - power to the people and all that.
I didn't bother responding to that post. I've always felt like you'll get opinions on both sides. And sure enough, there were people that didn't think that I should be doing the tours, some mistaking the charity rides as a commercial venture, although I'm not sure how. Others just didn't want me taking groups into their "secret" trails.
Isn't it interesting how there always seems to be a section of humanity that feels the need to question your intentions?
On the flip side, there were people that stood up for what I was doing. Actually, they stood up for me personally, which I'm honoured that people would take the time to do.
But it does, more often than not, make me wonder whether some of the things that I do are actually making a difference and are worthwhile doing. Because there is always a price to pay, and no good deed goes unpunished.
I'm often mistaken as an optimist, a positive person who has the ability to motivate and perhaps occasionally even inspire others. In reality, as least from my perspective, I am a pessimist. I've failed at so much and have had so many things go wrong in my life that I don't worry about things not working out - I expect them to go wrong.
I am however, as my wife will tell, incredibly stubborn, as is befitting the temperament of a Capricorn. Pessimism, stubbornness, and a vast library of failure based experiences make for an interesting combination. When you don't think things will work out, but refuse to give in and have a pretty good idea of a lot of the things that can go wrong, you can actually figure out ways of making things happen. Which is a very different perspective to hoping for things to go right.
Taking responsibility and accountability to make sure something does happen is a very different mindset.
For example, after having crashed every which way from Sunday on my mountain bike, when it comes to coaching people on how to stay up right on two wheels, I'm pretty confident in my instruction because I have a very good understanding of the type of situations that might cause people to panic and what to do in those scenarios. Don't worry, some things still occasionally go wrong... so my pessimism is still somewhat warranted.
My time on the trails, initially falling off mountain bikes at high speed before moving onto helping others not do that (the falling off part - I still help people ride faster), has helped me to understand a lot about the human learning experience. The awe of the accomplishment of others, the thrill in achieving something new, the fear of messing up, especially in front of a group of people, and the consequences of getting things wrong.
Rocks, trees and gravity can be very scary. And unforgiving.
For so many people, it's fear that prevents them from learning, from being able to progress and move forward. Fear of getting physically hurt, fear of failing to do something well, fear of appearing to be a fool in front of others, fear of things being hard, fear of everything in the future that could go wrong.
Fear of things that haven't happened. Or maybe they've happened before, creating the fear in the first place.
Anchoring yourself to past events, to the safety of what you believe you know, because you're afraid of what might happen if you do something else, is a sure fire way of stopping yourself from growing. Sometimes, we choose not to grow because we're happy and comfortable with where we are, with who we are. More often than not, we choose to avoid growth because we're afraid.
And if you think about it, being afraid is a pretty stupid reason to not want to grow. At least, that is what I personally believe.
Don't get me wrong. In some cases, there are very real dangers present to be mindful of when you're attempting something new. But in these situations, it's about managing risk, and taking a route which helps to minimise the chances of something going catastrophically wrong.
Which leads me to thinking about the resurgence of my "professional" journey, being back in a management job after almost a decade of working with Kerry in a variety of lifestyle businesses. The corporate world isn't something I'm a stranger too. But it's also a place I swore I would never return to, for a number of reasons.
But return I did, believing that I should perhaps use some of the random skills I have acquired over the years to do more for the world than I could achieve by myself. It's the sort of idealistic thinking I had from my younger years, tempered with the experiences of life that give you a fair dose of humility as you have to struggle through life. Until you realise that the struggle is part of life, and you accept that as normal.
The company I joined wasn't quite what I had expected it to be, once I managed to see its inner workings. Perhaps they never really are.
And after three years of pushing hard to help transform the company into an organisation that could have a really meaningful impact on the world, I ended 2022 wondering whether I had wasted my time. Because as close as I and the others in the business believe we are to creating something meaningful, the effort exerted to date has not been inconsequential. And I was really, really tired.
On the other side of the coin, being so close I also have to wonder why I just wouldn't push on. Is my stubbornness actually finite? Or is there a hidden fear that I've needed to surface and come to terms with?
The answer, it turns out after the holiday reflection period, is how I'm spending my time. Over these last few years, I've spent far too much time working doing the job. The occasional 60 hour week is something that probably comes with the territory. When it because the norm rather than the exception - well, I've had many, many people, including the Board of Directors, telling me I need to work less.
All that time spent on the job, along with having to recover from it, because it has been somewhat all consuming, has meant I've neglected many other aspects of my life, and those people that are important to me. Yes, I'm always there for them when they need me - but my time for them shouldn't just be restricted to those moments. Particularly because time passes so quickly.
But what does one do when they're presented with what appears to be an impossible problem - in this case working in a job that seems to need more time than is reasonably available. It's a problem that to date, hasn't been able to be solved by anyone I work with.
It wouldn't be an impossible problem otherwise.
What I've realised through my reflections is that the time problem is actually something that has a few dimensions to it. Firstly, there is my tendency to go as hard as I can for as long as I can to get a job done - the literal bull dozer approach. That is simply a choice that I make, to prioritise the job over other things - because balance in my life has always been something I've been terrible at. And it's a skill I really need to work on.
There are also my side activities, things that I'm passionate about such mountain biking, coaching, photography and writing. I always feel like these activities take up too much of my spare time. But the reality is that it's the job that takes up the time, which makes doing the things I love doing a chore. I plan to continue helping people through mountain biking as much as I have in 2022, but think of it less as work and more as something I love doing. But to do that, I'll need more time.
Which leads to the job with the impossible problem of needing more time than I'm able to give it to get the business to where we all want it to be. Except that I think I've been approaching this particular problem using traditional thinking. And generally speaking, that is not why people want me doing a job in the first place.
That tendency to challenge the status quo, to see different, better ways of doing things, to figure out new and better ways of achieving outcomes - that's generally why I end up where I do. I'd lost sight of that over the last few years. Instead, I've allowed myself to be influenced by a bombardment of "the best way of doing" things from a variety of sources.
It's time to allow myself to be me, in all aspects of my life. To follow a road that is distinctly different, to change the status quo and rewrite the rules for the better.
There are of course easier paths. But what is there to learn from doing something that I and others can already o? As Robert Frost once said in a poem, Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.
Time to do things differently, to not be afraid of wasting time but to make the most of it, no matter the outcome. As my personal quote goes: I do the difficult now. The impossible will take a little bit longer.