As the plane flew in low, the scenery was reminiscent of the West of Ireland. Stone walls divided the fields into a patchwork of small lots, with cottages dotted across the hilly landscape. In the cold sunshine, Aberdeen looked beautiful. I probably do my best thinking on Airplanes. Must be something to do with the fear of impending death. If my iPhone was found in the debris, it would be important that the last message ever written was erudite. Right? Here’s a couple of thoughts that occurred during that flight.
- Love That Job: Aberdeen’s economy is driven by the oil industry. It’s full of engineers and riggers – from all parts of the world – working in tough North Sea conditions, hostile places that we’ve come to know by name e.g. The Piper Fields. They leave their families to earn a crust. The oil-fuelled economy that underpins the mini economic boom in Aberdeen comes at a cost. As the price of a barrel of oil has fallen (by about 50% over the last 2 years), the crews working the rigs have to spend 3 weeks on and 3 weeks off (it was 2 & 2), cutting back on changeover times and travel costs. A tough life. Yet, the people I’ve met at the airport somehow seem happy. Happy to be working. Happy to be earning. Happy to be alive and productive. Any of us that have a job should be happy too. Ok, it might not be your dream job. But it is A job and there’s something to said for that. Some years ago, I worked on a mental health services project with a group of psychiatrists. I asked them: “What’s the single biggest mental health issue in Ireland?” The answer surprised me. They said it was unemployment. Being employed and productive is the foundation of mental health.
Getting Certified: The people who get transported by helicopter (i.e. everyone who works on the rigs), needs to get safety certified. Here’s how it works at the National Maritime College in Cork. They have a replica of a helicopter cockpit. You sit into it, the doors close and you strap in. Then a giant steel arm (the cockpit rests on this) swings out over an enormous, extremely deep indoor swimming pool. It slowly descends. The temperature of the water is the same as the North Sea. Huge overhead shower heads simulate pummeling rain. Adding to the misery, a giant wave maker recreates storm conditions. Oh, did I mention that all the lights are switched off and this procedure happens in pitch darkness? The people get dropped into the freezing water, upside down and then make good their escape. Divers are on hand for those who panic and can’t make it out on their own. I’ve stood at the side of that pool and watched people go through this experience. A lot of them find it so harrowing that they won’t ‘re-accredit’ and decide to get a job elsewhere. So, if you already have a job and don’t have to go through a similar ‘re-accreditation’ regime – count yourself doubly lucky. The grass is not always greener on the other side.
- Do it Superbly Well: One important job related idea is that ‘the best way to take care of tomorrow is to do today’s job superbly well’. We’ve all had modest jobs at different times. Some of mine were particularly modest. On day 1 as an apprentice butcher, I had to bring sheep into a small abattoir in Lucan. For some reason, the sheep didn’t want to enter the yard (who said that sheep were stupid?). One of them bailed off, running up the town and I was sent running after it. Eventually, I caught up with him at the top of town (half way to Chapelizard) and had to bring him back. Have you ever had to drag a full-grown sheep one mile? (don’t answer that question without a lawyer being present!). At that time my goal in life was to become a good butcher. Later on, I tried to be good at some other stuff too. Did it change the world? No. But it changed my world. And, maybe that’s the best that any of us can do. Your job may be modest – but do it brilliantly anyway. In my coaching role many people bemoan their current role and then tell me they want a BIGGER job. Let’s get this straight. You can’t cope with your current role but you will be brilliant when taking on a bigger challenge? Hmmm.
- Face your Fears: Most of us are afraid of something. Public speaking. Intimacy. Hard work. My Lizard brain kicks in when the weather is bad and I have to fly (sometimes I have a mini panic attack and don’t want to get on the plane). Rationally, I know that it’s stupid. But it’s there and has to be pushed back into its dark black box (the Bacardi factory in Cuba has to put on a ‘night shift’ if we hit bad turbulence). But, I still fly and just get on with it. It’s a pain in the ass not being perfect, but after a lifetime of practice I’m coming to terms with it. When you face your fears, it’s really quite liberating.
- Know When You are 92% Happy: Over the years, I’ve seen so many people hit the ‘self-destruct’ button that it’s not even funny anymore. Drink, drugs, sex. Name your poison. How does it happen? There’s loads of reasons. One reason is not knowing when you’re already 92% happy. Why? Because it doesn’t get any better. 100% is a mythical target. Chasing after it is like playing a real life game of snakes and ladders (watch out for those snakes!). One guy I worked with in the IFSC left his wife and ran off with a Latvian underwear model (as you do). It lasted 6 weeks (I’d predicted 4 – so was way out in terms of the time estimate). If you are lucky enough to have someone who loves you, love them back! It’s not that complicated. Don’t wait to make a huge relationship effort -with your 2nd partner!
- Stop Talking: Let me add one personal ‘pet hate’ into the mix. You need to learn to stop talking before people stop listening: I recently met a journalist at an evening function. He wanted to talk and I was happy to listen. He obliged. On and on and on and on. The main theme of his discourse: “How I saved the world and other wonderfully interesting stories”. This is an interesting criticism coming from me. As with all extroverts, I have to monitor myself on talking too much. But, holy Jesus, some people are off the Richter Scale. Watch the other person. If they appear comatose that’s because they probably are. In the coaching world, some client’s keep talking to block out analysis. They ‘use up’ the airtime to avoid any ‘insights’. Why? Because they are fragile and fear that external insights might crush them. In relation to senior executives, sometimes they become so used to minions listening to them, that they start to accept their own PR. Terry Neill, former managing partner of Accenture said: “When you start to believe your own bullshit you’re in trouble”. Ouch! Here’s the suggestion: Stop talking (every now and then) just to see what it’s like. When you get interested in other people, you will never be bored again.
So, that’s it. As the plane comes into land, I’m typing like crazy, refusing to talk to the woman sitting beside me (serves her right for hogging the arm-rest). And, the target audience for this blog is….myself. These are really personal notes, reminders to myself, a game played to stay mentally healthy. A recent survey in the UK estimated that there are 70 million days lost each year due to mental ill health. Don’t be part of that statistic.
As the Scottish Taxi Driver told me – KTF! (Keep the faith).
PS Lighter Note (thanks to Pat DeGuiney)
Q: What did the farmer say to the sheepdog?
A: Get the flock out of here!
The Meal: From Larry McGivern:
Wife: “Shall I prepare Curry or Soup today?”
Husband: “Just make it. We can name it later!”
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