Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Stubborn Little Donkey

I have a problem with authority. One of the reasons I stopped working in the traditional sense is that I struggle with the hierarchy of work. I am luckily a very self-motivated person. I can push myself hard. For that reason, my parents seldom had to discipline me. I hate(d) my older brothers telling me what to do. I seldom disappointed teachers for lack of effort, bar perhaps in accounting. That is likely related. School accounting tended to be about learning the rules.

Ironically, I like rules. Games work better with a contract that people agree to abide by. Touch rugby, poker, and many other social games work better when the rules aren’t an argument. What I don’t like is a lack of clarity about the rules. Within known constraints you can be very creative. Fuzzy constraints impede creativity because there is too much umming and ahhing. The wet blanket effect slows things down and kills joy.

In the corporate environment, there is a lot of fuzziness. There is hierarchy but more delegation of responsibility than of trust and decision making. There were lots of occasions when I really didn’t like myself. I can perform under pressure, but I am not a nice person. Not the kind of person I want to be. All the softer, social skills go out the window and I get task focused. It becomes a choice between the task and the person. That in my view is not a necessary choice. There is seldom a reason to rush. There is almost never a reason to put a task above a person.

But the world is not black and white. I could have benefited from less of a desire to control my environment when I ran the 89km Comrades on Sunday. I got angry with about 16km to go. I had the sub-12hour bus hounding me from behind. They took up the whole road. If they caught up, you didn’t become part of the bus. You got swallowed. I was angry with the bus. I was angry because of all the plastic on the road despite the bins. I didn’t feel in control.

I had a buddy with me. One who was far stronger than me. Instead of outsourcing my thinking to him and just doing what I was told, I cut him loose. He wanted to help. I told him to carry on. I just needed to be in my bubble. I just needed to focus. He told me my bubble was too slow. I spoke some French asking him to leave me alone. That cost me the race.

I pulled myself together about 4 km later, but I lost about 10 minutes to my anger. I had been running a steadily slow race, and hadn’t left much of a buffer. I got to the stadium just as the gun went. At the pace I was running, I probably would have finished 2 minutes later.

I slowed down and gathered perspective. The task of finishing was not my goal. This was something much bigger. I had started running to be part of the story of Unogwaja. I had started running to try and deconstruct my identity. How can we define ourselves as ‘not’ the things we haven’t properly tried? I was ‘not’ a runner. I had just run 89km and survived. I jogged into the stadium singing Shosholoza. Savouring the love being poured by the crowd into the runners who had fought their way to the stadium a few minutes too late.

I will be back stronger and more focussed on the things that matter. 



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