Missing the Train?

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These train tickets have been on my desk placed under my computer monitor for almost two years now.  At the beginning they were there because I just left them there, with a vague sense that it might be a while before I take that journey again.  Over time they have come to symbolise what has changed

in the way I work, think and interact with the world since that day in March 2020 when we all began our first lockdown which we expected to last a few weeks, or maybe a month.  On a personal level those tickets were just an ordinary item that marked a typical working week.  An early rise to catch an early train to get to Dublin to deliver programmes to people, many of whom had travelled distances to get to our shared destination. This was normal.

Now as I approach the second anniversary of my last train journey that transported me to a space where I could engage with clients, and hopefully as we move towards a gradual reopening of our society, I find myself wondering about these tickets and if they will become, once again, currency in my life.

The Greek Philosopher,  Heraclitus, is attributed to the following quote:

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”

So what is different now in the river and the man?

The river has been replaced by technology, imagination, trust and challenge. The necessity to travel to ‘stand and deliver’ is still there but the travel is now in our heads and virtual connections, not in steps, trains, bikes and cars.  We are now everywhere and nowhere on the same day.

The man is older, hopefully wiser, immersed in new ways of working and new ways of seeing the ordinary and everyday.

So what will the conversation be in another two years?  This is a personal question and each of us will have different answers, depending on our own river and the point in our lives  when we stand in it.  What have we learned since the river became turbulent in March 2020? What do we want to look for in the river when we step back again in March 2022, or March 2024?  What will the man/woman/person be at each stepping in?  My good friend Barry Walsh, posted something recently on LinkedIn and mentioned the importance of ‘Being, not ‘Doing’.  So what do we want to Be?

Also looking back over the last two years it’s important to consider what have we lost?  What do we miss?  I don’t miss the 5:15am alarm that enabled me to make the 6:40 train, however I do miss the random exchanges on the platform or on the train. I do miss the transition from home to a work environment where I became the trainer/coach/facilitator for the day. I used to call it my Town Mouse and Country Mouse lifestyle!

I miss the buzz of the city and the opportunity for a different place for coffee each time. I miss the handshakes and smiles, the shortcuts I could take on my bike as I navigated from Heuston Station to wherever I was headed in the city. I miss the unknowns and unexpected that occur when we interact with others in unplanned exchanges everywhere.

I have to acknowledge that as a freelancer my relationship with the commute was a different one to those who had to do it every day.  For me it was not a ‘Daily Grind’.  In my work these trips occurred a couple of days each week and it was not a daily routine. However we have all adjusted and perhaps few of us want to have a ‘grind’ anymore?  Did we ever?

What I have learned over the last two years is that becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable can stretch us.  The importance of routine to make the mundane more interesting. The importance of getting up and out. The necessity to become more comfortable with ones own space and place. And the importance of knowing what is important!  Brief local connections matter more. A trip to the shop or cafe offers the chance for unplanned interactions. Listening to others has become more important than speaking to them.

When I work with others who are also working and managing remotely I discover that people can be trusted, productive and professional. Good managers are those who take time to check in, listen and support. An old fashioned phone call can have better pictures than Zoom. Knowing more about our colleagues enables them to ‘Be’, and not just ‘Do’.  Reflecting on our days and weeks helps us learn and improve. Accepting that the answer is within us enables us to ask ourselves the tough questions and to wait for the answer.  Discovering that our next step into the river might be a totally new experience can be liberating and scary at the same time.

At this point in 2022 I have no idea what the nature of my work will be like over the next 12 months. I cannot predict if the remote delivery will continue or if there will be a move to more traditional face to face interventions.  What I do know is that over the last two years we have had gains and losses.  We have had highs and lows.  The work now is to acknowledge and learn from the lessons and to work towards what matters for now. To recognise that the person who bought those train tickets in March 2020 no longer exists as he did then. That train has left, there is a new one approaching.

Mind the gap. Step through. Journey.

Credits: Photos ‘Now” and ‘Just Be’ courtesy of Points of You, The Coaching Game

Note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn on Jan 18 2022