Just before Lockdown my trusty old Laptop failed. One day it just would not boot up. I plugged it in, and it was lifeless. No light, no reassuring ‘ping’ as I switched it on, no whirr of fans as it prepared for action. Nothing.
My ten-year-old Dell refused to wake up!
I can drive a laptop, to be honest I think I am pretty-sharp on some software. But Hardware has always felt like a dark-art to me. Restarting a PC in ‘Safe-mode’ is the absolute limit of my competence and I have an exceptionally low patience fresh-hold when technology ‘goes wrong’.
So, I did what all IT dummies do and took the lifeless machine to PC world. They sent the machine off to ‘the squad’ and it returned two weeks later with a full deposit refund and a report exclaiming ‘beyond repair, components no longer available’. What a nightmare!
Fortunately, I have a good friend who works in the computer industry and is a Jedi of all things ‘tech’! I messaged him and explained my predicament and he was confident he could help. But interestingly he asked me an extremely important question.
‘Matt, prior to it’s failure did you see any signs or problems?’
‘Hmmmmm’, now this made me think.
‘Actually yes. The laptop had been getting hot, really-hot. To the point where it was uncomfortable on my lap. The fans had been making a right noise, so much so that sometimes I would turn it off’.
My friend (and non-paid, but totally awesome advisor) just smiled at me with a knowing look. Then I realised. I had been ignoring the signs. My computer was struggling. It had exhibited signs of change. It was trying to perform but it had problems. I simply failed to recognise or acknowledge the symptoms. Then it was too late. The PC was gone!
Weirdly, I felt guilty. Like some-how I had let my Computer down. It had served me well for a decade and survived gruelling work schedules and deadlines. It had even survived drinking a cup of tea my colleague spilt on it when it was new. This machine was ‘Old faithful’ and now it was just a motionless box.
After guilt I was hit by a wave of anxiety. I had not recently backed up my files. I had been procrastinating and constantly found other more ‘important’ things to do. Now I was worried all my precious files and documents would be lost. I had some precious photos and artworks on that machine and it really concerned me that I had lost access to them. I had even bought an external hard drive for the back up a few months before, but I simply had not got to do it. Sigh!
Fortunately for me not all heroes wear capes and Wayne saved the day. He rescued my data and advised on an appropriate specification for replacement. However, probably the most vital support he gave me through this process was the insight he displayed through his Analytical questioning.
Had I seen any signs prior to failure? … That question was like an awakening in my subconscious.
I suddenly wondered how many times in my life I had failed to see or respond to the signs of forthcoming problems? The noise from an engine that became a faulty alternator and ultimately resulted in a car breakdown. The fence panel that started to noisily move on windy days and then became a flat fence in the blusters of winter.
How often had I not recognised the early signs and what consequences had I bore as a result?
As I pondered these questions, I had a realisation. On some level I had always seen and recognised the early signs of forthcoming issues. Like the heat from my laptop I cannot ignore clearly displayed signals. The issue is in the depth of recognition or thought I then afford to the symptoms. My issue was and is time.
How much time and therefore energy did I have to allocate to these issues?
Rewind to October 2019 and I have just driven for the best part of four hours to get to a customer’s remote farm. It has been a good journey; the traffic has been kind and we had stopped off at an excellent Bed & Breakfast just outside Norfolk for a monster sized Full English.
The drive had gone smoothly, and the time had flown by as I enjoyed getting to know my new colleague. The purpose of the trip was to introduce Rob to one of our larger clients and allow him to see a building up and functioning, full of live, healthy turkeys….. thousands of them.
We pulled up slowly so as not to wreck my low-profile tyres in the uneven courtyard (my car was not the perfect choice for this field of work). We then changed into our compulsory Wellingtons and I phoned the client.
Within no-time we were greeted by the young twenty-something farmer who I had sold the buildings to precisely a year before. He confidently strode up to us and then stopped dead in his tracks. He stared at me wide eyed and for a short while said nothing. Then he pronounced,
‘Wow, Matt, your hair is a lot longer’.
I did not realise it at the time but what he was really saying was,
‘Damn, Matt ….. you look dreadful’.
Looking back, I really did. I looked terrible!
Sure, I was dressed smartly, and my hair was immaculately waxed and styled. But my face was drawn, my beard was showing more than a few signs of grey and me eyes had lost any sparkle they may normally have. I was very, very tired! Until that day however I had not accepted that it was showing.
Without knowing it I had become a walking, talking abundance of priorities with my subconscious scrambling to prioritise everything. Some issues were just simply pushed to the side of my mind, like a Roosevelt matrix of Urgent or Important tasks that I would ultimately think about and then ‘get-to’.
The problem is if you don’t make the time to consider the symptoms you witness then you may not appropriately attach the correct level of urgency to your issues.
One benefit I have felt during lockdown is the sudden availability of time. For the first time in my adult life I have been able to think deeply about various things. Some important, some not so but the process has been satisfying. In many ways it has allowed me to file and prioritise my thoughts. I have been able to get things done and in doing so I have created time and space in my mind.
Now when I witness signs, I am trying to afford myself time to consider route cause and consequence. Hopefully, this will help me going forward to stay on top of life. It certainly feels less stressful.
When I walked onto that farm last year I was not to dissimilar to my laptop. I was burning out. I was not performing as I normally do, and I was outwardly displaying signs of imminent failure. I was heavier than usual, snappier with my wife and kids and unable to see that in myself at that time. I was also not as much fun to be around in the dojo.
Strangely, the farmers surprise at my tired appearance served as significant trigger of self-realisation. I needed to have the emotional intelligence to recognise in myself that I needed a break, I needed some time. I needed to reboot.
Prior to the farm visit I had started taking my Dad to Oncology at Southampton General hospital every Tuesday. These were emotionally draining days. But my Hero would boss the situation and light up the lives of those around him. He is my inspiration!
One Tuesday I was sat with Dad waiting to move from one waiting area to another where they weighed him and undertook some general observations. In this part of the ward I would always read a book as an escape from the environment, but also with so many desperately unwell people it always felt very uncaring to simply ‘watch’ the room, so reading was an appropriate distraction.
The waiting room had three distinct areas. One for people displaying early signs and symptoms and currently undiagnosed, another for those recently diagnosed and undergoing treatment and finally the area where Dad and I would sit for those with advanced Cancers on trial programmes.
For whatever reason, this week I looked up from my book when normally I would be focused on my distraction. I saw a couple in their mid-forties come from a consultation room and sit in the area for those recently diagnosed and undergoing treatment. The Husband was inconsolable and was crying like you do when your emotions completely take over and nothing will stop the flood of outpour. His wife looked solemn but strong and led him to a chair where they sat and hugged. I felt for them. They had clearly just had devastating news. I smiled in a caring yet knowing way and returned to my book to lose myself for another moment.
After ten minutes or so a Specialist Nurse entered the waiting room and called out a patient’s name. The couple who had been hugging stood up and walked to their next important meeting. At this moment I understood the husband devastation.
I had presumed his upset was for himself, but the name called was that of his wife!
Dad was so tired and unwell due to his chemotherapy that he had not witnessed this in the waiting room. But the event kept replaying in my mind. The couple were probably only a few years older than me. It served as an awakening in my mind. Time is precious, people are precious. I needed to create time so that I could prioritise and enjoy life appropriately.
On the way home from the hospital that day we pulled onto the motorway by Southampton airport and I said, ‘Pops, I think I am going to take a year off work and concentrate on karate’. Dads answer was simple:
“Go for it Matty!”.
A few days later I was driving to a meeting with my boss about a few other issues and it was like a switch tripped in my head. I am not sure if it was the events I had witnessed at the hospital or the fact that REO Speedwagons ‘Roll with the Changes’ was playing from my stereo? Either way when I met with my Managing Director I simply exclaimed.
‘I think I am done’ and I resigned.
Since February I have been learning how to live with grief. Some days are easier than others and working is not always easy. But I started small and rebuilt our club’s website. Then I started blogging. Then came zoom classes and my experiments with youtube videos.
I have started to reinvent myself over the last few months as the karate instructor I want to be.
I am building online content to make myself accessible in some way for my students whenever they may need me. In the Socially distanced world somehow that feels more important than ever.
I am being creative again and it feels great. I have creative control over my ‘work’ and it feel so good to get it out there.
I am inspired!
It is amazing the difference a year can make.
So, I beg you. Please do not ignore the signs. If like my laptop you are not operating as normal and perhaps you are overheating. Step back. Diagnose the issue, protect your important data and don’t risk losing it.
If you are tired. Force yourself to take a break. Create time to think and prioritise health.
Inspiration can follow, but it needs energy.
Dad.... I am going for it!
Stay well. Osu. 😊