Building sandcastles

When working in a field where day in day out you are dealing with expected and unexpected difficulties, at times perseverance can and will feel impossible. I am referring to the feeling that your work involves building sandcastles on the shore and seeing them disappear as waves take their toll on them; or as people step on them and announce that you need to restart- for some reason, your masterpiece was not good enough. This is the feeling of working towards one’s PhD, working in a start-up, in social work, event management and so many more fields. It is a common and shared experience of people working in a field that efforts are ongoing, and results might be presented far into the future.

In these lines of work, so many variables influence one’s ability for action. By default, predicting and estimating your capability to create change or results is difficult. On top of this, feedback come to you from left, right and centre. When people comment on things that require improvement, a typical feeling that might arise is that what you have done so far does not cut it. Suddenly, right in front of you, you see a spider web, into another spider web, placed on top an even bigger spider web. Every action is met with resistance, a domino effect that needs sorting out and correcting, and together the cumulative difficulties might feel daunting.

Keeping at it

So how do you keep on going in this maddening process? I say maddening and I mean it. It is so different from our belief that if I try, I will succeed, and that effort equals results. How do you keep going when there are so many things that can go wrong and for numerous reasons? Not the right timing, not right now, not experienced enough, not going to happen during Covid-19, not the right solution, not enough money, not sure, not ready, not until next year.

What keeps us motivated might be our own beliefs. The thought that although the problem we are working to solve might not be permeable to our efforts, all we can do is try. We try solving “cognitive puzzles” by handling them in a new way. Not having a prescribed path, or information to rely on is scary. Trying in the face of difficulties is challenging. Trying when others and ourselves are exhausted by the sheer reality of the issue, can and will feel hopeless. Trying to overcome the many hurdles can result in feelings of helplessness and self-doubt.

Pop-psychology advocates being positive and keeping at it. In difficult times it also highlights your own personal responsibility to “just deal with it” turning the natural difficulties of such types of work as a blaming opportunity. Difficulties are seen as a sign of personal weakness, since all you are supposed to do, is to keep going until you hear a yes or until you are successful. A single yes can change your career, your line of work- or so they say.

Emphasis is not given to the difficulties one experiences in persevering. It is a difficult, often isolating, and exhausting process. No one is there to see you try, or even if they do, do they grasp the difficulties in keeping your eye on the ball? Does anyone other than you, understand what it takes to keep going when your motivation is low or even worst hiding underground? How about all the energy needed to keep handling and dealing with many dynamics, all needing different skills? What about the distress of realising that you need to develop even more skills? What about feeling useless and non-effective? Looking to develop areas needing development requires calmness and awareness. Do we possess it?

You are not alone!

You are not alone in this, and your difficulties do not imply you are weak or that you are doing something wrong. My only advice is finding ways of supporting yourself in this journey. It is your own very journey at the end of the day. Stay connected with the part of you that felt this was important. If by reading this statement you realise that you already feel alienated from that part of you, consider engaging in psychological therapy. A mental health professional can help you identify why you wanted this in the first place, despite feeling that you reached the decision a few lifetimes ago.  Your wellbeing consultant can also help you find ways of letting go and re-engaging with the same or a similar project if you feel that is the best way forward. Through therapy, you can explore your options and act accordingly. Take a rest when you need it. Resting is not the same as giving up. Resting involves charging your batteries so you see things clearly again. Seek people out. Despite the fact that your path is very personal, a lot of people experience this dark side of freedom. You are not alone in this.