There was a time that metaphorically at least, I laughed in the face of stress. I was one of those “Joy of Stress” guys who leapt tough deadlines with a single bound. Of course, I had no life but I was having fun, or at least I thought I was.
These days instead of laughing in the face of stress, I examine it with the same “You’re STILL here?” resignation that teenage boys reserve for prominent zits.
In some ways, the stress has lessened. I’m good enough at what I do that I’m rarely put in a situation which challenges my competence. Of course, I’m put into too many situations simultaneously but with a bit of focus, I can cope with that. The problem-solving and opinion-shaping parts of my job are still fun and I enjoy the opportunity to develop the talented folks I work with.
Perhaps I’ve been doing it all for too long or perhaps I’m just getting old but it seems to me that I can fill out my diary pretty much like the one in the picture: SSDD.
I think Stephen King originated SSDD in his novel “Dreamcatcher”, leastways that’s where I came upon it. It stands for Same Shit, Different Day. It is not the perhaps the most optimistic view of life but when my energy levels drop and the workload remains the same, it seems an apt summary.
One those days I find myself reciting Philip Larkin’s “Toads”.
Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?
The reality, of course, is that I am fortunate to have a job that pays well and that I know how to do. The rest is spineless self-pity.
Historically, self-pity has been a vice that the Brits try to eschew. Grim determination is seen as a much more appropriate response.
My sister bought me a pair of cufflinks that sum up this attitude. “Keep Calm – Carry On”. This was the advice the British Government felt the public needed at the start of World War II to raise their morale in the event of an invasion.
It was not a widely used poster. It was produced before the British Expeditionary Force limped home from France and before air raids brought death and destruction to British streets each night. Yet it captures a kind of belligerent stoicism that the Brits aspire to.
So I’m going to take the advice on the cufflinks. I will not let myself descend into self-pity. If there is the same shit every day then I will get more proficient at shovelling it and then I will carry on with something else.
After all, what alternative is there that doesn’t require a degree of self-deception that even a bullshit merchant like myself would blush to propose?
Which of course brings me to roughly the same conclusion as Philip Larkin in his poem “Toads Revisited” where he starts by saying:
Walking around in the park
Should feel better than work
And then recognises that it doesn’t. Without work, life is just empty chairs. I’m not quite with him on his final lines:
Give me your arm, old toad;
Help me down Cemetery Road.
I hope that, long before then, I will have filled those empty chairs with people I would like to talk to and filled my days with things I’d like to do.
Until then, I will Keep Calm and Carry On.