It’s alarmingly easy to get stuck in a rut, whether it’s personal, professional or with your hair. And once you’ve been in one for a while, you don’t realise how deep into it you are, because it’s become part of the status quo, and you don’t notice the creeping, insidious effect that it has on you.
But when a bolt comes that shocks you out of the malaise – even if it’s only for a moment – the realisation of that effect is startling.
I was recently invited back to my alma mater, an independent, high-achieving, girls’ school. They’re in the process of shaking things up while at the same time being ever higher-achieving which is inspirational and terrifying in equal measure. I went for dinner with the head and a small group of staff and other alumni to discuss the changes the school is making, the direction they're going and our thoughts on the process.
Part of the discussion led – inevitably, I would argue, when any change is afoot – about how best to communicate what they were doing and how and why. Comms being my bag, I had a few ideas, made a few suggestions, and gave a little advice on how they might want to shape their key messages. My thoughts, entirely off the top of my head and in reaction to what I was hearing from the other side of the table, were so well received I was slightly taken aback.
Here was a group of women, more than one of whom has achieved utterly remarkable things in her professional life, first sitting wide eyed in surprise and then becoming thoroughly animated and excited at what I’d suggested. I'm not suggesting for a second that I’m some kind of whiz. Any other comms professional worth their salt and their hourly fee (not that I’m charging) would have said the same things.
And then it hit me. These are people I respect and admire enormously taking me seriously. Listening to me. Eager to say yes, to get involved, to do. They saw me as someone worth listening to.
Which, rationally speaking, I rather think I am. But the realisation that I am good at my job, that I do know what I’m talking about, that my ideas are worth listening to came as such a surprise is enormously telling about the environment I find myself in from day to day.
I’m not blaming anyone, either my colleagues or clients. We’re all doing a job, and sometimes when you’re in the thick if it and it is part of daily life, things get taken for granted. It’s hard to get excited about what's become routine.
But there’s so much to be said for taking a step out of that everyday bubble and getting a different perspective. It’s so important to remind yourself that – whatever the rut is that you’re in – there are other ways of looking at it, and other people who’ll give you their (different) view. And that perspective is as important for the mental health as vegetables and exercise are for the body.
I came away from the meeting feeling that I’d helped, and that I’d contributed something meaningful. But I also came away with a sense that I’m able to contribute something meaningful, which is something I haven't felt in a long time. And that’s something I'm enormously grateful for.