Always drinking in the last chance saloon?

Yesterday afternoon, after losing 1-0 to Everton, Chelsea Football Club sacked their manager Carlo Ancelotti.  On those facts alone some of you may wonder why I’m writing this. Actually, most of you will wonder why I am a) writing about Chelsea and b) doing so with some concern for their manager. I am no Chelsea fan and indeed my interest in football has waned to its lowest ever ebb despite the relative success of my own team this season.  However, looking at the bigger picture this one incident is symptomatic of the world around us.  Ancelotti led Chelsea to a league and cup double in his first season in charge last year and though there has been no silverware for the club this year they have still finished 2nd in the World’s richest football. No mean feat when you think about it (however many millions are spent doing this). According to the BBC a club statement read: “This season’s performances have fallen short of expectations and the club feels the time is right to make this change ahead of next season’s preparations.” Which makes you think that with expectations that high one can only succeed in failing. 

Football isn’t the only arena in which these expectations are meted out.  As I indicated at the end of last year, cycling has its own obsessions with unqualified success and in doing so places perhaps undue pressure on  its own protagonists.  But it doesn’t stop there. Our work lives are seemingly ruled by the pursuit of “continuing success”, our economies driven by not only continued growth but an expectation that it will be growth above a particular rate. Our sights are set on the “top”, however those at the top might define it. I know from first hand experience about working in an environment which strives for “world class”. All of us, it seem, are only one drink away from the last chance saloon.

I also know from first hand experience how that “world class” tends to ignore the small gains, the marginal impact and the difference small ideas can ultimately have if allowed to develop and evolve.  Too much of life is based on wanting what we cannot have rather than appreciating what we have. My own recent admissions in this blog are an attempt at that acceptance for me. As I suggested to a friend, I don’t want to change the world anymore just improve my own back garden. Her reply took me back but made sense – if we all did that wouldn’t it have much more of an impact.  Equally, my appeal for blog readers to get in touch prompted this response from @spandelles: “yes, many hits will be fake. It’s the few real hits that count.” Two good lessons in life I think worth focussing on. In giving up the allotment, I’m getting a better back garden. In accepting that some people cheat, I can enjoy watching cycling. In finding I can’t be “world class”, I know what difference I can actually make to somebody’s life.  In realising I have a few blog readers, at least I know I’m not talking to myself.  As Colin Firth says in Fever Pitch, “what’s wrong with that? It’s actually pretty comforting if you think about it.”

Keeping up with the Jones’

“I showed everyone I was vulnerable and, in the end, people respect that more.”

One of the most difficult things I’ve found in making the step changes I need in my life has been the ability to talk about how I feel to others and in essence let off steam in a control way. You see, I am prone to being much like a champagne bottle or can of pop: once shaken enough and the cork/stopper is released all of the emotion discharges uncontrolled ready to hit the nearest object. At least I recognise this now and am some way towards controlling that part but I still remain uncomfortable revealing my feelings to others despite the problems that this can create. So I was quite interested to see Bradley Wiggins latest interview which appeared in today’s Guardian and his discussion of the management of his emotions. The cynics amongst you might want to file this in the “further excuses” file of the Wiggins cabinet, but let’s give the guy the benefit of the doubt here. From someone who has had first hand experience of similar feelings this sounds more real and experienced than made-up and opportunist.

“You think it’s the end of the world and you’re completely alone in the whole saga.”

Now that is something I can relate to. It doesn’t matter that Brad is talking about the Tour de France, recognised as the world’s toughest sporting event, I’m talking about life of which the Tour is a part but which is just as much if not more so a tough, punishing and relentless event. I know, I felt the same way last year with the world against me as I tried to struggle on with the weight of expectation pressing heavy on my shoulders. In fact, looking around me today I can see some friends and colleagues displaying similar signs. I’ve come a long way in being able to do that. And so to some extent has Wiggins.  Interestingly it is the outburst he gave during the Tour at Ax-3 Domaines which I can see as his champagne cork moment, the point at which letting guard down and venting his feelings actually gives him more freedom but like me I’m sure he would liked to have done that differently.

The pattern is similar to previous closed season interviews he has given, the opening involving a drink an all too familiar feature some would say. But maybe this suggests that Brad is pretty fragile, that maybe he needs help and support. One of the major problems in this world is that we expect successful people to be individually strong. Maybe it is that view which is delusional rather than the emotions being a frailty or handicap.  Enough pop-pyschology. What is obvious, to me at least, is that building barriers to prevent the outside world from leaking in seems to have been counter-productive for Brad and certainly has been for me so the lesson here is actually to let the world back in but in a more measured way. For me it was a media diet, maybe for Wiggins its for Sky to adopt a more relaxed approach – relaxation clearly does us all the world of good.

The final thing to strike me from the interview was the often overlooked support we get at these times.

“He looks across our tiny table at Cath, who has joined us. In his book, Cath writes a lovely tribute to Wiggins, as her husband and a cyclist. “It was probably only a few weeks ago that I felt you were back again,” Cath says. “I’m getting there,” Wiggins replies wryly.”

I suppose for a lot of the last 18 months I’ve been absent for Mrs AB. But I know that without the love and support of Mrs AB I wouldn’t have made the progress I have. That is always worth remembering.

Like Brad I’m getting there but still have a way to go, altering my own goals and changing the path towards them. We’ll both get there in the end even if the goal is something different. What is most important is being ourselves. Good luck Brad and Illegitimi non carborundum.

The value of our dreams

A friend of mine posted a very interesting blog piece on Sunday about day dreams. It got me thinking.  According to Jenny’s psychologist friend day dreams are made up of random thoughts whereas our decision making, the example she uses is what we want for our tea, is a more systematic process.  I’m not sure I necessarily agree.  I’m sure I am not alone in indulging in, somewhat too regular, bouts of day dreaming.  There are many times when I should be concentrating on a particular task and yet my mind wanders off to what are for me more interesting and entertaining thoughts.  In coping with my recent health problems I first addressed this as work avoidance. I then questioned whether it was me being merely lazy (though having consulted that great radio psychiatrist Dr Fraiser Craine whilst tackling the ironing mountain this morning I know leanr that this is fear!).  The response to all of these seemed to be to buck up my ideas, focus, concetrate and get on with it – whatever “it” might me.

But Jenny’s post got me thinking.  What if, instead of day dreams being a mere random thought they are infact much more systematic than we might think.  Are my daydreams the means of telling me to that I engaged in the wrong task and that I would be better off and more productive in switch to my alternative.  If this is the case, and I’m starting to believe it might be, rather than scolding daydreamers for being unrealistic the power to greater happiness and dare I say it a better society might lie in nurturing those dreams into reality.  Like so much in life I am learning to realise the value of the small things.  Jenny has sparked the idea that the value of dreams should not be overlooked and underestimated.