Part III: Six weeks later

“So 6 weeks after writing Parts I and II, I’m sitting on a plane, over the Irish Sea returning home for the weekend. I’ve been meaning to get this finished for so long. Some of it was business, or tiredness but a lot of it was actually making sure I followed the disciplines I set during COVID. 

  • Talk to your wife every night for an hour, even if its just mindless drivel. It helps
  • No matter how tired you are. Go for a walk and do your exercises
  • Journal every night
  • Eat good food
  • Take up an activity ( I chose golf and I’m failing at it, but I like it)
  • Do not let work over take your life ever again. 

How am I doing 6 weeks in? Okay. I guess. I’m not working nearly as much as I did. Flights to and from home are a big factor in determining my work week. I have managed to work one week from home in the 6 I’ve been away. I only worked one weekend and I’m generally only doing 11 hours a day. I don’t take my computer home in the evening, which forces me to do other things. Its not perfect and its certainly not the 45 hours work weeks I dream of, but its heading in the right direction.

I am a lot happier and, yes I have had some awful days when I feel worthless and hate myself and everything around me. But I tell somebody about it. 

I’m failing, I suppose we all are. But the difference now is….I don’t care if I fail, its part of growing and I won’t let the failure part of my career ever seep into the more important parts of my life, my family, my friends, my time. I suppose in that sense I’ve succeeded.

Thank you for reading. If there is one thing I have truly learnt about the last few months is. Talk and be honest with yourself. Your struggles are not personal, they seep into those around you. Pick up the phone to a friend, a family member. Talk to your significant other. Talk to a professional. But please talk. Take care and to borrow from my favourite TV Character…”Goodbye and Good Mental Health”.”

Part I: The struggle to keep succeeding

Thank you to this anonymous person who has sent in his story – it is a longish story, so we are publishing in three parts over three weeks. Today is part I.

I’ve been home, not working for a total of 11 weeks (2 weeks on Annual Leave) and it feels very odd to be going to the airport tomorrow and catching a flight.

Something I took for granted, like a lot of things, before COVID.

I think the main thing that I took for granted was myself. And, in part that means my family as well, as they are a part of me.

Before COVID, I was in the middle of a long struggle with my own mental stability. I had been working away in Ireland for 3 years. It was only supposed to be 2 years max. The whole thing was eating away at me. I work for a food company that demands excellence 100% of the time. Failure is not an option. Moving there I had such high hopes, it was a dynamic company, small enough with ambitions of growth. We achieved that, going from £400k of annual sales to over £2million within 2 years. Working away allowed me to focus 100% of my time on growing the company, what I didn’t envisage was that the company in turn would just keep piling expectation upon expectation on me. I am very proud of what I do and anything short of giving 100%, 100% of the time felt like was failing. I was working my self slowly to death, beyond stressed, beyond sad, and being unable to function as a normal human being, work colleague, husband and father.

I had promised myself  to try and fix me prior to COVID. I was on annual leave the two weeks prior to the government lockdown and I had talked openly with my wife in February about my struggles and how we could fix it. I had spoken to my CEO the day before I flew home for 2 weeks R&R. I had said the contract between us was weighted in his favour. I was always supposed to be away for three nights in any one week, I was also supposed to work from home at least one week in four. I was never supposed to be doing 70 and 80 hour work weeks. 12 and 13 day runs in a row. Cancelling annual leave at the last minute, flying back to work early after a weekend so I could get a head start to the busy week ahead.  In theory my CEO agreed, but uttered those management “failsafe” words “so much in as the business needs” A catchall phrase that basically puts the decision on you and if it goes wrong whilst you are away then its your fault. 

Starting the two weeks Annual Leave in March I spent most of it either on the sofa or in bed. I cried openly, laying on my wife’s chest when we were in bed. The stress over-flowing from me. At this point I must say, physically I was a mess. 113kg in weight. Totally physically unfit and lets not start to unpackage the metal fitness.

I honestly didn’t know how to fix myself. My beautiful wife tried, but nearly two weeks in to the break, I was starting to stress about going back to work. Also Annual leave at my company is not really annual leave. Its just you are at home instead of in the office. The phone still rings, emails come through and if you don’t answer you get called on your personal phone because “its important”. This culture is aggressively applied and boarders on toxic, not just for me, but many in my organisation feel the same way.

Whilst never at the point of doing something to harm myself or others, I did recognise I was circling a drain into the abyss. There had to be a new normal for me.

Then Lockdown hit!

And everything kind of stopped. “

Part II will be published next week.

When Failing at School is Good

Most of us grew up wanting to succeed at school. ‘Pass’ meant we had done well and ‘Fail’ poorly.

We would find what the pass mark was and, if inclined to do the bear minimum of work, seek to at least reach that level. 

We quickly learned that teachers were unhappy when we failed: that we might need to do extra work and in some bygone days, we may even have been harshly treated for ‘failure’. 

For some, fear of ‘failure’ became motivation to work hard, but this was hardly a good emotional approach and in some cases made for an unpleasant schooling experience.

The disabling nature of all this is that no one looked at ‘failure’ or ‘failing’ as in any way positive. 

No one encouraged a child that tried and failed, making them feel that they had done better than children who hadn’t even tried at all. The high jumper never makes any progress when they sail over the bar: it’s when they practise at heights where the bar is likely to be hit that they learn technique and approach that maximises their performance. The child who never attempts to paint differently or write in a new style, or read a tricky book, with longer words and more complicated sentence structure, is destined to plateau. 

I recall when moving from teaching Year 6 to Year 2, I had an extremely able child in my class, who had been doing the equivalent of sailing over the bar all her school life: mastering books, shining at arithmetic and artwork that was regularly admired. She wasn’t especially competitive and had no jealousy of others’ success. But in my year there were occasions when she tried things that didn’t work out and had tests where she was not top. Whereas for many children this had been part of the learning experience, for her this was such a new experience that she felt like she had hit a wall. It was as if this strange and new obstacle of failure had appeared in her path which she couldn’t negotiate. It took time for her to see that failure, as much as success, is a valid experience and part of us improving – providing we learn through it. Failing is OK – it can be a positive thing and not the end of the world. She soon recovered and made good progress in the year. She was perhaps learning the truth enclosed in Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem with those lines: “If you can with meet triumph and disaster and treat these two imposters just the same….” Except of course she was learning that failure was not a disaster – for her, it was part of the triumph. 

The author is an experienced Primary School Teacher.

Why Hospitals Don’t Learn From Failure

This is an excellent article by Harvard Professor, Amy C Edmondson. In it, she states:

“My central argument is that hospitals don’t learn from failure because of two interrelated organisational issues. Firstly, at the frontlines of patient care in hospitals the interpersonal climate often inhibits speaking up with questions, concerns, and challenges that might have contributed to catching and correcting human error before patients are harmed.2 Moreover, the culture of medicine more generally discourages admission of error, thereby greatly diminishing a given hospital’s potential to learn from mistakes, both consequential or not. Secondly, features of the work design and culture of most hospitals make workarounds and quick fixes the dominant response to failures, rather than root cause analysis and systematic problem solving,7 which contribute to organisational improvement and innovation.”

See the link below for the full article:

Devastated following a complaint

“I was devastated to get a letter from the Health Care and Professions Council (HCPC) to say that I was being investigated following a complaint by the relatives of one of the patients I had looked after for some time.  I remembered the patient well as I had spent a lot of time with him and had done my very best for him.  It was therefore very upsetting that there was a complaint against me despite doing everything I could to the best of my ability for the individual.   

I began to doubt my own judgements on what I was doing in my day to day work with other patients.  I feared for my job, my professional registration and my reputation.  The organisation I was working for at the time paid for a solicitor and barrister. I had done nothing wrong and yet I was made to feel like a villain and perpetrator rather than the compassionate caring health professional I tried so hard to be. It was a hard time of worrying and waiting. It lasted almost four years.    

Almost four years later and two days into the hearing, the case was thrown out. Caris’s book, Failing Intelligently, has been hugely helpful in working through some of the issues that this situation generated.”   

We want to thank this anonymous contributor for sharing their story. There will be many others out there who in the course of professional activities have faced complaints and allegations that are not founded. Nevertheless, they have had to go through the hard process of investigation and suffered over a period of time. These things are never easy and can lead to a profound sense of failure and failing even when the individual has not done anything wrong. It is crucial that individuals in this position seek the support that they need and do not struggle alone.