Chaos, resilience, and walking out of your mind.
There are some weeks with incredible highs and devastating lows. This was that week. There was this side of me you see in the picture above, dressed up, confidently talking (and showing off) the amazing work we do at Chayn while in the presence of friends at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Rise Up summit. And then there’s the fact that I spent two days crying by myself and with colleagues because one of the most difficult projects I’ve done so far (let’s call it “the troubled project”) suffered another major setback.
It’s going to be a long read.
What I did
- Monday and Tuesday started off being quite calm in comparison to the rest of the week. I did some copyediting and writing for the new Bloom website. I worked on our strategy which is running late because something keeps coming up and pushing it further.
- On Tuesday night, I received a devastating update about the troubled project. It completely broke me to the point that I could not feel anything. I cried for a bit with Nooreen who happened to be awake, then talked to Dama. Felt better and had a plan. Cancelled working out plans and just slept early instead. On Wednesday, I didn’t take my morning nap and went straight into fixing mode. Wrote up some emails and sent them. Broke the news to a team member. Then got a lovely message from Dama wishing me luck for the day. Had some time for a nap but cried instead. Could not get off the sofa. Ara realised something wasn’t right as she kept coming to me and resting her chin on my body, trying to engage me in some petting. I don’t know how I got off the sofa. My thoughts were so dark and it’s scary to spend time in that corner of my mind. I seriously think it was the habitual pull of getting my morning walk and pastry that saved me. I walked around for 2 hours. Got back home a different person, and persevered on.
- I spent Thursday coming up with a plan to deal with the decisions we needed to take with this new development with the Trustees. Put this in action.
- I didn’t work on Friday because I knew my mind needed a break. I did some light email responses for a funder and mentored an employee, and then spent the rest of the time cleaning the house and transforming one of my bathrooms. This was the DIY project I was talking about!
- Saturday was both lovely and intense! Dama was coming from London to also speak at the same conference I was speaking at. We have not met since December 2019, even though we talk multiple times a week and text every day. It was so nice to be around each other in physical life! We walked in and were blown away by how professional the recording set-up was! I loved being able to switch between cameras and the dynamism of the set up. I would probably love a career in broadcast media after I step out of Chayn. Back to the event. I spoke about Chayn and trauma-informed design. Dama spoke about the metaverse. Beena spoke about Poor Ara had to be by herself for 4 hours which had me on edge but thanks to some good pet surveillance technology. After the conference, Dama and I took a long walk in leafy South Manchester and had some food. Ara was with us and got to spend lots of time with her german auntie.
What I learned
- You will all know this already but for the new readers, we’ve fostered a culture of being open and vulnerable at Chayn. When I heard about the news about the troubled project which devastated me, I had to take the right and ethical decision. This meant accepting that I won’t have a “we saved the day” narrative. That all the hundreds of hours the volunteers, staff and I spent wouldn’t result in the impactful project that we thought it would be. That despite the fact that finding out the quality of the project was below our standard after 9 months of work, our herculean effort to turn it around and raise the bar in just 2 months would never be seen. This has, perhaps, been the biggest failure of my professional life. As soon as I found out around 9 pm, I called Nooreen and cried. Then I called Dama and discussed strategies. The next morning I told some members of the team. Naomi even called me despite being down with Covid. A few of us created a document that laid out all our options and analysed them for the best routes. The trustees agreed to jump on an emergency call. I didn’t have to cushion any news. I didn’t have to pretend that I wasn’t sad, and distraught. They knew how hard the team and I had worked. This level of frankness, care and vulnerability in our team allows us all to be sharing our feelings, process them individually and collectively, and then spring into action. I really mean it when I say spring. It’s fast, considerate and pragmatic. This level of efficiency and fast-paced environment is associated more with the toxic workplaces and Chayn could not be further from it. We’re flexible and responsive. Considerate and lean.
- Failure. While I have been lamenting the troubled project, everyone has been telling me that I should not feel bad. That I’ve learned a lot. So has Chayn as an organisation. Though this is true, this talk has not been soothing. I did know better at times. And I didn’t act. It was like I forgot I could do something about it. That it was in my power. There were lots of things out of my control, so I don’t feel regret or guilt over that. But I do feel it the other part. My coach said something which was very valuable and exactly what I wanted to hear. That I did fail. And it’s okay. Failure does not need to have “learning” with it. It can, but not all failures will have it. It’s okay for me to feel bad about it. I’m human. I need to be able to feel it. It’s only harmful if I hold on to that emotion, and turn that into a blocker. I’m not doing that. I’m just processing the failure.
- Resilience. I was talking to my leadership coach about this. This week reignited my marvel at how resilient I am. When I was feeling low, and could not get out of the sofa — dark thoughts arose in my mind. They weren’t solid. They were whispers. I was afraid of sinking into the sofa with the weight of these whispers so I left. I walked out of the room. I walked out of the house. And I walked out of my mind. I got my pastry and coffee. I spent time with Ara. Got back home and it was like the whispers were never there. It’s so strengthening to know that I could go through chaos, pressure and uncertainty in the way I did and come through so quickly.
- I worked two days from a coworking space. It was like a lock inside my brain was unlocked and I was able to make a lot of progress on some thinking and writing that had evaded me. I’m going to try to be there for at least two days every week. It’s a little complicated because it’s in town and it takes me 1 hour to go and come back, and I can only go when my puppy goes for her daycare. The daycare is only 4 hours so that leaves me with 3 hours. That’s not a lot to be in the space but it’s better than nothing so I’m making the most of it. I’m hoping that as Ara’s separation anxiety gets better, I can get more time in the office. It’s also a dog-friendly office so eventually, I’ll train her by taking her there on weekends when no one is around.
- I attended a training and reflection session with fellow activists a few years ago where someone explained to me what “white middle-class meeting culture” is. I grew up in Pakistan around no white people, and then came to the UK for education. I worked in UK and US organisations and yet I was perplexed by what this phrase meant. Other people of colour who had been raised in the UK explained to me it means things like having agendas, taking turns to speak, not interrupting each other, being polite and speaking in a low volume, and coming to things on time. This explanation did not help and I felt that it was generalising non-Western cultures too because many cultures value speaking politely or being on time, and it has nothing to do with white people. Putting my general response aside, I did agree with the interruption and speaking over each other points. I had noticed that in myself. I do interrupt people sometimes and I don’t want them to think I’m trying to superimpose myself on them or that is a sign of disrespect, or when I get animated because I’m passionate about something. I’ve also heard this from Jewish friends. Understanding both that interrupting does not always (sometimes it does because men are obnoxious) mean disrespect, and being conscious that people may take offence at you interrupting them so tempering how you do it (because people may not have the cultural competency to understand your intentions) is a really useful skill.
- I feel like I’ve slipped into this routine of not adding things to my dairy which is messing everything up. Like the speaking engagement on Saturday at MMU. I had a driving theory test at the same time, no daycare was arranged for Ara, and my husband was on call. We managed it in the end but it was so stressful and it was completely avoidable if I had put things in my diary and then also checked my diary in advance.
- While I’ve made progress in so many ways, I still am finding whatever excuse I can to not prepare for my driving theory test, and get a therapist.
I love being on this podcast. You should listent to it. The first few lines of the podcast literally say “lame crypto boys”… We cover:
- bitcoin police;
- failed attacks on “woke” charities;
- Apple employees unionising;
- and the desire to be perfect!