Too often we expect everything all at once. But real work and real lives exist through seasons of growth and change…. and sometimes hibernation.
‘We’re human beings we’re living systems, we have to do things seasonally. So we have moments where we’re growing and really blossoming and moments when we need to hibernate.’
- Sophie Howarth, Co-Founder of The School of Life
When I interviewed Sophie Howarth one of the things that most stuck with me is her comment about working with the seasons of our lives. Too often we expect our working lives to be a constant progression from one thing to the next, always improving.
But the reality is far from this. It’s fits and starts, rushes and delays. Sometimes we take leaps forward and other times it feels like we’re only going backwards.
To think of our working lives as seasons makes sense of all this. There are times where we need to go to ground, to hibernate. It feels fitting to be writing this in the in-between time between Christmas and New Year where mostly not much happens. It’s one of the few times of year where there are few expectations on productivity.
But the rest of the time it can feel like there’s a constant pressure for growth and success – both economic and personal. Our social media feeds encourage us to keep the world updated with our achievements, to be always-on.
Of all the people I’ve spoken with over the last year about purposeful work, all have had times where they were lost or otherwise not obviously moving forward. Many took time out to travel or simply to leave a gap between one thing and another. This space allowed time for ideas and experiments. It’s akin to letting your mind lie fallow, like a field left to restore itself between harvests.
Our best work is the outcome of the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom and time. This means that there will be periods where we need to turn inwards, to think, to read and to tinker over ideas. Like seasons there are times to study and absorb knowledge, times to create and invent and times to live gregariously and share everything we’ve created.
A good example is the process of creating a novel. An author might spend years absorbing ideas for a story, picking up pieces of the plot and dialogue from real life. Even if the structure of the story comes in a flash of inspiration, the material it is composed of takes time to gather. The process of writing itself, as many authors will testify, can be gruelling: a back and forth, a doing and undoing of words and chapters. And then, finally publication and publicity: a process of self-broadcast. It’s no wonder that Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist spoke of feeling depleted afterwards.
For me the last year has been one of constant change, moving from one place to the next and finally settling. It is only now in the depths of December that I’ve felt like my mind is quiet enough that I can write again.
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