I don’t scoff at routines like I used to

Ok, so it may just be my age, but for someone who spent years avoiding predictable paths and wriggling out of routines, I have found myself drawn to daily rituals of late.

It is impossible to calculate the impact of 2020 on all our lives and all our futures, so I won’t attempt to do so in a short blog. Suffice to say this past year has brought disruption and worry, even existential threats the like of which none of us have seen before. We have all been at sea, albeit in very different sized boats, swept by the changing and inequitable tides and at the mercy of elements beyond our own control. When the shore looms into view, we unexpectedly tack and find ourselves staring at the horizon again. It’s been a test of endurance and patience.  Certainty and control – those two elements schools so badly need in order to function, just like financial institutions depend on them – have been in short supply.  

Perhaps this is why I am drawn to those reassuring rituals that I once saw as unnecessary roadblocks to my free-flowing creativity and joie de vie. These same routines fill a dearth in certainty and control. As a former teacher and school leader, I have always recognised the importance of regular routines and diarised days, of course, but I have never really felt comfortable with predictable activity. Timetables demotivate me.  

But this has changed of late. I am searching for things I can rely on, and things I can control. I am anchored by the knowledge that every morning I will stir my porridge and pour it into my favourite bowl. I will have an espresso in my favourite coffee cup. I will exercise. I will listen to Radio 4 and feel frustrated when interviewers interrupt and politicians prevaricate. I will fill my drinking bottle with peach squash, pack my brief case and drive to work, listening to Thought for the Day sat in traffic.

I will look forward to my cup of Empress Grey around eleven and treat myself to a reduced sugar forest fruit crispy slice. I will go for a walk in the park at lunchtime. Rock and roll, I hear you cry. A wild life.

But the value of these anchoring points is now revealed to me. They punctuate moments of frustration and disappointment, pleasant surprises, unexpected doubts and demotivations, the highs and lows of work. Things I think will go well may not, while other meetings I’m dreading will run without hiccup. Hopes will be dashed, while other fears will be rendered futile after all. Exciting events will be planned and then postponed and then cancelled altogether. Other unexpected opportunities will drift by and excite me. It’s harder to predict now.

I can’t say I have the adrenalin that I once had; sitting on zoom all day is a poor substitute for the thrill of racing to the tube for a face-to-face meeting across London, or standing on a conference stage, or shaking hands with colleagues and clients in a bar somewhere. But I find satisfaction in other ways: clearing the inbox, completing an article, sharing attendees’ insightful comments on a webinar.

There will be countless other people, front-line workers, whose daily challenges bring far more stress and heartache than mine. They will feel the lack of certainty and control more acutely than me, but they just march on. I admire these people enormously. I salute them. I do not have a monopoly on stress or loneliness in this virtual world; many others will be suffering too and longing for real time events with real people. It has taken just a year to change our work practices, but it takes a million years to change our species, so I’m learning to be kinder on myself if I struggle to adapt to a new paradigm as quickly as I would like. My neck aches in every zoom.      

What I can say, with some degree of certainty, is that whatever happens today, whether unexpected or planned, exciting or worrying, or just plain dull and monotonous, tomorrow morning will find me stirring my porridge at the usual time. And I’m comfortable with that.

So what anchors you?

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