I have never seen it, but, as I understand it, the horror movie Saw is about people who are held captive by a sadistic maniac and forced to mutilate or kill themselves or each other. That sums up my feelings about my job over the last couple weeks. To be clear, I’m one of the captives, not the maniac. O.K., that may be a bit of hyperbole, but you’ve come to expect that from me. I don’t fear that I will be a victim (or perpetrator) of physical violence, but I’m under a lot of stress. It might be more accurate, in cinema terms, to say that I feel like I’m in an Indiana Jones movie. Every day, from the moment I walk into the building, I’m confronted with a new giant boulder rolling towards me, poisoned arrows flying at me, or a demon priest trying to rip my still beating heart from my chest. I’m going to call that metaphor rather than hyperbole.
The main difference between my work life and an Indiana Jones film is the lack of a John Williams soundtrack. It would be so much more tolerable if I could tell by the rising major chords that I was about to emerge victorious from the horrific meeting in which I find myself. The uncertainty of what’s coming next, the shock at being confronted with yet another fresh hell, and not knowing how I’m going to pull through is draining. The legislature is angry at me, a major transformational enterprise-wide project is beginning, a high-profile software development project is underway, and one of my programs is in crisis. I’m also expected to pay attention to my staff, which isn’t going well. I’m about as good a boss as Indy is a teacher. Like him, I’m never there for them, because I’m stuck in some jungle or desert trying to avoid being captured by the Nazis (again, metaphor).
The big flaw with my Indiana Jones metaphor is that it implies there is a happy ending to each of my workplace cliffhangers. I don’t think I’m effectively dodging many of the boulders and arrows. I certainly am not serving my staff well. One way in which the metaphor does resonate for me is that Indy frequently uses his intellect to save himself. While my intellect isn’t great, it’s the only weapon I’ve got to escape calamity. I think too much, in general, so when I have to think my way through these challenges every day, I get worn down. Thinking sucks.
Lately, the only chance I get to stop thinking is when I run, and since I recently started training for a marathon, I’ve got increased opportunities to not think for long stretches. Last Saturday, I ran fourteen miles with my running club teammates. I’m still adjusting to the idea of running with other people, as there tends to be a fair amount of conversation, which requires a modicum of thinking. However, over the course of those many miles, there were several stretches when we didn’t talk at all. We simply ran, and we breathed; like horses racing together. The purely physical action was exhilarating and thoughtless. At the end, I was tired, sore, and spent. For the rest of the day, my mind was quiet. It was sublime. Can you hear the orchestra, the major chords, the strings, the horns? Exhilarating. I’m ready for the next cliffhanger. Bring it on. I’ll think my way out of it, like I always do.