Over the last few months many people in my various networks in Scotland have been gearing up for a journey, a journey that has just started. It’s a journey to the emerging future, a journey of personal exploration connected to wider explorations which variously circle the idea of learning the leadership qualities needed to transform business and society. (You can still join them here if you want!)
I’ve been intrigued, and excited, and reassured to know that so many people really do want to learn how to ‘bring their real selves to work’, really do want to positively help manage our emerging future by understanding what we need to nurture in ourselves and in our organisations for that emerging future to be one of positive value to all. And yet…
Well I wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t a but in there somewhere. It took a while but finally this week, as I joined all my friends and colleagues at the start of that journey, it clicked. You see I don’t want to take my real self to work. My real self sends my work self to work in order to cope with a reality that is painful and exhausting physically and mentally. My real self stays at home in the bed it takes 10-15 minutes to unfurl and stretch my stiffened and spastic body from when I first get up. My real self stays at home and feels weepy and exhausted and terrified. My work self gets up, and out, and gets on a train, and goes somewhere where energy and work and mission and people keep her focussed on living and contributing, and allow her to forget (for the most part) what fate has decreed for her. My real self needs to keep herself trained on things other than her embodied experience of the present, her nostalgia for the past and her fear of the emerging future. My real self needs to be distracted by doing, by engaging, by being in the world, right now, present with others and with external ideas and challenges. And my real self does not want to know about that emerging future. My emerging future is a trap, from which there is no escape. My emerging future is too close for comfort.
Something I have learnt in the last few more difficult years is that work, good work (and I am so lucky to have that), is the only way a person trapped by an emerging future can survive. We need the external focus, the distraction, and the sense of comfort that works provides. I don’t mean paid employment necessarily, although ideally of course. But labour, communal effort, the dignity and power of labour is that when ahead is too frightening to face, and the past too painful to contemplate, labour is where comfort and respite can be found. It is in shared labour that a bearable present is found. It is the great tragedy of our society that paradoxically those most trapped are least likely to have access to that bearable present.
Now of course there is an irony here in that all my friends and colleagues who are on that journey are on it because they want to be part of freeing all the people like me for whom the idea of ‘the future’ means only more pain, more ‘less’. I’m haven’t worked out yet what that means for me. I just know that for now I will be reassured that so many are working to craft a better emerging future in U-Lab Scotland, while I focus on doing my bit from the bearable present. And try to contain the impatience that can bring with it!