You may have noticed that this is the first time that I’ve published something in a little while. That’s because I’ve been in ‘the trough’.
The trough is the place between peaks. In surfing, it’s the low point between two swells. It’s where you’re paddling hard, but, to the outside observer at least, there’s not much going on. You can’t see very far either in front of you or behind you. It’s a low point where your environment closes in around you.
My trough has been about being in somewhat of a creative dry spot. I aim to write and publish every week or so, and in the last few weeks, my every effort to write something useful resulted in a frustrating stall. And when I tried to force it, it’d just get harder. My brain seemed to just want to switch off. You should see my folder of half-written articles!
Troughs generally aren’t welcome in our workplace cultures, or for that matter in our lives. The norm is to be ‘on’, be productive, and be seen. 100%. No wonder we have rising levels of burnout, depression, and disengagement in so many places.
And yet, troughs are a natural part of the human experience. Sometimes we’re at our peak, and sometimes we’re in the bottom of the trough. Most of the time we’re somewhere in between, always moving between those two extremes. This phenomenon is akin to what I wrote about in Avoid the Flatline a couple of years ago. And more recently in The Myth of Balance.
When we encounter troughs, there are two things to do:
- Acceptance: Accept that troughs are a natural part of being human, both for ourselves and for those we work and live with. It’s not ‘wrong’ to be in a trough. It’s just where we find ourselves sometimes. It’s encouraging to see an upswing in organisations that are embracing acceptance of what it means to be human. For example, the push towards more flexible workforces (evidenced by the rise of such services as Getaflex here in New Zealand). It’s a sign that employers are seeing that employees are humans who ebb and flow like every other organic being.
- Navigation: Learn to successfully navigate the experience of being in the trough, while not allowing ourselves or others to get stuck there. ‘Trough times’ hold valuable lessons. Let’s learn to make the most of them.
On that second point, I reckon I’m slowly climbing out of my most recent trough. I can sense a swell of energy rising up, and a sense of momentum. Case in point: I published this article! I reckon what’s helped me through is:
- A safe sounding board. My friend and mentor Peter Cook helped me get some perspective and nudged me towards the simple act of accepting what is, rather than trying too hard to make things ‘right’.
- Observation and reflection. I’ve made it a point to practice daily meditation, and write regularly in my journal. Both of these practices have helped me to detach myself a little more from my thoughts and feelings, so I can see things with a little more objectivity. As a result, I’ve got more clarity and calmness going on.
Let’s go a little easier on ourselves and our colleagues when it comes to troughs. The more we learn to work with them, the sooner we can move through them.
P.S. After I finished writing this, I came across Judy Brown’s Poem Trough. Spot on.
Painting: Empress Maria in Storm, by Ivan Alvazovsky, 1892
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