• Mark Topley

Have you hit 'The Wall'?

This week I'm working 'on the business'. It's my quarterly preview, something I’ve booked in my diary for as long as I can remember. As it’s Q3 going into Q4, I’ll be planning 2021.

Like most people in my line of work, I’ve had to completely reorientate the way I deliver services in the past 6 months, and taking advice from my own coach, I’ll be looking at pivoting things again for 2021.

But what is usually an exciting few days away with whiteboards, dog walks and planners, is currently leaving me feeling flat. And it’s a feeling I’ve had before.

Nearly 15 years ago I first moved to Tanzania with my wife Jo to start work with our friends Ian and Andie Wilson, setting up programmes with Bridge2Aid. It was an exciting, exhausting rollercoaster of hard work, challenges, new experiences and massive adaptation. And we absolutely loved it.

Until around 6 months in, when we hit ’The Wall’.

Hitting The Wall

Apparently it was a well known phenomenon among our friends and fellow Expats. The first 6 months of a new posting were always fun, if challenging. But then, many people hit the wall.

  • You realise that you can’t just hop back on a plane and go back to ’normal’

  • You realise that the culture you live in isn’t going to budge

  • You have to accept that the way things now work, is the way things now work, and short of ‘going home’, that’s not going to change

  • It’s adapt or, well... adapt

Sound familiar?

I was struck this week with a brilliant twitter thread by Prof Aisha Ahmad - an International Security expert who has seen more than her share of crises, having been deployed to disaster areas on several occasions. You should check out the thread, but here’s what caught my attention:

"So, dear friends, do not despair of the 6 month wall. It's not permanent, nor will it define you in this period of adversity. Trust that the magic that helped you through the first phase is still there. Take a breath & a pause. You'll be on the other side in no time."

This was my experience of adapting to a new normal, albeit one that was a positive choice and decision I freely made.

None of us have chosen to be where we are, there’s no end in sight, and there’s nothing we can do to get out of it.

We’ve now passed the 6 month marker. No surprise that you feel down, that you’ve lost drive and energy, that it’s hard to focus (which is why this blog is getting posted at 4pm and not my usual 6am).

But as Prof Ahmad points out, this is merely the threshold of our next adaptation. We’ve done it before and we will do it again. The nights drawing in and the leaves turning signal the transition into a new period of innovation, challenge and way of doing life. The good news is, it’s a wall that we will break through.

"Take heart. We have navigated a harrowing global disaster for 6 months, with resourcefulness & courage. We have already found new ways to live, love, and be happy under these rough conditions. A miracle & a marvel. This is hard proof that we have what it takes to keep going."

So how do we get through the Wall? And how do we help our teams? I offer a handful of suggestions:

Try softer

You cannot force your way through the wall, in fact, more effort may even be counter productive. So rather than fight it, roll with it. Acknowledge that it's a real thing for your team and talk about it together. Airing the frustration that everyone feels will help you all to cope.

Lower your expectations

Go to work, look after your family, do what you need to do but don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t got the spark and enthusiasm you usually have. Neither should we expect too much of others for a while. Instead, go out of your way to be an encourager.

Try and get what Prof Ahmad calls mental ‘shore leave’

Take breaks from the constant monotony and reminders of the pandemic. Take more time to read, walk, replenish. Have fun, do something different and spontaneous, whatever needs to happen to take everyone's mind off the day to day.

If you’re at the wall and wondering how on earth you get through it - try softer, lower your expectations and be kind to yourself and to others. Because no matter how bleak it seems, ‘This too shall pass’.

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