Whispering Reeds

Just before Christmas, my boy reacted in a rather tearful way to the news that I would be leaving early next morning. To go and work in a different city, as I had been doing for the past seven weeks. None of this was new or strange to him.

What was new, was his reaction. Out of context to what had come before.

Now parents are usually quite good at working out if tears are genuine or crocodile in nature. I put this down to being the latter — he could have been tired — and put him to bed.

So when I got up the next morning, I was surprised by my own new reaction. It’s never easy stealing kisses from sleeping family members as you leave the house at 5.30am, especially when it is cold and dark outside. Yet something made me hover ever so slightly longer than normal over the boy.

It wasn’t fear, or dread. Motivation to get up and do the job was still there — it was, just, a wobble. I carried that wobble with me as I walked along the road to the bus stop, then on to the bus and the subsequent train thereafter.

It was by now a respectable enough time in the morning to share my wobble. So I put, what I thought was a throw away line out on a WhatsApp group I am a member of. The WB40 Podcastgroup. I did it in a similar way that King Midas’s barber/servant, unable to keep the secret that his ruler had been given the ears of an Ass by the god, Apollo (so much ill trouble to befall one man), that he dug a hole by which to tell his secret in to — keeping to his promise not to tell a fellow soul.

He then covered up the hole and the secret — happy that he had got it out, but not expecting it to go anywhere. Which is exactly what I thought would to happen for me. I needed to get it out, but not exactly do anything with it. Just to release it. To ease the nagging. To then bury it amidst a flurry of tech, brexit and podcast chat.

In the myth*, a patch of reeds grow out from the spot where the secret was buried. In time the winds blow and the reeds whisper the secret — “King Midas has Ass’s ears”. The winds carried the secret through the grass, the leaves and the branches of the trees until it reached the ears of the people of the city. Much laughter ensues.

The story doesn’t end well for our friend, Midas, but the passing of that secret was similar to the reaction I received in the WhatsApp Group. It wasn’t buried or treated as a glib, throwaway line. Instead, across the remainder of that day, it was passed on with other tales of being in a similar position.

The group started to open up with examples of difficult and challenging periods where they would be away from their families. They discussed how they worked through those issues and — this was the fundamental piece — how they supported those around them, almost through a contract of understanding. Of what it meant to be away for long periods of time from each other.

Simple things like the person away would still take ownership of tasks around the household, even if they were not there. Not leaving everything to those behind.

I mentioned we had talked about getting a cleaner in my absence. “Take ownership of getting that sorted” was one view from the group.

A point of note here. The responses I received were from both male and female members of the group. This issue isn’t just restricted to one sex or another, in the same way — whilst more could be done to improve things — the best (well, within our group at least) technology and digital leaders come from across all of our society. This is a universal challenge we all deal with.

Reading the responses made me feel a lot better about the situation I found myself in. Which wasn’t initially what I was after, until the wind caught the reeds and the dynamic of my original post had changed.

I just wanted to share something, in a setting where it wouldn’t set hares racing. For I am happy in the job I am doing. I didn’t want my comment to be misinterpreted or taken out of context. This was simply a dad reacting to the tears of his son and finding it, unexpectedly, difficult to shake off.

I was worried that if I had posted it on Twitter, where I do most of my “thinking out loud”, that someone linked to my role might have seen it, but not how it was intended. The boy stopped crying almost immediately, and I got off the train the next day with the same resolve I had the week before.

Sure there is an element of “right people, right time, just the wrong location”† but that is more down to my availability at home than my view of the city where I now work. It has been good to me and continues to offer up a great number of interesting opportunities.

It was just a nag. A wobble that I couldn’t contain. Needed to get out and, unlike with King Midas, it proved to be a positive experience. Ultimately, the thing it proved was, as with most working situations, you are not alone — that folk have gone through the same as you before. It’s how you can learn from their experience and wisdom that counts.

That WhatsApp group has always been good for gaining insight and information from a technology and delivery standpoint, but it proved that there are other issues — human issues — that we as leaders in our field face, beyond getting backing from a supplier to agree to the use of technologies and methodologies.

I am not suggesting it will work for everything. Whispering into a hole can be as bad as consulting with the wrong person at work, and the information being shared beyond your control. In this instance, it reaffirmed my commitment to the role I am doing — and gave me food for thought as to how I can work/live with the family I leave behind each week.

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* Yes, I have been reading Stephen Fry’s ‘Mythos’, why do you ask?
† Second line from the song “I could be so good for you”, the theme to Minder sung by Dennis Waterman.



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