the reality of starting a new adventure, when the stars aren't perfectly aligned
by Nix Shaw
I didn’t so much as arrive at The Happy Learning Company in an orderly fashion, ready to rock my first 90 days, as I did skid in sideways, wide eyed and off balance. Imagine the scene in Risky Business where Tom Cruise slides into shot, wearing socks and a shirt. That was me, only far less cool. More, out of control and with bad hair.
I joined Team Happy straight off the back of 22 months in the care sector. I’d been building a recruitment function for a national chain of care homes during the global pandemic and under the cloud of Brexit. We all went through the pandemic. You’ll have heard how the care sector struggled. So, you’ll know how that gig felt.
But here was something fresh and exciting. The Happy Learning Company. A team on a mission to actively support organisations to create happiness. What’s not to love? Including a brilliant new job title – Director of Happiness and Engagement. “It’s perfect for you” came the rallying cry from family, friends and colleagues, past and present. And it was. I was happy and engaged.
Until I wasn’t.
Nobody joins a new team thinking they won’t bring their A game in the first few weeks. But that’s what happened. I experienced an unexpected loss at the end of my second week with Team Happy and the grief hit me like a freight train.
It wasn’t a human being. But it was a beloved family member. Our adorable RSPCA rescue cat, collected in a socially distanced spy style exchange on that historical evening in March 2020. The evening Boris locked down the country, and her animal shelter with it.
Our little rescue cat, who recovered from lock down surgery alongside me. Both of us bearing new scars. Moved the 600 miles with Team Shaw, as part of a lock down relocation from Hampshire to the Highlands. Spent every single working day of lock down curled up in the home office next to me. Whose heart was so full of love, it just couldn’t contain it anymore. So, on Valentine’s Day 2022, it stopped beating. Breaking my heart with it.
So here I was, in the critical first 90-day period of my brilliant new role, trying to learn the ropes as the team hit two significant project sprints. Grief stricken. Painfully aware that my usual resilient streak had deserted me. Not bringing my A game.
And then, 10 days later, Russia invaded Ukraine.
With my heart already smashed, I watched the news in horror. Night after night. What I saw kept me awake. It still does. My LinkedIn feed became full of people, just like me, who had been going about their normal daily lives in Ukraine and were now living through unspeakable terror.
Like many people, I had an overwhelming feeling that I MUST do something. But what? And alongside my sadness, a confusion arrived. My loss was nothing compared to the terrible things happening in Ukraine. I shouldn’t be feeling so sad. And for weeks, these confused emotions consumed me. In those moments, living up to my wonderful new role of “Director of Happiness and Engagement” seemed an impossible challenge.
“You’ll never know happy, unless you know sad. We learn as much from the downs, as the up’s” Matt Haig
Fortunately, Team Happy is stuffed full of fabulous humans. We’re a professional bunch, but we’re humans first. Normalising emotions at work is part of who we are. As I learned to navigate my way around the black hole of my grief, the sadness and fear of the war and the never-ending stream of bad news (recession and rising bills freaking anyone else out?), my new teammates were kind and patient. They are also the experts in happiness. They know that it’s simply not realistic to feel happy all the time.
As happiness guru, Matt Phelan, explains in his Tedx talk "12 Million Lessons in Happiness and the Super Happiness Suit" “happiness is an index, not a target…” He advises that we think of it “…like a heartbeat that goes up and down”.
My happiness was, understandably, given personal and global events, on a down beat.
As I spiralled into a world of staying up to watch the 10 o’clock news, feeling compelled to bear witness to what was happening in Ukraine, and crying around my home at the spaces where my beloved cat had been, I eventually acknowledged that I couldn’t help anyone at all, if I wasn’t in a better place myself.
“Control the controllables”
The mantra from a previously attended management leadership course floated into view, “control the controllables”. My beloved cat was gone from this place and Ukraine was courageously defending itself from an unwanted invasion. I couldn’t control these things. But what could I control?
“If you want to feel good, doing good is a great place to start” Action for Happiness
Use my time, skills and resources to work hard, earn money and make financial donations to support those on the ground, helping the people and animals of Ukraine.
Offer my time and skills to an animal sanctuary that had recently relocated from England to Scotland and, by serendipity, landed almost on my doorstep.
Stop watching the late-night news and obsessively scrolling the social channels for updates and start getting my news from Ukraine in manageable chunks.
Spend my down time with people that knew me well, loved me on the downs as wells as the up’s and broadcasted positivity, happiness and most of all, understanding, at a time when I needed it most.
Join a new yoga class starting up locally and stretch my body, mind and spirit at the end of a working day.
Step out of my front door into nature and walk sandy beaches, swim in icy lochs and rivers and take in the view of the Scots pines on the horizon, tall, solid, ancient and reassuring.
Take a breath, a moment, to acknowledge my sadness and the terrible events happening globally and, in the pause, balance this with micro moments of happiness.
And whilst my usual trick of writing a gratitude diary still feels beyond me right now, I COULD re-read moments of gratitude I’d captured during the first 2020 lockdown, which reminded me that even in the darkest of times, I could still find some light.
And so here I am. Two thirds of the way through my first 90 days. Still sad, still shocked, not denying the bad bits in life, but feeling a little more balanced. Acknowledging that things don’t always go to plan. That new beginnings don’t always arrive at the perfect moment.
But noticing that winter has turned to spring, and that summer is on the advance. Well and truly learning the ropes from my wonderful new team, putting my heart and soul into my brilliant new role and feeling ready to deliver on The Happy Learning Company customer promise…
“Let no one come to you without leaving better and happier” Mother Theresa
ps. If you'd like to know more about how you can support organisations to create happiness, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org Our team is growing. You may just be the person we are looking for.