After more than 30 years of daily (well, almost!), delicious, hard, and honest (to the best of my knowledge!) work, towards the middle of 2022, I began to quietly crash at work. It was not the work itself; I absolutely worshipped and loved my work, my team, my colleagues across the world, my organization’s unique and unmatchable global culture, and I was grateful for the generous success that fortune had showered upon us over the years. My work was my breath and my blood, and was happily buttressed by a bohemian array of extra-curricular interests. My work helped me cope with the usual sumptuous feast of challenges that life unfailingly serves up to every one of us over time.
And then, the magic at work suddenly stopped. To be honest, I am not sure if it “suddenly” stopped as there was a build towards it. Every now and then, there would be those fleeting moments of glory, of success, of joy, of pride, which spasmodically sparked a temporal sense of exhilaration, but they did not last very long. There was so much more that I wanted to do and that I was not able to do, for perfectly rational and legitimate reasons. There was an insatiable thirst for fresh stimuli, and then there was this strange urge to annihilate myself at work and to test if there was indeed a Phoenix inside that could rise from the ashes. I was tiring with my daily routine and maintaining my image, arguably externally somewhat successful, but internally, my brain was on fire and was cratering out, and I felt like the walls were closing in.
In my case, the crash finally manifested in a rabid strain of unrelenting insomnia, something that I managed to become very strangely ashamed about. I think I would have been proud to fall to a “manly” heart attack, but to fall to insomnia felt weak, cowardly, and dishonourable. For a long while, I tried to barrel my way through it and bully it into submission, but my word, it was a clever and deadly opponent. I then pathetically sank to lower depths and reached out for medical assistance to deploy chemical warfare against it, but nothing really worked. My brain was on fire for no particular reason, and simply refused to be tamed — it would just not permit itself to sleep.
At one end, it was strangely exhilarating, I could deliriously feel the experiential boundaries of my perception and consciousness expand. In my erratic and disturbed sleep, I heard myself speaking with myself in beautiful and intoxicating prose. I found myself composing extraordinary insights on life and was constantly stumbling upon new ideas. I vaguely dreamt of great martial conquests (this one is at least traceable to a toxic over-consumption of mythology over many decades!). I heard myself inspirationally speaking to large and raptured audiences. There was a bizarre glory and delusional grandeur to my daily sleep routine. All completely converse and contrary to my withdrawing and introverted ways in real life!
And then, there was the other end, the dark end, which was plain awful. My fatigued but still determinedly over-active brain was clearly manifesting in uncharacteristic actions and frustration at work in ways that were hard to fathom (hard for my leaders, hard for my colleagues, and hard for me as well). And, to add to the whole intrigue, I found myself unable to shake off my image as a calm and composed leader and colleague at work, outside of a small circle who were clearly able to see that I was struggling with “something.” That, in and of itself, was yet another source of frustration (the inability to appear properly and respectably frustrated!). I was just not feeling well at work.
Finally, with great guilt and uneasiness, I raised the topic of a sabbatical with my leaders who had been inexplicably tolerant and understanding over the months as I erratically swirled and twirled in the gusty head winds that I had hit at work. I was and remain immeasurably grateful for the spontaneous support that I received to my sabbatical request both from my leaders and from my colleagues. And I was touched by the genuine care and concern that my leaders expressed for my fatigue, health, and well-being.
I have just completed the first week of my sabbatical and it has been beautiful, glorious, oxygenating, and hydrating in more ways than I can describe. I must admit that it is taking me time to slow down properly (not in relation to work itself but in relation to my natural wide-ranging curiosity and hunger for reading, research, and experiential comprehension, the need to be productive, and such).
I can now authentically “feel” the wisdom of living daily life in small microsteps, going beyond my immediate, instinctual, and intellectual understanding and belief in it when I first heard about it. And, as my dear friend and great well-wisher (who first conceived this compassionate and timelessly intelligent philosophy of microsteps and proved and established its scientific validity — someone very deeply familiar to this audience!) has often counselled me over time, I am trying to incorporate microsteps that are “too small to fail” into my daily routine to help me slow down.
As an example, I have just managed to resist the urge to research (and of course, prove wrong!) one of my close friend’s brazenly confident diagnosis this morning that my insomnia had worsened after my COVID vaccines (vaccines that she has resisted to this day). I am planning to shut down now and keep my microstep plan to go across the street and play football with my 10-year old neighbour buddy (my word, he is infinitely better skilled, though sadly deficient in technique, which I am gradually curing), before returning to watch the ongoing feast of tennis at Wimbledon and the continuation of the fascinating Ashes cricket series (weather permitting!). That, right there, is a beautiful microstep that is too small to fail!