I grew a beard for Christmas. Not as a gift, nor as a Santa tribute. I just went a few days without shaving, and one of my children said it looked good, so I kept with it. (You need to understand; Dad compliments are thin gruel in our house. Even at Christmas.) I hadn’t realised just how much maintenance beards require. To grow a beard – anything other than a Tolstoy waterfall – demands a near-daily commitment to facial topiary. And that calls for specialist tools. So I bought myself a Phillips trimmer, with multiple level settings for multiple hair lengths, and sundry blade attachments for sundry edging effects. After a couple weeks trial-and-error and an incredibly detailed, almost philosophical, conversation with my barber, I achieved some level of trimming competence – tidy and symmetrical. Even my friends said nice things. Fast forward to mid-January: I, and my new beard, went on a week-long client visit to Austria. The omens weren’t good; the journey started with a six hour delay at a snowy Heathrow while the lorry sent to de-ice the runway had to be de-iced by another de-icing lorry kept for the purpose of de-icing de-icers. Nevertheless, I arrived at the hotel with enough time to unpack before my first meeting. Shirts, shorts, socks… The result of my usual packing routine the night before. PC, plugs, power cords… I can recite the list backwards and forwards; it’s the travel mantra that has kept me on the road and in the air for almost 20 years. Deodorant, shaving gel, razor… Oh, hold on. No beard trimmer. No bloody beard trimmer. My packing ritual had been followed so mindlessly that I hadn’t noticed it was now out of step with my external reality. Even with something as personal as a change in appearance. Isn’t that why we find change so hard? We build ourselves – individually and collectively – a set of mental models and routines that initially help get us through the day, but over time become more concrete than the external world. As long as our environment supports those models, we’re fine. But when we fail to notice that something out there has changed…well, sooner or later, it’ll catch-up with us, and we’ll lack what we need to do the job at hand. It all comes down to paying attention, to really paying attention to what’s happening in front of us, and then having the presence of mind to adjust accordingly. If not, then reality will inevitably give us a wake-up call – which, however painful, annoying or embarrassing, we’ll just have to take on the chin.
Coachaiku: 17-syllable reflections, in a 5-7-5 form, for personal and professional development.
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