Whole of The Moon
Last week I took a couple of days off work to have a long weekend in Berlin for a friend's stag do. For those who aren't familiar with the concept, sometimes called a Batchelor Party, it's effectively the final fling for a man who is soon to be married and typically involves consumption of alcohol, some activities and a lot of nonsense.
Back in the day, in the UK, this used to involve a single night of drinking, often as close to the wedding itself as the night before, however over the years, the events have become more elaborate, often (as in this case) evolving into multi-day events in foreign destinations. Sensibly, too, they now typically take place a month or two before the big day!
While the event did nothing for my liver, it was certainly good for my soul to spend the four days and nights with a group of close friends, many of whom I've known since we were toddlers. In these situations, we inevitably roll out a fairly long list of well-worn stories and memories from the decades we've known each other. Stories which grow with each telling and some of which, this weekend, reduced me to laughter so hard, I worried I was going to have a hernia, tears streaming down my face!
The nonsense is important. As each of us gets older, we typically have more responsibilities; jobs to do, families who rely on us, mortgages and loans to pay and kids to raise. And while many of those things are joyous and bring love and light into our lives, sometimes they can leave us feeling overwhelmed. I know from my own experience that I have times when I feel like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption, chipping away at a giant wall with a tiny rock hammer, like I've got a huge job to do, unsure I have the tools to achieve it. And I'm a man who loves his work. For some of my friends, whose work is more a burden than a joy, I've no doubt the wall seems bigger and the tools seem even less adequate. So the pressure builds, and each of us finds a way through a day at a time. And I know from many conversations on the subject, that one of the things that keeps people going is looking forward to times when we're all together and can laugh and joke and remind one another through our presence, that we're blessed to have the friends we do.
So we get together, we laugh, we shout, we drink a bit(...), we laugh some more and we let off steam. It becomes an endless battle to top each others memories of nonsense with stories that have almost been forgotten and through the collective memory we rebuild maps of our youth. Day to day worries and challenges get parked at the departure airport, to be collected, or forgotten, on our return home. The things that worried us and seemed so overwhelming only a few days before, seem less significant now and as our presence recharges one another's batteries, the problems, once insurmountable, seem surmountable again.
In among the nonsense, however, come the quieter moments. A couple of the boys break off from the group to go to a nearby shop and have a chat along the way. Two or three find a tattoo parlour with space for walk-ins and enjoy one another's company in a different environment. Late night boozing turns into early morning reflection and conversations shift from the frivolous and the funny to the deep and meaningful. These moments are equally special - where we get beneath the veneer and check in on one another. How are you getting on? How are you really getting on? Remember I'm always here. From time to time, challenges are raised and often the challenges can't be solved by the listening party. Love and loss. Fears of inadequacy and irrelevance. Existential dread. But talking and listening and really caring about one another makes all the difference in reinforcing the feeling of solidarity and support that carries each of us on.
When I first started off in corporate life, I approached the office environment with the same spirit, energy and enthusiasm that I approach every other part of my life. I wanted work to be fun and I wanted to build meaningful relationships with the people around me. But that wasn't the style of the time in the organisation I worked in. If you were laughing, you weren't working hard enough. And most people left their home lives at the door and never showed a chink in their corporate armour. I'm thankful that the culture had changed somewhat since I left, but everywhere I work and with every team in every business I support, there's always room for a little more of that connection and depth.
We go into our offices, or sit down at our home desks each morning and log in for another day of work, hoping we can do our best and that our labour will take us closer to a dream we're chasing. We see the roles and the titles and the silos and the hierarchies, but at the core of it all, we're just people, doing made-up jobs, in made-up companies, and trying to live lives that matter. And sometimes when we get caught up in the KPIs and the targets and the figures, we lose sight of the fact that the irritating guy in finance and the underperforming lady in the sales team and the pedantic guy in HR are just people. They want to do their best and build a life that matters. And by showing them that they do matter and that we do care, we can all do the things we do with a little more joy and a little more meaning.
As we stood on Thursday night, arms round each others shoulders in the basement bar of the Circus Hostel in Berlin, each many beers deep, screaming out the words to The Waterboys 1985 classic Whole of the Moon, I was reminded by that special group of guys that I matter. And I hope they all felt the same.