You’re sitting through one of those excruciating meetings that should have been an email. Its topic is something that you care little about, and that matters in the grand scheme of things not at all. The presenter reads verbatim from their powerpoint, adding insult to injury with their assurances that no one need worry about missing anything because it’s all in the handout provided.
It’s the conclusion of a long work day, towards the end of an even longer week and just when you think it’s almost over, someone puts their hand up. Despite the unspoken but immutable staff meeting rule that prohibits all but the most crucial of questions. The raised hand and its owner are obviously and deeply unpopular, but the damage is already done.
You’re there, aren’t you? Right there. You can smell the cheap instant coffee and muted discontent. You’re looking around for something pointy to poke in your own eye so that you have a good excuse to leave or at least something else to focus on. Pollyanna would have slit her wrists by now.
It’s all too familiar. The tedium. The shared irritation. The conspiratorial glances across the room. The raised eyebrows and stifled yawns.
The peculiar thing about this particular meeting, though, is that there’s actually none of that. Well, not for anyone else. Just for you.
Everyone else in attendance seems to be having a ball. They’re laughing and nodding, scribbling notes in the margins of their handouts, appreciating other’s questions. While you’re reaching for a sharp-looking bic pen, they’re hanging on every word of that powerpoint. While you’re wishing the time away, they’re hoping for extra.
It strikes you with sudden and startling clarity that it’s actually not an email meeting at all. On the contrary, it’s a productive, interesting, inspiring meeting. Fun even. There’s a buzz in the air. A shared understanding. A desire to learn, to build, to get things done.
And, what’s more, you realise that you should be grateful to be at this meeting. It’s a once in a lifetime, blink and you’ll miss it, look back in wonder at how amazing it was, meeting. Some people will never get the chance to attend anything like it.
But you don’t feel fortunate. And you don’t feel inspired. And you don’t feel any sense of fun. Nor connection. The feeling of tedium settles and makes itself at home. Other people’s joy makes your joylessness all the more raw and ugly. Other people’s passion and their plans make the death of motivation less easy to ignore. But even then, knowing what you’re lacking, you don’t feel anything worth much.
Frightened at how diminished and unfamiliar you are.
So you pick up your pen and diligently make notes. You nod, smile, and murmur your engagement into existence, make insightful comments, ask your own questions. You manage to laugh along with everyone else despite knowing that your laughter doesn’t reach your eyes.
Exhausted. And a bit hollow. But coping.
No less anxious and feeling no less guilty. But coping.
Increasingly frightened, because pretending makes you lose yourself even more. But coping.