I sat at my desk, typing. At first, I didn’t see the great white shark approaching from behind.

Something plucked a chord in my mind. I looked over my shoulder and that’s when I saw the fast moving beast, the old adage of lightning death made real. But as it closed in, the shark seemed to shrink. Smaller and smaller with each vast stroke of its tail.

In seconds the shark had moved the distance between my imagination and my leg. By now it was little more than the size of a goldfish, but that didn’t stop it from biting me.

Sharp teeth sank deep, blood welled and the creature rolled. An uncharacteristic twisting motion not unlike a crocodile tearing chunks of flesh from a carcass.

There was no pain, only confusion.

Fast in retreat, the shark raced back into the depth of my imagination leaving a small hole in my thigh.

My eyes rolled down. Sinew and bone were nowhere to be seen. Where veins and muscle should have existed, there was only the movement of the cogs and gears inside my body.

I was confused.

I woke with a start.

The human brain is a fascinating thing. A number of years ago I was shown the remnants of the tumour doctors had extracted from the centre of the grey mass in my head, and it was unimpressive. So seemingly trivial I often wonder how it could have caused so much damage and pain.

But that’s a story for another day.

When we sleep; in those moments when our minds disengage from the day; in between the brackets of time when stress fades, our minds experience brief periods of chaos, confusion and creativity. That’s not to say we become a ‘one minute Picasso’ – just add sleep and hot water, and leave for 60 seconds before turning out marvels of art; it’s more that we allow possibilities and questions to surface, and they do so in ways that are often cryptic, or confusing.

The previous 5 days had been a time of extreme pressure – which I enjoy. But something was niggling deep inside my head. This particular workload was humdrum with no excitement or the feeling of moving forward.

Instead, I was on a hamster wheel.

Nothing progressed.

I raced forward yet the terrain failed to shift and to accommodate the forward steps I was taking.

And then came the dream.

The following day I mulled over the message my brain was sending – I’d become so engrossed in my work that the outside world was nothing more than a square of light at my back. The small white arrow, the blinking cursor and the computer monitor’s hypnotic demand for my time became all-consuming.

And the tiredness had become intense. I am tired beyond any experience in my life. Not the physical mental fatigue that comes from an arduous event, or many hours of study in preparation for an exam I’d been determined to smash. No, this deep fatigue felt like a weariness for work and some aspects of life.

What were my options? The first and most obvious was to join ‘the great resignation’, to free myself from the shackles of work and the yoke of expectation that seems to come with every engagement in my life as an IT contractor. So I explored this idea: is it possible I can reasonably expect to shift career now and earn the money I’ve grown accustomed to and which is needed to support my daughters through university? No.

Any career change takes time and investment and only one of these resources is available to me right now.

So what is my alternative? To keep ploughing on, jaded and tired, until one day I wake and my the possibilities I’d dreamed of have slipped by? To be honest, that’s a pretty depressing thought and one that spurred me into action.

Slowing the mechanism

The more realistic option is a step change: instead of forcing a pencil between the gears and cogs, jamming them into stillness, I decided to practice the age-old art of step change. Rather than bringing the entire system to a grinding halt, I introduce the mechanisms in me which will invariably slow the revolutions and give me time to breathe between the cycles. Think of it as pressing a blob of freshly mashed chewing gum into the machinery of life

Maybe you read the last line and thought, “So what? I already know this.” And you’d be right – on some level, these thoughts are always in our minds, but how often do we explore them and, more importantly, how do we find the time we need to act on them? Turning 180 degrees and striking out in new direction is an unrealistic proposition and so the simple answer is to add a tiny twist to the compass every day.

Many of the people I’ve spoken to agree the life they live now is not the one they chose or would wish for, and that’s a commonality across the human race. Finding a career and path through life that aligns with your dreams is a rare occurrence, no matter who you are. This doesn’t mean you can’t be happy – I’m generally a happy and optimistic person – but until we address the ‘what ifs’ there will always be that lingering question in the back of our minds.

I made a commitment to growing my IT consultancy, and the course correction progresses. I have decided on a direction, one that supports my desire to grow a consultancy and provides me with the life I desire outside of contracting. It’s one of the long-term changes sitting just over the horizon, growing closer with every conversation, every victory or defeat, ever tick of the clock’s second hand, but I’m closing in on it.

And all this came from a predator that stalks below the wave.

But wait…

P.S. I did discuss this idea with someone close and they suggested the dream might be a recognition that I have a handle on life – the clockwork man being a representation of the mechanical motions within me as being a subconscious acknowledgement of ‘work’ being an orderly process which needs little if any tending and allowing my conscious mind free-rein to explore the more creative and long term views and desires I have. Maybe she’s right; this coming year will tell.

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