As we enter a new year, and a lot of people are contemplating what they want to achieve, what they want to change, or what they want to keep and nourish; I, quite honestly, feel a little lost. But maybe not so much lost as “adrift” or “suddenly aware that I’ve been adrift for a while, riding the gentle waves of a lake, no longer sure what shore I left from or which bank I need to go to”.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the situation – there’s no storm brewing, no predator beneath the surface of the water, no structural problem with the boat, or shortage of supplies – but I feel a little adrift.
I worked late on New Year’s Eve because I was rostered for it. I worked on New Year’s Day because the first two people HR asked couldn’t or didn’t want to, and I thought I’d spare HR from the uncomfortable situation of having to keep asking around, and also spare my other colleagues from the uncomfortable situation of having to consider if they really want to work on the public holiday.
The thing about working on major public holidays (like New Year’s or Christmas) is that everyone feels sorry for you, so it’s easy to start wallowing in self-pity too. But I reckon I feel better about having worked NYE and NYD than I would if I’d declined either of those shifts.
In the evening of NYE, a woman came in to collect medication for someone she was caring for. It was less than half an hour before closing time, so of course it was a bit of a complicated case (not too tricky, though). It sounded like the patient was in a very poor condition, and her prognosis was uncertain at best. I’m grateful for having met and spoken to this patient’s carer because it reminded me that illnesses don’t care what occasion the rest of the world is celebrating, and sometimes every new day has the same profundity as the turn of a century.
After closing up that night, I had to run what is essentially a software reset, which basically involves waiting a really long time for the computer to sift through a year’s worth of dispensing data. During this time, I tried to do some small tasks, but not being able to use the computer really limited what I could do. I looked at the time a lot, and I started thinking about my colleagues and what they were doing that night.
And, to my surprise, I actually didn’t feel any pangs of jealousy or any longing to be anywhere but at work. I was happy that none of them were stuck in the pharmacy with less than three hours till midnight. Several colleagues had told me that they were just going to have a quiet night, perhaps not even staying up for the countdown, and I didn’t/don’t begrudge them that either.
And I re-realised from this that I feel at my best when I’m doing something for someone else. (“Re-” because I had been thinking about this for some time now.) The reason why I do something is as important as what I actually do – perhaps even more so.
NYD was not so busy, but I still had a fair number of people come in for prescriptions and other items – sometimes very essential medication, sometimes medications for symptomatic relief or other things. But it didn’t really matter, I guess, if they were getting life-saving medication or just buying jelly beans, because every smile and every “thank-you” made everything feel worthwhile.
But then I came home, and I went on the computer, and I checked emails, watched random YouTube, browsed social media, somehow ended up on Pottermore for a bit, helped my dad with his passport renewal, went back to YouTube, browsed WordPress… and suddenly I was feeling adrift again.
But then – then! of all things to turn to! – I decided to do some CPD (“Continuing Professional Development”, which is essentially ongoing study that all pharmacists have to do to show that they are ensuring their knowledge is current and in-line with best practice). And then I felt better because I was doing something useful – something that would help me help others. And even if it wasn’t anything to do with anyone else, self-improvement itself is always worthy.
So, about a year after finishing Anna Karenina, I still think of it now and then, and the part I like most is about Levin. It’s the part, reasonably early in the novel, when he returns home after a rejection, knowing that he cannot be anything other than himself, but all the same (or because of that) wanting to be better than he had been before.
This is not the only time I’ve thought of that quote since finishing the book – I’m sure I’ve thought of it often because I know the feeling – but I reckon in the times that I feel adrift, I’ve probably just forgotten that feeling – this simple yet revelatory motivator of just wanting to be better.
So I suppose those are my two anchors, or my two oars, whichever way you want to look at it, for when I feel adrift this year or any year: doing something good for others, and doing something good for myself. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But forgetting is easy too. I have a feeling I’ll be re-reading this post a few times this year…