Valuable lessons from my whiteboard

Some January critical analysis from Colette
January 23, 2023

As a cry for help the other day I wrote ‘Help’ on a whiteboard in my kitchen. When I returned to the kitchen later, there was an anonymous reply from a family member: in a cheery speech bubble it read ‘You’re on your own!’ It wasn’t the reply I was looking for.

To be fair, what kind of attention-seeking behaviour is writing ‘Help’ on a whiteboard anyway? Was I really expecting help? What was I needing help with? Why use a whiteboard? Conclusion: the reply was as helpful as the original message.  

A valuable lesson perhaps.

I quite like January. Despite the darkness that falls in early afternoon, the never ending rain, the scariness of a whole new year, the work that I put off over the festive period, the sad goodbyes as everyone disperses after reuniting for Christmas - and the fact that January is just the worst month - I still quite like it. The relief that I can stop eating chocolate and cheese between my meals and that it is now socially acceptable not to have a glass of wine with lunch. January is the time for the return of good old routine. I’m a sucker for it: falling asleep knowing what I’ll be eating all the way from breakfast to dinner and knowing my notebook with a to-do list and outline of the day awaits to be picked up in the morning.

Unfortunately, I also suck at keeping a routine. So in reality I’ll reach the end of the day with one tick on my to-do list and a meal I wasn’t planning to eat sitting displeasingly in my stomach. A disheartening feeling I have felt far too often in the first few weeks of January.

So Perhaps, this is what my ‘Help’ was clearly stating?

As I break down the feelings that led me to quietly scribble my cry for help on that whiteboard, it becomes clearer that ‘You’re on your own’ is a perfectly good response. I am.

Yet I would like to add a line that my anonymous respondent left out: ‘We still support you and want to help you but we can’t do it all for you.’ I’m pretty sure they would have added that if my ‘Help’ hadn’t taken up most of the whiteboard.

I know it to be true. I have a very supportive family. They’ll do anything from making me a cup of coffee as motivation to reading any of my work I send their way. But my respondent is correct: they can’t send my emails, do my work or force me to go for a walk which I know will make me feel better.  

If I’d written something more specific – like ‘Help, how do I write an email when I don’t know the name of the person I am emailing?’ – I’m hopeful the response would have been different.

So my first lesson from the whiteboard antics is this: I’ve got to get that communication clearer. Next time I’m overwhelmed I won’t just write ‘Help’.

My second lesson takes me back to my love of routine. Surprisingly, I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions. Despite my love of lists. I know where they lead: to disappointment as I inevitably fail. If I decided to exercise three times a week and failed just once, I’d focus on the failure, not the benefits of exercising. ‘What’s the point? Maybe next year…’ I’d end up exercising less than if I’d never made the resolution at all.

And New Year’s Resolutions aren’t the only time I’m guilty of doing this. My to-do lists and planning tell me to be up by 8am and complete my first task by 10am.Then I wake up at 9am, already failing. Already feeling that today’s a write-off so what’s the point? Maybe tomorrow…

Might it be better to try and ‘help’ future me a little less? Fewer lists, less planning? I’m not sure. I may not have any 2023 resolutions but I’ll be leaving January with perhaps a new direction and some thoughts to ponder.

So thank you, my anonymous whiteboard friend (whose writing looks eerily like my mum’s)!