Sarah Dale's story from Change the Ending is set in the world of education, but will resonate with anyone who works in the public sector.
She was exhausted, she told the doctor, her friends, her colleagues and her family. The advice included: take time off sick, sleep more, take anti-depressants and – from everybody – look after yourself.
One Thursday in February, she stared at her Year 11 French class. Some of them were struggling to stay awake. The others were restive and challenging. Anne had no idea how most of them were going to achieve their target grades. Her target grades. She didn’t have it in her to coax and bully every last one to the finish line this time.
Anne resolved to take the universal advice. She went home at 5pm, leaving work behind. She ate slowly and well. She went to bed early. The next day, she rose later than usual and arrived at school at 8am. Her colleagues looked at her warily. Had she lost it? They’d seen it before. It frightened everyone.
Anne worked hard until the lunch bell went. She drove to the park. After walking for precisely 20 minutes, she ordered minestrone soup in the café. She read her book. She was back at school five minutes before afternoon classes began.
She continued this pattern day in, day out. She spent time with friends and took long bike rides at the weekend. She resisted pressure to stay up late or check emails or complete household chores. Things went undone. Homework wasn’t marked and laundry wasn’t up to date. She ignored it.
By results day in August, her energy was high and expectations were low. In the face of severe criticism, she hadn’t run after-school classes or lunch-time revision sessions. Everyone, including herself, expected her to leave teaching soon.
But she had also noticed that her to-do list was shorter, only consisting of things that really had to be done. She found she was faster, more decisive. Over the months, her surprised students no longer expected her to spoon-feed them. Her family had begun to tackle domestic tasks that they hadn’t even realised existed before she stopped doing them.
Her class didn’t meet their targets. They exceeded them.
Sarah Dale is an occupational psychologist and coach who works with a range of individuals and organisations, including those in local government, higher education and professional services. She is the author of two non-fiction books - Keeping Your Spirits up and Bolder and Wiser - both of which relect mid-life and mid-career themes that she often encounters in clients (and in herself and friends!).