Looking Ahead While Tending To The Now

Pritpal S Tamber

December 7, 2017

Yet another thing I’m crap at and why it matters five years into doing the thing I’ve been doing

So, it’s the day before the Bridging Health & Community Board meeting. The last few weeks have been frenetic while we’ve tried to make sense of what we’ve learnt during the last 15 months since incorporation and package it into a strategy for 2018. It’s been fun, although the process has reminded me of one of the hardest challenges in building something new – being able to look far enough ahead while tending to the now.

I’m crap at it. At least on a day-to-day basis, I am. I’m often caught in the details, trying to drive through my next set of tasks, hammering through actions, busy doing things right while not always asking whether I’m doing the right things.

The one time in the week I’m better is Saturday morning. I don’t know about you but the working week leaves me shattered come the weekend. Friday nights I often pass out on the sofa by ten, my fish and chips only just consumed, knowing full well that I’m going to wake up about 2am, curse myself for doing it again, and then schlepping to bed after the usual battle with myself as to whether I can be bothered with the nightly ablutions (I’m usually not). Saturday morning I’m almost always exhausted but I can never lie in so I’ll make a cuppa and read in bed.

These days, I read a novel followed by the links that people email me during the week. “Hey, Pritt, check this out”, I’m told, and I add the article to my Safari reading list that, through the magic of iCloud, sits waiting for me on my home-based iPad as I sip my tea. The links are to articles that are almost always ‘zoomed out’; long-form pieces that help me see things in their fuller context, understand the world a little more, and make sense of how my efforts are or are not contributing. Reading the novel first also helps me to hold a broader mindset.

I like that broader way of seeing the world and am always amazed by people who operate at that level all the time. It’s not so much that I think they have some special talent, more that I’m plain jealous that they have the mental space to stay at that level and make decisions from that perspective. I find that decisions from that ‘zoomed out’ perspective are more dispassionate, realistic and with a strong sense of forward momentum.

It’s from that perspective that I’m thinking about the 2018 strategy for Bridging Health & Community. I’m well aware that we’re a precarious vehicle right now – breaking even in year one is no mean feat but also no guarantee of future success – but at the same time I know we’ve built an asset that has every chance to grow. And I’m not thinking it should grow for the sake of growth but that people in health need it to grow, they need a credible vehicle to tell them that their instincts about where things are going wrong are true. Sometimes people just want to be told what they already know.

One of the things a founder needs to accept is that what’s right for the asset he or she has built may not be right for him or her. You may have started out to build X but whether X is what you build depends on what happens along the way. Often you end up building Y, and so the question becomes are you the right person for it? That’s something that I’m considering as I see the fruits of my five-year journey form into a thing I never dreamed of creating.

All of which brings me back to the thing that I’m crap at – looking ahead while tending to the now. Annual strategic planning is how the corporate world tries to turn it into a process but I’m well aware that it’s an artifice. As I oscillate between the two ways of working, I’m acutely aware that I may well have done what I can for this space (and that few other people could have done it) while trying to worry about the minutia of operations that will be needed in 2018 to build on what we’ve created.

I know what my Saturday morning persona is thinking.

As ever, a seemingly unrelated shot but feeling my knee get stronger with each post-op training run also helps me to zoom out of the day-to-day

Pritpal S Tamber

I’m a doctor who trained as a medical editor and publisher and now researches and consults on the link between community power and health equity. My interest in community power started when I was the Physician Editor of TEDMED and is explained in My Perspective. I also work as a freelance medical editor and publisher for organisations that want to write high-quality articles and a strategy for their publishing and promotion. Find out more on my About page.

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