Controlled Burn

Well, that’s Bonfire Night done with. The sparklers are spent, the toffee apples long gone.

I love fireworks. I love the colours and the unpredictability and the way they fill all the night sky with magic and excitement, as if anything might be possible. The trouble is, they don’t last long. And when they are finished, the world seems even darker than it did before.

Or consider another delight of the season- autumn leaves. From glorious summer greenery, rude with health, trees put on a firework display all of their own at this time of year, albeit at a slightly more sedate pace. Slowly slipping into hues of yellow and russet, it seems as if each leaf has been hand-dipped in gold.

But these too come to an end; the once-magnificent foliage gets brittle and falls, becomes nothing more than nature’s crisp packets, crunched to nothing under so many muddy boots.

Fireworks and autumn leaves both put on incredible performances that inspire and engage, but both have a limited shelf life. Indeed, one of the reasons they are so amazing is because they are nearly over; leaves change colour as the life leaches out of them. Fireworks explode because the fuses have been lit. The glorious events we watch with admiration and awe are really just the expiration point of energy and effort, the end zone.

After they are gone, all is dark. Empty skies, naked branches. We enter the no-man’s land of mid November- too late for autumn and too early for winter.

So let me ask you this:

What’s your expiration point?

How close are you to the end zone?

I am perilously close to mine. I have pushed and pushed and worked and worked and up there, in the distance, I can see the barren landscape of no-man’s land waiting for me. It’s dull over there. Everything is grey. There are no bright colours, infused with light and energy and potential. There are no highs. No lows either, because they require energy too. The only things you will find in no-man’s land are the steady passage of time, the gradual, dependable accomplishment of tasks and the persistent, whispering desire to simply go into an empty room and gently close the door behind you.

I have visited before and it is a long, hard journey back.

You cannot expect others to stop you careening head long into the empty space beyond burnout. Remember, you are putting on an excellent show. You are performing at such a rate, you are the envy and awe of managers and colleagues alike. ‘How did you manage to get that done?’ they boggle as you hand over next week’s plan with a flourish. ‘Oh, I did it at the weekend’ comes your airy reply.

Only you know that the reality is you did it at 5am. Or that you completed it at the expense of an afternoon with your kids.

Remember, you are the firework, you are the autumn leaves; the life is leaching out of you, but you are making it look good.

But there is another way.

Choose not to burn so brightly. Choose not to expire in a blaze of colour and leave nothing but ash behind.

Be a candle.

Burn steadily.

Use your light to ignite others so that together you push back the dark.

Surround yourself with those who will gently cup their hands around your flame and protect you when sharp winds blow.

True, your performance will not be as showy. Sometimes it might even seem a little pedestrian next to bolder, more eye-catching performances, but you must remember that you will light the way long after these passing wonders are gone and forgotten.

Ask yourself:

Do I need to do this now?

What will the impact be if I don’t do this?

How can I find a better way of doing this so it frees up some of my time?

Is it time to say no?

How is this affecting me?

Am I ok?

What would help me be ok?



You are light.

You are steady.

You have the power to control the burn.

You can turn your back on no-man’s land and decide to never, ever go there.

You are wonderful.

So be kind to yourself and have a great week.


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