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Diary: Catherine Fox

09 July 2021


Sticking at it

I HAVE concluded that I am a completer-finisher. This dates from my noticing that the abbreviation is CF — my initials — and therefore easy to remember. That was why I always played centre-half in school hockey (my maiden name was Humphreys). There was a glow that came from wearing a tabard with my initials on the back.

In all other respects, centre-half was a stupid choice. I spent the entire PE lesson running from one end of the pitch to the other, chasing the ultra-keen centre-forward, without any idea of what was happening. This went on for years.

I never did grasp the rules of hockey. I was the only girl in the school who still had an embarrassing, old-fashioned stick, the “English head” kind you see on the cover of Angela Brazil school novels, called something like The Most Antiquated Girl in the School. All the other girls had modern hook heads (we will pause just long enough to allow the pedants to get excited, before adding “to their hockey sticks”. As you were, pedants.)

There were many funny things going on in Aylesbury in the ’70s, but no sightings of hook-headed grammar-school girls. Unless they appeared in the pages of Brazil’s unwritten masterpiece, The Trippiest Term on Record.


Sweet agony

WHAT has all this got to do with Belbin Team Roles, you may be asking. I often wander some distance from my point, but, being a completer-finisher, I never lose sight of it. “Completer-finishers”, we read on the MindTools website, “are the people who see that projects are completed thoroughly”. Go, us!

This has its advantages; but, like all great virtues, it casts a long shadow. Take confectionery. How often the poor completer-finisher sets out on the task of having a snack, only to find themselves wearily chomping their way through the entire packet of chocolate digestives, long after appetite has fled. Occasionally, a real act of willpower makes it possible to stop after completing-finishing the top layer of the Dairy Milk. But that bottom layer will nag away for the rest of the evening.


Point of order

LIFE is complex. Tasks do not present themselves in an orderly queue, to be dealt with one at a time. This plunges the CF person into a morass of questions about the correct and most efficient order in which to complete things. Here’s an example that bothers me on a daily basis: putting on my shoes and socks. Do I complete stage one (both socks), followed by stage two (both shoes)? Or finish my left-foot task (sock and shoe), before tackling the right?

In either case, there’s a nervy limbo of incompletion between the stages. If the doorbell rings, or the Second Coming happens, is it better to be caught in your socks, or with one shoe and sock on and the other foot bare?

Completer-finishers, we learn, “are described as perfectionists who are orderly, conscientious, and anxious”. Anxious? Small wonder, when the simple act of getting dressed means entry into a labyrinth of micro-decisions that is haunted by the Minotaur of Making Mistakes.


The long view

LOOKING back on the first half of this year, I can see that I spent the early months depressed and anxious. This is clearer to me now that I’m emerging. At the time, it’s rather like being caught in persistent rain when you’re on a 40-mile uphill walk. It all goes on so long and so relentlessly that you lose sight of the fact that this present reality isn’t the sum total of everything; that, in the past, sunshine was the default setting.

Once again, small wonder we are anxious. We are all stuck part way through a very long, gruelling task: getting through the pandemic. If we have even a shred of CF in our make-up, this is going to be stressful.


Letting go

SO, WHAT is the answer? You know the answer, boys and girls. I’ve told you in the Diary before: it’s a squirrel. It may sound like the Lord Jesus, but if it’s got bright eyes, a bushy tail, and eats nuts, it’s a squirrel.

I will tell you another interesting squirrel fact while we are here — squirrels quack. It may sound like an angry little duck, but if it has a bushy tail and is perched on a branch scolding you vehemently for something you’ve apparently done wrong, it’s a squirrel. It’s not a duck, it’s not the Lord Jesus. Jesus doesn’t do this, in my experience. I bet he climbed trees as a boy, but he doesn’t scold us vehemently for the things we’ve apparently done wrong. He wouldn’t need to, in my case. I have a chorus of inner voices to do it for him, especially when I’m low and anxious.

Instead, Jesus tends to say things like “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” There’s a particular kind of burden you end up shouldering as a CF, especially if you have a job that feels like cooking on 60 gas rings simultaneously, and each day is a blur of stopping pots boiling over while the food orders keep flooding in.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” Learn that deep trust that makes it possible to fall asleep in a small boat in a big storm. “For I am gentle, and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Because, in the end, this long gruelling task is not mine. There is a completer-finisher of my faith — and it’s not me.

Catherine Fox is an author, senior lecturer, and academic director of the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University.

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