This is Lydiard House and Park, near Swindon in the UK. While the land belonged to the St. John family for over 500 years, the present house was built in the 1740s in the Palladian style, with an adherence to symmetry and use of Classical architectural details. In 1943, the house was sold to
the Swindon Corporation, and, for the time being, it is still run by Swindon Borough Council. The extensive grounds are now a public park and, perhaps more surprisingly, parts of the house have been turned into a hotel and conference venue. This latter purpose is why I found myself there recently as part of a work event.
It was a major meeting, one I had recently been given responsibility for managing. This was my opportunity to meet the people involved, see how everything operated, and discuss other aspects of our current project plans. It probably isn’t a surprise that I had been feeling anxious ahead of the event, a combination of not knowing what to expect and worry about the greater responsibility I would now have.
Indeed, the first day had been intense: so many new people to meet, notes to take, activities to get through. I began to wonder how I would manage this in the future on top of my usual workload, how I would make sense of everything, and how I would cope with the pressure to do a good job.
The second day dawned cold and clear. I had a few minutes to kill before everything kicked off again, and decided to use this time to explore the grounds of the park. I found myself drawn to the pond, with its reflections of sunrise and winter tree branches, and its assortment of waterfowl. The geese in particular were noticeable, honking to each other in a strange dawn chorus. Watching them as they went about their morning routine, a phrase popped into my head: “Like water off a duck’s back.” Despite the difference in species, I mused over this common cliché.
It implies a resilience I think many of us wish we had, to be able to take whatever life throws at us and let it wash over us without ruffling our feathers. And yet, as I stood there watching the waterfowl and listening to their calls, I realised what a great metaphor it was for my current situation.
Ducks aren’t born waterproof. When they hatch, they’re covered in fine, fluffy down, and it takes several months for them to grow their adult feathers. And for these to resist water, the ducks (and geese, swans, and most other water birds) have to look after themselves. It’s why they can be seen regularly preening, spreading oil over their feathers to make them waterproof. Without this care and attention, their feathers would lose the protective coating and the birds would be unable to keep themselves warm and dry.
Yet how many of us do just the opposite? We expect perfection of ourselves from the start, and work constantly without any time to refresh and replenish. It made me realise that I needed to allow myself time to grow into the role and to ensure I gave myself the space to build up my own “emotional coating” so that the duck’s back resilience came more naturally.
I went back to the house feeling just a little lighter and far more ready to take on the day.