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  • The Rachel Papers

The Rachel Papers

19 December 2021

Gerard Rahman, Partner |

I had seen a copy of The Rachel Papers in the library. Just the title would spark my imagination. If I had seen the cover, it may have filled in some of the blanks. What do you think the book was about? Published in 1973, The Rachel Papers was the first novel by Martin Amis, son of the acclaimed author Kingsley Amis. Today, some consider Martin Amis to be one of the great writers after World War II. We could have a whole conversation about what it must be like to follow on from a great person. But maybe we will have that chat another day. The story I share with you is not about the book known as The Rachel Papers, Martin Amis, or Kingsley Amis. My story is about Rachel. And she has some papers.

First, a little about my irritating ways in the 1990s; I prefer audit working papers to fit in one file. It shows that the person carefully edited what to document and what not to document. It shows strategy and focus. It shows planning and understanding. It shows efficiency and effectiveness. It shows how irritating I can be.

Rachel was in her second year of training as an auditor. If I had to pick six words to describe Rachel, they would be tall, dark, quiet, and sensitive with unique handwriting. And as every soul is, a myriad of complexities. I had just returned from leave. There were two thin paper files neatly placed on my desk – quietly waiting for me to review. Both files had the same company name and year-end, but one file would easily suffice. I could tell from the handwriting that it was Rachel. Then she appeared, obviously looking at my reaction to the two thin paper files. She said “You went on leave and without briefing me. Was this some sort of initiative test? Well, there you are – I put the papers in two files.”

I was in shock. Someone would put a small number of working papers in two files just to teach me a lesson for being so clever. But that was not true. There was no forethought here about pushing someone outside of their comfort zone. I had forgotten to brief Rachel. She believed in this world that she had created without knowing that I had made a simple mistake. Once I gathered myself, I apologized and explained that had I forgotten. Well, that failed – Rachel believed what she believed. 

Then it struck me. I was not the only one that formed my version of reality in the absence of information. I honestly thought that it was only me that filled in the blanks. It would usually start with someone reacting in a particular way or indeed not reacting. You know what I mean. When someone does not reply to your message. Maybe they are upset with you. Perhaps they do not like you. Or perhaps they never liked you. This can spiral out of control because you can make anything up when there is silence from the other party.

There is a healthy way to work through this. With practice, it becomes easier. It is a process of separating what you believe from what you know. Ensure that you hold onto what you know and start from there. Let us say I have suggested something and emailed it to someone. In my heart, I know it was a bit risky because I fear feeling rejected. Or feeling judged. So, I worded it the best way I could. After ten minutes, no reply. I pressed the send/receive button three times. Nothing. Thirty minutes elapsed. An hour. I wish I did not send that email. Perhaps they think I am an idiot? What am I going to do? Has that happened to you? Here is the thing. All I know is that no one said that people were upset with me. That is what I know. So, I should leave it at that. Maybe they forgot to reply. It is easy to build a universe with gaps in information. But it is not healthy. Whenever I feel myself falling into this trap, I force myself to snap out of it by remembering how people form the wrong conclusions about my action or inaction. I picture two thin files on a desk. The Rachel Papers. 

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