I was in an internal meeting at work the other day run by John, the senior partner. I'd been out of the office for a few days and hadn't seem him or his team for awhile. There was obviously a big project on – all his movements were hurried, he needed to speak to one of the other lawyers after this meeting, he was impatient for the other attendees to arrive. But all the while, he was trying to maintain a calm, friendly air.

We were supposed to be video-linked to our regional branch office. The TV was there with the webcam and mike but the IT department had not set it up or turned it on. "This is no good," John muttered and called down to IT. Then he decided to start the meeting anyway – we were already five minutes late. The IT guy sauntered in fifteen minutes after the start time. "Too late," John said, "Thanks, we don't need you." The guy sauntered vaguely out again.

Maybe it was because I'd been away from the office. For the first time in the years I'd been there, I found myself on a different time zone from everyone else. Just as the IT guy, too, had been in his own zone. I had always presumed that the speed of time in the office was the speed of time of the rest of the world. But the lawyers are in a zone where time seems speeded up with urgency and deadlines. The IT guy was in his own continuum of leisureliness. And I had come back with my time clock adjusted to normal time in the rest of the world.

Later, I had to seek out colleagues and talk to them about various things. As I walked the floor and found them in their little cubicles or passed them in the corridor, I could see their internal time clocks racing along. It was as if their chests were wound up with tension. Sometimes in the moment as they looked up, just before they smiled, their face had a haggard – even harrowed – look. Sometimes, they didn't even smile and left that look of pain there. They spoke hurriedly, made some small talk and then churned on about the project that was bothering them.

It was as if, suddenly, I had stepped out of the looking glass. I could see myself for the first time. I had that speeded up time clock inside me, too. But because I had been away, it had gone into sleep mode. It would start up again before too long. And I would be back inside the looking glass, harried and glancing up from my papers with a look of desolation.