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The Pioneer Spirit

The Pioneer Spirit

Every day, something new is created in the world. The effects of most of these – events, inventions, products, and new knowledge are linear. They build on top of what has been done before, what we know for sure is possible. They improve, they optimize, they make things slightly better. Then there are those events, inventions, and breakthroughs that are simply revolutionary. They spark an incredibly far reaching change in a relatively short period of time. They upend everything we understand and take for granted about the world and open up new possibilities.

To innovate is part of human nature. Forever restless and full of creative energy, we are always inventing. Major milestones in our history like the development of language, the written word, the concept of money, modern finance, the printing press, gunpowder, electricity, the steam engine, the electric bulb, the computer, the internet, the smartphone, and space travel did not just make our lives better, they radically transformed them.

I’ve been reading an incredible book lately – My Vision by Mohammed bin Rashid Maktoum. It’s a book about the thematic ideas guiding the growth and development of the UAE and Dubai. I don’t pay enough attention to world politics and global trade, but between this book, talking to people, being home and looking at things with fresh ‘outsider’ eyes, I am inspired, and I have ideas. It is apparent, there is a clear way to development, growth and wealth creation on the African continent, if we can fix the underlying issues of leadership, unity, vision, commitment and political will.

Every great achievement or victory does not happen by accident. From the global stage to our personal lives, they happen as a result of an ambitious vision backed with real work ethic. Painstakingly, with great effort and perseverance, despite obstacles and set-backs, great heights can be attained. But it begins with vision, the ability to see the unseen, and to imagine what does not yet exist.

It is no easy task. It is much easier to match the status quo, to say, let us rise to this benchmark, the set standard. We have seen what an efficient company looks like, so let us imitate and build one like it. We know what functioning healthcare systems behave like, so let us create one just like it. And that certainly does work. A big part of personal growth is the idea of modelling winning behavior. Look for people who have what you want and model how they live. The problem with that, is that where you can go is capped by what has already been done.

The visionary studies the best solutions and thinking and then pushes them even further. The visionary stretches the imagination to create something never achieved before.

When you face a challenge that demands a solution or a decision, you have two choices – you can either emulate the example set by others, or use your own creativity and intelligence to formulate a new idea.

– Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (My Vision)

To rise from bottom in our lives and as a nation or a continent, we must reclaim the pioneering spirit. It is not enough to be like the greats, we have to go where no one has gone before. We have to be committed to doing more and going further. It can be as basic as being a pioneer for excellence in a surrounding sea of mediocrity. Or as boundary pushing as changing the game. Why settle for good enough, why not shoot to be the best? Why stop at building a great company, why not revolutionize the entire industry?

One way of thinking is incremental, the other is exponential.

If you want to lead, if you want to get ahead, then you must go even further, take the pioneering and creative approach. Break the rules, change the playing field.

Be an instigator.

Start something new. Let the world be different and better because of it. Even if it is just your neighborhood, or your company, or your class.

Be a pioneer.

Sure, you will be mocked, you will become a target. The pioneer disrupts the status quo. By her very existence, she throws shade on everyone else who is passive and subservient to the system. You will be misunderstood, you might even be accused of terrible things, of being foolish, reckless, or willingly seeking to harm or exploit people. But pioneer you must anyway.

First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.

– Nicholas Klein

It is easy to color in the lines, and do as you are told. Sit still, blend in, don’t ruffle feathers or stir up the pool. But pioneers, the ones who stoke the fire in their bellies are the ones who expand our understanding of what is possible. They end up building higher than we have ever seen and exploring depths we have never imagined. They expand our world.

But it takes huge vision, ambitious vision, crazy vision. And faith, faith that it is possible, faith that if we work hard at it, confident in its resolution, this project will take shape, this obstacle will fall, and a new era will dawn.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

– Rob Siltanen

We live in an exciting time. Sure, we have tremendous challenges, unsolved problems, deepening inequality, crises in climate, in economics, in politics, in finance, in development. All around the world. With these challenges also come tremendous opportunity, to think differently, and pioneer new paradigms. For the first time in history, we are connected to each other and to storehouses of knowledge at a bigger scale than ever before. It is the age of ideas, and it is our inspired ideas that will change our lives radically. If we do not become pioneers, we will fall even further behind.

If our sole goal is to attain the level others have reached, then we are setting our target too low…Do not fool yourselves into believing that we are moving forward when we are only keeping up with general trends, while the real opportunities are slipping away.

– Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (My Vision)

To be a pioneer means to embrace the unknown, to trust instinct and curiosity, to try over and over and fail, and try again. To embrace every obstacle not as an invitation to stop, but as a challenge to solve. To work harder than anyone else but driven by passion, by love and obsession. It is hard work, but it is worthy work.

Reclaiming the pioneer spirit means that you are not limited to solving problems you have seen before. But you can confidently face the future and tackle completely new and left-field scenarios because you have the mental toolkit and resources to meet the challenge and create transformational solutions.

And in case you thought it was the work of the lone ranger, the lone genius working in the basement, know that it is also born of community, of a shared belief and shared hope for a collective destiny. A pioneering group of people united will build the world of the future.

The way back home

The way back home

Going home is always interesting, but going home after a long time, is its own ball game.  Things feel familiar and comfortable, but at the same time different. Everything has a quality of strangeness as you settle and reacclimatize to a space you haven’t occupied in years. You are different, home is largely the same, and every interaction is a renegotiation of hierarchy, atmosphere and energy.

For different people, home means different things. For some, they are happy places, for others not so much. As we grow older, what home means to us also changes. They evolve from spaces we occupy as dependents, to spaces we occupy as individuals with agency. But no matter what age we are, children or full-grown adults, going home has a restorative quality. Home is a place of memory and grounding.

Home is where our story begins…

The act of returning home has great significance to us. It is a thematic thread or component of many stories. The hero’s journey codified by Joseph Campbell outlines the typical stages of a protagonist’s adventure. The hero is called or dragged into a quest, goes on the long journey to defeat something evil or acquire something valuable, and then returns back home with the bounty, changed or transformed.

This pattern is recognisable from The Odyssey to The Matrix. They resonate because they are primal archetypal myths, metaphors and stories for our personal journeys. We recognise ourselves in these stories because we play out the same drama in our lives.

The journey to getting what you want is the hero’s journey. We leave the warm cocoon of our comfort zones and head into unfamiliar ground in search of the prize. Sometimes we go willingly, more often, our world is turned inside out, and we find ourselves thrust unwittingly into a quest. Guides appear to help along the way, trials arise to challenge, temptations and sirens sing to test us. On this tough road we press on. We do the work, we experiment, we break the rules, we confront ourselves, our previously held beliefs, our ideas, our expectations.

We lose our way, fall into holes, wind up in dark deep places where we are almost overwhelmed by the chaos. We deal with uncertainty, with fear, with our desires. We battle the dragons of doubt, the beast of a subconscious out of control, plagued and goaded by unresolved trauma and wounds from the past.

But we get through it. We learn lessons, we adapt, we improve. We evolve, we change. We slay the dragon, we win.

This journey necessarily separates us from home. We go into the world, and wrestle with it, and with ourselves, to come into our strength and to become fully formed individuals. If we do it well, we are able to build an internal locus of strength and form an internal compass. We become ourselves, honouring our specific inclinations, impulses and nature. We stand mature, able to engage effectively with  world around us, of our society and our time. This journey makes us fully formed and realised people.

However, the journey is not complete once you have slain the dragon and obtained your goods. To complete the cycle, and it is a cycle because you will undertake this journey again, and again, you must return home.

Your expulsion sparked the process of the dissolution of your past self. From those ashes, a new you was born. To move forward, there must be an integration. You have to return, to reconnect with your past so you can move boldly into the future.

The other day, I was watching Joe Rogan have a conversation with Guy Ritchie, and the filmmaker broke down the story of the prodigal son in a way that I had never heard it before. In case you have never heard it, the prodigal son is a parable in Bible about a rich man and his two sons. The younger one asks for his inheritance and goes off into the world and just does the absolute most. Whores, partying, living and squandering his inheritance. Eventually he blows it all, and finds himself taking on a job feeding pigs, and being so hungry, he was tempted to eat those scraps.

This is rock bottom for him, so he finally comes to his senses and decides he is just going to tuck his tail between his legs and go back home. At least, he could get a menial job working for pops. No point dying out here for nothing.

So, he heads on home, and the moment his dad sees him, he is overjoyed, he embraces him, places fine robes, jewellery and orders the fattest cow killed for a feast. In the midst of the celebration of the prodigal son’s return, the older son is not impressed. He has stood by his father’s side the entire time, being the good and dutiful son, and here is dad, celebrating this good for nothing waste man brother of his. His father’s admonishment to him is that he should chill and be happy his brother is back.

On the surface, it is a weird read, why is the father so chilled about the younger son’s behaviour? What’s the deal with the response to the older son? Do we take the story as an admonition to not be like the wasteful brother, or do we embrace the idea that it’s fine to squander our inheritance because of the seemingly boundless redemptive love and acceptance of the father?

As with many stories and parables, there is the literal plot, and then there is the deeper esoteric meaning. In this case (according to Guy Ritchie at least) the story is about inner conflict. We are the father, the older son is our reason, and logic, the younger son is the more primal and indulgent emotions.

Reason teaches us the rules we must follow, the norms of society, the duties, the structure, the status quo that holds up the empire. It is safe. It is boring. In the younger son, we see our emotional selves, the rebel within, the need to break the walls and escape, to explore past what is ‘safe’ and to investigate what the world has to offer. It is exciting but dangerous business.

And both sides exist within us, and the balance between the two forms our expression.

It is that exploration that questions our beliefs and helps us understand why they exist and how to take them up consciously and powerfully.

It is the experience that allows us to become ourselves and stand on the strength of our experience and forged convictions. It is after this journey, that we are able to reintegrate. We are able to revisit the past, reconcile with the older brother of reason, and tradition, and navigate the middle path. A path that respects and honours the past but looks innovatively to transform and create into the future.

We come back to share the gifts we have won. We also come back to relearn, to recover and to strengthen ourselves, to enter a new phase, take on more responsibility, to embark on a new, even more challenging journey.

It is the Hero’s journey. We leave a child, we return to become King.

The world works for you

The world works for you

This is the mantra I have been repeating to myself often lately. As someone who usually has a mild level of anxiety going on at most times, my mind races towards all the ways things can go wrong. I hope to succeed and win at whatever I am doing but I am also too familiar with the worst-case scenarios.

But recently, I’ve started to wonder, ‘what if I flipped it?’. I mean, my present thought patterns are really just that, a pattern. And patterns, I can change. We get addicted to thought forms and used to certain ways of observing or experiencing the world. But it takes just as much energy to think of positive outcomes as it does to think of negative ones, so why not let go of that pessimism and experiment more with optimism.

Even if the actual results don’t change, even if things don’t go our way, the very act of changing our expectations changes the texture of our lives and our experiences. Last week, I walked into the bank trying to get something sorted out, and as I sat in the consultant’s office, I felt the tension rise within me, my mind racing with disaster scenarios, not only would I not get the thing I wanted, but something even worse would happen. So, I took a deep breath and started to repeat to myself, ‘the world works for me, the world works for me’. I did not get what I wanted, but I left with the sense that the consultant was on my side, he genuinely wanted me to succeed. He even wished me good luck on my way out.

I try to live in an intuitive way, responding to and moving according to my heart, whatever I feel in my core to do. I won’t take a decision until I felt the answer had revealed itself to me, and I would follow whatever path I felt I needed to, to get there. It is sometimes frustrating to the people around me, but it is my process.

And lately, I’ve been feeling like…eh…like bleh.

After a long season of hustling, pushing and fighting and making things happen, it is kind of hard knowing what to do next or where to go next. What happens after you get what you want?

Sometimes it is nothing. You do nothing. You just wait it out.

And waiting is something we don’t understand too well as a culture. The periods of rest and inactivity are just as important as the periods of grinding and creation. Sometimes you just have to be still. It’s in that time that you recover, that you are strengthened. It is then your vision is restored, and the path opens up to the next things.

But you have to be open to it. You have to accept it all, understanding that the universe and life moves in ebbs and flows, in cycles. Sometimes things are great, sometimes things are not. Sometimes things are slow, sometimes they move with determined ferocity. It is not up to you to control it, but to surrender to it and flow with it.

For the world to work for you, you have to let go of ego. It is not about you, and about what you ‘want’. Although there is a space for that. It is more about ‘what is’. The universe is infinitely bigger than you and knows more than you. Where has it placed you in the larger scheme of things. Where does it want you to be? What does it want you to do?

It takes some time, practice and openness to be able to listen and discern the times. To see things happen and recognize how to respond.  But once you understand this, life becomes a collaboration with source. Life brings things your way, and you are present enough to seize the opportunities, the open doors, the gaps in plain sight that you ought to slip into.

You join the eternal dance, having everything, and holding on to nothing, living, being, creating.

 

Death by a thousand strokes

Death by a thousand strokes

Whenever you come into contact with an immerse and impactful piece of work, the towering obelisk, the frescoes on the ceiling, the sculptures, the works of art, the architectural marvel, the music, films and books that draw us in deep into new and exotic locales, it is easy to be so impressed, so moved by these works that we are both inspired and intimidated. We feel the stirring within, that innate desire to go on and create our own masterpiece. We also feel the fear. How can we attempt such? How will we ever pull off creating something so great? Where would we even begin.

For each of us, the masterpiece is different. It could be picking up a new habit, or learning a new skill, or making something, an event, a painting, an EP, a book. But at its core, they are all the same. It is an undertaking that will demand time and effort.

We know that the road to getting things done is not without its twists, turns and difficulties. So, in our minds, to get started, we have to carve out this block of time. The perfect Saturday evening to sit down and work through our idea, and really get it going. We fantasize about the one perfect stretch of time and space that would arise to really work on it and get it done.

But things never happen that way, right? Life is just too unpredictable, and there is enough that pops up daily to stop us. A new project pops up, a family crisis arises that we have to handle. In that way, we keep plodding along, putting out our fires and getting busy with the business of living. At the back of our mind, the thought lingers, on the thing we need to be doing…

Even worse, let’s say things do go that way. You successfully carve out the time to work on that big idea or dream of yours, and what happens? You squander the time. You play around, you get distracted, you find an excuse. Making the time is one thing, doing the actual work is another.

There is a better way.

The idioms that a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, and that the way to dispose of an elephant is to eat is one bite at a time offer the clue. When you stop looking at your project as this immense thing, and begin to understand that with consistent small actions, you can tackle it. You can hack your doubts to death with a thousand cuts and bring your work to life by a thousand strokes, applied over a long time.

Sure, creative work demands large stretches of time, to think and to tinker our ways to answers. But don’t let that metastasize into an excuse that stops you. Adopt the long-haul attitude also. Embrace the little time you can get. Maybe you can steal 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour or two here and there to work on this project that is so important to you. Take them. Work within those constraints.

10 minutes might be all you need to outline your project and note down some quick execution steps. Then when you get another bit of time, you can work on those first steps you outlined, and then the next steps and so on. The idea is to begin where you are, and work with what you’ve got.

This does a couple of things

When you work in spurts like this, you are able to savor the process more, and let creative ideas percolate and evolve over period of times between the sessions. The slow burn can help you birth a deeper, more nuanced work than trying to hack through it all at once.

You focus on building the habit of working on something consistently. You can move your attention from quality. You are not worried about getting it right all at once, you are concerned with showing up. You won’t always be at your best, you might not always be inspired. But you can commit to making something small consistently, and then over time, you gain volume, and out of that volume, you can curate something great.

And when you do get that magical block of time – a day, a weekend, a month to really dig in, it would be easier not waste it, because you have cultivated the habit of working on it consistently.

You focus on acting and creating in whatever pockets you can find them, until your creative obstacles collapse in a constant barrage of strikes, and your creation, your masterpiece emerges over a thousand strokes.

Stretch your imagination

Stretch your imagination

The need to dream big

Since January, we have been on the journey of unpacking what it takes to get what you want. Knowing yourself, embracing the hard work, crafting the routine, and being consistent. These ideas help us lay a strong foundation of habit, and action. They make sure that we step up to the plate every day and take a swing. They are the core of this process.

Supposing you have laid this foundation. You have adopted new habits, established routines and rituals. You even journal and check in frequently to keep yourself accountable in the process of chasing success – getting what you want. There is something fundamental and invisible that can hold us back or make us stop short. That is our mental image of ourselves and our future.

Like a great athlete, we must have a very clear vision of what we want to accomplish before we make a move. Vision, in preparation for an action, is as important as the action itself. – Marianne Williamson

The law of attraction has as one of its tenets, the concept of visualizing what you want in order to manifest it. So, imagine sitting in that new car, getting the keys to that new house, going on that holiday, setting up that foundation, whatever floats your boat. And while that can sound like very rah-rah motivational kind of fluff, we do need to embrace the power of the mind’s ability to visualize as a key part of getting what we want and becoming successful. To get what we want, and then transcend it, we have to exercise something we sometimes take for granted. The power of imagination.

It is not like we don’t use it anyway. We are skilled in the art of imagination. It is just that our mind more easily tends to paint images of doom and gloom. We think about our futures, and the fears rise up like specters crowding and clouding all corners of our mind. We are more easily inclined to think about all the things that could go wrong than all the things that could go right.

And that is okay. Sometimes, our present situation is too overwhelming, our environment too toxic, the economy is shit. We are surrounded by negativity, by a fearful apathetic world. We have problems and obstacles in our way. That is why we do the work. That is why we learn how to maneuver, how to overcome impossible odds. That is why we focus on what we can do, the actions we can take. That is why we create an inner citadel, a place of peace and positivity and light.

Because we need that foundation. Think of it like trying to build on a plot of land. Imagine this land is full of ruins, rubble and weeds. First, we have to clear it. We have to remove the obstacles, the rocks, the weeds. We have to reduce the plot to an empty clear space ready to be built on. And that is a good metaphor for what we have discussed all year. Clearing the plot, putting yourself in the position to succeed. The routines, habits and actions begin to form the foundation that we are going to build on.

So, what do we build?

It is easy to settle for just comfort. After all, we have overcome so much, let us just build a small little house and take it easy. Don’t do that. Invest in the quality of your imagination. In the field of architecture, there are designers that create cookie cutter, functional design, and there are those that shift paradigms of what a building could even look like. Become the visionary architect of your life.

I have referenced Peter Theil’s idea of ‘definite optimism’ before. The outlook of having a definite ideal, a clear vision for the future backed up with a strong commitment and plan to achieve it. It is a call to stop being resigned to the status quo for yourself and reach for more.

It is this vision, this mental image of ourselves doing and experiencing and creating things we would never before that fires us up, fills us with emotion and both magnetically matches us to the vibration of what we want, and pushes us to take the concrete actions and steps to get there.

The greatest motivator of change is a crystal-clear vision of what the future should look like. – Andy Stanley

Build something remarkable. Don’t just settle for being comfortable, for setting yourself up and heading off into the sunset. Go Big. Dream Big. Allow yourself to experience and build and create things you never thought possible for you. Visualize yourself living your wildest dreams regularly. Paint a daring audacious vision for your future.

And not just for yourself, but for the community, the people and the world around you.