As 2019 approached, I wondered what I would write about next. One evening, I lay in bed watching YouTube videos like I usually do (terrible sleep hygiene I know). I came across a video by Patrick Bet David and watching him speak about ‘How to really unlock your potential as an entrepreneur’, it hit me, of course, that is what I would write about.
Last year as I committed to writing more consistently – putting out a blog post every week, I wrote around the theme, ‘How to get what you want’. I had been working diligently to accomplish certain things over the previous 2 – 3 years, course correcting, clarifying my business, learning new skills and positioning myself. There were many things to attain and accomplish. As I discovered concepts, applied them and started to see some success, I figured it was my duty to share what I learnt as I went along. Not everyone likes to read books, or spend hours every day on YouTube or Medium, so if they could encounter some of these ideas in my writing or talking to me, then that was a good thing.
So that is what we explored last year – How to get what you want. From figuring out what you want in the first place, to setting goals, to doing the work, to staying focused, to getting back up after the inevitable setbacks and failures, all the way to recommitting and going even harder, placing an extra layer of accountability and measurement to really push you forward. It has been an incredible journey so far. One that will culminate in a book by the same name.
But it all starts with intention, an idea I explored briefly in my short book – How to live with intention. The way I see it, you begin with living intentionally, consciously, geared towards an overarching purpose. As you walk on that road towards intention, you begin to set goals and targets, things to strive for. These goals implore you to set up systems in your life, to craft micro-habits and create a whole new lifestyle to support them. In this way, over time you get what you want.
But every mountain top only gives you a better view of the next mountain top. Our lives are a series of summits and valleys we travel through till we shuffle off this mortal coil. It is this journey that we undertake over and over again, hopefully getting better at it each time. We write one book, and then get the idea for three more. We craft a business for ourselves at first, now we look to build teams. We touch the lives of 100 people with our content, now we look to touch 10 000. Growth is an important part of life, progression is key. There is a beautiful video by Ray Dalio that illustrates this journey.
Now that we have gained some traction, working, hustling, pushing, and bagging wins under our belt, we recommit ourselves to the journey. Especially at a time like this, the dawn of a new year. With our early successes, we begin to explore and ask ourselves, what we are really capable of? Sure, we have gotten this far, but just how much farther can we take this? That is the question of potential.
I have been obsessed with the concept for many years. If you asked me at any point in the past 14 years what my biggest fear was, it would be ‘not living up to my potential’. See I got it into my head a long time ago, thanks to authors like Myles Munroe, that every human being is born with immerse potential. Tom Bilyeu starts off his Impact Theory shows with the affirmation that he believes that the human potential is essentially limitless. When we are born, we are completely helpless. Unlike other species, we cannot feed ourselves, we don’t walk until many months down the line, we can’t even hold our heads up by ourselves. We are born knowing nothing. We depend on our parents and care givers to do everything for us, helping us survive and eventually teaching us everything we know. But this is what makes us quite special. Humans are born with a tremendous capacity for adaptation and learning. We are quite literally learning machines. Which means that we are born with tremendous potential, to be many things, to be anything, but it is our environments and experiences that shape us and bring out the manifestation of what we can be.
For some of us, those early environments are nurturing, building us to great versions of ourselves. For others, those environments are toxic, uncaring and indifferent. They cause us to grow warped and stunted, armed with less than ideal coping mechanisms and reactions. However, another powerful trait of the human species is the capacity for self-reflection – the ability to think about our thinking and even change it.
See regardless of your past and your environment, you still hold an incredible capacity for change and growth. You can take charge of your life and move forward, if you want to, if you decide to. You can also just throw your hands up and let the nation you were born in determine your fate, or your home situation keep you locked mentally. You can even allow your body to limit you, claiming you are too weak, the wrong gender…whatever your excuse.
You can have excuses, or you can have results, never both at the same time.
Everyone has different potential. Between genetics and our environments, what is possible for A might not be for B. But we all have the capacity to discover and max out our personal potential. We can dig deep and figure out what we are truly capable of. That is the point of growth, that is the point of living with intention, pushing to get what you want over and over again – to max out your potential and give life everything you have got.
Myles Munroe always used to say that the richest places on earth were not banks, or treasure vaults, they were graveyards. There lie the remnants of millions of souls who lived and passed on. But also, there lie the many dreams that died. Books that went unwritten, songs that were never sang, nations that were never transformed, lives that were never touched, charities that didn’t begin, inventions that never saw the light of the day, industries that never changed, so many potentials that were never fulfilled. Will you end up one of them? When you give account of your life at its end, will you be able to boldly say you gave it your all?
Each man/woman and everyone in between must decide this, unconsciously or consciously. It is a new year, what are you capable of? I ask myself the same question, and I am super curious to find out. So, this year, I will be exploring this theme in my content, teasing out the concepts, lessons and ideas that help us discover and reach our potential. It will be real, it will hold no punches, because to reach your potential, you must push yourself, you must do the uncomfortable, you must shine light into the places you have kept hidden, you must hold yourself to a higher standard.
This book was conceived, written and designed in 7 days.
I sat down last week to blog my thoughts on how you approach end of year reviews, and how to set and achieve goals in the new year. And as I started to put my thoughts together, I remembered a friend of mine – Mpumi had asked me a few times about how I went about strategically planning my year, specifically how you organize your life around the One Thing. She had read the book by the same name, and I had written about the book earlier in the year.
Fun fact, we have an almost hour-long interview we did together a while back talking about design, branding and personal development – here.
To be honest, the question threw me off. At first, I was just going to talk specifically on how I set goals and translate that to the day-to-day actions that would get me there. Now the scope was a little bigger. Taking into consideration the concept of the One Thing, I quickly realized I had to take a few steps back to accommodate the new ideas that spring from that one question. What is the One Thing, how do you find yours, and how do you orient yourself toward it? Why have a One Thing at all?
As I wrote, I found myself meandering, getting to page 4 without even scratching the surface. For context, I usually write about 2 – 3 pages per blog post. I had two options, continue the blog route and make a 4-5-part blog series, or just write all the pieces and make it into a book.
Hmmm. I released my first book in October. Could I really write two books in one year? Why not? It was a stretch but it was certainly doable. It could at the very least be a cool flex.
So, on this whim, I asked around, ‘what people would like to read, a series or a book?’ The book won by a margin of like 3:1. So here we are.
As I wrote and thought more about what I was trying to say in this book, it became apparent that I was really trying to write about the art of living intentionally. I believe the road to fulfillment – happiness, and success starts here. To be successful, you have to be able to set a north star and move towards it consistently. But how do you define your One Thing, and how do you connect the dots backwards to your day-to-day life?
This book is an attempt to answer these questions.
This isn’t the blog I wanted to write this week. I had planned to write something about the art of end year reviews, and new year strategies. But as I drafted that blog, I found myself writing for pages and pages with no clear resolution to the ideas and themes I was trying to communicate. So here I am writing about something else.
The first time I ever blogged was in 2010. I started on wordpress.com, and in 2011 I believe, I got my own domain and moved my blog to it. I’ve written every year since then, but very sporadically, with months in between posts sometimes. I’ve never really known why I blog, just that something within me compels me to. I do sense I do it as a way to understand and express myself better. Those earlier posts were about me trying to figure out life and many of them became part of the book I published this year – The Meaning of Life and other such nonsense.
Around this time last year, I set the intention to blog every week. This came as part of a larger theme I was pursuing – executing ideas. In fact, I dubbed 2018 as the year of execution for me. And now at the end of the year, I have been mostly successful at blogging every week. Sure a few weeks I failed, but when I did, I made up for it the subsequent week.
So, what have I learned from a year of consistent blogging?
Making a decision to consistent action like blogging every week is a commitment. It says I have given my word to do this thing, and come rain or sun, I just have to do it. Many times, I sat to blog with no idea of what to write, but I just had to sit and push through it. At the expense of other things. Whether it was easy or hard. Whether I was tired or refreshed. Even when I felt I had nothing to say. Some days it felt like punishment. Some days it was a grueling process. But I said I would blog, and so I did. Week in, week out, I sat down, and I wrote.
Adjust your expectations – Start small
The original plan was actually to produce multiple pieces of content and post at least 3 times a week across multiple platforms. And for the first few weeks, I did that, making images, doing the usual Monday motivation pieces, and doing book reviews every other week. But I quickly found that that was a bit unwieldy for me. I’m not a full-time blogger, I have multiple clients and projects on my plate at any point in time, so I decided to strip down my intention to its most basic form. If I could just post an article a week for a whole year, that would be fine for me, that would create the baseline habit I need to expand down the line.
Create a system
To tackle this commitment properly, I had to build some kind of system to help me capture ideas, flesh them out and eventually post them. This system evolved over time and was abandoned at some points, but it has acted as a guiding framework in this journey. I decided to blog around a theme – ‘How to Get What You Want’ as a golden thread across most of my posts. Prior to this, I had blogged whenever the inspiration hit me. Now having to produce every week, I could not rely on inspiration, I had to create a system. Having a theme helped me to generate ideas ahead of time, and to organize my thoughts. I broke down the year into four sub-themes, and at each point, I would look over what I had been writing to see if I was still on theme and if writing according to theme was even working.
This happened somewhat accidentally for me. The mental state I need to be in to write is very different from the mental state I use to design or go about my daily business. I need time to reflect, to laze around, to think, to allow the insights to bubble up to the surface so I can write them down. I quickly realized that to write, I had to journal first, I had to get all the different thoughts in my head down so I could clear the space, calm the mind long enough to create content. So that became my ritual. The day before I posted, usually Sundays, I would spend some time reflecting and journaling, and then I would write. This ritual evolved to also become the time I used to reflect on my goals and plan the coming week. The act of blogging consistently somehow created this new powerful ritual in my life which set the stage for successes in other areas.
Trust the process
Many times, I sat down, and I had no clue about what I was going to write about. But I trust the creative process. I know I don’t have to know. I just have to start. And as I write, the thoughts begin to form and they build on each other, and before I know it, I have a whole post. It has taught me to face the blank page and the blank canvas with faith, and step into the unknown, trusting that the creative muse will be there to reward me.
Blogging as a personal development tool
The most surprising thing blogging has done for me is aid in my personal development. I view the process of personal branding as an exercise in self-creation. It allows you to think deeply about the life and impact you want to have, and then put out content or value in that direction. This process deepens your understanding of your values and ideas and allows them to sink even deeper into your heart and soul. The more I write, the more I understand. I become stronger, wiser, more articulate. The effect snowballs into positive habits in other parts of my life. It has been absolutely instrumental in my personal growth this year. They say if you really want to learn something, teach it.
Push through the slump
By mid-year, I was sure I was done. I did not have anything to write about. I had exhausted the initial list of ideas I made at the start of the year, and now I was stuck. And this persisted for a month or two. How was I going to get to the end of the year if I had no more ideas? But then they started trickling in again. Ideas birth more ideas, and then they began to multiply and flow like a torrent, and suddenly one random night, I even had my theme for next year. Creativity is a renewable resource, the more you use it, the more you have. Even when it seems to dry up, trust the process, take a step back if you need to, the well will refill itself again.
My thoughts have become deeper, and consequently, it is a little harder to write. On one level, I am a better and faster writer…I think. I am drafting this post in one sitting, in less than 45 minutes. At the same time, the ideas I’m trying to express are more complex and more intertwined, as evidenced by the blog I actually started off this week writing. Some concepts need more than just a blog post, they need a series or a mini book. Some concepts are just too big to be made too simple.
People pay attention
Even when they don’t comment or message or reply. I bump into old friends sometimes, and it invariably comes up. ‘Oh, I see your blog man, I see what you been writing, its dope, very inspirational, keep it up’. And I’m like, ‘oh’ you have been reading? I had no clue’. But people pay attention. People keep tabs. And somehow, it’s helped my business because it keeps me top of mind, they see a post and then they remember, ‘oh Oto designs too, let me actually hit him up for this or that.’
It is okay to experiment
For a brief few weeks, I started a podcast with the Anchor app, turning my blog posts into audio form. It was an interesting experience, and eventually just fell off because like I said, I have a lot to do usually. I really could have pushed it more, but I decided to return my focus to just posting an article every week. Doing audio as well would mean an extra layer of workflow and things to consider. But it is certainly something I will bring back in 2019 in full force.
As much as possible, shorten the time between idea and execution
The day I attended the Nelson Mandela lecture with Obama as the speaker, I returned quite pumped. In chatting with a friend about it later that day, I had the idea to write about the experience and blog about my thoughts. Even though I had already blogged for that week. The next morning, I had the post up. I knew that if I waited, the idea would fade, and I won’t get it done. Same thing with the post about Absa’s rebrand. The brand was launched, off a conversation again, I decided to write about it, and soon after I posted my thoughts. I don’t always succeed, but as much as possible, I try to shorten the time between idea and execution. Sometimes you have to move fast and capture lightning in a bottle.
Don’t be afraid to switch it up
Like I mentioned at the beginning, I wanted to write something else this week. But as I worked on that idea more and more, I realized it needed more time to cook. So, this morning, it hit me, just write about the other thing instead, then take the week to finish working out the other idea. Plus, this post was much easier to write.
In conclusion, I’ve never written for the sake of an audience. I don’t lust after building my numbers, although at a later stage it will be a bit more important to me. All of this has been for the sake of execution, for the sake of building consistency. This is simply the foundation. Many times, people want to push me to monetize or promote, and I say not yet. Right now, I write for me. I write because I am compelled to. I don’t know where this road will lead. Just that I must walk it. And as I take a step, the next step opens up to me. If only one person read my posts and got something from it, that is amazing in itself to me. That someone would take the time to read, in a world full of distraction, with easier to read and more entertaining options out there, or an Instagram feed to get lost in. So, if you have been reading so far, I appreciate every read, every share and every reply. One of you has shared my post every week without fail, thank you. Many of you have messaged me when I was late with a post, thank you too. Thank you for being with me on this journey so far. There is so much more to come.
Personally, I’m a lazy artist. I want the biggest bang for my buck. I want to do the absolute minimum and still make an impact. That’s why I love Jean Michel Basquiat. His work is proof that you can paint with the proficiency of a 5-year old, and still make a statement worth listening to. Also, doesn’t he look like what would emerge if Kid Cudi and The Weeknd did the fusion dance?
Basquiat was an incredibly gifted artist, cut short in his prime (he died at 27) and namechecked by rappers ever since. His work was distinctive, full of childlike youthful energy, irreverent, and seemingly nonsensical, but also revealing a profound knowledge and respect of art, its history and social commentary. In 1980s New York, an electric nexus of time and space, Basquiat emerged as an unlikely artistic force, rising as a black man, from the grimy streets, to global stardom.
He is the quintessential example of the artist who throws himself with reckless abandon into his work. Moving out of home for good as a teen, he spent most of his young adult life basically being a bum, surviving off money picked up in the streets, and immersing himself in the culture and the scene of the time, bouncing from place to place and party to party. His early creative efforts included cryptic haikus scribbled in graffiti under the moniker Samo scattered all over the city, as well as experimental live music with his band (none of them could actually play an instrument, but that was part of the appeal).
He is charming, talented with a keen air of innocence, and he befriends and eventually moves in with his sort-of-girlfriend, Suzan. At this point he had progressed from graffiti to full on painting at the insistence of another friend. Suzan worked and paid the bills, while he spent his time painting. And it is this one anecdote about his life that really earned my respect. Basquiat was too broke to afford canvasses, so he would salvage broken doors, windows, fridges, scraps of paper, tins, anything with a surface he could paint on. He didn’t wait to get proper canvases, or the right kind of paint or tools. He worked with whatever he could find.
If you really want to create, if you really want to do something. You just do it.
That is the crux of true creativity, its raw essence. The true artist doesn’t allow a lack of resources to become an insurmountable obstacle. In fact, we are drawn to such art-forms, pieces made with the scrappiest, bare essentials, because through all the limitations, and perhaps, even because of then, we can see the passion shine through, we can see the potential. We see a brave artist battling against his restrictions, turning his obstacles into stepping stones that pave his way. Basquiat has nowhere to paint, so he turns an abandoned fridge into a priceless work of art.
This same energy you have to bring to your life and to your work. If you have ambition, a burning desire to create something that resonates, that has impact, if you want to devote your life to the mastery of a skill or an artform, or a career, you start where you are, you work with what you have.
Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can
The biggest companies on the planet right now all started small. The origins of the slick phone you’re reading this on now can be found in a dinky garage decades ago with a bunch of nerds, hippies, and a couple pieces of hand-assembled circuit boards. Facebook the almost omnipresent behemoth it is now, started in a dorm room. The colossus that is Amazon started in a garage with doors as its first desks, Jeff Bezos packing books with his team to fulfil customer orders. The first Star Wars movie was produced with a shoe string budget and a lot of DIY.
Our problem too often is that we want perfection right out the gate, before we have earned it, and we want to do it with the absolute best tools. We think we need the light ring and DSLR camera before we start the youtube channel, the best mic and mixers before we start the podcast. So we don’t start.
Or we are insecure in our creative ability, and so hide behind our lack of tools. Sure, the right tools do help, but it is the artist that precedes the tools. A writer who knows what he is doing will do a lot more damage with an ordinary pen than a talentless hack with a Mont Blanc. You cannot hide your lack of skill behind expensive tools, but you can use the lack of tools as an excuse to procrastinate. You just have to begin. If you are really good, the world will respond, and better tools will present themselves to you.
Every master was once a disaster.
T Harv Eker
We all have to start from somewhere.
If you waited till everything was perfect and you had all the resources, you will be waiting forever. And even if you did get it – the perfect studio, the perfect lab, the right writing chair, you wouldn’t know what to do with it. At most, you would churn out works of stunning mediocrity. The tools don’t make the artist, the work makes the artist. The lack of tools is a gift. You get to work with the scrap, failing, prototyping, learning, crashing, rising up, drafting and tearing up, you need the grind, you need the work, because that is where you hone your skill. That is where you work around the obstacles, that is where you distil and learn the principles of your craft.
I started my design journey on dinky little Toshiba laptop (that was everything to me then by the way), a pirated copy of photoshop, and a design magazine. Now, I type this to you from a MacBook Pro. But it was all the work I designed on that first Toshiba, and then a PC, and then this sexy huge white Dell I had, that allowed me to finally get my first MacBook and then another one, and now, all the bells and whistles I need to create.
The obstacle is the way.
Creativity is just as much about limitations as it is about infinite exploration. The searching and playing around is an important part of the process. It is necessary to go far and wide in ideation. But it is the limitations – the brief, the deadline, the boundaries that really focus us and unleash the creative power to combine ideas, materials, colours to create something inventive, something remarkable.
With inventiveness and creativity, you can make the limitations you face a distinguishing feature in your work. Don’t have enough money for different colours? Limit your palette. Can’t make the special effects you really want? Hack it and let it have a DIY vibe to it. Whatever the obstacle is, use it to your advantage.
You don’t have to be fancy. You just have to begin. Even Basquiat started by painting on abandoned doors.
I think they are beautiful. A little morbid sure, but beautiful. Over the years, I have accumulated a few skull-related paraphernalia. I had this really nice skull vase that sat on the table in my living room to hold odds and ends. I have a skull decanter and a skull cup. I wear a bracelet with a skull as its center piece. I keep skulls around me as a reminder of death…and as an invitation to life. In this, I follow a long standing philosophic, religious and artistic tradition spanning thousands of years.
Last week, I joined my extended family to lay my late uncle to rest. It was a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, it was a sad thing to say goodbye to one of our own. We mourned a life cut abruptly and unexpectedly short. On the other hand, it was great to see cousins, uncles and aunts I had not seen in so long and to celebrate a life that touched so many. The entire experience was a mix of excitement, celebration, grieving and sombre reflection.
Of course, funerals are a poignant time to think about our mortality.
Remember you must die.
This seemingly haunting, but inspiring phrase has a rich history, evolving through many forms of practice and interpretation in literature, art, fashion, and even current popular culture. To this day, many people keep Memento Mori coins or similar physical totems as reminders of the ever-present nature of death.
For the stoics, memento mori was a key meditation device. A reminder that our time on earth in finite, and this thing called life is fragile, and precious. Most times we don’t think about death. We are too preoccupied with the business of living to stop and ponder something so morbid, so depressing. But such is the fate of all of us. That we are born, and one day, we will die. It is the one constant in a world full of flux.
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”- Marcus Aurelius (Meditations)
In art, the genre ‘Danse Macabre’ or the ‘Dance of death’ grew in the late Middle Ages, a time when the Black Death decimated a third of Europe’s population. Paintings included kings, peasants, young and old dancing with the grim reaper or with skeletons, to convey that death comes for everyone. ‘Vanitas art’ arose with Dutch Golden Age artists, emphasizing the emptiness and futility of earthly items. Their still art paintings depicted compositions of skulls, wilting flowers, rotting fruit, time pieces to remind observers that time is relentless, and death is inevitable.
It is said that a lot of our neuroses, our fears and frantic scrambling, stem from our inability to cope with our innate mortality and limitations. We do a lot of things to avoid our death. We seek comfort in things, and pleasures, grasping for security, to stave off facing our end. With all our creature comforts and amenities, we pretend we have all the time in the world, and that we will live forever.
This is understandable, the fear of death is a tough burden to bear. Man lives in constant tension, peering into the sublime and eternal on one hand, and yet severely limited by time, and the fleeting nature of life. Easier to just live and be distracted and try not to think about it for as long as you can.
Yet we must die.
What if we embrace death? Not as something morbid and to be feared, but as something to be inspired by. The necessary end that is death makes the time we are alive that more precious. In the larger scheme of things, none of the things we do will matter much. No matter how much we achieve or accumulate, we will die. Our time will pass, our names will be forgotten, our monuments will wash away with the sands of time. But right now, in our experience, in our lives, the things we do, do matter. How we live, matters. Our actions reverberate across the universe. It’s a paradox.
Steve Jobs called death, probably the greatest invention of life. Life begins, life ends. And it does both all the time. If it didn’t, life would be stagnant, not going anywhere. But we are born, we grow into our prime, and then we die. As we leave, others come to replace us, to do it all over again, to do it differently, to tear down what was done before and create anew. The cycle of births and deaths allow us to continue as a people, as a species, ever present, ever reinventing, ever dying, ever renewed. It is a beautiful thing. Embracing this truth brings release.
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs
If we must die. then perhaps life, is just learning how to die well. Can we live in a way that honours the people we were made to be? Can our short time be used to mean something more than just our happiness and pleasure? Can we live with a sense of urgency, not putting off our great work to a day that may never come, but tackling it right now, today? Can we live in such a way, that after we are gone, we still live on, in the hearts and minds of the people we touch, and the marks we make in the world?
If we must die. Perhaps we can spend less time and energy trying to impress others, taking on things that do not serve us. Perhaps we cannot be so swayed by the crowd. Perhaps we can allow our truest selves to unfold. Perhaps we can truly value our time, and not waste another second. Perhaps we can pursue our dreams, and goals. Perhaps we can embrace purpose. Perhaps we can unleash our true potential.
If we must die, then we must live. With urgency. We must think of how we want to exit, and what we want those we leave behind to say and feel about us when we are no longer here. If we must die, then we must also savour life, making sure to enjoy it, to live in the moments, and enjoy life’s simple pleasures, not being preoccupied with worries and fears. Knowing that the forward march of time is relentless, we can live so we get to the end with no regrets, having truly lived, having fought the good fight, having left everything on life’s stage.
“On this occasion when you have such a bounty of opportunities in terms of your body, environment, friends, spiritual mentors, time, and practical instructions, without procrastinating until tomorrow and the next day, arouse a sense of urgency, as if a spark landed on your body or a grain of sand fell in your eye. If you have not swiftly applied yourself to practice, examine the births and deaths of other beings and reflect again and again on the unpredictability of your lifespan and the time of your death, and on the uncertainty of your own situation. Meditate on this until you have definitively integrated it with your mind… The appearances of this life, including your surroundings and friends, are like last night’s dream, and this life passes more swiftly than a flash of lightning in the sky. – Dudjom Lingpa