Sure books can guide you, but your heart defines you – Jay Z (Beach Chair)
So for the past few months, my reading rate plummeted drastically. I went from reading multiple books and consuming self-help content on an almost constant basis, to not wanting to see another Tom Bilyeu, Tai Lopez or Gary Vee video.
Well, first, I am a person of extremes.
I tend to swing from one end to the other.
When I get into something, I really get into it, to the point of obsession. And then at some point, I just get over it and walk away. It is my nature, I need the balance of opposites to feel whole.
It was in early 2015, I really started to hunker down on my personal development and business knowledge. I watched and listened to a lot of Tai, and then eventually Gary, and then Tom and others over the years. Their content was incredibly useful in transforming my mindset and putting me in a different space.
I needed that.
It was their words and ideas changed the way I thought and my default settings to life. I literally rewired my brain with their content, consuming it every waking hour – at the gym, just lounging around in my apartment, on the train in between meetings, just before bed, and of course, while I worked.
It was awesome. I was practicing something I call ‘full-immersion’. Bombarding my mind to change the way it worked.
Fast forward to today, and I am barely consuming any self-help content at all. My YouTube playlist has morphed from Valuetainment, Gary Vee and Impact Theory shows to video essays and comedic videos breaking down the narrative and philosophical themes of my favourite pop culture movies, literature and video games. Now I write things like this and this.
I don’t know what to tell you. I like what I like.
Which brings me to my second point.
Life is a complex matrix, full of many moving parts and unique experiences.
You can not be one-dimensional. Most of the personal development space is that, one-dimensional and repetitive. The same lists and ideas sprouted off over and over again.
It is like if you are not waking up at 5am everyday, drinking bullet proof coffee, chugging down shakes and hitting the gym everyday, you will not be successful. If you are not obsessed with crushing it, your life has no meaning.
Life is vast, there are many ways to approach it and many ideas to explore. The trap of the self-help game is to have you think that someone else has all the answers so you can switch your brain off and mindlessly follow.
We see the same problem in most religions. Inspired living ideas quickly turn into mindless dogma. People become dependent on others telling them what to think and do.
Sure, there are universal principles that we must learn, but we are all unique individuals with specific contexts, and we still have to do the work of crafting our unique solutions.
We can spend all the time reading but only our true reflection on what we read and practice actually changes anything.
And if you do the self-help thing well…at some point you should ‘graduate’ from it. At some point, you should actually be helped, you should be a better person and be better equipped to get what you want.
It doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t need a reminder, a refresher from time to time. But you should have absorbed the lessons.
And that’s my third point – the point I am at now.
Taking action is what actually works
For all the content I consumed, they gave me ideas, they gave me tools, but they did not give me results.
I look around at my life, and there are many things I want to achieve and attain. The only thing that is going to make those things real in my life…is the work. Not another book, not another video, just the actual work of putting to practice what I learned and getting my hands dirty in the nitty gritty of making things happen in my life.
At this point, the content is more of a distraction.
Because it is very easy to conflate the knowledge of being able to do something with actually doing it.
That is how we become insight junkies, craving the dopamine hit of a new epiphany, a new idea, a silver bullet that would magically solve all your problems. That is how we become the perpetual student enslaved to the opinions and ideas of all the gurus just waiting to take your money and charge you to help you.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for all that. They do help, and people do have massively transformative experiences. But more often than not, after all the hurrah, most people are back the next year in the exact same place, with not much to show for it.
The only thing that works is the work.
The grimy work of change, of perpetual practice, of dust biting failure and the slow grind.
That is presently fascinating to me.
Because the people who we follow did not get successful by following. They got successful by doing.
Another book on business isn’t going to make my studio successful. What is going to make me successful is how well I apply the principles I learned to my specific situation. Not how well I followed this other author’s ideas to the T. But how I made it my own, how I absorbed it to my core and to my bones.
And you only absorb by taking a step back. By doing inner reflection. By putting it into practice.
It is the work that works.
At some point you have to put the books down and walk into the exam, and then into the workplace.
And of course, it is not like I will never read another book again. I am still buying books and noting down certain things. In fact I bought another one last night. But I am way more intentional about it, I am not looking for a silver bullet. I am looking for specific ideas to add to my portfolio of tools. Something I can take action on immediately.
Plus, I know myself.
Like I said…I am a man of extremes. I will be back to reading ferociously at some stage anyway, and that will be awesome.
In the mean time, I’m focused on the work.
In the Marvel cinematic universe, Thor’s journey is one of an identity that is systematically stripped back, broken and reforged through tragedy, through times of transition. Over the course of 7 movies in the Infinity Saga, he goes from an arrogant prince eager to ascend to the throne of Asgard to abandoning it completely for a life as a self-accepting simple adventurer banding up with the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Time will tell if he continues on this path as we move into phase 4, but watching this video breakdown of his cinematic story got me thinking about the tension that exists between our perception of our identity and its reality. A tension we must navigate to reach fulfilment.
Life’s journey sees us transform over time, adopting and abandoning identities. At each point in life, who we are is partly self-generated and partly shaped by our environment, specific context and the expectations of implied roles.
As small children competing with siblings for attention, we might play the bully, or the funny joker, or the needy vulnerable one to get an edge. In school with our peers, we navigate identities to figure out who we are and where we fit in the larger community. We undergo the same process, in every new stage and level of life. Identities evolve and change as we do.
It is in the transition between phases of life that we usually have to grapple the most with identity. Who we were isn’t enough for where we are going. We have to change. So, we experiment with different roles to find ourselves, sometimes playing the same roles multiple times until we finally understand just who we truly are and who we are not.
I’ve been thinking about this lately as I face personal transitions and I think the process of navigating identity in these times has something with three things – ‘the person you think you are supposed to be’, ‘the person you actually are’, and ‘the person you can be’.
The person you think you are supposed to be
No one exists in a vacuum. Our society, our upbringing, our culture, our family, our social circles, our roots, the cities we settle in, all provide a context in which our lives are immersed and in which we must create meaning. As we grow, we fall into roles that are laid out for us, implicitly or explicitly. There are also hopes and dreams thrust upon us, the expectations of the people we should become, and the kind of things we should do. Often, we internalise these expectations and make them our own.
We want to do our folks proud. We want to earn the approval of others and maintain the status quo of our communities. This can work out fine if there is enough overlap between our true identities and these expectations placed on us, or it can cause a lot of friction if there is dissonance between the two.
I expressed a bit of this idea in my piece exploring the lessons gleaned from Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse. Miles tries to be like the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker. In his mind, Peter is the example of the kind of person he is supposed to be.
But it is unwieldy, it is false, and it is not until he has his personal catharsis and he relaxes into the person he actually is (Miles), that he is able to be effective as the new Spider-Man.
We all want to be something and become someone. Our hopes and dreams for our lives pull us to higher places. When we transition from one phase of life to the next, we have preconceived notions of what we are supposed to look like on the other side.
But we must examine these desires and perceptions to know if they are truly our own, or if we are chasing things thrust upon us and missing our true selves. Because if not, disaster ensues.
The person you actually are
It can be a terrifying thing – being yourself. Many of us spend our lives running away from our true selves. Unwilling to bring our essence to light, unabashedly, unashamedly. Unwilling to live our truth. Because truth can be painful, and uncomfortable. Truth challenges us, and often, breaks the tidy lil boxes and moulds that we have created for ourselves.
But the person you actually are is always there with you. Always lurking just below the surface, coming up in those moments when we think it is safe, when we are alone, or lost in a crowd.
The person we are, the impulses, drives, desires and attitudes that arise from deep within are to be wrestled with and navigated. Sometimes, there are things here that make us feel complete, alive but we judge as bad – a sensual proclivity or orientation, a restless desire for adventure, or a yearning for a quiet unassuming life.
Between the demands of culture and the world around us and these truths that arise from deep within , the friction easily arises. Do we stand our ground and assert our identity, our truths, consequences be damned? or do we capitulate and maintain the status quo.
There are no easy answers.
Sometimes we must assert ourselves and choose our fulfilment and happiness no matter the discomfort or stress involved. At other times, we have to fulfil our duty to the greater good and the collective.
But you cannot escape yourself, if this tension is not adequately navigated, it will rear its head in some way. Either in the incident that blows up, or a low level simmering sense of resentment that eats you up on the inside.
The person you can be
Maybe there is a middle ground, I think it lies in the person you can be. This person is your true potential. A place of balance. A place of truth. A place of growth and real acceptance. Where your nature can blossom and your real gifts can be given.
I think a successful resolution of the tension between ‘who you think you are supposed to be’ vs ‘who you truly are’ gives birth to this third ideal state – ‘who you can be’.
The person you can be is rooted in who you truly are. It is a place of authenticity. But it also understands that who you are now is just raw material for what comes next. Even in that state of being, you must evolve and grow and integrate. You must be refined into the best version of yourself.
It honours your aspirations, your dreams and vision. It takes into account the expectations, and the needs of those around you, and then bridges the gap between two and allows you to evolve to your best self.
We do not use who we are as an excuse to rage against the machine or waste away. But we harness that potential, that energy to create something beautiful and meaningful.
In this way you integrate the person you truly are against your expectations and duties to become the person that you can be, someone who is authentically alive, fulfilled and connected to the larger tapestry of life.
For the past decade I took great pride in my status as a non-gamer. Untouched by the digital fever, I would sneer at my friends as they spend hours lost in a game like Skyrim while real life happened around them.I didn’t understand why you would spend so much time doing something that had little bearing on day-to-day reality.
I wasn’t always like this though. I grew up into games like any kid, playing whichever ones I could get my hands on (often a generation or two behind). I played enough then to satisfy the surface curiosity I had, but not enough to blossom into a full-on passion.
Then there was the game that turned me off from gaming completely…Devil May Cry 3. It was my kind of game, acrobatic slasher with bright colours. But one afternoon after battling some monster over and over again without success, I rage quit. Well it wasn’t in an explosive rage, screaming and throwing my controller at the screen. No, it was calm and collected. I just switched off the console and never played again. It was near the end of the holidays and I was going back to school anyway. I had more pressing matters to deal with than the monsters on the other side of the screen.
After that fateful day, I played games now and again, but never enough to really get into it.
For some reason though, over the past year the inexplicable urge to start playing again was born and kept growing until I succumbed and bought a PS4. And over the past 2 months, I have lost multiple hours at a time barreling down the digital rabbit hole. Playing deep into the night, going on quests with my son to scatter my dead wife’s ashes at the highest peak in the realms, fighting off baddies and mowing down innocent doctors to save my teenage ward from an operation that will kill her, a procedure designed to save humanity. I have discovered rich worlds, morally ambiguous layered narratives and engrossing gameplay.
I have also picked up a few lessons. And just like my last piece on Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse, I am going to stretch some of these lessons we learn from video games onto real life.
First, we start with one you have probably heard before
When you encounter enemies, you are going the right way
Ah, the one that validates the existence of haters. You know them, the people who don’t want you to succeed. The ones that carried your picture to their village witch doctor to make sure you will never progress. The back biters at work, the frenemy, that rude security guard, or the police officer hating on your ability to drive inebriated.
We encounter haters and enemies all the way. No more so than in video games. Completely unprovoked, they will come at you, with weapons, energy blasts, sharp teeth, anything they can use to take you the hero down. They are a staple of the medium.
They are the antagonist to your protagonist.
Want to know if you are going the right way and progressing in the game? You probably are if you keep coming across new enemies to defeat.
Perhaps so in life too. When we take on a new quest or endeavour, we will invariably come up against challenges. Things will go wrong, we will make mistakes, people might even attack and work against us.
Maybe that wave of resistance from the world is a sign that you are on the right track and that you should press on, regardless what the naysayers say.
Or maybe it is a sign that you are just an asshole and no one likes you.
When you find a boon, you are about to enter some shit (also the universe provides)
Another staple of gameplay are the pick ups. Things like health packs, weapons, ammo, equipment, orbs, random junk you can craft tools with. They are usually littered across the environment, allowing you to stand a chance against the perpetual onslaught of haters and enemies.
Most times they are scattered in sparse quantities. A health pack here, a box of ammo there. It gives you just enough to deal with the enemies you encounter providing the right amount of tension as you play.
But every now again, you come into a clearing or a room just chuck full of stuff. Enough health to heal yourself and stock up for later. Copious amounts of ammo to take on your journey. Or if it’s that kind of game, the merchants/blacksmiths magically pop up ready to ply you their wares. (looking at you Brok)
It is tempting to get excited and self satisfied at this point. Don’t. It’s a trap. In the video game world, a boon like this doesn’t come without a cost. There is a boss around the corner. And you are in for the fight of your life.
So…when things are going your way in life and humming along, beware of the possible boss fight headed your way. Stay ready.
Or perhaps look at it this way, whatever challenge you face in life, the universe will provide you the tools to deal with it.
You will fail repeatedly, but you will eventually figure it out
Ah failure. The gamer’s ever present friend. If you playing a game, especially for the first time, you can be sure you will fail a couple of times. It might not be right at the beginning, but it is coming. There’s that first hard wave of enemies coming, or the timed puzzle or challenge that is just gonna have your undies up in a bunch.
The first few times you fail, it will still be a fun. After all, it is you are new to this and you are still learning, figuring out the enemy’s patterns and the environment. You might catch a break and grab a win after a few tries and move on, your heart thumping from the adrenaline. Or you might still find yourself struggling with this level for a while, your frustration bar filling up and clouding all the fun you were having before you got here.
This is the point where you have a crucial decision to make. Will you tough it out or will you quit, or worse…will you decrease the difficulty setting like a witless noob?
The temptation is strong. You have tried everything and been massacred, sent to the ‘Game Over’ screen again and again. You learned the patterns, you kind figured out the moves but it is still not enough. Maybe you even got that bosses’ life bar down to the very end…and they still keep killing you.
But if you keep on long enough and it happens. Finally you hit a break-through and win.
And in the words of Mark Cuban talking about entrepreneurship and getting rich – it doesn’t matter how many times you fail, you only have to be right once.
Now sometimes, this breakthrough never comes. If trying again and again doesn’t work, then take a break. Sleep on it, take a walk, do something else and when you return, you might just be fresh enough to eke out a win.
There are cases though, where repeated tries and breaks won’t work. This is where you have to bring out the big guns. Literally. You have to…
Always be levelling up.
Sometimes what you need isn’t to keep trying, sometimes what you really need is to get better.
I remember the first time I encountered a valkyrie in the new God of War. Oh my, she beat my ass five ways to Sunday for like 3 days straight. And like a masochist, I kept going in for more. It was so frustrating because every time, I was so close. Oh so close. I would get her life bar down to just a smidgen. But invariably, she would parry my frantic final attacks and kill me every single time.
I persevered, I tried again and again and again. No luck.
I slept on it. Took my protein shakes, chugged a flask of coffee, stretched my fingers and got back to it. She still owned me.
So I did the only thing I could do. I consulted the internet.
Turns out it was almost suicide attacking this valkyrie at the power level I was at.
So I left her alone and went to level up.
I played other quests, collected more items, improved my weapons and attacks and returned for battle. it was still a struggle, but after a couple of tries, I emerged victorious, her severed helmet in my hand.
So is life innit?
There is a saying, don’t wish things were easier, wish you were better.
In life, you have to keep levelling up – getting stronger, learning new skills, building alliances, amassing resources and everything you need to win against the big baddies and progress. Always be levelling up.
A game is at its most fun when it is at the right level of challenging. If it is too difficult, it is no fun, and games that are too easy become boring. There is no thrill, if you are able to just mow down enemy after enemy. Eventually you feel like you are just going through the motions.
Good games grow in difficulty as you progress and get better. Sure you have better weapons and health packs stockpiled. but your enemies grow stronger still, keeping you on your toes.
Like they say – new levels, new devils.
Same with life. It is the struggles and challenges we face that make things exciting. They give us things to overcome and that satisfaction after a hard won battle is second to none. All the blood, sweat and blistered thumbs become worth it.
Until the next level, the next skirmish, the next boss.
We might win today, but we will have something to face tomorrow. The game continues.
So in the same way, embrace the struggle of life and relish the challenges. They keep things fun. Face your fears, build your alliances, battle the enemies and celebrate every win as you journey through the great game of life.
See you at the credits…or the DLC.
Or what Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse taught me about growing up.
I work remotely 99% of the time and I have a home office dedicated for that purpose, but sometimes, nothing beats working off the couch while videos play on the TV in background.
I love watching shows and movies. And if there is even a hint of the supernatural or sci-fi involved, count me all the way in. I will not only watch the shows, I will also spend days watching YouTube videos about those shows.
Weeks ago, I’m working and half-watching this video essay about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse…and it blows my mind.
As I put my mind back together over the next few days, I can’t shake the epiphany and I realise I just have to write about it.
So yes, I’m about to pull some life lessons from an animated Spider-Man movie.
But first, let’s go over the story quickly.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is about Miles Morales, a black teen boy who gets bitten by a radioactive spider, witnesses the death of the original Spider-Man and then has to work with other Spider-People to save the multiverse.
Some of the major themes in the movie are the evolution of identity and the trials and tribulations of coming of age. Our main protagonist, Miles is going through a bit of an identity crisis. He is stuck in that uncomfortable transition between who he used to be and who he is becoming. He is being thrust forward reluctantly, by time, by his parents expectations, by his new environment, by the radioactive spider-bite.
What he really wants to do, is stay comfortable, to regress. He feels out of his element in his new private school, so he tries to flunk out. He would rather be home with his friends in Brooklyn. He feels the weight of ‘great expectations’ and chooses to duck and avoid it.
But the spider bite happens and he is forced into this new reality.
He has to be Spider-Man. He has to save the world. But he is just a kid, and sure, he wants to do the right thing but he has no idea how to be Spider-Man. The one perfect Spider-Man mentor, the one with all the answers and keys, the one who promised to hold his hand through it all, was just pummelled to death by Kingpin.
It is Peter B Parker, a depressed, jaded, divorced, gut having, pizza eating, bathtub crying Spider-Man from an alternate dimension who becomes his reluctant mentor. And a bunch of other alternate Spider-People…(including a Spider-Pig) who enter the plot to help our buddy cop duo save the world.
But Miles is still out of his depth. He has to not only learn to control his new powers but also save the world. Big problem. He does not know how.
He does not know how to be Spider-Man. He doesn’t know how to grow up, how to take up this responsibility. He is not ready to be Spider-Man because he has not yet crossed the threshold.
He has not let go. Of his fear, of his anxieties, of his fear of the unknown.
There is an emotional scene where he is forced to stay back while the other Spider-People go to confront the villain, because he’s really still more of a liability than an asset at this point. Miles asks his mentor ‘when will I know I’m ready’. To which Peter B Parker tells Miles that ‘you won’t, it is a leap of faith, that’s all it is Miles, a leap of faith’.
He doesn’t need to be perfect, he doesn’t need to be Peter Parker’s version of Spiderman, He just needs to give in to the moment and be himself.
This resonated with me.
And since then, it has been growing on me.
This idea of crossing the threshold.
I am Miles. I rail against time internally all the time.
I am 31 now. I remember being 26, I remember being 28. I look in the mirror and I see how my face and body changes over time in subtle ways. I wish I could freeze time in my 20s. I wish I could be forever young.
Because I am afraid to grow old. I love the potential of the blank canvas and I cling to that for a long time. I am afraid of painting and messing it up. I am afraid to grow up and fail.
And so I avoid the threshold.
And there have been many of them, in different areas of my life. Places where I don’t take the step forward.
I am good at doing everything I need to do to prepare and then not doing the thing.
But time moves anyway. The clock is always ticking.
And at some point I can’t remain at the edge anymore.
I have to take the leap of faith.
I have to jump.
I have to be in the moment and let things unfold as they may. I have to close my eyes and dance, let the music and rhythm of life take me forward.
I always looked at my 20s as the best time of my life. I was young. my body is at its peak. Metabolism is on fire. The responsibilities are few. I did as much as I can to stay in this state. And not move forward.
I think I developed this aversion because I have seen too many people cross the thresholds in a cavalier way. Or in a mindless way. We do things because that is the way they are done. Few stop to ask why they must be done, how many ways they could be done, and in what circumstances should they not be done.
I think I just wanted to make sure I was crossing the threshold effectively, maximizing my chances for future pleasure and success. To mitigate pain.
But the truth is. It is good to learn, and place yourself in the position to succeed. But no mater how much you learn, you will always make some sort of mistake. It is just the nature of the human experience. Our knowledge always comes with blindspots innate to it. For every illumination of light, there is the darkness of shadows cast.
We must prep the best we can, and then fling ourselves off the ledge.
It is time to cross the thresholds.
In the movie, Miles crosses the threshold from a state of being unsure, and learning and looking for validation and guidance to a state of embracing his new identity and circumstance.
He lets go of the past, and his worry of the future, and embraces the present. He embraces what makes him unique and comes into his own as his own version of Spider-Man, a hiphop-bumping, graffiti-tagging, Jordans-wearing Spider-Man. Joining his friends, saving the world and embracing his destiny.
Because, it is not about who you think you are supposed to be, or what you think you are supposed to be doing. It is about where you are now. And the symphony of life you are going to make right where you stand.
Or how to change the past, the present and the future
One of the most important lessons that stuck with me from my time many years back as a design student in architecture school was something I like to term ‘the art of the reframe’.
Whenever we were given an assignment, we were implicitly encouraged to think much deeper about the problem or brief we were solving. To turn the issue around in our minds until we found an appropriate point of entry. So you weren’t just designing a school, you were designing a place or space of learning. You weren’t designing a house, you were designing a machine for living. And sometimes the solution wasn’t even a building.
It is this way of thinking that separates good designers from bad ones – a passion for discovering the core of a problem and a knowing that a problem well understood and defined is a problem half solved.
It is this concept that has the potential to radically change your life.
Changing the present
Here is a familiar example that I have touched on many times.
Every day, things happen in your life. Some of them you like, you call these things good. Others you don’t, they annoy you, they trip you up, you call these bad.
But really, things just happened. They aren’t good or bad, they just were. You give them meaning based on your interpretation of what happened.
If nothing in our lives has any meaning inherent to them aside from what we assign to them, then we can take control over the frames and lenses we use to interpret and understand the world around us.
It is like photography. The same flower or object can be captured in so many different ways, with so many different lenses and filters. The same object can be constructed to give multiple different meanings.
Let’s say you forgot your purse on the train and had to go back for it and ended up late for your super important meeting. Sure that is very inconvenient, but you don’t know the alternative. You know nothing of the parallel universe where you took your purse the first time and promptly got into a fatal accident on your way to work.
You simply don’t know enough to make a judgment like that. You don’t know enough to know what is truly good or bad.
With this understanding, we can use a simple question to turn every bad circumstance to something a bit more positive. We can reframe our perception of the event by asking ‘what is good about this?’.
Weeks ago, I was house-ridden in near constant pain. It was not a great experience. I could clearly see the bad. I couldn’t work at my usual pace or intensity. I couldn’t move around and see people. All my plans had to be placed on hold. Annoyance and despair were close companions.
As bad as that was, I also had to look for the good.
And there was some good.
The inconvenience of the pain apart from providing me the opportunity to practice the virtue of endurance, also forced me to pull back, to create empty space, to think twice before jumping into work. To respect the economy of effort. To focus on effectiveness over mindless activity.
I reframed a negative situation into a more positive and empowering one.
Changing the past
There are other ways to stretch the idea of the reframe. The previous example is about reframing the present – what is good about this seemingly bad situation? How can I reframe what is happening now.
But what if we could take it further. What if we could reframe the past, and…change it.
This is the essence of cognitive reframing – choosing new interpretations for past events.
As humans, we are natural time travellers, forever moving back and forth into the past and future in our minds, remembering things and event past and imagining those to come.
How about we travel intentionally, armed with skill of reframe.
Sure, we cannot actually go back in time and change things. But we can certainly change the way we interpret and look at it. And since we are predominantly sensory interpretation and story-crafting machines…isn’t that the same as changing the thing itself?
We can take a trauma, a decision, a season of our lives that we are less than proud of and begin to switch the lens with which we view it to find a version that is empowering.
So instead of being victims of a horrific event, we are survivors, we are the ones who have been to the edge and back, we are the ones gifted with the ability to heal others who go through it too.
Those years we wasted being lost becomes reframed as our season of searching, of living and growing until we were ready to evolve. The fact that we came to the game so late gives us a burning desire, a fire inside to make up for lost time, a passion that can burn brighter than those who have been at it for so long.
If we can change the way we look at our past, then we can stop resisting and start accepting it. Not resisting does not mean that we let the thing persist the way it is, it just means we stop fighting its existence. We accept it fully and then we deal with it, pulling on the threads of good that we can hold on to.
Changing the future
The art of the reframe is basically looking at the raw materials of life (the facts) and asking, what can I craft with this?
As we deal with our past and reframe our present, we can also turn our gaze towards the future. We take the stories we built our lives around all this time, strip it down to its core facts and construct a whole new story around it.
In my post about the stories we tell ourselves, I mention that we can build our inner narrative around our vision, our ambition and where we are going. As we play this story over and over again, it becomes our new reality.
Sometimes we refuse to cross the threshold and embrace the future, because we fear it. We are too attached to where we are, to what we have been, to let go and embrace something new. We fear loss, and we do not fully appreciate the good, the different, the deeper, richer and more nuanced things ahead of us.
The art of the reframe helps us combat this anxiety.
If our idea of the future looks hazy or bleak, we can work to bring it into sharper focus. We can ask ourselves ‘what would be good about this’, ‘what is the worst that could happen’ ‘what is the best that could happen?’ ‘What shall I do then?’
Many times, we find our fears are insubstantial and ephemeral. We fear ghosts lurking around the supposed corner.
Or we are afraid of growing up, of going to the next level. We can reframe this fear of the unknown and start to embrace the potential of the new, all the new experiences we are yet to have, the things we are yet to discover about ourselves. The places that we are yet to go.
In doing this, all things truly begin to work for our good. It doesn’t matter if it happened years ago, if we are in the thick of it right now, or if it is still to come. Every single thing can be reframed in a way that is empowering, in a way that calls upon our truest selves. We find some light even in the deepest darkness.
Or the art of doing nothing
For the past few weeks, I’ve been laying fallow. Just sitting back and doing nothing.
Okay, not completely nothing. I still went about my business, consulting and designing for clients, but about a month, I have not blogged. I eased up from writing, I even eased up from personal development (more on that in another post).
And as weird as that can sometimes feel – not constantly creating and publishing, doing nothing and disconnecting from your usual patterns is an important part of the overall creative and living process.
There’s a farming practice dating back to ancient times of leaving a land fallow after years of cultivating and using it. You would work a piece of land for a while and then leave it alone to allow it to rest, recover, and replenish its nutrients. This gives the land the chance to bounce back and be as fertile as ever when you begin to farm again.
Like the seasons, like farming, we have similar rhythms and cycles.
We spend a ton of energy creating things – writing that book, curating that exhibition, making that movie, executing that project. This creative process takes a lot out of us. And once we are done, we take a break, we rest. Then we pick things up and begin again. Sort of like our 5 days of work and 2 days of weekend.
But sometimes, a little rest is not enough. Sometimes we need a vacation. Sometimes we have to pause,disconnect.
Sometimes we even have to lay fallow.
Where we deliberately refrain from creation. We allow ourselves the extended rest, the extended break. It might seem a bit counter intuitive. It might seem self-indulgent and lazy. But there is a space for this practice of doing nothing, and it comes with a couple of benefits.
It allows you to recover
Our world and culture is mostly of busyness, of always being ‘on’ and available. If we are not productive, we feel guilty. We feel the pressure (and material need) to always be doing, so we jump from thing to thing, from project to project often without being able to take the step back to even think.
The path to getting what you want is a marathon, a lifetime of work and creation, of battles and challenges to overcome. It takes a lot out of us.
We get tired, then fatigued, then we begin to burn out. But the show must go on. So, we keep at it. Soon, we hate the thing we have created, we despise the work we do, and we begin to rebel in small ways. We lash out, we turn to whatever coping mechanism appeals to us. We spiral.
Our creative well dries up, and we take damage, our bodies and minds battered over time in the bid to produce and create.
The art of doing nothing, of laying fallow is an important antidote and counter balance to this ‘always on’ culture. It allows us to truly disconnect. To actually rest. To allow the body and mind to repair itself. To re-embrace rituals. To heal.
It cultivates empty space
Laying fallow allows us to cultivate empty space. An increasingly important and useful thing in a world so full of stimuli.
Our days are usually noisy. There are things we have to do just to sustain life, errands and work to be done. And then there are the relationships to attend to, the requests, the messages, the noise of the world wanting or needing things from us.
Over time, this noise, the ever urgent din of the world around us crowds out the truly important things. Going the opposite way, taking a break, laying fallow allows us to recover from the noise and eliminate it. It allows us to return to a blank slate, to begin anew.
It allows us to be bored.
It gives us the permission to live, to move around, to do something different, out of the usual.
It is this space of nothingness, of absent-minded play that allows us to collect new material, new inspiration, new points of view to integrate into our next work.
It is the space that allows creativity to happen again.
It allows us to see again
The forest for the trees.
Active creativity requires complete immersion in whatever we are making. Our work, our lives become our whole world. We become like the fish who can’t see the water it is in.
Laying fallow gives us some much needed distance.
To reconsider. To appraise and judge our work, our efforts, even our goals.
The empty space we cultivate in the fallow period allows us to be even more deliberate. To put our efforts where they are most effective. To design our lives, routines and affairs more skilfully, so we can accomplish a whole lot more with much less.
There are insights and perceptive breaks that only occur in a relaxed state. In the space where we have let go of active work and our subconscious can drift.
It is the time where we can integrate the experience we just had, the results, the lessons learned. In the empty space, the fallow period, these things settle and forge the essence of our new transformed self.
Be fallow, not lazy
The concept of being fallow is not an excuse to be completely lazy. Otherwise our fields become permanently overrun with weeds and we never return to productivity.
While we rest, we must maintain a balance.
The point in being fallow is to do nothing for a while in a bid to recover, gain some perspective and new inspiration, not to let our creative muscles wither completely.
In this period, we may be at rest, but we still do drills, we still practice techniques, we still study. We explore.
Until finally we are ready…to begin again…
A new challenge rises up, a new idea takes a hold of us, a new curiosity…and then we dive back into the creative space, refreshed, replenished, reequipped and ready for the new adventure.