Losing and gaining

I depend upon a portfolio of small jobs for my income. I like that diversity of work and also I enjoy each of these.  Its like having a tasting menu, or as the French call it, menu dégustation. Dégustation is the delicate tasting of various foods prepared by the chef- a supreme sensory experience.  That is how I like my work too as a creative person.  So when people ask, ‘What do you do?’, I bring out these five or six different things I do, with much pride as a chef would.

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Yesterday, I heard that one of these jobs that I took such pride in, would be longer be mine in nine months time due to end of the contract (which realistically could have been extended as there was more to do but the person in charge was happy with the state of the project!).  In other words, I was sacked!  I reacted in a typical way which was about feeling rejected, hurt, and humiliated.  I know that I have other income streams to depend upon so I wouldn’t suffer financially.  And if I really wanted to, I could go to the Tribunal to contest this.  But Eric Fromm, the philosopher and author of ‘The Art of Being’, advises against such immediate action or rather reaction.  He asks us to reflect and learn from such painful experiences rather than choosing the easy way of confrontation and anger straightway.  Other philosophers ask us to separate ourselves from our ego (which is always the first to get hurt)

First, consider that time heals.  I remember from the past when such things had happened and I had cried for days. Yet today, those things do not bother me and they certainly did not hinder my progress.  Second, what is the lesson from this?  In some ways, it wasn’t my problem that the person in charge was happy to accept an incomplete piece of work.  Or perhaps, even that they didn’t even see it as incomplete in nine months time.  Maybe I would finish it to my satisfaction.  Being a perfectionist, my immediate reaction was that I had failed in some way.  So again, I realised it was my ego that was crying, not the real me.  I realised how much I have let my work define me. Despite losing this work, I was intact- I could always find more work but what did I achieve by needlessly thinking on about the end of contract?  Fromm says, ‘Modern man has many things and uses many things, but he is very little.  His feeling and thinking processes are atrophied like unused muscles.  He is afraid of any crucial social change because any disturbance to the social balance to the him spells chaos or death- if not physical death, the death of his identity.’

Many things that we depend upon for social status such as work, money, power, media presence, etc. are but fleeting.  They might go at any point.  They are indicative of relative happiness where we are comparing ourselves to others, not of absolute happiness.  But if we can become grounded enough to see our true self which is unchanging and unaffected, we can become absolutely happy. Nichiren, the 13th century Buddhist monk, uses the analogy of wind, i.e. something that may blow hard and cold, but passes in the end.  He said, ‘Worthy persons deserve to be called so because they are not carried away by the eight winds: prosperity, decline, disgrace, honor, praise, censure, suffering, and pleasure. They are neither elated by prosperity nor grieved by decline.’  Am I being a worthy person?  Yes, it hurts when work is elevated so much socially but it will pass.  In the meanwhile, I will get stronger and better.

A passionate life vs a contributive life

There are many books, videos, blogs, talks that urge you to follow your passion.  These talk about the person as if they have just one passion and say that if you follow that one dream, then opportunities, money, and other things will follow.  The problem with this is that there can be many passions and passions can ebb and flow.  More importantly, does your passion resonate with other’s passions?  If only can your desires bind with that of others, then will opportunities follow.  A sort of ‘Build it and they will come’ kind of thing.

The contributive life is different- it works in reverse.  So you contribute to the desires of many, instead of yourself.  It is easy to see why this will attract more opportunities than the passionate life which is more isolating.  Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a Japanese philosopher propounded the idea of the contributive life.  He said,”Individual well-being entails cooperative and contributive existence within society,”

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“genuine happiness requires sharing the sufferings and joys of the larger public as a member of society; and it can easily be understood that full and harmonious life within society is an indispensable element for any concept of authentic happiness.”

 

I had read these passages many years ago and had been rather dismissive of them as they seemed to me to be reeking of martyrism and sacrifice instead of ‘good’ and practical business ideas that supported you and your clients.  But last night was an a-ha moment when I realised that Makiguchi’s contributive life was not just good principled practice but also good business advice.  As a crude example, there are many sayings that echo this idea, ‘Selling coals to Newcastle’ is pointless, even if selling coals might be your passion.  There is a Youtube video by Marie Forleo which talks about this by saying,’ How to convince people to pay for your services’

and this one which explains it all (and caused my a-ha moment).  In the video seen by over two million people, Terri Trespicio, says, ‘To live a life full of meaning and value, you don’t live a life of passion; your passion follows you!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learn from others

There is a view about creativity about a lone artist, struggling in his or her attic, to create an original work.  But in reality, creativity is never a lone effort- there are always at least two people in it. One is yourself and the other is the person who inspires you.  Originality comes from being nudged by past creativity- it is like a fire that is lit by the match of another’s idea.

‘The imagination will not perform until it has been flooded by a vast torrent of reading’, Petronius Arbiter, 66AD

‘A student unacquainted with the attempts of former adventurers is always apt to overrate his own abilities, to mistake the most trifling excursions for discoveries of moment, and every coast new to him for a new-found country. If by chance he passes beyond his usual limits, he congratulates his own arrival at those regions which they who have steered a better course have long left behind them. The productions of such minds are seldom distinguished by an air of originality: they are anticipated in their happiest efforts; and if they are found to differ in anything from their predecessors, it is only in irregular sallies and trifling conceits. The more extensive therefore your acquaintance is with the works of those who have excelled the more extensive will be your powers of invention; and what may appear still more like a paradox, the more original will be your conceptions.’ Joshua Reynolds, from a speech at the Royal Academy, December 11, 1769.

 

The Autotelic personality

A few days ago, I attended an event where a very well known British journalist, broadcaster and political aide was speaking. He is a polished and entertaining speaker. He illustrated his talk with anecdotes and stories from various high profile people ranging from Diego Maradona to Barack Obama, many of whom he had interviewed for his bestselling book about winning. It was as to be expected- a very successful event.

However, for me the unexpected star of that evening was the person, Gert, who organised the evening. The story of how this came about is also bizarre- it seems that  Gert had been holidaying at a French ski resort when he came across this famous personality. Gert invited him to do a lecture. Upon return to the UK, Gert wrote to him but the broadcaster told him that he had never been to the ski resort in his life and worst of all, had never met him either. Not the person to give up, Gert thought that he had perhaps been forgotten but he persisted. However, the man was adamant. In the end, they both agreed that Gert had met a look-alike but to his credit, the broadcaster agreed to speak despite the mistake.  So what did I learn from Gert and that evening?

First, a lesson about networking: that Gert had used an opportunity to make contact with someone and even though, this person turned out to be not someone he had thought to be, he still was able to create a connection. Your next business opportunity is more likely to come from a loose or weak connection (one of the many people you met at the recent event or at a ski resort) than from Jo/Joe in your office.

Second, lesson about persistence: Gert’s polite, humorous and optimistic way of being persistent was important factor. If either of them had lost their cool, it would have been an embarrassingly different story. So if you are going to be persistent, then use humour, politeness and humility- and know when to back off. Persistence is a game played on the edge of the card- if you’ve shown your trump card and that’s not worked, then it is time to leave. But with two seasoned networkers who respect each other, then like this evening showed, it can be a win-win situation for all.

Third, a lesson about creating something bigger: Gert didn’t just use that opportunity for himself but used it to bring the speaker to a wider audience. That included not just his own colleagues but also invitees such as me who had never had any interaction with him before. There is an expression in Buddhism called ‘Jigyo keta’ which roughly translates from Japanese as ‘benefiting oneself and benefiting others’. Any action that benefits you as well as others is a great success, a win-win event. Such successes also make you happier than ones just for your self only.

Gert is a typical example of an autotelic personality. The word ‘autotelic’ comes from the Greek words Auto, meaning ‘self’ and telos, meaning ‘goal’. Autotelic activity is about having a purpose in and not apart from itself. Applied to personality types, autotelic person is someone who does things for their own sake, rather than in order to achieve an external marker of success. The autotelic personality is a yin yang person- a combination of receptive qualities such as openness and flexibility; as well as active qualities such as engagement and persistence. To succeed in today’s world of chaos and complexity, it is essential to have an autotelic personality. In the cast of characters for that evening- the speaker, Gert and everyone who was involved, even the doppelganger- had autotelic personalities, otherwise the evening wouldn’t have succeeded!

calling and career

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A Facebook acquaintance inserted this photo with the title, ‘The 380 upper deck is, well…um, a kind of different, I’d say’ and then he inserted another one which offered views of the scenery he could see from his hotel window, saying,’Not so bad view from a window you have to spend four days in.’  And so on- then we had photos of him drinking wine, trying different kinds of foods, etc.  He got 28 ‘likes’ for that first post and 37 for the second one. This person works for an organisation which helps the poor.  I wondered what his colleagues and ‘customers’ would have made of his posts? I realised that his aspirations and job were so opposite to each other that perhaps he does not find comfort and happiness in what he does. He is someone who cannot reconcile his behaviour with the values he is supposedly espousing.

For many of us, one’s career can different from one’s calling, leading to a dissatisfaction with our everyday lives.  A calling is something we do from our hearts, it is part of our whole lives so that something that is naturally a part of us.  Thomas Carlyle said, ’Blessed be he who has found his work, let him ask no other blessedness’.  But what is success?  Alain de Botton recently posted a blog about learning from the 80’s pop group, Wham!.  One of the lead singers, Andrew Ridgeley, is living a comparatively unknown life with his wife, who is also a former pop star from ‘Bananarama’. de Botton contends that Ridgeley is the ‘winner’ and more successful than his former partner, George Michael, who is in the news all the time (sometimes for the wrong reasons) and wealthier.  Success is about more than accumulation of money, travel, homes and cars!- ‘The life of Andrew Ridgeley belongs in the public realm. It’s one of the great moral fables of our time. It’s the story of one man’s redemption – from manic, narcissistic pleasure seeking to maturity. But it’s not just his story. He shows us what we need to do collectively, as a nation.’

I have been thinking of success and what it means to me.  For me success is a quiet confidence that we have lived the life we wanted, regardless of what society thinks of it and to have contributed to the world a similar amount of time and resources that it has given us.  Success does not shout its status from the roof, it is solid and deep, grounding us with our calling- inside out.

The mirror

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How we see ourselves is very different from how others see us- this continually surprises me.  Do we really see ourselves as we are or see ourselves as powerless, ugly or even useless?  Or, do we see ourselves as powerful, beautiful and creative?

This week I have been down with several health problems to add to my chronic illness.  I have felt let down by the medical system which prescribes drugs without checking the effect on a patient with long term conditions.  And I have been angry and felt useless- unable to work.   I felt ugly too.  At times I sat and stared at the screen, or at a piece of paper without as much as typing or writing a single word.  To inspire myself, I wrote to a colleague who is struggling with cancer which seems to come back again and again.  She has to wear a ‘bag’ to drain liquids and go for chemotherapy at least once a week.  Yet to me, she looks lovely and elegant.  I asked to interview her about how she balances work and health and looks so fabulous. I thought this might inspire ( or even kick) me back into work.

My jaw dropped when she wrote back to me, ‘One of the things that I would love to talk to you about is how you balance being a high-achieving woman with your health issues.’ What, me?!  Was she really talking about me?  It took me some time for this to sink in.  I wanted to protest- ‘No that is not me, you’ve got it all wrong!’  Then it occurred to me that perhaps she might have thought the same way about herself when she got my email.  That she looked at me very differently from how I saw myself.  That we might be seeing mirror images of each other- each person thinking that the other was somehow better or more fortunate.  Yet we are both powerful, beautiful and creative.  That I had done for her what she had done for me.

So this is what I now do.  I keep a small pocket mirror near me and whenever I feel down, I look at my reflection say,  ‘You are powerful, beautiful and creative!’  This is very powerful and magical!  As Nichiren says, “When you bow to a mirror, the reflected image bows back”.

why money can’t buy motivation

I have been thinking about some past employments I have had and why I left.  I was earning good money, earned some awards and putting away quite a bit into a pension pot too.  So why did I leave?  Was it because I like to be self employed?  Perhaps, I thought.  But what did I like about being self-employed?  The main thing that came up was the sense of being self managed or autonomous.  I have always been motivated and did many things like research in my own time because I liked to do so.

What I did not like in my employments was a ‘line manager’ poking at my records, filing up forms stating how many hours of (self directed) research I had done and going for performance evaluations.  After all, I was getting external validations such as awards and grants, so I could see any reasons for being evaluated by someone.  Also, I could not achieve my best because I was continuously having to limit my creativity due to external circumstances. In short, I did not achieve mastery although I was getting awards. There were also no purpose to my work- I just had to follow some outdated and uninspiring guidelines. I could not use my creativity and resourcefulness in directing my time.

So there we have it, we need a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose in order to do our life’s work, in order to follow our heart. This cannot be induced artificially by someone, by someone’s rules or by money.  This has been researched by many organisations such as Harvard, London School of Economics and others but not yet used in every day work.  So now although I learn much less, I have a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose to my time and work.  I found this video, which describes best what I went through, so I am sharing it here. Enjoy!