My feet are damp. The muddy water continues to sieve through my Asics. I’m walking back and forth on the same patch of muddy grass.
At the foot of a hill that I can’t dare look up towards. A hill so big, so testing, yet so fruitful.
The start of a journey. The time everything feels overwhelming and exciting. Yet, the muddy water makes my socks heavy.
I know this climb is going to be a test. Hot and cold. Wind and rain. Light and dark. The swirling path circles around the hill, with a clear, yet ambiguous path to the top.
Will I make it?
I have no doubt. The climb begins.
There’s an interesting shift that I see evolving in the next decade. It’s starting in some areas already. But it’ll only continue to grow as we move into the future.
The rise of Artificial Intelligence, or AI. The movies paint an exciting picture. The reality I feel will reside in automating, replacing and controlling all our functional work and jobs. I've been thinking about the implications on the fitness world in particular, and I can only see positives coming out of it - enabling those in it to do even better, more meaningful work.
Which leaves creativity. If we have a world run by AI, could this be what is needed to unleash the growth and creativity that is bubbling inside us all? No more of the functional, basic and mundane (even if delegated). Only the creative spark to power growth and change.
I’m asleep in the depths of the savanna.
Under the shade of a tree that lets a bit of sunlight through the gaps of the leaves.
I’ve been asleep for about 8, 10, maybe 12 hours.
My stomach is hungry, it’s time to find my prey.
So I get up, stumble my way past my pride, and head out.
I’ve got my strategic hat on, as I catch my eye on a few lone wildebeests.
My mane is itchy, but I’m ready.
I skirt around the outside, and without giving the wildebeest a chance, pounce.
Without hesitation, I bite his neck, cut his windpipe off, and kill him for my dinner.
Luckily, I’m not far from the pride, who are overjoyed at some extra food tonight.
My pride is happy. My stomach is settled. And my hard work is done. Time to rest and go again tomorrow.
It’s sort of like a market cycle. Or an ECG graph that turns fatal.
It hits peaks, then troughs, then equalises. Or corrects itself.
I’m learning irreversible decisions (or close to, as nearly all can be otherwise) bring with it similar cycles.
The emotional highs, that it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Then the thought that it’s the end of the world.
And then, something interesting happens. Usually about 30 days later. The rollercoaster calms down, the knee-jerks are out the window, and clarity ensues.
That’s the time to decide on moving and shaking big rock. Everything up till then may be a little too risky, or emotionally charged. And may only fire right back.
It’s crazy how scarily reliant we are on Mr. Zuck’s crew.
On 8th January I wrote this piece: What If Mark Pulls The Rug.
By the time I publish this, Mark may have put the rug back under our feet, but the outage across the main media channels (WhatsApp, Instagram & Facebook) got me thinking if this may be a pending reality at some point in the near future. It'd certainly be interesting to see it play out.
Maybe not in a few years, but who knows in a decade or two.
The funny thing was, my first reaction was to check my WiFi, put 4G on and off, before I just Googled: Is WhatsApp down?
With how many billions (or trillions?) of dollars at stake, I keep having this recurring thought of what media may look like in a generation or two.
Yet, who knows, that new technology may be coding in this very lockdown, somewhere in the world..
I’ve always known I’m someone that needs a lot of sleep. For the past four years though, since I stopped personal training (where you have no choice), I’ve chained myself into believing I need to be up at the crack of dawn, no matter what.
A typical week has always been to wake up 5-5.30am Sunday to Friday, getting about 6.5 to 7 hours sleep, then on Saturday, with no alarms, sleeping for 11-12 hours. Not as bad as it could be, but clearly, something wasn't right if that was the weekly requirement.
That was the cycle for years. This past Christmas, I flirted with the idea of stopping the alarm clock. For two weeks, I slept with no alarm and was sleeping 10-11 hours a night. As January came round, I thought to myself there’s no way I can get anything done sleeping this much.
Of course, I was in a pretty deep recovery hole, and needed to go through the initial long nights of sleep to settle on a 'normal' routine. But I resisted, and instead, went back to the grind.
Then I took a full week off everything about 4-5 weeks ago, and this time, told myself I’d persist through the initial recovery. For the first 7-10 days it was 10-12 hours a night, then ever since, it’s settled on a regular 8.5-9 hour rhythm.
And I’m amazed at the results. I’ve always known the power of sleep - but because I slept on average 7 hours, I thought I was ticking that box. The problem was, I was always fighting my body.
Now, I know I have the luxury of working online with no real schedule (I can start my work day at any time), and I don’t have young kids (which will screw all this up when the times comes!), but the big lesson for me has been to finally, listen to what my body has been telling me for years.
No more guilt, and no more thinking the only way to move forward is to wake up at 5am; I’ll only ever do it now if my body says so, which, as daylight savings kicks in, may just happen. Incidentally, I’m probably more productive than I’ve been, and I thought I already was!
The sleep hustle is well and truly broken.
One of my team always spoke of starting his days with lots of activity and self-care before any work.
I always found the idea of him starting work at 10am a bit strange. I used to think to myself, “Does he not enjoy it so much he wants to leap out of bed to do it?”.
Secretly, I wanted him to come try this method. He never did, even at the most obvious of hints. Now I know why.
Earlier today I told him that for the past few weeks I’ve been trying his way, and that I can’t see myself going back.
With it, I’ve stopped rushing the following:
I’m shocked I didn’t do this earlier. But what I’m also learning more and more is that only I can come to these realisations, and it'll come at the right time.
People can prod, coach and ideate, but it’s only when I'm ready, that it calls to me.
Ironically, my biggest fear of not working straight away was not having enough time to work. What’s happened instead is a higher output, less stress, and better thinking.
Now, all the hard work is done subconsciously while I’m vividly present in training, walking and reading.
So when I arrive at my desk, the typing is merely a formality.
The man has magic hands. The quality is unique: when he touches his baby, the baby stays young and immature. The man has loved the baby years, so keeps a close hold on his baby.
The baby yearns for growth. It seeks maturity, development and progression. But the man likes keeping control of his baby.
Yet, the baby’s protests grow. It needs to break the shackles to unleash its true impact and power.
The baby is the man’s business, and he struggles to let go. But on the 5th February, he makes a commitment to let the baby go for 9 days. To let the baby be looked after by its loved ones. The loved ones who love the baby just as much as the man does.
In 9 days the baby will grow exponentially; suppressed growth all bottled up from its near 4 years in existence. The man’s magic hands will change into a new quality, because holding on to the baby as it is is killing him.
We jolt ourselves awake. It’s 5am. Adrenaline is pumping.
The chains on our neck and feet are clanging together. The combined sound of millions of us moving is deafening.
Yet above all we hear, “C’mon you slaves, get to work!”
The clock strikes 6am. It’s time to change tasks. We labour away until 7am. It’s time to change again. For the next 16 hours, we’re on 60 minute rotations.
As soon as the clock strikes 12, the dreaded voice echoes across the land: “get to your next station, time is ticking!”
Digging, shovelling, building.
Everyday is Groundhog day.
Every few minutes we look up to see what the next rotation is.
Every few minutes we see the watchful tower, never missing a beat.
Decorated on the tower is a version of Tetris. Each task we finish completes a line of Tetris. Each task we finish means the dreaded voice rings again, “now move on to the next task, no rest for the wicked”.
What's the name of this Tetris version? Who’s speaking?
Our trusted daily calendar.
He was once a normal man in Middle Earth, just like us.
He loved to fish, play with his family, and be merry.
Then he found something which changed his life.
It went from love at first sight, to a crutch he lusted for.
It went from a piece of metal that brought him joy, to irreversible pain and despair.
The one ring that ruled them all.
Millions were a slave to the ring. They hunted their entire lives for something they had never seen. They became possessed with its existence and possession. They would accept all the pain to even get a glimpse.
Millions were killed by the ring.
For one, Sméagol, his entire body and mind transformed into the creature-like Gollum, who lived torn in love and hatred of the ring.
And yet, in his life-long quest to seize it back, euphoria returned only at the point of destruction. He would die happy, but as a slave all his life.
A week ago I read an article on Tom Blomfield, the founder of Monzo, who recently stepped away from the digital bank he started 6 years ago.
He said he’d not enjoyed his role for a few years, and he missed the scrappy start up days where the entire focus was on the customer, not on meeting deadlines, projections and targets set by investors or external influences. More importantly, he discussed how his unique skill set and ability to create impact was best served at a different growth trajectory and culture. This was a remarkable admission that I've heard very few entrepreneurs speak about.
The timing was no coincidence. I received it when I was on a walk talking with a friend about the entrepreneur’s trap, the cycle we end up in, and how we're wired to think we should be doing X just because we're now at Y.
The next morning, I received a long and cathartic voice note from a successful entrepreneur also describing this trap, after I asked one question to an initiative he was running: why?
Ever since, it’s all I’ve been thinking about. When I speak to seasoned entrepreneurs, who are willing to share the real deal, the story they tell is one which goes against the glitz and glamour we’re exposed to.
There’s a story of being trapped, in a cycle, and feeding a void looking for something. There’s a fine line between the scrappy start up days that Tom refers to, and entering the cycle where you can feel like there’s no way out.
As we gamify our days, look for ways to be ultra productive, and strive for growth, we tie ourselves more and more into this. I’ve been playing this game for four years now, and I can start to see signs of it. I love the core work that brings me into flow, yet I’d be lying if I said the overall path wasn’t a grind.
I’m thinking more about about the future now, and asking ‘why’ more than ever. As entrepreneurs, the questions that are worth pondering on (that are incredibly hard to answer truthfully):
For most of us, it’s not about the money. Elon Musk isn’t trying to go to Mars to make money. He’s the richest man in the world as a byproduct. Steve Jobs didn’t change the way we listen to music, use phones and live our lives because of an extra 0.
We all know we don’t actually need much to live very comfortably (one for another blog), so what’s it all for?
If it’s a purpose, calling, or impact we seek, at what point do we become so far detached from the work, that we don’t feel it anymore? Something worth thinking about. (I don't know the answers yet.)
This isn’t a musing on the perils of entrepreneurship, because it’s a wonderful way to live. It’s a call for us to stop and ask questions on the journey, so we don’t let the bullet train of impact and momentum stifle us from looking out the window to ask if the next stop is ours. And/or, if we need to change trains, just like Tom did.
Sam is running, arms wide open. His eyes are on one thing: the almighty pixie.
He’s running in hope of catching some of the pixie dust falling from the sky.
Sam hates running, so he justifies his behaviour by reassuring himself, “Only a bit more pixie and I’m set, then I don’t need to worry about anything”.
After a while, Sam is rewarded by his effort. But then something strange happens. He likes the feeling of having pixie, because he likes the idea of what the pixie may do for him.
The pixie may grant him the yacht, watch and girl he’s always wanted. He rationalises that if he gets a certain amount of pixie, life will be easier and more stable.
His new reassurance is, “Once I get enough pixie, then I can follow what I actually want to do. In the meantime, I’ll stay miserable - even if everyone around me is fed up and slowly stepping away.”
So he continues running, arms wide open. This time with pixie in his pocket and a large grin on his face.
Sam is getting fitter; his legs are now built for this. So he picks up the pace. Some days he catches, some days he misses. Mostly, he misses.
Then one day, he sees this life changing piece of pixie dust. So he runs harder and takes a leap of faith. Everything is on the line: his health, relationships, respect, and his beloved legs.
He jumps and catches it. He’s overjoyed. Now it’s time to live his life, even if all alone with a pair of broken legs. He can't move, so he's forced to look down for the first time.
He’s at the edge of the cliff with nowhere to go.
No more running, no use for pixie. He has two choices: throw all the pixie away, wait for his legs to heal, and walk back. Or stay at the cliff’s edge alone with more pixie than he ever truly wanted, with no chance to use it.
My mum has had the same accountant for over ten years. It’s been so long he’s a household name. By default, I also have the same accountant.
A few years ago I was in his office. During our meeting, I couldn’t help but look at all the shelves stacked with old files and folders. There must have been a couple hundred.
I asked, “What’s with these files?”
He replied, “Some of these are live folders that are decades old, I’m still in the process of transitioning online”.
I was curious, “What’s been your secret?”
Dumbfounded by the idea that he may have a secret, he just rattled off, “I was told early on that the way to manage clients, or anyone in business, is simple: be a professional mate.”
I thought that was gold.
I’ve tried to live by that ever since. The combination of words is critical. It sounds easy, yet it almost always goes pear-shaped.
You either have the uber-professional who is perceived as cold, with no care in the world. Slowly but surely, the recipient gets stale.
Or you get the mate, who includes unnecessary fluff, blurs the boundaries and starts putting x’s at the end of her communications. This is the person who spends half the recipients time discussing their weekend, or worse yet, the weather outside.
The balance is in the middle. Be the professional, be the mate, but never forget the two intertwine with one another. If you struggle to find your balance, always lean more to the professional. Because you can always bring the mate in later. The opposite rarely works.
The rebels had surrounded the perimeter.
The civilians were watching from afar, all holding their breath. Some shocks, some gasps but more than anything, curiosity.
The rebels were holding strong artillery and trying their best to find gaps in the building.
But the building, titled S-Quo HQ, had known many coup attempts. It was now indestructible. They had the best defence mechanisms and recruited only the finest talent.
The rebels had no chance. I’d come to the scene late. I couldn’t tell who the public were voting for; it seemed mixed. The crowd was filled by two groups. On one side stood plenty of suits, who were smiling every time another rebel was gunned down. On the other, we had the misfits who were hoping S-Quo HQ would finally be breached.
After an hour of rebellion, victory was announced. The building was untouched. Everyone inside was safe. The rebels were dispatched with ease. Their supporters in the crowd looked in horror.
I couldn’t understand why the misfits were permitted in the crowd if they supported the rebels. Or why the suits had a smirk every time a rebel life was lost.
It all became clear when a megaphone appeared at the top of S-Quo HQ. A tall, built man with a full head of white hair blurted out:
“The rebels are dead. Please remember the three commandments of the land:
“Let us resume normality again.”
One of the misfits screamed, “What if we don’t want to?”
The suits sneered. The misfits roared together. I looked at both groups as they began to disperse and realised that some day, S-Quo HQ needed to fall. The rebels needed to get to the remarkable talent before the S-Quo HQ, and they needed more strength in numbers.
In a matter of minutes, everything disappeared, and it was as if nothing happened. The S-Quo HQ stood tall and proud over the city again, glistening in its extraordinary power.
A high performer is commonly mistaken as one who is extremely productive in their field. But that’s only a by-product. Being productive is just an outcome, not the determinant.
Sustained high performance comes from within. It’s a real understanding of yourself, what your true drivers are, and what meaning you put into the work you do.
Only with this self-awareness can high quality work be created consistently. And I’m talking years. Else the path to high performance becomes muddied by the path of keeping up; chasing the real high performers who have set the pace and status quo for you.
The commonalities I see in true high performers are:
You always have a choice. You can hack temporary productivity. Or you can seek sustained high performance over decades. The only difference between the two camps is the hard work put towards moulding your version of the status quo.
There’s a shift that’s required in our society to prioritise all pillars of health: physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual.
Awareness is a start. But awareness is becoming a sexy tick box exercise now.
It’s sexy to be aware about diversity and inclusion.
It’s sexy to be aware of the lockdown’s impact on mental health.
It gives society an opportunity to say, “We’re doing our bit”.
Awareness is only sexy if it follows genuine action.
The solution, rather, lies in promoting small cultural change. Beginning with people like us who aren’t simply aware of these changes needed, but are acting on it daily. And not on a grandiose scale, but in small ecosystems pocketed around the world.
Trying to make the world act on culture change in one go is futile. It starts with the few, and changing their beliefs. Then letting the domino effect take place. Slowly.
For extreme culture shifts, making patient action sexy is going to be our most valuable currency.
If you’ve been telling yourself you’re not a creative, stop.
Truth is, we’re all creatives to a degree. It’s our conditioning that determines the degree of its expression.
Think back to when you were a child. You were probably creating some pretty cool things: whether it be messy (yet strangely artistic) drawings, something interesting out of playdough, or even, fort-like sand castles on the beach.
What happens as we trawl through life is that school, society and work beats it out of us. It tells us to stop creating. It tells us to stop thinking out of the box.
Perhaps more accurately, it just removes any opportunity to be creative.
But here’s a way to turn the childhood lights on again: start coming up with ideas daily and write them down.
It can be about anything. For example:
Or, what may be most apt: turn the way you do your next piece of work upside down. If there's a set way you normally work on a project, try coming up with ways to rewrite the rules.
You might just surprise yourself. Those people you think of as 'more creative' are probably the ones who've spent more time turning these lights back on.
(PS. I’m half way through the 30 day 'minimalist' challenge with my fiancé - today the goal is to get rid of 16 things! Check it out here to learn more.)
I used to pride myself on tactics.
A tactic to do something quicker, deliver something faster, and make something better. For right now.
Tactics to help navigate the day-to-day. Lots and lots of tick boxes.
I’ve learnt now that anyone can play the tactics game. It gives instant gratification.
Trying to understand and build a strategy is hard. Trying to look 5 to 10 years ahead to make bold predictions and assumptions requires a deep understanding of your market, and its position in the world.
Trying to then reverse engineer present decisions based on a future outlook, makes for tough thinking.
I’m trying to get a little better at playing this game each day. Because there’s no use trying to be a gladiator of tactics if you don’t have an arena to fight inside in 5 years time.
In 2018, I gave three talks to high school students titled, Finding Your Passion.
My message was clear: Don’t accept the pre-determined path. And use high school to apply yourself in lots of different things.
For high school students, that’s exactly what they need to hear, because often the system tries to walk you down a certain path if 1) not aware, and 2) haven’t tried other paths.
More and more, it’s difficult to go anywhere without hearing ‘find your passion’ or ‘follow your dreams’.
The reason I gave those talks was because I used to think I was someone who followed my passion (in the way you hear about it now) when I was 17 years old.
I didn’t stop the idea of becoming a lawyer because I’d magically stumbled upon a treasure chest of passion. I did so because I found what I was really good at - facilitating change through the physical body. Transformation.
Unknowingly at the time, it came from a lot of trial and error. It wasn’t that law was only for those who were too scared to break the system, it was that I didn’t find enjoyment in the aspects of a law career I’d specifically seen. (I’d interned in 4-5 firms in London, Germany and Mumbai). Whereas I found a lot of fulfilment in transformation. I was just lucky I stumbled across it early. The fact I had so many hobbies, studied a broad variety of subjects, and had diverse friends of different backgrounds, probably helped speed up this process.
For adults, my advice now is different.
It’s to think of this as an ongoing discovery, not a result. There’s a myth that ‘passionate careers’ are only for those outside of the typical finance, insurance, accountancy and law sectors. But that’s a fallacy. I know plenty of people in these sectors who absolutely love what they do.
It’s not the sector. It’s the process of work. You don’t find your passion in a sector. You find it in the work.
Here’s a better way:
If you’re working in a job you think you don’t like, maybe it's because the specific work you're doing now is not fun. Maybe it’s because you haven’t found meaning in the work. Maybe the perspective is wrong. Maybe the people around you aren’t thinking on the same page.
Your best and most passionate work will always be a form of self-expression. That lies in the process, not the sector, title or salary. Any job can be a calling if it aligns with your flow. Maybe instead of quitting your day job, your best move is to find a different role within the company. Same sector, different work. Maybe that work is what will give you an opportunity to be better, allow more autonomy, contribute to something more meaningful. Maybe it's simply changing the way you think about the work.
Next time someone tells you to go on a Lord of the Rings type search for a treasure chest of passion, look the other way. You might be closer to it than you think.
Oh, and when you are doing your most passionate work, life doesn’t suddenly become sunshine and rainbows. That's another myth worth busting another day.
Covid-19 has changed the way we work forever.
Here’s eleven random thoughts on how I see it changing in the coming years:
1. Job descriptions without a remote option available will be rare.
2. More and more tools designed to improve remote working will be developed. The tools we have now are only just the start. I’m shocked I only just started using Slack.
3. Teams will have to become intentional in their communication, as the ‘water cooler’ chats will disappear. In many cases it will feel like forced overcommunication, but it’ll be necessary to maintain team spirit.
4. People will question pointless meetings, but on the flip side, may crave more face time with their team.
5. The ability to write clearly will be a vital for everyone, because of a growing need to document, express thoughts and create ideas in the written word.
6. E-Commerce will continue to thrive in unimaginable ways. I’m excited to see what Jeff Bezos has up his sleeve for this sector.
7. Industries or sectors that are stuck in their (old) ways, en route to commoditisation, or filled with too many ‘me too’ services, will undergo serious disruption. Only a few will survive. Real estate strikes me as one in particular.
8. More companies will sprout up online than ever before. Yet, more companies than ever will shut down within a year of starting. There will be a lot of churn to allow the cream to rise.
9. Many markets and sectors will undergo a correction as they mature. I know my own sector, health and fitness, is on the cusp of this.
10. Every bricks and mortar business will have an online revenue stream.
11. People will work more hours than ever.
A mission and vision is a filter against everything.
A set of values are the added armour.
Constraints are either created by the mission, vision and values, or are deemed as necessary to drive them forward. It works both ways.
Filters whittle down your choices and resources. Constraints will set your boundaries.
Filters are singular, constraints are multiple.
A personal mission to be a healthy and active high performer is a filter.
One of your constraints may be that you don’t drink.
Filters drives long-term behaviour, constraints drive the day-to-day.
At your workplace, the shared mission and vision may be to create sustainable financial solutions for working mothers. The filter.
One constraint may be that you only communicate with your clients by email. Or that you don’t advise on the stock market. Or that you don’t meet in person.
Some constraints are created automatically from your filter (i.e. working mothers only), some constraints are necessary to drive the filter forward.
A website can always be more intuitive.
A blog can always have better writing.
A spreadsheet can always have better formulas.
A product can always have less bugs.
But no one will know if the project is still pending, or in drafts.
Knowing a bit more information, having a bit more time, or in other words, waiting for a clearing, is futile.
Nothing needs to be flawless.
In the quest for perfectionism, procrastination rears its ugly head. Because sharpening your pencils for the fifth time isn’t going to make your drawing any better. It's sharp, you're ready. Now go.
On Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, we’re in Mark Zuckerberg’s arena.
He dictates the rules. His controlling share power means one person can impact close to 3 billion users everyday.
But what if he pulled the rug?
He probably won’t, yet the possibility is always there.
Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t need any more money. While he has the ultimate control, he’s also governed by share price demands.
Investors, shareholders and the markets want to see Facebook, Inc. grow fast. So it needs to make more money from their products: us.
If we focus all our efforts on creating attention, audience and connection on Facebook, we’re doing it on rented land.
The landlord could throw us out at any time.
It’s a risk for anyone who has a message with a force for good. Facebook’s companies do a lot of good, but there’s equal, perhaps even greater, downsides.
The choice is ours. And it’s up to us, now more than ever, to decide: what and where do we want to build?
That’s why I love physical books (and believe they will only become more valuable), and why I started this blog: so I can be a customer (to Weebly) rather than the product (to Facebook), and so my words can be away from the noise, rules and algorithms of social media.
I started yet another gangster TV show, Bad Blood. Judging by how much budget seems to be allocated to this genre, I don’t think anyone is getting sick of these.
I like them for a few reasons.
The first is that the mafias and cartels depicted are incredible businesses, just with an illegal product. The leaders, and arguably, everyone through the ranks, have tremendous entrepreneurial spirit. And I love that. If you take away the illegal product, there’s a lot to be learnt from them. They're raw entrepreneurs at heart who play with high stakes.
The second is the interesting question of:
Even with the inevitable prospect of jail or death, and/or when they're about to lose it all, why do the people in power continue to strive for more?
In the ‘legal’ world, death is rarely a consequence. Yet, if it were, would the drive to want more continue the same? In the ‘illegal’ world, the ego chooses to ignore the possibility of death or jail, with hope of riding the fine line to get away with it one more time.
In an episode of Bad Blood I watched yesterday, the narrator described it perfectly (I’m paraphrasing): “For a year everything was going well, then as always, someone got greedy and wanted more. So we entered a bloody war, yet again”.
Why are some people wired to ignore all (potentially bad) consequences in the pursuit of more?
In our own strive for high performance, these ‘potentially bad’ consequences are the breakdown of relationships, our health and our mental health. It’s usually one or all of the three.
So really, we’re not too dissimilar to the mafias and cartels of the world. If anything, we might be more masochistic because it doesn’t quite need to be this way. Right?
That’s a question I think about a lot. As you can probably tell, I’m yet to crystallise my answers.