It knows no limits.
No boundaries. No concept of time.
It is and flows and blows. And it knows all.
All around the world, it carries tiny reciprocating whispers. Good and bad.
The wind gusts with no bias. Only maintaining equilibrium of the Earth’s spirit.
No whisper ever goes unnoticed, or forgotten. They're always reciprocated.
I grew up in the early 90s eating Weetabix. Every morning I’d put two Weetabix pieces in a bowl with milk and eat the most important meal of the day: breakfast.
I was told that if I had my Weetabix, I’d have unbeatable strength and energy.
There’s a high chance you may have done the same. Or maybe you wanted to have the strength of Tony the Tiger.
Either way, we had an association. I see Weetabix and think of a nutritious, healthy, smiling breakfast. It’s mostly just whole grain wheat, though.
These associations create beliefs and behaviours from a young age.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it actually doesn’t matter.
Everyone should start work at 9am, but quality work is all that matters.
Lifting weights and running should be the staple for everyone, but doing something you love is more important.
When we drive to a temporary goal, we put everything on hold. When we create a way of life, we have to challenge our instilled behaviours. Many of these will have come from a young age with no bad intention or fault of ours.
The work now for us is to identify these, so we can transform to a better way of life effortlessly.
I’ve used the term self-mastery extensively over the years.
Last week I spent a whole walk thinking about it, trying to understand what it truly means.
This is what I landed on (for now):
Self-mastery is not the pursuit of more or better, it is the pursuit of winning the war between the mind and the heart, with the free Soul the worthy winning prize.
I thought I was an addict. So I went cold turkey. Nothing for 9 days.
I let the baby mature, develop and progress; the baby didn’t survive, it thrived.
I realise now I wasn't an addict, I just simply didn’t know another way of living and being.
A friend of mine spoke to me yesterday about the immigrant mentality that some of us grow up with, where our parents come to this country and work hard to earn money to survive, and to gain freedom for the next generation to thrive.
Yet, the smell of the cycle feeds into the atmosphere. A conditioning that dictates this is the only way: to fill every hour with another bit of doing, at the expense of being. To think every missed hour is a missed opportunity.
The freedom that we work so hard to gain, only manifests into yet another prison in our mind.
In the last 9 days, I let the baby grow. But more so, I let myself see.
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.
"Do a circuit at home."
"You can still train in your room."
"No one is stopping you going for a run."
That might be all well and good for some people.
But don't assume that for millions of us it is too.
For millions, it's not the same energy, experience or flow.
For millions, the disconnect we usually get, has disappeared. The ability to just forget all the BS, and zone out in an environment of hard and heavy training, gone.
Instead, cabin fever.
I know this UK govt plans to keep us in lockdown till at least April (who knows if longer), but c'mon, make it law for gyms to open.
Make specific criteria.
Be extra cautious.
Do more screening and tests at entry.
But let us train in the place many of us call our second homes.
Because millions of our mental health depends so much on it.
I signed this petition today, I hope it makes a difference.
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.
The boat is rocking violently over the unforgiving waves. We’re all sea sick, miles away from the shore; all wearing black and yellow suits with large cylinders on our backs.
Every one of us is filled with dread. Once the anchor is laid down, we will take a leap of faith from air to ocean. A dive into a new world.
It’s time. We start queueing at the edge of the boat. One by one, we jump. There’s a rope to hold onto, but only space for a few.
The waves are taller than ever. My buoyancy is off. I shout to the head of the crew, Sarah, “I’m struggling to stay afloat!” The weight of everything is pulling me under. I’m a strong swimmer, but this is a real test.
My legs are paddling hard, yet with each wave I swallow a gulp of water. I grab the rope; it’s of no use. Most of my crew have put their mouthpiece on and started their descent.
I’m panicking, desperately trying to string a few words to Sarah. It’s pointless. She orders, “Stop trying to stay afloat and go under. Your buoyancy will auto-regulate, and there will be no more waves to fight. You can’t win this battle.”
Begrudgingly, I admit defeat. So I put my mouthpiece in and let go.
A minute later, I’m in a new world; crystal clear waters with beautiful coral reefs and schools of fish everywhere in sight.
I take it all in. The insanity of a few minutes earlier now all forgotten.
It’s the end of January, which means it’s a month of daily blogging. Here’s seven learnings:
The Tudor Period. Pythagorus Theorem. Long division.
When was the last time you thanked your school for teaching you how many wives Henry VIII had?
Or for the mathematical mantra of sohcahtoa (sine, cosine, tangent)?
Here’s what will make a real difference, if done properly:
I am being biased to what I experienced at school in terms of curriculum, choice and awareness, but from my understanding, nothing has really changed (I did a quick Google search).
Expanding on the last point, creativity is more or less stifled at school because of:
There’s more I could speak on this (I sense a follow up blog), and I’d love your thoughts in the meantime on this.
The government school curriculum is likely not changing any time soon, but we can still do a lot for the younger generation to learn real life skills, keep creativity alive and build an applicable foundation of education.
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.
I’m back on the court. The smell of the acrylic paint and sealed synthetic is fresh. The lines are all freshly drawn, and the net is wound up to the top.
I dust off my Babolat racket from my bag and await the first ball. I’m excited and feeling confident. Coach Eastwood is on the other side of the net, ready to feed.
"Shall we start with an easy warm up from the service line?", he asks.
I reply back, "Nah, let's just get straight into it from the back".
The first comes to my right. I miss it totally.
The second comes to my left. I shank it behind me.
The third makes me run a little, before I smash it right in the net.
I’m confused and frustrated. Under my breath I murmur, “What’s going on!”
Coach Eastwood is under no illusion. He shouts back across the net, “What do you expect, this isn’t 2008 anymore!”
He’s right. It’s been 12 years since I played. The glory days are long gone.
I walk towards the net and suggest, “shall we start from scratch again?”
I’m at the top of the boardwalk with my nearest and dearest. We’re floating down the coast of Los Angeles. No use of our feet, vehicles or any transport. Just floating.
We’re moving from the local gym to the best steakhouse in town. And we’re all ordering chicken today. As we sit down, the waiter puts a bag of chalk on the table. We chalk up, ready to eat.
As I clap my hands, I find myself into a room full of business associates. It’s an award ceremony to recognise who worked the hardest this year. I immediately clap my hands again, nothing happens.
I turn to the side and a mentor says to me, “No use doing that, you’re chalked out, my friend”. The award ceremony ends, no one in the room won. The host tells everyone to try harder for next time.
I leave the room and for a £2 loan at the reception to take a train home. I’m told to run instead.
So I ran. Then I clap my hands. It’s 6.30am.
I open my eyes. Where was I? I was in the land of the middle. The special place every morning where I’m in a hypnopompic state: neither asleep or awake. The unique time in the day where my subconscious is screaming at me to listen, have faith, and ignore ration and logic for a tiny period.
The beautiful daydream we should never ignore.
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.
The gong strikes. It’s midnight. The lady in the caged cubicle by the gates shouts out the next number on her list:
“Ticket number 2405”.
It was time to meet the gatekeeper. Admission was individual; everyone in line had been scored.
One thought dominated: “Have I lived up to the mark?”
It’d been a long voyage to the gate. A car ride, two planes, and a long, 62 mile vertical elevator.
I had to get to the other side.
The gatekeeper pulled out a paper scroll. It was stained and ancient, with a paleness that made it see-through.
I read it reverse:
“2405 is not ready yet, he has more to do before he is admitted to our land”.
My heart sank because I knew what was coming.
“You must go back. Turn around and take the blue and green elevator. You have done a lot, but you have missed some specific elements required for your unique admission”.
Deep down I wasn’t surprised. I was kidding myself I was ready, when I’d yet to find the singular focus needed to get to the other side.
I’m on all fours, and I’m running with a pack, struggling to keep up. Sunset is approaching. The mission is nearly complete and we need to make it back to our territory before it gets dark. A respite before we go again tomorrow.
I still don’t know what the mission is. It’s a blur. I’m just about keeping up with the pack, but I have no idea why, what or who I’m with. The chase today was over before I knew it.
We're close to basecamp now, and I feel an itch on my arm. I look down to see what it is. My skin is darker and there’s fur. My cheeks feel funny. I’ve lost all my clothes. I’m stripped to my core feeling anxious. I move away from the pack to find out what’s happening. They briefly look back to see why I’ve stopped, but don’t care and relentlessly continue.
I see a puddle close by and stumble over to look at the reflection, and there lies my answer.
I’m a monkey. I’m lost in a pack trying to keep up. And I don’t know what with, or why. I look up to see if my pack is in sight. They aren’t too far, but there’s bad news. A shadow of jaguars loom. They're on the kill.
The pack full of strangers I was running with have no chance. Despite this, they don't change their path, they run faster into the danger. I decide to turn the other way and find a better path home.
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.
On Sunday I wasted about 5 hours testing a new social media app.
I’m generally disciplined with my social media habits, so this was a whole new experience. And I went to bed on Sunday feeling awful: wired, anxious and in a state of FOMO. Most of all, I felt distracted.
I felt a sense of comparison, inadequacy, misalignment, and all the emotions that I’d researched a few years ago on the detrimental use of too much social media. These feelings were why I started limiting my usage; Sunday definitely took me back in time.
It got me thinking. How long will this all last? Or is this only going to get worse?
Some of my friends are totally addicted. Yet, more and more are disconnecting from social media. They’ve had enough, and have no real purpose to be on there.
I’m still in two minds on whether the work to be on social media is worth it. Because even if used in a curated, strategic and disciplined way, I still don’t know if the long-term risk is worth it.
Meaning, despite having a filtered feed across my accounts (so I only see what I want to), all the clever psychology of gamification and flashing lights is still at play. Even though I use it as a force for good, the low-level brain adaptation may not be worth the positive price.
I sense a rebellion brewing. I don’t know when, but it’s coming. It has to. This technology can only manipulate the emotions of nearly 2 billion users for so long before more start saying no.
In a conversation about this yesterday, I revisited a brilliant TED talk by Cal Newport, who has built an incredible body of work with no social media at all. Perhaps there’s a lesson or two for all of us here. Maybe I’m writing this as a memo to myself. Either way, go check it out here. It’s worth a watch.
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.
Nothing feels better than the buzz of ticking things off a list.
Yet, the key is knowing if you're ticking off fake or productive items; it's understanding the difference between fake and productive work.
Fake work is easy: emails, scheduling, social media posts, writing lists. It's very much 'in the now'.
Productive work is often hard to track. It’s more intangible, because a lot of it happens in your head, in conversation and in quiet times.
Yet, it’s this work that really moves the needle forward. It’s less obvious, and we may not be able to tick it off today, or this week.
This problem solving, deep diving, or whatever you want to call it, allows you to pull the trigger on projects that seem like mountains to climb.
It eradicates the inertia so you can fire on all cylinders.
That’s why the most productive people are getting lots of quality work out of the door. Not because they’re good at to-do lists, or have the best ‘hacks’, but because they spent days, weeks, months, sometimes years, sharpening the axe to knock the tree down in one hit.