This week has been interesting. Following my confession on Tuesday that I'm not good at everything (shock horror!), and that I've been struggling to come to terms with this, I've been overwhelmed by the support I've received from all the wonderful people around me.Some really interested points were raised in response to a confession from David Hood, another person I admire and respect, that he too was stretched. David and I do similar kind of work - centred on engagement, education and collaboration for good. Though his work is mainly focused in the broader social change space, and mine in specifically in the fashion sector, I see a lot of cross over. Hence much of the discussion really resonated with me. Here's are some extracts:
>>> On the risks of this kind of work:
"We know the benefits of operating in open, collaborative, networked and real-time ways - are these the negative impacts? A reminder to be mindful... and create space." - David Hood
"I came to realise was that my greatest strength...the ability to remain open and see so many connections and opportunities that others couldnt even recognise, was also my greatest nemesis." - Annalie Killian
"When the majority of what you do is live event-based I think the risk of burnout is especially high." - Tom Dawkins
These comments particularly rang true for me with the kind of work that I do. Like Annalie, one of my greatest strengths is my ability to see connections and opportunities, and also like Annalie, I find it almost impossible to leave this alone and to turn it off. As someone who is interested in everything, I'm forever coming up with new projects/collaborations/endeavours. And I have trouble reconciling the idea that they don't all need to be realised, and certainly not all right now. As David says, when we are all connected and accessible all the time, it is so difficult to know when to stop. As Tom notes too, working in live events, to concrete deadlines (where the culmination of your work is often realised in person and measured by the level of social engagement) is extremely exhausting.
>>> On personal sustainability:
"What is really useful [is] to translate the principles of sustainability on the personal eco-system." - Anni Roolf
I've written before about balance. And while I stand by my statement that it isn't the be all and end all, this comment prompted some kind of small personal epiphany in me. The idea of personal sustainability has been raised frequently in the past couple of years. But this comment from Anni prompted me to think about it as I would triple bottom line reporting for an organisation. Similar to the recommendations I would make to any fashion business looking at "sustainability", I've been thinking about this in terms of people/profit/planet. To me, this translates as mental (social and intellectual stimulation), financial (business and bank balance), and health (physical and emotional). Ideally, these things should be mirrored in the community you're a part of too - ie, you should also work on the sustainability of those around you in tandem with yourself. Give and take between these three pillars for you as an individual and in your community is not only necessary, but vital for the best outcome. I guess I am really talking about balance here, but I prefer to allow plenty of room for ebb and flow, understanding that all pillars will rarely be in perfect alignment, and in fact that is the point!
As with in the sustainable fashion world, what has become increasingly evident, is the importance of transparency - or in this sense, honesty. This seems to really go against the grain for many, as vulnerability is not popular where personal branding exists. It is risky, from a professional standpoint. But for me, it is because it is unpopular and because it is perceived as risky that it is powerful. The very clever Kirk Bennitten has been doing some thinking along these lines...
>>> On limitations:
"You're loved, you're supported and you're freakin' awesome; you're also a frail, weak and limited human being and you need to come to terms with the reality of your own constraints." - Cameron Burgess
I've spent a considerable amount of time with Cameron in the last little while in his capacity as my business mentor, and board member of Sustainable Fashion Australia. Additionally, he is a profoundly intuitive person, and I learned a great deal from him beyond business strategy! His comment here is so, so valid. We are all limited, we can't achieve everything all on our own. We can only work to our strengths, be supported by others and achieve what we can.
>>> On being ahead of the curve:
"I've come to accept that the life of a frontrunner is a hard one, that he will suffer more injuries than most men and that many of these injuries will not be accidental." - a quote from Pele via Jennifer Sertl
"Your work is not to drag the world kicking and screaming into a new awareness. Your job is to simply do your work - sacredly, secretly and silently - and those with 'eyes to see and ears to hear' will respond." - Viv McWaters
I've been having many discussions about this in recent months. There is no doubt that it is easier to follow the established path through life, rather than walk the road less travelled. There are inherent risks involved in doing things differently, but for me, like any gambler knows, with greater risk comes greater potential rewards.
>>> And finally, a comment on creativity:
"Creativity and solitude are inextricably linked." a quote from Robert Hughes via Tony Hollingsworth
I've always loved Steven Johnson's philosophy "chance favours the connected mind" which he espouses in his "Where Good Ideas Come From" talk which you can see here on TED.com (which links back to Annalie's comments earlier), but perhaps I've forgotten the vital next step when it comes to actually creating something. As Robert Hughes alludes to here, the processes of creation requires sustained focus, concentration, and drive and solitude is a great friend to these principles. All too often I'm too busy having good ideas, collaborating and sharing, to actually sit with them and work to see them realised. Reflection, analysis and recalibration have been underrated in my life to this point, but this is about to change.
I don't have all the answers. I haven't learned all the secrets in the past week. But Anni Roolf did offer some fantastic suggestions to work on which I've paraphrased below:
> Create areas in your life that have nothing to do with your work :: doing nothing, doing beautiful things with no aims. > Develop a personal, healthy time structure / rhythm :: we personally and also the whole (connected & global) society needs new rituals, structures, rules, borders, habits, routines to stay sane. The old ones are no longer suitable, so it's our task to create new ones. > Challenge the dominant ideology of borderless networks. > Physical exercise and nutrition. > Let go of fast :: best to let things go -- huge psychological effect. > Review your own attitude to performance. Review your life and work goals :: Why I don't respect my own borders? Why I don't respect myself? Which is my real motive to perform? Is it a good one? > Be conscious of inputs of all kinds: music, people, media usage (virtual, TV, radio), books, leisure activities. (Less is more.) > Enjoy all kind of nature experiences as often as possible / walk for hours in the nature. (Slow types of movement.)
As Paul Szymkowiak noted, "self-help" frameworks are sometimes at risk of becoming yet another thing we must do (part of the reason why I've never managed to establish a meditation routine), which entirely defeats their purpose. For me, it is more important to be aware of these things, apply them when they serve you, but don't work yourself up about it if they're not in your best interests. So that's what I plan to do. Although I've added a couple of my own:
> Read more. > Write more. > Do nothing more.
When all's said and done, a few things have become extremely clear to me this week.
1 > My experiences are not at all uncommon. Many very smart, very special people in my sphere are experiencing similar challenges. People I admire very much are also owning up to the fact that life isn't as rosy as they might like it to be. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if you're not experiencing this on occasion, then you're not pushing yourself. But the key is to push yourself just the right amount so that you're reaching (rather than surpassing) your limits.
2 > I am extremely lucky. I am so fortunate to be in a position to pursue the things I love. I am supported by my nearest and dearest more than I could wish. I am given every opportunity to pursue my dreams. I have always known this, but this week has served as a handy reminder.
Thanks to my gorgeous friend Dani Sirotic for her support this week and for bringing my attention to the discussion started by David.