I've had an illuminating series of conversations over the past few weeks, which have culminated in a few uncomfortable, but thoroughly valuable revelations. The crux of it is this:

You can be busy or remarkable - but not both.

- Cal Newport. Read the full article here.

You can churn out a stack of work that meets a client brief or brings in a steady stream of revenue, but it won't be the kind of work that lights you up, or lights anyone else up for that matter.

Why? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that good work - and by that I mean work that is truly personally fulfilling - is expensive. It takes time and free headspace to do work that feels good, and that also touches others in a positive way too. It takes discipline and focus, neither of which are easy to come by in an age of overstimulation and constant connectedness, and both of which are difficult to charge for. All of which are difficult to jam in around work that actually pays the bills.

Good work isn't easy to monetise. Almost all the people I know who are doing interesting creative, academic and entrepreneurial work find it a struggle financially at times. You can't charge for the hours of thinking, researching, analysis, thinking, bursts of inspiration, rethinking and working that go into realising a good idea to the full extent of your capabilities.

Inevitably, financial responsibilities, risk minimisation, and the rules of supply and demand take priority over doing good work. I imagine a lot of people (Gen Ys in particular) start off in their career with grand intentions of doing something great, before the reality of having to pay the bills sets in. Sometimes we don't even realise what's happened, but before you know it, the work you're doing is a pale imitation of what you actually want to do and what you actually could do. If only you had the time, money, headspace...

An awful lot of people spend their time being busy instead of remarkable. We're chasing dollars and racing the clock, and as a result we're doing work that is valuable (in the sense that people pay us to do it), but not enthralling. Satisfactory, but not truly satisfying.

So many work days are filled with activity rather than action - busyness for the sake of busyness, instead of strategic and creative thinking, and doing - for impact. It makes me really sad to see that what's remarkable and what's profitable is rarely the same thing, and there's much that I'd like to say on this subject in general, but I'll save it for another blog post.

So what do I do with this information?

Recalibrate. Cull. Create space and find focus. Play. Strive for quality over quantity. Aim for remarkable.

A dear friend reminded me of the Cal Newport quote just when I needed to hear it. Having adopted this as his motto for 2014, it has catalysed big personal and professional changes for him. In a strange serendipitous twist, he'd originally come across the post via an earlier tweet of mine, which I'd promptly forgotten about. That's what you call coming full circle! He passed the wisdom back on to me, as he was finishing up a consulting role to move back into an impact driven organisation he feels passionately about. Brilliant.

Recently, I've been splitting my work days over two different jobs, with two organisations I believe in. On good days, it is an absolute delight to work with people who are values aligned, on big goals that I feel have real merit. On a bad day, I can't sleep or concentrate for thinking about the tasks I have to complete, the opportunities we have to capitalise on, and the contacts we need to exploit. I've come to realise that despite their big ambitions and fact that they're doing some really good stuff, I'm not actually able to do great work. Too much work and not enough time or headspace to do any of it well equals an unfulfilling work dynamic.

As serendipity would have it, just as I was coming to my busy/remarkable realisation, an opportunity that was too good to pass up presented itself. So, I will be starting a new role at Intrepid Travel from this week. This is really exciting for me, mixing the kind of work I'm passionate about with the global perspective I've been craving. I can't wait.

I'm excited about this change as it also makes space for me to do some other things I'm really passionate about. Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking to repack that newly acquired brain space with stuff. Instead, I'm going to focus my attention on one job and some study, and on hopefully doing them both justice. I'm going to give myself some time to revisit projects I've put on the shelf. It's been too long since I've given myself some creative scope to explore these things, and I'm excited to be able to start playing with them again. Hopefully this will also include being able to write more on some of these themes. There really is a lot to cover.

But first, some thank yous. It is somewhat bittersweet to leave behind the CSL family, and a massive thank you in particular to Kate Harris, Dave Seignior and the whole team who have made the experience such an inspiring time in my life. I'm also leaving Net Balance after a short but sweet stint and I'm very grateful for the experience and the relationships I've built there. Big hugs to my friends Cameron Neil, Fiona Silke and Alice Howard-Vyse for being wonderful and really helping me get my head around this. And to Amy Bolger for talking me in to applying for her wonderful job at Intrepid in the first place.


Some related further reading from some most excellent people:


Following earlier posts about me finding myself over committed (again), and flustered (again), a few things have risen to the surface. Some really lovely people have sent useful links, thoughts, comments, and resources through. I really, really appreciate your help in finding my way.I'm really enjoying the process of posting here, talking out loud. But if my catharsis is bothering you, my apologies and please feel free to move on.

I've noted below a few concepts/themes that are really resonating for me, as I recalibrate and set my intentions for the remainder of the year, and ongoing. I hope they are also useful for those of you who have told me you're going through similar things, or those of you who are quietly struggling alone.

What overload looks like

I came across a list of things that occur when you're overloading via my old gym, of all places. Though I think these are intended to be applied to your exercise regime, they are definitely applicable here.

  • You’ve stopped enjoying things you normally love
  • You feel tired most of the time
  • You feel overwhelmed or out of control
  • You find it hard to relax

Idleness is not a dirty word

Bertrand Russell wrote about it in "In praise of idleness". Life is meant to be enjoyed, not endured. Take time to smell the roses, to do what really matters to you, and to do nothing. The chances of the important things being the same things you're paid to do, unfortunately, are not high. But do them anyway.

I'm going to strive not to be "busy". Busy is not the same as effective. Busy does not make me happy. Busy does not bring out my best work, or the best of me as a person. And it certainly does not allow me to bring out the best in others.

Less is more

Putting all (or most) of your energy into one project makes it much more likely to succeed. According to this incredibly insightful article, "When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success." This is the first step. People with a singular focus are often the ones who achieve those really incredible things we're astounded by.

Things that no longer serve you will disappear

Jan Stewart told me this one a while ago. All too often, I'm reluctant to let go of things, even after I know they're no longer working for me. As Jan says, if you practice mindfulness, you'll notice things you no longer need (even subconsciously) will leave your life.

Fear of mediocrity

I've realised slowly that perhaps the reason I'm working myself into such a state, what I'm really afraid of, is being average. I want to live a remarkable life and to achieve something. I'm beginning to unpack this and I think I'm starting to understand why and what it all means. No doubt there will be more on this.

Limited diversity

Geoff Dyer said, "Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it's a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It's only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other." He may be talking about writing, but I feel like this is true for any one working on their own projects. Too many though, and it becomes far too easy to avoid things when they become too challenging. (More tips for writers here.)

Love is all around

Many people around me are facing similar challenges to what I'm sorting through at the moment. More still have been through it and come out the other side. There is an endless amount of wisdom to draw on. And there are so many amazing people willing to share it with me.

Happy weekend.