Today Only Happens Once

Today is a once-off. Here for a few hours, and then gone, forever. Just like every day.

Today I’m in Brussels in Belgium to give a talk at the Freelance Business Day event at L42 to a room full of bright and ambitious aspiring freelancers and entrepreneurs.

I am nervous and excited, scared and energised.

Nervous because this is my first time on a stage outside of Ireland, and it’s a big step into the unknown.

Excited because I know that stepping into the unknown is what leads to growth and development, personally and professionally.

Scared because of the voice inside my head warning me not to screw it up. (It’s somewhere inside all our heads, right?)

Energised because I have met and become friends with so many amazing people over the past two years, and today I’m likely to meet and get to know some more.

Mostly, though, I am just so grateful to be here.

Grateful to be alive. Grateful to be invited. Grateful for the chance to breathe in a new city, amongst bright and ambitious and energetic people, some of whom might just become friends.

And grateful to experience this one day. I will never again be 41 years old and in Brussels and about to deliver my first presentation outside Ireland.

This one day, that just like all the others, will never come round again.

Keep The Channel Open: Martha Graham and a Message for All of Us

Martha Graham

Martha Graham, the Great American dancer and choreographer, urges us to give full expression of our unique selves as an eternal gift to humanity.

Sometimes we just need somebody to tell us something true. To show us that we have a place in the great line of humanity. To give us the permission to express ourselves fully for the betterment of our selves, our loved ones and the world.

Martha Graham was an American dancer and choreographer, who died 28 years ago this week.

She is cited with powerful little quotables such as “Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired”, or “The only sin is mediocrity”.

But it is her message about how to live life through expression of our unique innermost selves that speaks loudest.

It was delivered to Agnes de Mille, herself a choreographer who rose to fame following the success of the stage musical Oklahoma! in the 1940s.

De Mille recounted the following conversation with her counterpart, colleague and mentor. (Perhaps to underline the point about unique expression, its place on a single point in time, and the danger of its being lost forever, the conversation was included in de Mille’s biography of Martha Graham published in 1991. That was the same year of Graham passed away at the age of 96, and de Mille, who was 86 by then, herself died two years later.)

“I confessed [to Martha] that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be,” said de Mille.

Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.

“And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.

The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you.

Keep the channel open.

No artist is pleased … There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

 

Episode 13: Caroline McMenamin, trail-blazing mental health advocate and therapist, on growing up with OCD, the importance of individual identity, Irish trans-generational trauma and redefining happiness

The reality illusion

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.

– Albert Einstein

I’ve been toying with the “reality as illusion” idea for a while.

There are certain things that are definitely real, definitely not an illusion.

Yesterday I was washing out a tin can, and the sharp edge sliced a 1-centimetre gash in my hand. That certainly didn’t seem or feel anything like an illusion.

But still.

Lots of things are seen as real but are pure illusion, little or nothing more than a shared belief system.

Money, for example, is a belief system shared by almost everyone. (It’s part of the reason the success of cryptocurrency relies squarely on having a critical mass of people who believe it to be true. When faith in a shared belief system is shaken, the whole thing can quickly come tumbling down.)

Job security does not exist. Jobs can be ultra-secure right up until a week or two before they’re gone.

For every media story of cruelty or hardship or evil, and they are both abundant and absolutely real, there are a million untold stories of beauty and compassion and generosity.

Are they any less real, just because they are untold?

So get out there and be real, whatever you decide that is.

Decision fatigue

How many choices do we make every day? From what to wear or what to have for breakfast to the route to the office, all choices take energy.

Making decisions takes energy. Even when those decisions are small and everyday.

Decision fatigue is a real thing.

Being aware of decision fatigue is why tech company bosses such as Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs made choices to stock their wardrobe with multiple versions of the same thing.

Jim Collins, in a recent podcast interview with Tim Ferriss, spoke about making one decision that rules out 100 other decisions down the line.

All understood that the energy required to make decisions is invaluable, and that that energy is best reserved for making decisions for bigger impact.

This is not just an idea or a way of thinking, either. It’s grounded in science, biology, physiology. The brain comprises around 2% of a human body mass, but uses about 20% of its energy. (This is not all because of thought, of course. That would be overly simplistic, and scientific studies vary.)

Nevertheless, making choices about the choices we make is one of the most powerful things we can do to preserve and boost our energy.

And boosting our energy in turn has a disproportionate positive effect on our wellbeing, productivity and happiness.

Further reading on decision fatigue: I enjoyed this article by James Clear, author of the book Atomic Habits. 

“That’s just your perception”

One dictionary definition of perception is:

The way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.

And reality:

The state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.

There’s a sense, often, that perception and reality are two different things.

They’re not.

Your perception is your reality.

If there are more than 7 billion of us on the planet, and each of us has our own unique and individual perception, that means there are more than 7 billion realities.

And if there are realities for all of us, if our perception — the way we see or interpret something — is our reality, and if we acknowledge fully that our own individual perception is mouldable, malleable, changeable, then it follows, surely, that our reality can also be moulded,

That we can change our reality just by changing the way we look at it.

There’s a quote widely attributed to Henry Ford.

If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.

Perception can be changed. And that means reality can be changed.

It takes a bit of work, a bit of persistence, a bit of lasso-ing those thoughts and reining them in, but it’s possible.

 

[As I write this, on Friday, March 15th, my reality for the past 10 days has been one of sluggishness, inertia, brain fog, self-loathing, victimhood and hopelessness. These 10 days have been the lowest point of a three-month episode of depression, which started to take hold in or around November / December 2018. It’s about the 20th major depressive episode in my lifetime, but by far the worst I’ve experienced since I started writing, podcasting and speaking about depression and its  effects. I’ve been paying attention to what’s going on. In the past, I numbed it however I could: with films, sleep or books (all of which are okay ways to numb the pain of depression, once you can find a way to function for a while each day outside of that bubble); or with alcohol or pornography (which, in a similar way perhaps to drugs or irresponsible sex, are effective short-term balms but in the end make things much worse). Finding a way to accept these two things, (1) that my perception is real, and (2) that I can change my perception, feels vitally important right now.]

Episode 12: Self-styled Go Getter Girl Shinjini Das on the challenges of being a global entrepreneur as an ethnic minority woman, the merits of public speaking, and how to be an introverted social media influencer

The thing about morning routines

I was on the local radio station here in Ireland this week. Part of a Monday motivation series, talking to people about life and what gets them out of bed in the morning.

The conversation turned to morning routines.

As I believe is typical in live media, you often think of key things that need to be said almost as soon as the time to say it has gone.

So here’s the thing about morning routines.

It has to work for you.

Test, try, tweak, do everything you can to come up with a morning routine.

But know this: someone else’s morning routine is very unlikely to work seamlessly for you.

And know this too: even when you find a morning routine that works, you’re very likely to try other new things, because there is almost always some improvement to find.

This is why chapter 1 of my still-half-written book is titled “Know Yourself”.

The Greeks had it spot on. Know thyself is one of the Dephic maxims, carved into the wall of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi in or around the 5th century BC.

Knowing what works for you comes from time and trial and experimentation. Your experiences are valid. Your experiences might just be the only ones that are fully valid for you.

We only really hear about other people’s morning routines because they have a voice or a platform. Their morning routines may or may not work for them.

Find out what works for you, and trust in that.

The space between us

In this blog and in other writing, podcasts, interviews and talks, I’ve spoken a lot about conversation, and the need for honest conversation: conversation as a transaction, where honesty and vulnerability and compassion are offered fully on both sides.

One idea for a bigger project — a long blog? a book? a podcast series? — is all about conversation, a skill essential for happiness, balance, productivity and everything in between, but which is a skill that has become eroded by the increasingly isolated, dehumanized digital/virtual world we find ourselves in.

This became so apparent to me in one of my previous careers, where I was responsible for recruiting talented young journalists. These young professionals had come through school and university, many of them with high-class degrees, but the one thing which united them was their inability to hold a conversation. Invitations to pick up the phone — such a staple of the journalist’s trade — were routinely ignored as the routine became to text or email.

I have heard other talented business-people speak about their phobia of the phone, recounting occasions where after dialling a number to call someone, they implored the ringing to go to voicemail so they could avoid the conversation that might ensue.

Conversation is not easy. Honest conversation, where we dispense with the chitchat and small talk, is much more difficult still.

There’s a line in a Kevin Barry story, “Across the Rooftops”, from his blazingly brilliant collection Dark Lies the Island, which has now been adapted (sort of) for a pitch black movie of the same name (trailer here, more details here).

“Across the Rooftops” is about a post-party rooftop encounter between two late teens or young adults, who find themselves in each other’s company and on the cusp of growing up.

At one point, as the depth of the vital unspoken becomes clear, the narration goes,

We talked about everything except the space between us.

This goes on a lot in everyday conversations.

We talk about lots of stuff, but rarely about the important stuff.

It’s not easy to talk about the important stuff. It opens us up to fear and pain and judgment, and even, perhaps, humiliation and exile.

Navigating the space between us is a lifelong challenge. It will always be a challenge. But challenges are there to be taken on, and occasionally overcome.

If we approach the space between us with love and compassion and truth, even if we can’t find or don’t know the right words, then we have a chance of a beautiful moment.

Both of us.

 

 

 

The way to play the game

There’s still room for honour, nobility, and doing things in the right spirit.

Some of us, drilled on competitiveness, try to win at all costs.

But the trouble with winning at all costs is that the costs are usually too high.

It’s not just about winning.

It’s not even mostly about winning.

It’s about the way we play the game.