The Messy Middle

I was on a Zoom discussing the topic Entropy, embracing the chaos that leads to work and subsequent output.  There is some sciency stuff behind it and what I gleaned was – we need chaos for creativity and innovation. It’s all about the Messy Middle.  And it’s how you handle it that counts. 

I get frustrated when things get messy, even when I know the outcome will bring organisation and peace.

A friend described it beautifully.  It’s like when you move house or even move things around in your house from one room to another.  You have to dismantle everything and disturb stuff (disrupt the status quo), and for a time everything is everywhere.  And slowly you move one thing after another and put it in a place you like.  And when you are done, all is calm once again.

Writing is like that for me.  And knowing me and my tendencies for order, I know that in those days, weeks or months of chaos, I have to find other places to order and satisfy that need.  So I will clean out the kitchen or the garage, or tidy my desk, or rearrange the apps on my phone. 

And you might be thinking, “Isn’t that just another form of hiding? Or a distraction?”.

Well, yes, you do have a point and are right. I think the difference is which way you intend to approach it.

“I am tidying my desk today, to have a uncluttered space so that my creativity can stay messy.”

As opposed to: “I better go tidy that cupboard again as I really don’t want to write today.”

We all have our own version of the Messy Middle and it will include chaos, disruption, conscious incompetence, frustration, questions that pose yet more questions and little in the way of answers, fatigue, The Dip, self-doubt, fear and vulnerability.

The people around us can be unsupportive either through their own fears they imprint on you, the narrative they have in their head or maybe they just don’t know you need support.

Your routines are all off, you’re questioning everything you do, it feels foggy, uncomfortable and most of the outcomes are predictably unpredictable.

How might you slow things down and trust the process?

To trust yourself and your abilities? Because you did once before and you worked it out. And now you have even better skills and knowledge that are aiding you, is it now time for another leap?

And the best way through it?

Community. A safe place for you to say out loud the stories you tell yourself with others and they can reflect it back to you – carefully unpacking it all, picking through the weeds and seeing alternative perspectives.

Because of all that, I have created Gather & Share Digital Campfires and this month’s topic is – THE MESSY MIDDLE.

Gather & Share all began because I believe in bringing people together to reflect on past experiences and how we got through them. And when things get tough, instead of resisting the urge to run and hide, we can find belonging.  We can get excited about starting something new in the future and keep going, together.

And I would love for you to join us.

Here >>>>

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Do you ever get those days when it just all feels pointless?

Who am I kidding, of course you do. We are human and expect things to happen in the right order at the right time for us. And life just ain’t that way.

Yet, in looking the precursor to this dip, it appeared there was something in my control. I had been with people who do not understand me or help me to replenish my soul. They put me on a downer, that continued to spiral into this pit of despair. The only thing preventing me from spiraling too far was a backup plan…

I had a couple of calls with some awesome collaborators scheduled for the afternoon. I had to peel myself from the sofa, ruffle my hair and change out of the comfy sweat pants and hoody in an effort to make myself presentable on video. This was not about me, it was about them and showing up for them to be a part of their conversation.

And it turns out, this energy exchange can work in not so mysterious ways.

After those calls I was energised, enthused and I had a couple of actionable plans I could implement. It was through the conversation, thrashing and brainstorming of each other’s frustrations and obstacles, that I was able to emerge the other side of that temporary dip and get back on track.

Depletive conversations do exactly that – they take. And the more you give, the more they take.

It’s the equitable exchanges that make us people of contribution. Where we help one another and we all walk away much happier.

Now it’s your turn to tell me… here

I invite you to keep track of your conversations over the next week.

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Altitude Sickness

I don’t think I’ve ever flown too high… 

Then I stopped and realised I needed to give myself some more credit.  

I joined the Royal Navy which at the time appeared completely out of character to everyone else around me.  I just thought it was a good way to earn a decent wage, make some friends and see the world – at least one of those things happened.  

Then I left to start my own business – again very out of character to everyone else around me.  I just thought it would be a good way to earn a decent wage, make some new friends and see the world – currently one of those things has already happened.  

And now I am writing a long form fiction novel for the first time. Firstly, because I can and second, it’s good for the credibility. It’s not going to make me millions by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly has stretched me, my skills and my volition.

On reflection – I have never really failed so far, just got a little bit better each time. So maybe I am still on the upward climb.  

And I was reminded of when I was riding a bike when I was a kid.  Before my mum got around to taking the training wheels off, I got too big for the bike and never upgraded to a proper bike… so, I can’t ride a bike.  I did try when I was in my early 30’s and just about managed to get around the park because I didn’t like riding on the streets with other cars or anywhere too off road. The park was enough for me.

Then I came to realise, I haven’t been very good at finishing things. Or I stop when it gets too hard. I struggle to complete that last 25% and into the realms of success because I always seem to stop short.

That’s when all sorts of questions start…

What if I look stupid?

What if people copy me and do it better?

What if it makes me appear desperate?

What if…. what if… what if…????

Am I not flying higher out of fear, rejection, humiliation and shame?

Which made me consider – where’s the safety net?  What might that look like? How might that make it easier to fail and learn for next time?

And when I figure that out… the next thing might be:

Maybe it is time to take the training wheels off and start riding, falling off, getting back up and keep riding until I can do it without thinking.

Now it’s your turn to tell me… here

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Catching the Spiral

A strange day that got off to a good start… until I was disappointed by some news about an opportunity and I started the downward spiral of discontent, one that would normally cripple me for days… or even weeks.

This day though – I decided.  I decided to message a friend who might have some knowledge about the situation, and they did.  That said, I am still disappointed but at least I can logically rationalise about it.  And all is not lost, “There is another…”, and I have some alternatives to investigate.

It was very apparent as I was emailing said friend, I felt a pang of discomfort about having to ask for help and lower my status in the aftermath of a failure.  I felt an icky feeling in the pit of my stomach, demoralised, shameful and vulnerable.  But after my email and call with him, all that went away.  He was so understanding, kind and generous.  And now I don’t feel so bad. 

So I’m glad I didn’t reach for that half kilo of cheddar cheese when I felt low… because now it appears, that would have been a waste.

In the novel I am writing, my lead character Alphie does this, she reaches for a range of things to fill the voids and lives a life that intentionally lacks purpose, direction and responsibility. She washes her hands of it all and floats along without a care in the world. Then all that is taken from her, and she doesn’t like it. She’d happily do the absolute minimum required – but only on her terms.

Until it’s time for her to step up, and she gets to decide whether to take it…

Now it’s your turn to tell me… here

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Extinction Rebellion have a point, and it’s to save our species!!!

A glorious early September day. Mid to high 20’s with not a breath of wind.  We knew it was coming, so I cleared my schedule to have a Covid-Safe day out with Mum and Nan.  That’s the beauty of being able to work for yourself.  To take those opportunities for spending time doing things that bring you joy.

That, set against the context of an ever changing world, and one that’s doesn’t appear to be changing for the better.  Mum and I watched a programme on BBC, so it must be true.  And it was presented by David Attenborough, so it REALLY must be true.  That guy is 94 and has devoted his life to the planet and all its inhabitants, and to teaching us how to look after it. Did we listen? Erm, No.  No we did not.

If you would like an overview, here is an article from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2020/sep/13/extinction-the-facts-review-a-heartbreaking-warning-from-david-attenborough

If you can access BBC iPlayer, even better:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000mn4n

It is a heart-warming but stark warning to all of us, big and small, that it is our responsibility to change our habits, otherwise millions will be lost.  Millions of species, millions from our global economy.

Just as we have come to realise how interconnected we are as people, communities, cultures and economies during the COVID crisis.  The same is true for our little biosphere.  Mass extinction of the smallest of insects can tip the balance of our biodiversity, sending a ripple effect of destruction to the largest of creatures.

Even my Mum, who generally doesn’t get phased by such matters, has been rocked to her core.  So much so that she even wanted to continue the conversation the next morning and brought it up quite out of the blue.  It was clear to me she had been thinking about it overnight and wanted to talk.  She’s even discussing how we can be better consumers and think of other ways we can purchase our food and manage our waste.  Quite a remarkable shift I’d say.

But we can’t, as individuals, do it alone.  The biggest and most effective changes will come from the top down – for once I believe this is the best way.  Governments and big business have got to change how they produce and provide.  And we as a population have got to change how we consume and demand. 

Mum used to work for a supermarket and was telling me about the horrendous amounts of wasted food.  How farmers are forced to over produce so we can discard the wonky veg and have the all illusive “straight banana”. 

Aisle after aisle, and shelf after shelf must remain fully stocked in order for us to have 10 different kinds of brown bread on offer.  There is an entire aisle devoted to sauces, all flavours, brands, high fat, low fat, non-fat, sugar free, gluten free, vegan free, added meat, fake meat, high fibre, low sodium, full of sugar but that’s ok because its organic….. it is madness. 

Ok, I will agree that vegan and gluten options are needed for many.  But I detest the umpteen brands all selling the same thing.  We all know it comes from the same bloody factories, slightly altering the recipe then shove a different label on at the end.  Hell, Mum even said they would get it wrong sometimes and they would receive (what they could only assume was) their brand of butter, in their branded tub, with a different lid because there was an error on the production line.  And where did that entire batch go??  In the bin!!!  The whole lot.

And it’s not like the supermarket food is any good.  I can’t remember the last time I cried chopping onions.  Oh, yes I can, I was a kid, so thirty years ago.  And once a couple of years ago when I grew some of my own.  I even got out a garlic clove and got Mum to smell it – NOTHING!!!  I will put 3-4 cloves in my sauté veg and I can’t even taste it.  It’s so over-produced it’s lost its taste.  And I have to use even more than I should to get a hint of the desired effect.

Still in a state of shock and awe at what we had witnessed and now realise we experience every day; we made a pledge of sorts.  To buy local and better quality wherever possible.  Or make our own if we can.  Even if that means cutting back on other luxuries.  And we definitely won’t get it right first time, and we will no doubt make some mistakes or go back on our promise somewhere along the line.  But FML, I am ready to give it go because things cannot go on like this.  It must change.  Starting now.

Otherwise, days like today.  With my Mum and Nan, enjoying a day out.  As rare as they already are, might become non-existent.

Now it’s your turn to tell me… here

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Mastermind Groups

A few weeks ago I blogged about the mastermind group I have been a part of for over a year…

Here we are in action on our weekly call. 

10X’ing the discussion on how we might 10X our endeavours.

6 different specialisations, spanning 7 time zones and 60 minutes of endless possibilities…


Now it’s your turn to tell me… here

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Creatives got a bum deal in school and it continues in the work part of life.

I have been reading Natives by Akala, where he describes the complete uselessness of the education system in the UK.  And I could not agree more.  He cites Ken Robinson who asserted that, “… our schools do indeed, for the most part, kill creativity.”

This fascinated me, so I headed over to YouTube to look for the clip and it was, as expected, delightfully funny and insightful.  And when he came to his Gillian Lynn story I knew I had heard it somewhere else and remembered his voice.  So, the time I first heard it, I wasn’t listening well enough.

Now I am listening and this TED made so much sense to me.  I remember in primary school doing drawings, writing etc.  And I also remember the horrendous feedback I would get about such things.  I also remember being reasonably accomplished in school and has good (ish) reports with the standard, “Could do better if she applied herself”.  And yet, I still remember that negative feedback more vividly.  

Then in secondary school it really did slide.  Not too far and into detentions or exclusion, I think I just knew how to do the minimum to get through.  Then I was surprised, and quite upset as I recall (tears and stuff), I had achieved average grades at GCSE.  I got all 9 of them but was disappointed there were only 2 B’s and 7Cs.  Yeah I know, pretty good right?  Yet that voice in my head continued to pester me with its “could have done better” mantra.  Mind you, I got over it pretty quick because I had a part-time job and was just waiting for the summer break to kick in and my hours could go up.  More money for funnzies.

This particular TED from Sir Ken is dated 2006.  14 years ago.  14!!! Years ago!

So is it any wonder that creative people who learn and figure things out differently are experiencing the same brand of institutionalism in their work places.  We have all been subject to an education system designed for compliance, and some of us just don’t roll that way.

It is only now, 24 years later on from my own education, that I am finding my creativity once again and daring to fail and make mistakes.  I can only imagine what I could have become, had that huge blockade not been placed in my way for so long.

Ken said about a child in school at that time will retire in 2065 and we have no idea what that world will look like, so how can we possibly prepare them for that world when we continue to use largely outdated approaches?  Only last year, I repeated a similar revelation I heard on a recent podcast to a friend.  So, that conversation has not changed.

The fear I have is, it’s looking like the problem is not going away.  And it’s amazing that we are still stuck in this same cycle and nothing has changed, when in other areas we have become so innovative and future focused.

So now I am left wondering whether it is our inherent need to figure EVERYTHING out, might also be what is holding us back.  How might we trust a process and yet not fully understand it?  

You wouldn’t ask Mozart, “How did you come up with that piece of music?”  It is doubtful he ever really knew, because when it came to music, he could just play.

And yet, we do it to our creative employees every day, “why do you do it like that?  Is it not better this way?  Explain how you came up with that.”  And worst of all, valuing success – no matter what.  And fiercely berating anyone who dare make a mistake or fail.

Why can’t we allow people to just play?

Now it’s your turn to tell me… here

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Social Media – Does exactly what it says on the box.

After having a major falling out with all thing’s social media this week… I have had a major breakthrough…

Social Media is not about Work. It tricks you into thinking it is, but that just ain’t so.

Do we go to a gathering of friends and have analytical conversations about The Work?

No, we chat and discuss other things and it’s more light-hearted. It’s a means of escape.  

And as for the Media part. The dictionary definition is: the main means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing, and the Internet) regarded collectively.

To me this suggests a one way transmission and note the use of “mass communication“.

So, is it any wonder you can’t find purposeful convos in the online places?  It’s because that’s not what it’s for. It’s a virtual pub, not a homeroom or debate club.  And Mastermind groups certainly work better in person, even virtually.  

The next time you think about trying to find a meaningful conversation on social media, remember: Try starting the same dialogue with the TV first, you might get further.

Alternatively, try reaching out to someone specific. It’s much more personal, generous and considerate. And the likelihood of getting an insightful response is greatly increased. And that means you can offer an intelligent reply.

And now, you have a dialogue worthy of everybody’s time.

Now it’s your turn to tell me… here

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“Zoomed out”… Really?

I have been hearing this phrase more and more and I even said it myself. I filled my day with lots of online calls with the intention of finding connection and purpose. Then when I got fatigued, I blamed it on the calls. When in reality, they might not have been the root cause.

We used to spend all day with people at work or school and then would go to the pub in the evening / play a sport / go to a book club / a second job / waste time travelling around… 

We didn’t often say we’re “peopled” out… we were just plain old tired. So what’s the issue?

The intensity of calls? Do they have enough purpose?  How might the frequency and the duration play a part?  

Only recently I spent 5 hours on a Zoom call and was up past 2am with my buddy in Argentina. Full disclosure – there may have been wine involved…

But, I didn’t feel fatigued or stressed out, I had a wonderful time chatting and messing around with my friend, just like we were in the same physical room together.

On a separate occasion (two days later I might add and so glad my friend and I change the date otherwise I would have not enjoyed this call as much – LOL!), I spent all day on Zoom doing a workshop.

We took breaks, stopped for lunch and mixed it up with main room and breakout sessions. Again, I would assert I would have been just as fatigued (if not more) had I needed to get up at silly o’clock to travel to an unfamiliar location and then endure the drive home after a very intense day of thinking.

Virtual calls are not the problem. It’s the purpose of the call that’s the problem, or lack there-of.  And this might also be a period of adjustment because we can still remember the “old ways”. We tend to default to our liked and familiar experiences, and this discomfort with virtual calls might be us adjusting, amplified by the reality that it’s now the safest and preferred option.

Which means it might be a choice thing and we don’t like not having choice.

Now it’s your turn to tell me… here

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