Photo above: Good ole Daz back in his happy place...but not before wandering aimlessly for many months...randomly shouting at people like Brick Tamlin^ Read on for the whole story...
I’ve always had a way with words. Or perhaps, more accurately;
I’ve had my way with words.
And I choose these words —about words— not to be clever, but rather, descriptive. Because sometimes it felt almost adulterous. Intoxicating. Secretive. Obsessed. I mean, we’re talking completely fixated, ensconced; just prosing away. Reveling in the magnificence that seeps from words well put together.
Thankfully, most of the time my relationship with words was more like a long, happy marriage. Hard work, sure, but the deep sense of appreciation and gratitude that comes only through time leaves any discomfort or challenge faced along the way cowed and beaten under the power of love. The love for vocab.
And then there’s the other times. Well, they just feel like I’m downright whoring my way through the English language. And not high-class escorting either. Nope. I use it, drop it, abandon it and abuse it through pure selfishness. I treat it dirty and it treats me with contempt in return, but daren’t say so. It’s at my whim. I don’t respect it and it is there to serve me. I’ve left my cash on the bedside chest of drawers and often more than a few dollars short for the services rendered.
Oh yes, dear friends, I’ve had my way with words.
My melancholy meandering
About 18 months prior, me and them wordy-words…well, we had-it-goin’-on. I mean it was ON. Full throttle. I was voraciously reading; it was nothing for me to have anywhere between 3-5 books on the go, reading upwards of 100 books a year. My backpack would have a cluster of books within; perchance any spare time on a flight or airport lounge —even just 15 short minutes— it would immediately be taken advantage of. I’d ravenously devour the pages like a savoury feast that might be taken away at a moment’s notice. Oh, and I was writing furiously. Determinedly. Doggedly. I’m not sure if it was just discipline or working at my craft, but heck, I was cracking on.
And then it stopped. Dunno when, or exactly how, but it did.
I fell out of love, lust and longing with words. My-oh-my, this was much more than some internal disquiet. I stopped my practice of writing. The weekly newsletter I pounded out, nary missing a week over almost 7 years…just stopped.
And reading. Argghh. This is the one that really stings. It just ground to a halt. There’s a little part of me that feels deep shame when I admit this, but I think I only read five or six books for the whole of twenty-sixteen. Jeez. That hurts to write —and even more to sit here re-reading those words. I didn’t read. Wow.
I kept waiting for the love to come back. Yet it didn’t. Granted, I didn’t exactly engineer a spiritual awakening at an ashram; nor did I try for an epiphany while overlooking some impressive vista like you see on a million godawful iStock pics. There was no lightbulb moment or sign for me to re-embrace words.
The love had gone. And it wasn’t coming back anytime soon.
The love of words.
And I wondered if it ever would return.
The love of words.
And it made me sad. Emoticon-sad-face-in-my-heart-sad.
This wasn’t just a couple of gloomy days. It lingered longer. There was a deep sense of loss that my primary creative outlet (and inspiration) had just up-and-gone. There were countless futile attempts of opening my laptop with the express intention to write; I’d buy a book with the inspiration to read…but still, nothin’.
Perhaps it was the way I’d abused it over the years. Maybe I hadn’t respected it enough. Should I have been gratitude journaling each day and professing my undying love for writing and reading? Perhaps I needed to set the mood, a few candles, and mebbe a bottle of wine? But rather than use the bottle of wine as a conduit to rekindling my romance for words, I just drank it.
And even when the hangover subsided, still the words didn’t come to be written, and nor were they read.
Sit and stand, these hours at hand
knowing there’s more in me
than what I show.
Wanting to be taken, captured and enraptured
by the words that never came
instead, just a melancholy meandering
It left me, wrought and racked in the most terrible of doubt
of ability. of desire. of worth.
my feckless heart; ruined by the words that never came
It really messed with my head. And strangely, this was in spite of all the other cool happening that were going on.
Here I was (with Ali and a team of superstars) building a rocketship of a business, Pragmatic Thinking. 2016 was a year of unparalleled growth, progress and #winning. PT is a business that will find its way onto BRW’s Fast 100 list in 2017. Of that I’m certain. It’s grand, scary, alluring, and meaningful. I can’t accurately tell you just how many personal values this wonderful business and thepeople working within it fulfil for me —it’s too many to list.
So here we were delivering some absolute belter leadership programs for clients, achieving substantial results*, and yet…amongst all this activity —this meaningful work— my verve for words just up and left. Gone.
For so long, the word game —the cornerstone of my thought leadership— was broken and cracked.
And at the deepest level, it scared the shit out of me.
Progress can be a poultice
All the while colleagues, mates and family sat in wonder of what we were achieving.
‘You guys are killing it!’
‘You’ve grown so fast since we last spoke…
‘Hang on, are you just employing more peeps ‘cos you’re lonely?
The chorus of people cheering us on grew alongside an increasing head count of superstars at Pragmatic Thinking. I look back on the past 18 months with immense personal satisfaction with what we’ve achieved professionally. Thanks in part to Alison, I also did my best to not give in to excessive hubris.**
In fact, as we continued to exceed our targets and do great work, there was a distinct lack of lavish celebration…in fact we were borderline neglectful in recognising success. But in retrospect there was a deeper reason to not smell our own flowers.
Deep down all this progress we were making in PT at a personal level was just a medicinal masquerade. It provided distraction from a deeper pain I felt. But this progress; ah, it was good stuff! It gave me purpose in each day. It made me work, not mope around too much, because there was always stuff to do. Progress got me out of bed, to speak on stage, to work with clients and do many good things.
Despite this, the melancholy was still there at a deep level and the behaviour of my interaction with words —or lack of it— still existed. No writing and no reading.
So here I was in this progress-fuelled paradoxical pickle. 2016 was my most successful professional year. Easily. It was hardly a year of regret or waste. By almost every measure I was freakin’ braining it.
And then I realised something big. What I was doing was the perfect antidote to being in a funk.
A funk is a space most of us reach often and in cycles. It’s a very natural sensation for smart people to get them feels that we’re doing OK but we’re not exactly flying. And so here I was exposing myself to the same treatment I’d used successfully countless times in the past. Get busy. Be smart. Work hard. You’ll bust outta this funk. Just trust the work.
But the activity didn’t heal what was a deeper problem; this malevolent malaise that I finally came to realise would grow ever more cancerous without the right treatment. This was something that would continue to eat away at the best parts of me unless I dared to face it.
I needed to have my way with words, all over again.***
Y’see while progress is so important to our mental health, our motivation and our productivity, it also can become a noble misdiagnosis, ignoring the beating heart of a bigger problem.
Alison talks at length about the balance of purpose and progress. That your purpose doesn’t have to be esoterically aligned; y’now, not mahlife’s purpose. Rather, seeking purpose in the activity you’re doing is a bloody good place to start. She’s smart. It makes sense. It’s right.
Jason writes beautifully on the quest for meaningful progress. That progress can be a distractor. And he’s spot on. He also talks wonderfully about krakens of doom, showing your honour, whisky and other weird and wonderful things. But the progress piece…that’s his jam. So good.****
Heck, I even wrote a piece for AFR/BRW a while back on the high octane fuel that is progress. Why we should be careful with the heady mix of neuropeptides and transmitters that can drive crazy, unsustainable behaviour.
And so there’s two very smart cookies (and me) who advise to treat progress carefully. That it is something to embrace but be discerning of. That the pursuit and intent of making progress each day is a good thing. And we should all aspire to it. It’s an itch we should scratch.
But what if it’s deeper than said scratch? What if you’re trying to treat a bigger problem with the noble, yet misdiagnosed prescription of progress?
After all, you can’t put a band-aid on cancer.
Unleash your creative heart.
What I’ve come to is the following conclusion;
Deep at the heart of any malaise —and we’re not talking a funk, but rather, a deep and ugly restlessness— is a creative yearning yet to be met.
If you’re listless, beating yourself up with all that you have (job, pay check, good health, etc) yet still don’t seem to be fulfilled…well, it might just be something other than you being an ungrateful prick/prickette. Sure, people around you and that internal narrative of yours might call it as a first-world problem, but in my view, it’s a problem for sure. And you shouldn’t feel shame because of it.
That melancholy; well my friend, that is a craving for creativity.
This shouldn’t be confused with psychological or safety needs being unmet. That typically manifests as anxiety. Those fight or flight chemicals such as adrenalin and cortisol course our synapses because we live in fear of scarcity. Tens of thousands of years ago, knowing where our next meal might come from, or where we might spend the night safely; well they were real worries where the consequences were huge. It was life and death.
But when these life-or-death things disappear —and they have disappeared for the vast majority of the population according to vast reams of data, then what is it we’re feeling? If it isn’t the neural response of anxiety, when business is thriving, family is in good health and relationships are great, then WTF is going on? What are we really experiencing?
Well firstly, that experience of yours —of mine— I’m convinced for many of us that it’s a problem. It’s real. It’s serious. Or at least it is if you want a fulfilled life.
That problem? It’s creativity not met.
And I’m quite aware this is hardly earth shattering news. There’s no eureka moment here. But if you’re in a dispirited state and have been for a while, then this might just be a nudge or gentle reminder; for me however, it was the slap in the face I’d been waiting for. I know I needed it.
If fulfilment is what you’re after, then we need to express ourselves beyond being productive and making progress. We need to tap into our inner desires to create and play. To be curious and dare to think thoughts beyond the rational and obvious. And this is what words do for me.
While I don’t need words like I need oxygen, water, or coffee; say a bushranger† from here or a sneaky piccolo or latte from here. There without doubt necessities required to sustain life. I do need words as a part of my life to find those satisfying moments of fulfilment. Even just sitting and poring my thoughts through the keys of my Macbook Pro right now lifts my spirits and makes my heart a little lighter.
And if you don’t think you need creativity for a fulfilled life, then I’d ask you to be curious about the way the world reacted to the artists we lost in 2016. Bowie. Prince. Cohen. Michael. Depending on your genre or taste, there was true mourning. People spoke from the heart about the loss they felt. And why? It’s not simply because these geniuses were creative. It’s because they gave us a chance to feel creativity. They let it run through us.
So, I’ve realised through making extraordinary progress in the lead up to —and within 2016— I became efficient, productive and successful, yet I stopped honouring my deeper creative drive. The more disconnected I became from my creative channels, the more I numbed. Either work or escapism, I was walking away from the very cure of my discontent. Instead of reading, I binge-watched. Instead of writing, I surfed social. Neither of these things were food for my soul.
So, I’m making a declaration. It’s already happened internally, but public accountability carries more weight when it comes to permanent shifts of behaviour. I’m going to write my arse off in 2017. There's been small changes such as changing my writing font preference to serif font styles to embrace block readability and a hat tip to the past. From a tools-of-the-trade POV I’ve already changed the game by buying one of these to carry one of these and I’m also buying a five minute journal to start the day in the right fashion. And loving it.
And reading. Oh lordy, it’s back on! I’ve read Pay Off, and am part of the way through reading Homo Deus (gawd it’s good!). And this one in prep for a mid-year trip to France, and this one to explore what it is that makes the successful tick. And I’m excited to have this one next in the line.
So, it’s game on. This isn’t rhetoric, it’s happening.
But be forewarned. This personal realisation of mine —the overdue awakening of my creative side (and subsequent declaration of writing more) means things for you too. You’ll have a choice to make. You can read my musings (that’d be super) or the increased frequency of my writing might mean you don’t want to read it or even hit the delete key, so you may want to unsubscribe. That’s cool. Loaded inboxes and all that jazz. I geddit.
I guess if there’s value in this post, it’s this: if you’re entering 2017 with that deeper feeling of unease; if you hear yourself in the melancholy I’ve described, then find your creative space.
Capture. Paint. Sing. Build. Craft. Sculpt. Speak. Shape. Colour. Read. Write.
I’ll be doing a heck of a lot more of the last two. You can bank on it.
Alf veeter sayin’
*One we’re especially proud of is the work we achieved with the top 200 leaders in Siemens ANZ in 2016. We’re even in the final 3 of some big award hoo-ha in Germany in February. Go us.
**Whenever my ego tries to run its own course too much, I’m reminded of one of my all-time favourite quotes Rohan Dredge shared with me years ago. ‘Give a man a humble badge and if he wears it, take it off him’. BTW, there’s a delicious irony that always rattles around my brain that to talk in any first-person form of personal humility is in fact not being all that humble…lols.
*** I spent some time working with Mykel Dixon last year trying to find some creativity. It was the first sign of me awakening to my creative need. I’ve little doubt MD could see what was clouded for me; to help me find this realisation. I also knew I knew it. Somewhere, deep down, but just hadn’t fully crystallised it. Much magic ahead for us still Myke. Big love mate.
**** I’m such a card-carrying fan of Jason and Kim (aka dangerlam). The congruence they show in dedicating themselves to the art of creating art is flat-out f*cking inspiring. If you don’t have a copy of the cleverness biannual, what are you thinking? I cried when I saw it for the first time. Truly, I did. It’s #neklevel
† FYI, A bushranger is our local term for a long black with splash of pure pouring cream. It's Delish. Like, the cream separates because the heat and you get these globules of coffee-infused fat swimming on top...mmmm, coffee fat. ahghlrhglhhlgh
^Fans of Anchorman would've got that reference