Monthly Archive: August 2012

It’s just a matter of people until I make it

In the past month, as I have reconciled myself with a revised game plan which demands that I leave London and return to make Johannesburg my permanent base, I’ve been struck by a recurring observation. We often say that things are just ‘a matter of time’ as if time has anything to do with real outcomes. But we’re wrong. It’s a matter of people.

It’s not a matter of time before my next project reaches critical mass, it’s a matter of people.

It’s not a matter of time before my business idea generates a livable revenue stream, it’s a matter of people.

For that matter, it’s not a matter of time before a broken heart heals or an adventure kicks off or a zesty excitement for life begins to grip you once you (or I) have been kicked down a little. It’s a matter of people, or perhaps a person.

An example of this is the often-told tale of how Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by all 12 publishers to which it was submitted but that ultimately one editor at Bloomsbury decided to take a second look. But for that one person, it may never have made it into the light.

Like so many observations I make on this blog, this is probably pretty obvious to many of you. It is to me too, in broad terms. I write about it here however because the opportunities unfolding before me which I am confident will lead me into a successful 2013 feel like they’re less to do with my ideas, and more to do with the way in which a few key people are helping me to create ripples.

I couldn’t do it alone. And no amount of time would make my project gain momentum. It’s people that are the key ingredient.

Rip it up and start again

As a writer and as a speaker, I have aborted hundreds of storylines, hundreds of attempts at concept development, hundreds and hundreds of paragraphs of half-formed ideas. As a human being, I have invested in relationships which haven’t worked out, and one-tenth tested business ideas that may or may not have been worth pursuing if I had only bothered to investigate them more fully.

And I have lived in guilt. I’ve carried it around with me, ignoring it for the most part but always aware that if I was actually any good at all, I’d do something about all these things.

Recently however, I fixed all that. I did do something about them. I took a torch to the whole damn lot.

Here’s why: I know I’m pretty funny. I know I can be insightful sometimes. I know I think too much about everything, but generally draw fairly accurate conclusions. Not because I’m smart, but because I’m 42 and basically interested in everything under the sun and over a period of a lot of years, I’ve asked a trillion questions.

What it means the way I see it is that I can replicate in spirit every worthwhile bit of work that I have ever created. I can have the same ideas again or even better ones. And perhaps the old ideas that didn’t get my follow through were the failures, not me. Because you can’t do everything.

Now if this just sounds like I’m cutting myself a bunch of slack, I have news for you: I am.

I don’t do enough of that; I don’t think any of us do. I put more energy into beating myself up about the things I start but do not complete than I do into actually completing them because it’s not the projects themselves that matter as much as the way I connect them to my unresolved definition of personal achievement.

In the face of three brand new and I believe, defining projects, I just don’t want to have to deal with the fallout any longer. So I’ve killed them all. Should you do the same?

An incredible awakening I didn’t even realise I needed

I realised recently that my life has been little more than a journey through unreality.

I’ve done a stack of interesting things in 42 years and by many standards, I’ve done pretty well and been pretty lucky. What’s surprised me recently however is the realisation of how few questions I can answer about my reasons for doing almost any of them.

I don’t mean motivations for the big stuff; I get why I moved to Dubai in 1996, Johannesburg in 2001 and London in 2010, and why I got both married and divorced. The big stuff took some thinking about, so I’m pretty clear about the hows and the whys.

Furthermore, I’m not suggesting that I feel the need to account for every single step I take.

But I do realise that even in cutting myself lots of slack, my life nevertheless seems to have been constructed of a hundred thousand decisions that cannot be labelled as badly thought-through because I didn’t actually think about many of them at all.

Now this realisation hasn’t come about through any particular craving for increased control. I do not wish for that. In fact, I don’t think I could internalise the philosophy of laissez faire any more fully than I currently do.

What concerns me rather is that I don’t think until very recently I had a clear sense of the appropriate value of things. And to be absolutely crystal clear, I mean the derisory value of most of the physical possessions I have or the adopted beliefs I hold for which I haven’t fully explored the reasons. We all have some of those, I bet.

As a die-hard existentialist whose standpoint has been irreversibly strengthened by recent events however, I think I suddenly get what’s been going on.

Among the arrows in my quiver of philosophical fallback positions for when I need one are a load of underlined quotes in books by a motley crew of writers which for a guy like me, naturally includes the works of Jean Paul Sartre. As he put it: “we need to experience death consciousness so as to wake up ourselves as to what is really important; the authentic in our lives which is life experience, not knowledge.”

Experience, not knowledge. I’m harping on about that a lot lately, but there’s a reason for it. I realise now that what I have always known counts for nothing compared to what I have experienced.

You may think that realisation has come along late for someone of my age, but truthfully I don’t know what else I could have done to achieve it. The death of a loved one gives you a very substantially deeper feeling of grief than any description you can read about it, but you know, someone has to die before you get to experience that.

Now that I’ve felt it though, it’s opened up a way of interpreting things which is forcing an entirely involuntary resetting and readjustment of the value of every single thing in my life. Some up, some down. I don’t know how to feel about that yet, but I guess I’m going to find out very soon now …

In praise of supportive selfishness

Sometimes you get change thrust upon you; change you never anticipated, didn’t choose and really, truly do not want, and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. Just such a moment of change happened in my life one evening this July with the death of one of the people closest to me.

It’s been an opportunity for self-indulgence which I ordinarily work hard to resist but which in this instance I allowed to run its course partly because it overwhelmed me with such speed that I was very deeply submerged before I had the opportunity to take a full breath; partly because it felt wrong this time, to fight it.

There’s been a lesson in the emotional violence of the upheaval of course, which is this: people who say ‘shit happens’ as if it’s something you’re supposed to just shake off, have very possibly never had ‘shit’ ‘happen’ to them.

That’s a good thing. I hope that good fortune continues for a long time to come.

But they’re wrong to be blasé. I also used to wonder whether it could really be possible to simply take everything in stride and glide through all the changes, but I know now that actually it is not. There are things even at my age I have to learn to handle.

I guess in the opposite sense that’s why people who make it big overnight often go so spectacularly off the rails. You can’t make this stuff up. You have to live it, I think.

Above all else however it’s a reminder that clocks stop with complete disregard for what you have achieved. We all know this, but I suspect again that not everyone truly knows it.

What it means to me as I run the gamut of existential uncertainty is a slight readjustment of values. I have long been only vaguely materialistic, assuming without any real supporting evidence that to be otherwise somehow lacks moral deportment. But I can no longer claim to be so certain. If the clock stops, it stops equally for the morally profound as for those who choose to blaze a trail of wanton destruction.

The difference appears to be only whether you have lived the life you desire while you have the chance. And nobody but you can know that.

I’ve speculated about the hidden value of selfishness in this blog before, but allow me to repeat that now. It seems to me, as I clamber through the fallout that the only rider on supportive selfishness is that in chasing it, you choose not to hurt others wherever that is possible. I can’t think why anything else would be taboo.