I just watched this TED talk (at the bottom) and was almost moved to tears. If I had been in the audience, I too would have been on my feet at the end.
My bearhunt is moving on. The bit on the right of this blog about retraining as a designer is happening and I am moving back to London in 4 months to start a masters in Innovation Design Engineering. To my surprise, my effort has captured the imagination of those around me and I have received enormous support from literally everyone.
Something has struck me though, and that is the pedestal people seem to want to put me on. There is a strange all pervading idea that, as they cannot succeed by following their passions, I must be some sort of special person.
I’m not. I’m really REALLY not.
There are two things that I think mark my approach as different. My approach, mark you, not me as a person. I will cover the second in another post, but the first is just to always do the things you enjoy the most: at each potential career fork, I have chosen the option that sounds most fun with very little regard to the practicalities.
I hear so often from the people I talk to that they can’t do the thing they enjoy the most because it doesn’t provide a secure and stable future career. What nonsense! There are any number of secure and stable jobs out there in the field you are interested in, you just haven’t heard about them yet because you aren’t in your chosen field at the moment!
If you think the above applies to you watch this video. She had a plan A for a secure and stable future and it got hijacked by her passion, but she’s not starving because she followed where that path led, it turned out to be a far better way of fulfilling her plan A than her original idea.
You don’t know yet what you don’t know, and unless you take the leap you will never find out.
And if you take the leap and I’m wrong and your passion doesn’t lead to a stable and secure career, all the boring jobs will still be waiting for you at the end and at least you will have had fun trying!
1. I hope. I’ve been offered the place, but there are still a few issues that I can’t talk about here that mean it’s not quite settled yet.
2. Please stop hitting me with that pedestal! It REALLY hurts!
I am learning Spanish, which requires me to practice trilling (rolling my Rs). I started learning French when I was very young and, while I never progressed to any sort of useful level, it did teach me the French trill, which is the guttural back of the throat “rchhh” sound. The Spanish trill is rolled much further forward, at the alveolar ridge. I have been having some difficulty moving the trill forwards from the back of my throat to behind my teeth, with the result that my nacent Spanish is coming out with a slight French accent. To solve this problem I spent some time working through the various methods and drills in the Wikihow article ‘How to Roll Your “R”s‘. I found two pieces of advice most useful: one, that repeating the sounds “tee-dee-va” as rapidly as possible exercise the muscles of the tongue in the required manner; and, two, that trilling is easier if you make the sounds as loudly as possible. The net result? I am now wandering round my apartment repeatedly yelling what sounds like “titty bar” at the top of my lungs. No wonder the neighbours are staring…
A few weeks ago I quit my job: I woke up one morning and realised I didn’t need it and it wasn’t making me happy.
It was a bit more complicated than that; I’ve got a place on my dream design course (more on that later), and I needed to resign in order to go back to London to take it up. But things are still a bit up in the air: I may yet not be able to do it, and I had been holding onto my secure, well paid, job as a safety net in case things didn’t work out.
And then it hit me that I didn’t know why.
I don’t need to keep this job, if things don’t work out and I find myself with a year to fill, I can take any old job, save up enough money for a flight to Peru and go learn Spanish for a few months. Sounds fun!
The more I thought about it, the more I realised that the safety net of a good job had been stopping me taking a risk on something I have desperately wanted to do for a very long time. Far from being there to save me if things went wrong, the net had become the very thing stopping me trying. Nets, I realised, are meant for catching things, and not only when we fall.
Is your safety net keeping you in a place you don’t really want to be?
Well, who knew! Leeks and carrots keep better out of the fridge and upright:
This project from Jihyun Ryou takes a fresh look* at how we store our food. I love the way this set up looks great in your kitchen but also serves a purpose: your food will keep better and you can get by with a smaller fridge.
Sometimes we forget past wisdom or assume that because it’s old it’s somehow worse: it’s great to look back at some of these things and combine them with modern understanding and technology to create new solutions better than both worlds.
If you’re interested in learning more, she has a whole blog dedicated to collecting and sharing such tips.
*Darn, that’s two cliche points on my writer’s licence right there :/
When I was about 18 I expended a small amount of effort in learning to raise my left eyebrow so as to more precisely convey a quizzical mood. Over the years I have perfected this expression such that a friend recently described it as “a signature move”. It has been a minor source of irritation to me ever since that, although I had the left one down pat, the right was eluding me. Well, no more! As of this Saturday I can now independently also raise my right eyebrow. Not well, it has to be said, but so it was with the left one in the beginning, and once you get the knack of it the rest is just practice; I am confident that in time I will achieve full eyebrow expressivity on both sides. Which begs a question: what emotion shall I use this new found power to convey? Disapproval is the obvious one, but I try not to use that very often.
Anyway, there is a story behind my learning to raise my right eyebrow. So, without further ado, I shall progress this plot device to the purpose of this post:
This weekend I disappeared into the rural Japan on Tokyo’s doorstep that is the Boso peninsular, Chiba:
Over the last few months I have learned that I adore being outside doing hard physical labour (more on that later), so when a friend suggested I join her on an organic farm in Chiba helping to plant rice I jumped at the chance. On a bus I hopped, across the aqualine and down to the Southern tip of the Boso peninsular, somewhere in the hills near Tateyama I think.
The farmer met me off the bus and before I knew it, planting rice I was. The weather was glorious, the surroundings stunning and the atmosphere both calming and healing:
Planting rice is pretty simple. You start by walking backwards across the field rolling a metal cylinder behind you. The cylinder marks the surface of the mud with a grid and small bundles of three of four shoots get planted at each intersection. This being organic rice, the farmer needs more space between the rows than usual for weed control so we only planted every other row.
At the end you get to look back at your work and appreciate the lovely clean lines of rice you have planted:
And your far from clean feet (the mud is quite deep):
The cool mud feels delicious between your toes and every time you take a step the warm water flows around your feet. This being an organic farm, there is also an abundance of wildlife and, as I planted, tadpoles skipped across the mud and water boatmen skittered over the water in front of me. The frogs serenaded us in a chorus that rose and fell and then sometimes climbed to an almost deafening crescendo before dying away almost to nothing:
As we finished up, the moon rose over the field and the sun went down and we sat and drank in the atomosphere while we waiting for the farmer to collect us:
We went back to the house where we were staying, sat round the irori and talked and cooked and drank into the evening. Finally I crashed into bed for what may be the best night’s sleep of my life.
In the morning, communal breakfast, more planting, lunch and then back on the bus for the trip home.
Which leaves us with one important question: where in all this does my right eyebrow fit in? Well, it seems I’m not the only person who thinks that the Boso peninsular is a good place to get away to for Golden Week and it seems a large part of Tokyo’s 9 million population picked 3.30 pm on Saturday to try and get back home across the aqualine. The result? 6 hours on a bus staring at my own reflection in the widow as I neglected to pack anything to do for what was supposed to be a 70min bus journey. What else is a girl to do under such circumstances?
1. I said “try”: I don’t necessarily succeed.
2. Amazing how I will cheerfully get up at 6am to travel 2 hours to a field to plant rice, but find it almost impossible to get up before 10am on a work day… a clue, perhaps? More on that later.
3. Which is what this video shows because, of course, expecting them to crescendo on cue is too much to ask.
4. Gonin Musume (“Five Daughters”) organic sake from the local brewery, Terada Honke. If I never drink another sake I will die happy. That stuff was GOOD.
My creative process has four distinct emotional stages:
1. Mind numbing dread and emptiness because I have no inspiration. None. None at all.
2. Excitement and glee as the germ of an idea appears and then sprouts.
3. Crushing dispair as I realise the idea I have invested so much time and energy in is actually impossible.
and 4. An ecstasy of relief when I realise I’m going to make it after all.
The most important step is from 2 to 3, because at 3 it always seems so easy to give up. The reason I very rarely do is because I have usually committed in some way that means I can’t. Most often, it’s that I have told people I will deliver an item on a certain date such that not giving it to them is unthinkable. So I power through the anguish in order to give them something, anything, even if it’s rubbish – which it occasionally is – but usually what happens is that I turn some crucial corner and realise it’s all going to be ok and all I have to do is keep going. And then it’s easy, the stress evaporates, the world around me recedes and I’m lost to the task until I can stand up, stiff-backed and desperate for a cuppa and a pee* and say “Yes. That’s it. It is done.”
So commit early, because if you don’t it’s too easy to give up when the going gets tough, and then you never make it to 4, and 4 is where the reward is.
I have barely written anything here for more than a year, but Bearhunt was always just sleeping and never dead. I thought I didn’t have much to say, and perhaps I didn’t at the time, but looking back over the last 12 months there have been a lot of lessons. Maybe I was too busy experiencing them to be able to see them for what they were at the time, but now there is distance and I have entered a reflective phase in my life (more on that later), so I find myself contemplating a return to regular blogging. I would like to make a note of what I have learned and perhaps consider some of it a bit more deeply and this seems as good a place as any.
Also, I have an end date for my time in Japan. For better or for worse, in 5 months time I will be back in Britain, if not for good, then certainly for the foreseeable future. It seems I’m about to close the door on one big adventure and open the door on another.
Look! A new blog post! Crickey, that’s been a while then…
The last 9 months has been a real whirlwind roller-coaster (is that possible?). It contained some of the lowest lows of my life so far (seeing the destruction left by the tsunami of 11/03/11) and some of the highest highs (meeting so many wonderful people as a direct result of my volunteering there). It also marked a significant shift towards a much happier and healthier self, which I won’t bore you with here, but suffice to say the Nell of Jan 2012 is much more satisfied with her self and with her life than the Nell of Jan 2011. I feel… whole
Anyhow, you aren’t interested in that! You want to know about arseholes!
I have long been a proponent of Bob Sutton’s no asshole rule, which says (and I’m putting my own spin on it here) that arseholes do huge damage to teams and business, and even talented arseholes do more damage than good on aggregate and are best avoided. However, this post on Bob’s blog has me reevaluating that position somewhat. Only a little bit though.
It seems that Steve Jobs was an arsehole of such supreme talent that it really did counteract the loss in productivity brought about by an unpleasant working environment and resulted in, not only a very successful company, but one of the most successful of all time. But (and such a large arsehole come with a very big “but” indeed), was there anything in his methods that the rest of us could benefit from?
To define a successful business, you must first define “success”. That may seem easy, surely a successful business is a profitable one and the most successful is the most profitable? Perhaps; if money is the most important thing to you. But I’d wager that it isn’t true for most. For almost everyone in the world being happy is far more important than cold hard cash. Not that I’d be naive enough to suggest that financial security doesn’t help with happiness, but even the most acquisitive creature only collects possessions because doing so makes them feel better.
I define “success” slightly differently. To me, when measuring the success of a company, we should take into account all of its impact across every aspect of its functioning. You can restrict that view to just the economic (whether it respects its environment and provides its staff with a decent pension or than expects the public purse to pick up the tab for care and cleanup) or include the wider social impact (whether they add value to the community and its wellbeing), but you must take into account the cost/benefit to society as well as to the company itself if you want to judge absolute value.
I don’t think Steve Jobs evaluated success in terms of cold hard cash, but I don’t think he worried about the wider social impact of his company overly either (although Apple’s green credentials are comparatively ok, the company’s bullish attitude to IP litigation is well known, amongst many other examples of a less than caring attitude). Rather, I suspect Steve Jobs cared about making the best product possible and he cared very little whether others agreed with him, as long as he was happy with what they made. It so happens that most of the time enough people agreed enough to pay Apple’s prices and so the company was successful by the more standard metric of profitability also.
So. Steve Jobs was successful by the standard metric and by his own, but not necessarily by mine. What can we learn from this? I think an all round happier society is better served by the John Lewis model of shared ownership and non-arseholery. It may not be as big or as profitable as Tesco, but it gives much more to the communities in which it resides and is more stable in times of financial hardship – it is a safer place to be employed.
But what if you don’t care about the wider community? First, I’d say that means you are well on your way to being a sizeable arsehole, but I’d also suggest that if you’re going to be an arsehole in control of a company, then you’d better be a supremely talented one. Because if not, you are more likely to fail in your endeavours in the long run than your more kindly neighbours. Steve Jobs was successful because he wasn’t just an arsehole, he was a one in 8 billion arsehole. If you want to emulate his methods, you’d better be certain you are too!
I am a researcher in bionanotechnology currently living and working in Tokyo. I moved out here four and a half years ago, against my better judgement but in search of adventure. It has certainly been an adventure and not one I would have missed for the world, but now I am preparing to head back to the UK where I will be retraining as a designer.
This blog used to just be for opinionated rambling. Now it is for updates as I pay forward people's support for my attempts to retrain with random acts of kindness... and indulge in opinionated rambling.