Springsteen Philosophy – Don’t let the past eat you up.

springsteenAnyone who knows me, knows how much  I admire Bruce. He has record breaking eye sight because every time I’ve been to see him I swear he’s managed to find me in the crowd and sing right at me…

Dreaming aside, the Observer Music Monthly caught my eye in January for featuring an interview with him talking about Bush, Obama and rebuilding the American Dream.  Amidst the politics was the steely Springsteen philosophy I have come to know and love, and it had to do with learning from your past:

“you carry it with you always…You better learn how to live with them, learn the story that they’re telling you. Because they’re whispering your future in your ear, and if you don’t listen, it will be contaminated by the toxicity of your past.”

The idea of the past repeating is one that I find myself mulling over a lot, especially as I have taken a new direction and I want some change in my life. Before leaving my job I wasn’t sure if it would change anything, sometimes a change of surroundings simply moves your problems to a new area. That is, if you yourself don’t change.

drastic change often fails, just look at those unresolved resolutions we set ourselves each year. What we don’t realise is the habits we are trying to changes are just that: habits. They have evolved piece by piece over the years until they are ingrained into our character, and trying to undo those over night often leaves us frustrated, self doubting and giving up on change.

Dr. Dyer suggests that just as we created these habits, to undo them we need to work on them bit by bit, and I strongly recommend anyone who is looking for some inspiration about change and going after your dream to read his fantastic book Your Erroneous Zones. That, along with 2-3 other books and a few heroes like Bruce made me leap into the unknown.

Bruce puts it another way:

“There’s a car, it’s filled with people. The 12-year-old kid’s in the back. So’s the 22-year-old. so it the 40-year-old. So it the 50-year-old guy that’s done pretty well…so’s the 30-year-old guy that wants to get his hands on his wheel and…drive you into a tree…” you carry your past experiences with you wherever you go, even if you change jobs, move to another country, you can’t leave your past behind, but as Bruce says “who’s driving makes a really big difference where the car is going.”

We’ve all had bad experiences, heartbreak, disappointment, humiliation. I think the people who find it harder to move on are those who pretend their past isn’t there until it’s too late, or feel imprisoned by their past because that’s what we feel we deserve. The ones who survive their past seem able to acknowledge these experiences, accept them as parts of who we are, but not as dictators for our future.

Bruce asks:

“How do you manage that thing that’s eating at you, without letting it eat you?”

I don’t think there is a set answer, it’s all part of the journey of discovery. For me it was putting the brakes on a little, stopping my expectations that I could change overnight, and reward the small steps of change. Leaving my job wasn’t actually the first step, there were a number of tiny steps which culminated in the mindset that I could leave and hopefully achieve a fresh start…with all my passengers in the car.

I’d love to know about other people’s experiences of self change, how they’ve managed to do it, if they’ve kept it up and what they learned from acknowledging their own past. Especially any newly freelancing people out there!

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Your chaotic thought process isn’t wrong!

Have scruffy thoughts and be proud!

Have scruffy thoughts and be proud!

Ever wish you had linear thoughts?

I sometimes think it would be nice if my ideas formulated in order, from start to finish, and grouping themselves in the correct order of importance and theme.

Only sometimes though, because I also quite like the way our brains want to naturally work, chaotically swirling and stewing ideas and thought processes like a delicious slow cooking casserole of conception.

The way we think isn’t wrong, but I think sometimes the structures we use to express our thoughts are too limited and inhibiting for creative thinking., or indeed any type of thinking.

I first started using mind maps to revise chemistry during a-level. My dad gave me a book by Tony Buzan thinking that as I had joined the class a couple of months late it might  help me focus all of the information I had to cram. It was a bit risky as I had never used diagrams to revise before, only copious amounts of linear, hand written notes.

One bedroom wall ended up covered in A2 sheets of paper with colourful diagrams and they appeared like the scrawls of someone on the verge of a breakdown, but there was a great deal of method to this perceived madness.

My creative goals for 2009

The concept works in brief by starting with a central theme, creating the main subheadings as branches leading from this, and within those branches grouping together relevant connected points or thoughts. They also encourage colour to group common themes and diagrams to stimulate your memory when trying to recall these – especially helpful when trying to remember the varying structures of aromatic amines…

For me, trying a new way of thinking paid off and every time I have a project or piece of work, I usually start with a mind map. The beauty of them is that you can come back to it, add thoughts and new ideas and unlike a list, where you’re trying to jam in more notes at the bottom of a section you thought you had finished, there’s room on the mind map to grow each section in no particular order.

The mind map I have here is a little boring, and it’s for my goals of 2009 – so should at least maybe have a little glitter…

I like using mind maps because I feel that their structure matches the inside of my head more. Above all else, I love new methods of creative thinking thinking, planning and strategies so would be interested to hear if anyone else has used these or other ways of organising their thoughts.

Persistence …and Isaac Asimov

Great science fiction writer and persistor.

In a second hand bookshop I stumbled upon a three book collection of Isaac Asimov’s First Orbits. It’s a collection of his early science fiction works with commentary in between each story with biographical details of how the pieces came to be with an evaluation of each work.  As I began reading, it seemed like the perfect choice over the New Year as it charts his “eleven years of trying” as he attempts to make a living at writing. What struck me was the methodical persistence he set about this task as if he were training to be any other profession. He spent time writing and submitting his work for sale to magazines. If a piece was rejected he would try and sell it elsewhere and if he couldn’t shift it, he moved on to writing a new piece.

There is something refreshing and inspiring reading about someone who didn’t wait for luck to seek him out, but sought opportunities persistently and resiliently. Not each piece he wrote was brilliant or earth shattering, but sometimes they were good enough and someone would buy them.

Asimov did what he loved, but actively promoted himself and his work. Was it just a case of keeping going until something stuck? Or was it his talent alone that saw him as one of the most successful science fiction writers of his time? Or a mixture of both?

Does this also translate to business ventures I wonder. Do you need to be able to produce brilliant and original ideas, or just have the stamina to promote and carry your idea to the paying people?

It has certainly given me much food for thought.

Dreaming big when starting small

Look after those big ideas and grow them

Last Wednesday I attended the £5 app meet at the Werks. I was drawn by the idea that great on line applications and businesses can be built with resistance and passion and not necessarily millions of pounds.  The main showcase for the evening was a new interactive text based adventure from the Guardian presented by Aleks Krotoski and Barry Tucker called “SpaceShip”.

SpaceShip was mostly a labour of love which then strengthened the creators’ connection to the online gaming community of the Guardian. I’m fascinated by the idea of building successful businesses out of ideas which can be developed using not a huge amount of time and resource but a lot of passion and drive.

Why is it that some small starts grow exponentially whereas some big ideas have difficulty sustaining the first few hurdles?

This is very much on my mind as I branch out onto my own. What makes some people want to start a business that will keep ticking over for years to come and those who are looking to grow, expand quickly and lunge for the big sell?

Is it just a case of persistence beating resistance? Or are some people much more skilled at seeking the right opportunity at the right time?

I suppose I am happier to believe that it is mostly blood sweat and tears, but if it requires some other x-factor that you may or may not have, or flukey timing then it’s much more scary to believe the business you have nurtured and are passionate about, regardless of how hard you work on it might never even work.

Is that what stops a lot of people working for themselves?

Baby Steps

I had a wonderful send off from work last Friday and this week I took the first shaky steps of working for myself. It’s a little strange at first getting up in the morning, getting ready and then not leaving the flat, and I will be pleased when I manage to get a computer and desk set up so I have a permanent work space at least. As my boyfriend is also self employed and mostly at home, the bedroom is being converted into an office – to the extent that the bed has to go as we’re trying to fill the spare room with a lodger / language student! My parents think I’m crazy but having the space to work at the moment and extra money coming in is more important than the luxury of a bed set up all the time and a spare front room. I think if we could have shelves built for us to sleep on, we probably would have.

My to do list at the moment is so long it’s quite daunting and it’s taking a lot of effort to stay focused and not become deterred. Having just said that I think I will spend some time tomorrow creating a “mind map”. I first discovered these when studying chemistry at A-Level and having joined the course a few months late found them an excellent source of absorbing masses of information. I have also used them to some extent at work, especially when starting a new project plan when you need to put some structure to the many ideas that come flooding in.

I received a letter yesterday informing me that a short story I had submitted to a competition some weeks back has been shortlisted in the final 10 for adjudication. I know it’s purely coincidence that it arrived on my first day out of work but I took it as an encouraging sign!

This Friday I am going to attend a “LikeMind” event in Brighton. I discovered this group through the inspiring blog of Tim Ferriss (a contributor to me giving up my job) and this is the first meeting of their that I will be able to attend. As a newbie to the world of the self employed creative entrepreneur I am hoping to meet similar people and hear about their experiences searching for and securing work.

Carving your own path

Tomorrow is my last day of work, most of my jobs have been handed over, and my things packed up and taken home throughout the week. Looking at the contents of the sweet jar on my desk, it’s evident that no one likes butter mintoes.

I’ve had some great offers of contract work here and there when I leave which is encouraging, but I can’t shake the feeling that soon I’ll have to look after myself, no technical team on hand to fix my emails or my phone lines, no steady stream of work handed to me, no office lit and heated just waiting to house me. I remember when I was younger and my archaic laptop died on me. Many of friends had just been bought new laptops from their parents, and as I calculated my money and buried myself in indecipherable research for a new PC I remember thinking how independence seemed pretty rubbish and I would fantasise about a long lost uncle just wanting to give me a top of the range computer. Needless to say, that never happened, but I do remember the sense of pride when my computer arrived, and worked. 4 years later, that computer still exists, I had it rebuilt and gave to my parents so they could join the broadband generation.

I feel much the same today as I hand back the laptop, phone, passwords, start to calculate the pennies, and there is that same feeling that standing on your own two feet can be shaky, cold and hard. But that’s also the beauty of facing difficult things. Once you’ve conquered them, they’re no longer as uncomfortable, and just like a toddler, after all those bumps on the ground, one day your legs hold you and you walk, and then you run. One of the reasons we learn and develop so well when we’re younger is we start with a clean slate. We don’t know of anything to be afraid of, or indeed embarrassed about – quite often those bumps to the ground result in fits of giggles and praise for trying. When you’re older however, the bumps can make us feel bad and we don’t always have someone there to encourage us to take the next step.

Progress cannot be made without the setbacks, and for those who want to break out and try something new, there are plenty of people who take delight in the setback of others. It can be difficult not to let them get under your skin, but try and remember that those who tell you that you can’t, shouldn’t do something are more often than not talking from a standpoint of envy. If you are happy with your life, it is easy to be happy for others, but if there are things you would like to change, and you see someone else changing those things in their life, quite naturally you may harbour resentment.

So if people are knocking you, even though it’s hard to gee yourself up, the chances are you’re doing something right. And even if you’re not, as long as you’re learning, there’s no such thing as failure.

Don’t Look Back – Monday 27th Oct 08

Mary Engelbreit’s greeting card appeals to me at this moment in time. By now the people I am close to at work know that I am leaving and on the whole seem very happy for me. Some people think I’m being foolish leaving and not having a plan but to me it just seems more foolish to stay when my heart’s not in it. I feel liberated and in touch with myself again, even though I don’t have a clue about what it is that I want to do, but that blank canvas doesn’t frighten me too much. My last day is November the 28th and it will be the end of an era for me. It’s been one of the best learning curves of my life. After I finished university when I was 21 I went to work in Canada for a year with just a rucksack, return flight and no plan. It turned out to be one of the best things I ever did. 4 years later and I feel ready to take that plunge again.

Greeting card by Mary Engelbreit

Greeting card by Mary Engelbreit