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!

Week One out of a job but not out of work

It’s 6pm and I’m still fervently working away, it’s been an upside down week with flat sorting in the day and working on the night.

After selling the bed, last night, my new “office” looked like this:

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We still have to find somewhere in amongst all of this to sleep.

This morning I attended my first LikeMind meeting in Brighton. I was encouraged with how friendly and surprisingly chipper everyone seemed to be for an early Friday morning, and there was no awkwardness I have come to expect from rigid networking events. It was causal, enjoyable and, as I left with business cards and notes of things to look up, incredibly productive.

People seemed to be genuinely interested in other people’s ventures rather than looking for ways to advance their own interests through personal contacts, though I am sure there are many profitable collaborations through such groups as LikeMind.

I’ve no doubt I’m still in the honeymoon period of just leaving my job, but from talking to people who were carving out careers from their passions it was reassuring that many of them were still excited by what they did and I found it difficult to find the traces of cynicism I have found in some of my previous positions from people desperately unhappy by their jobs. It was refreshing and inspiring.

One of my fears about working for myself, aside from myself or my boyfriend ending up in a shallow grave, was the isolation from not working alongside people day in day out, but today’s meeting seemed to be a springboard to a whole host of other events and everyone was keen to promote an event they had been to or heard about.

In fact, there is one this evening, that was recommended to me which is for Skiff, a co-working office space and unfortunately the free tickets had already been sold.

I know networking is only a small aspect of working for yourself, but I enjoyed myself. Today was the first time I was introduced to moo.com for mini business cards and I can’t wait to design and order my own! They were the coolest must have accessory for creative entrepreneurs (that and a battered Moleskine notebook!)

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.

Ploughing to Prevent Regret – Monday 3rd Nov 08

Getting away from it all

Getting away from it all

I am writing this from a cottage in a remote location as a result of doing something I have always wanted to do. For years I have had a romanticised notion of packing up and getting away from everything to take a holiday on my own, and for years I have denied myself. Convinced that people would think I was strange, my friends would be offended, my parents would worry about me being alone, I would get bored, I wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere (I don’t drive), it would be expensive and dangerous. I finally plucked up the courage to use some holiday days (unnecessary as I resigned since then) and go. A bit of research found somewhere that ticked the boxes and even some of my friends thought the idea sounded fantastic (though some thought I was a little odd!). Today is day three and as I look at the beautifully cloudy and green country landscape, with the cosy lamps on and the Aga murmuring behind me, my only regret was that I hadn’t done this sooner. How often do we finally take the plunge with a dream only to discover it wasn’t as difficult as we first thought, and wish we had done it sooner?

Regret can be painful, but it is a useful indicator of dreams we wish to pursue. Failing to learn from your current regrets may see you continue to notch up missed opportunities and become consumed with the idea of what might have been if only…

We learn from regret by recognising the situations where we wished we had acted differently, and preparing ourselves (ploughing – I’ll come to this a little later) to act differently in the future. We can spend hours regretting something we have or haven’t done, and though we are recognising the situation, often we’re not actually learning from it, we’re not focused on moving forward, we’re stuck, immobilised by regret.

The Bonus Feature “Alternative Ending” – currently not available in the DVD of life.

My dad has an interesting perspective on regret, which almost always leads to getting knocked over by a truck. He can turn any regret into an “alternative ending” which, although undoes your regretful action…well… watch for yourself:

ME: “If only I hadn’t thrown away that receipt I could have swapped these shoes for a better pair…”(great sadness and bad feeling in the stomach)

MY DAD: “Ahh yes, but let’s say that you still had the receipt, you went back to the shop and swapped your shoes, but in your excitement at the new shoes, you run out from the shop, into the road and get hit by a truck…and then die.”

I have heard my dad say this many time and though the logic is simple, it is a great exercise in perspective and helps you stop thinking too much about some of the “what ifs” in the world. Looking at what could have happened is useless if we’re hoping it will happen through time travel, but if we’re assessing it based on how we can act differently in the future (saving the receipt till I’m sure I like the shoes – always helpful if you’re flat footed but get seduced by heels every time you’re in a shop…) then it is an essential part of growing.

Growing, ploughing? Has the countryside gone to your head?

Perhaps, but stay with me on this one…

Regret often indicates a desire for something we were unable to achieve: asking someone for a date, speaking your mind in an argument, not completing that essay in time or treating someone badly for example. The 20:20 vision of hindsight oversimplifies the situation and it is easy to either beat yourself up about where you went wrong, or dismiss that there was anything you could have done to change the outcome: “They would probably have said no…I’m just not confident enough…I had too much on at the time…he shouldn’t have provoked me.”

Does this sound familiar? Neither of the above is enabling us to learn from our past and grow…and that brings us back to ploughing.

To grow crops you have to prepare the land. You can’t just throw seed down on a nice looking field of grass and hope you turn it into Barley. Have you ever seen a ploughed field? It looks muddy, messy and clumsy – the best foundation for change into something new. And that is what’s needed to change our actions over our current regrets. I’ve got many things I wished I had done that I hope to pursue and giving up my job is probably the muddiest and clumsiest thing I could do! But change doesn’t always have to be so drastic I don’t think. Sometimes bitesize changes can be just as, if not more helpful in undoing our habits which generate the same results.

Bitesize change – the fear vaccination

To go after something we regret not doing, most people have to get over the fear that has prevented them from getting it in the past. Fear of seeming selfish, fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment or fear of failure. These fears can seem terrifying enough and to start the change we have to open ourselves up to small doses of the uncomfortable feelings of being embarrassed, rejected and failing. Pretty much like a vaccination. A small change repeated again and again can soon form a better habit, until we’re no longer worried about being embarrassed because it’s happened so often you realise you can survive it. Such “bite size” exercises can help vaccinate you against your fears so that current regrets are opportunities to learn and not just excuses to drink vodka and listen to country music…

Some Bitesize change exercises could be inviting someone out for a drink (and not minding if they say no), asking a question in a meeting about something you don’t understand, giving someone a compliment and meaning it. Anything which inches you outside of what you’re comfortable doing means the next step shouldn’t be so big…and so on and so on.

My biggest fear is failure, but rather than the Bitesize approach I’m taking a leap into the unknown. I suppose we just need to watch this space and see what happens to me!

Mentors

Today I was offered a new project to work on with my previous boss; same salary, more control, familiar team and prospects of working in the States for some of it. I felt the pull, and I could taste the regularity of my skinny cappuccino sipping back into my life. I could work on it for a few months and then think about going it alone, perhaps this project would arm me with better skills to go it alone. Something held me back and my hesitancy was detected. I was keen that it not be thought of as being ungrateful and after much probing from my former employer I managed to utter the words that I was thinking about going it alone. Even as I said the words I felt foolish and doubtful that I could even do what I was talking about. The reaction I received was one of support and understanding from someone who had decided to go it alone when he was just a year younger than me. His support was a real blessing as I appreciate the investment he has made in me with time and patience over the last two and a half years.

Knowing that the cat was out of the bag, it made me think there was no point in holding back and I decided I would hand in my notice tomorrow, meaning I will be out of work much sooner than I anticipated which is exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. I began thinking about my boss’s words of encouragement and it made me think about the mentors I’ve had in my life, and the other times when I’ve felt I was missing the guidance I needed. For a while I thought the answer was in one long term mentor who was perfect, and believed that if only the right person took me under their wing I could achieve amazing feats.

In Dr. Dyer’s Erroneous Zones, he actually declares the opposite, that no one should be put on a pedestal above you, and that by doing so, you limit your own ability by saying “I’m not as good as them”. I found this difficult to believe at first. Surely there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be like someone you admire? And how, at the age of twenty five, when in my eyes I haven’t achieved anything in the field of my dreams, be my own mentor? I realise that he means our strength should come internally rather than relying on anyone else to pick us up and make us feel better. This is easier said than done when you feel like the world has trampled on you all day and you haven’t a clue to what to do with your life. I do hope that one day I may have the resolve to be my own counsel, but until then, when the chips are down I’ll probably still ask myself “what would Bruce or Dolly do?”