I picked the right day for this. A grey rainy day on a Monday morning. But I am inspired. From my window I see intense red blossom against the dreary backdrop. The intensity is so strong you might be distracted from what is framing the picture.
I have a confession to make. I am a perfectionist. The benefit of perfectionism is that you will likely go the extra mile for outstanding results. The Dark Side to Perfectionism (or any ISM) is tragic levels of underachievement because deep down you are afraid that you are not as perfect as you think you should be. [Most ISMs are in place because we are playing against ourselves on some level.]
As a short term strategy, perfectionism paid off. My last project rocked, it changed people’s lives. Achievements that are meaningful – better than sex. But in the long term, I burnt out. There came a certain day in June 2012, when I had a pain in my chest and found it difficult to walk home. One of my participants emailed me later that day that she really thought I should cross the road more quickly as my pace was dangerously slow.
I realised I had reached the end of a road.
I decided to grab the bull by the horns: get underneath the burnout, the perfectionism, the self-sabotage, the low-level depression, the subtle martyrdom (especially financial) and the overwhelm… oh the overwhelm. I was fed up of being a social entrepreneur that was yet again broke, exhausted and with no social life. Yes, ecstatic about my contribution to the world. But miserable about my personal situation. Really, underneath it all – miserable. I finally admitted it to myself.
It’s the good part of the story! I made the decision right there and right then, that I would never again do something that did not come from a whole place. But first I had to recover on a personal level.
But with much less to do… without the comfort of “the answers” yet and my physical, mental and emotional spiritual defences down, I was a sitting duck for all the remaining internal baggage. Quite soon, depression set in. I have a way of thinking about depression. For all intents and purposes, for anyone that has been in this situation (identified as depressed), you have an enemy. The problem is that this enemy is on the inside, you don’t quite realise its there, and it is difficult to realise the extent of its presence. It goes everywhere you go. It is vicious, extremely subtle and will take you out. Unless you are quite aware of the insidious nature of depression, you are F****D. The fantastic news is that as you become aware, you can gradually return to normal living in which you are not your own worst enemy.
Something was not right in my foundations. I decided to go hunting for the missing pieces of my life.
18 tough months of work followed which included:
* Mind surgery – a very rigorous cleansing of my mental constructs and scripts. A ten day silent meditation and several hours of daily practice
* Shadow hunting (bringing light to the darker side), having many face-offs with the ugly side of my persona. Going to those areas that are often not dealt with. Internalising the process of the beauty and the beast.
* Physical decluttering (papers mostly gone, tax return done several months early), intense martial arts training (now an aikido high grade), and successful habit changes in my physical life.
* Emotional honesty – systematically dropping “fronts” I had knowingly and unknowingly kept up with people. Openly sharing about my depression even when it was hitting me. This is ego-death and at times felt like real death.
I am not going to dress it up for you. It was gruelling. In the middle especially it is oh so hard. But just like the story of the ugly duckling, it is often when you are at the point of giving up, you realise that you are the swan. Things balance out. Countless times I have told my participants and nearests and dearests: there has to be a reason to suffering. It also has to have its end. Although I did know what I was searching for overall, It can be easy to get lost in deep dive searches. To avoid this, I gave my self three simple targets. CASH, FUN, LEGACY. They were personal to me as the first two were chronically missing from my life. Aside from legacy (which I generally obsessed about) I never really focused on cash and fun. Legacy just has to be there for me though so I included it too.
There were a handful of ecstatic breakthroughs. But mostly it was mundane and tough, like applying “Chop wood, Carry water” to mental health reconstruction. And like any gentle upward spiral, every so often you realise you have jumped another level. This gives a deep sense of happiness and definitely encourages you to keep going. It’s important to look out for and notice those shifts.
I remember my Aikido Sensei helping us make sense of things when we were part of a complex community project with a burnt-out community. On the surface nothing seemed to be moving. But he described a stream that is dammed with twigs, the water pressure steadily building. At one point the dam will give and fresh water will burst through.
As I stayed the course, gradually, I noticed differences emerge and little by little they started to appear more frequently.
Everything I was doing did feel effortless. That depression lifted. Calming order emerged in almost all areas of my life as I decluttered. Things felt easier. Habit changes started to take hold. Habits of my mind. This in particular felt like very intense, subtle, slow and solid victory over the apathetic forces of life. I passed what had been a very difficult stage for me in aikido, that culminated in me becoming a high grade, and in early 2014 my mojo returned.
April 2014, I am a new version of myself. I don’t work weekends, my social life looks a lot more healthy (I have one again!) my health issues are no more and I have a brand new direction that absolutely fits my life purpose. Which wait for it, involves FUN. You see, as the sunshine returned inside my heart, I stumbled on the area of GAMES. In many ways this has been a missing piece of my life. Something that I had always loved but had dismissed outright, banishing games and frivolity to the realm of “not for me, and not now”. “work to do, world wrongs to right”.. etc ad infinitum. But as an article said ( Your Politics Are Boring as F*** ). I strongly believe that removing fun didn’t strengthen my ability, it weakened it.
I will be speaking about the path I have been on in lots more detail. I will be sharing our journey gradually from this blog with more frankness than previously. At the end of the day, what I have remarked is that the changes one needs to make are very very subtle when done so with leverage. And leverage comes necessarily from the internal realm. (Context and environment are key factors too but ultimately we have the biggest control on the internal realm) Often when I try to learn an aikido move, it is difficult as a lot of what happens cannot be seen. To be delved into further another time!
Inspiration as a Process
I’d say on a personal level I have become more human. Now as I make any more contributions to society, I will be doing so from a place that is stronger and healthier and ever more real. There are and always will be tough days but inspiration has become a process rather than a goal. I feel a lightness in my step, the sweet experience of starting a new job at the company you would most love to work with. And games have become our business. 🙂