My work is no longer my identity

Part 2 of 3 in a series about my life after a failed startup

Carl Martin
Dec 5, 2018 · 6 min read

Please read Part One of this series first: My Battle with ‘Post Founder Depression’

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

We all remember this question as a kid. Was it a fireman? A nurse? A Power Ranger? Whatever it was, this question about our future was always seemingly loaded — geared towards not the life we build, but the career we pursue.

For as long as I can remember, I have been defined by my work. My work has given me purpose and drive, it’s given me a place to exist within society and most importantly it has given me invaluable and inspiring community — the sense of belonging we all deeply seek as human beings.

These past 6 months, since shutting down Ping, I’ve felt devoid of an identity. The absence of a company, a job title and everything that comes with work, is the primary reason for me feeling so lost. Like many others, I’ve spent most of my career (consciously and subconsciously) building behaviours driven by external rewards such as money, fame, prize and praise, believing they hold the key to a life of happiness and success.

It might have taken me ten years, but I now recognise placing so much weight of my identity in my work was a bad life choice. Especially as I recognise now that I am so much more, but have for whatever reason have chosen not to acknowledge it.

Today that changes.

I’ve taken time and effort to better understand who I really am, and most importantly to understand my most personal intrinsic motivations. That is, the things I do for my benefit and my benefit only. Not to pursue a selfish life, but to pursue a life in which I can live my most honest truth, that fills me with joy and satisfaction. Those true motivations are:

  • A sense of meaningful challenge and accomplishment
  • Exploits that fuel my curiosity and personal growth
  • The stimulation of a creative process

When I look at every facet of my life, it is now clear to me what areas are most driven by these motivations, and as such will design my life in a way to ensure they are placed front and centre.

An active and wellness focussed lifestyle

I’ve been playing sport since I could stand. Regardless of whether I was any good, I’d have a go, but it was rugby that was my first love. Then, at 19 years of age I suffered a major knee injury whilst playing on tour in Spain, which would radically change my life.

This single event led to 5 knee operations over the next 8 years, including a full reconstruction of my ACL, multiple repairs of my cartilage and a progressive yet experimental 2 stage ACI surgery. I went from training or playing 6 days a week, to now getting out of breath climbing a few flights of stairs.

I believe my first experience of anxiety and depression can be traced back to the time after my first operation. It was the first time in my life I felt truly weak and helpless. In light of the fact I’ve never fully recovered my physical strength, I’ve never recovered mentally either.

Whenever I’ve sought to build positive habits around wellness, the core driver has almost always about feeling better in myself. Not feeling better about myself, but in myself. I really can’t see this body and mind holding out at this rate for what I hope is another 50+ years, and so radical changes to my lifestyle, in which I focus on my physical and mental health, is absolutely primary.

#MeaningfulChallenge #PersonalGrowth

Smug as hell on Primrose Hill, a quick pitstop on my 40m Sunday cycle

Adventure and exploration of the great outdoors

As a kid, I lived for the outdoors. You’d be hard pressed to not find me up a tree (and subsequently falling out of one), exploring the farmland where we lived or bombing around the local forest on my bike.

I love cities — I’ve been fortunate enough to live in the two best in the world — but it’s very telling when my choice of apartments almost always lies in proximity to a big green park or an expanse of water. When I first started my career, I chose a job in Bournemouth by the sea, but it was my ambition (read: desire for status, money, fame) that took me to London.

When I first decided to shutter Ping, my first instinct was to go to the mountains. I’m not sure this was much of a conscious decision to be brutally honest. Whatever was triggered in me at that moment, meant I booked a flight within 4 weeks to Norway, with plans for a solo hiking adventure.

In Norway I fell in love with the mountains, and rediscovered my passion for the outdoors. It played a huge role in catalysing my healing process. I know from now on I need a greater connection to nature, and to place adventure and exploration of the outdoor world at the fore of my travel plans and personal time.

#MeaningfulChallenge #FuelCuriosity

On my way to Trolltunga in Norway, wondering if it’s all even real.

Telling stories through art

The first job I ever wanted to do as a kid was a Disney animator. I remember watching Aladdin and seeing Robin William’s Genie and being totally and utterly mesmerised. It fuelled my passion for drawing and art, and ultimately what led to me using Flash in my early teens to create cartoons of my own.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped being creative for myself. All of my creative energy was driven into my work. All of my passion for storytelling was driven into the brands that I worked for. But when I shut down Ping, something happened.

When I went to Norway I set out to make my first film. I also went out and bought myself some painting materials and started painting for the first time in 15 years. In the absence of work, I poured my creative energy into things just for me — things I wanted to make and create. And it felt incredible.

I want more of my life to be spent creating art and telling stories. I want to invest more deeply in filmmaking, photography and painting as new crafts — crafts I’d like to some day depend on for making a living.

#PersonalGrowth #CreativeStimulation #SenseOfAccomplishment

My third painting (in progress), of the Matterhorn, since I shut down Ping

So who am I now?

I love my work and I love to work. I always have and always will. But now is the time to forge forward with a life where work isn’t my everything. This won’t hamper my ambition, nor my desire to build something of my own design again in the future. What it does is provide is perspective, for me to acknowledge my full self and everything that I am.

This new identity means nothing without behaviour change. I have to believe and acknowledge this identity but also evolve my life, practices and habits in alignment with them. If who I am and what I do isn’t aligned, this will only cause more problems down the line. James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits (thanks for the nudge Red Gaskell), explains this as such:

The goal is not to read a book, it is to become a reader. The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner. The goal is not to learn an instrument, the goal is to become a musician. What you do is an indication of the type of person you believe you are.

I have no doubt that this shift will come with growing pains, imposter syndrome and a whole host of other difficulties. It’s going to require significant investment and sacrifice to evolve the things I do and how I work. But for the first time in 6 months, I feel confident in who I am and the future I want to build for myself.

So allow me to reintroduce myself:

My name is Carl Martin. I tell stories that move humanity forward. I’m an artist, activist and adventurer.


In part 3, ‘Building brands of integrity and contribution’, I talk more to how I want to apply this new identity to my working life in the future.

Carl Martin

Written by

I tell stories that move humanity forward. I’m a photographer, filmmaker, artist and activist.

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