The end of September 2017 was fast approaching and it was shaping up to be a very busy month.
I work full time as Lead Designer at a full service digital agency called Eyekiller. I absolutely love what I do, but I started to feel like I wasn’t fulfilling my potential and I was getting too comfortable. I needed a challenge.
Around the end of Summer I came across a course by the fantastic company IDEO U called ‘Leading for Creativity’. I watched the video introducing it and I immediately wanted to join. It was what I believed I needed.
As much as I was enjoying the course, it was starting to stretch my thinking in a way that began challenging my character and forcing me out of my comfort zone. I suppose it was doing what any great course should do! Even though this is what I was searching for, soon enough I started to feel completely out of my depth.
I wouldn’t be the most confident of people. I’m better at stepping back, keeping a low profile and blending into the walls. At least that’s what my thoughts have been leading me to believe for a very long time. These thoughts have a great way of telling us when we are incapable, failing, not good enough and should just give up and run. That pretty much sums up how I felt… until 5:30pm on that particular Friday anyway…
…that’s when it all started to change.
Let’s back up a little
It might be a good idea to share a little about me and my background, just to set the scene and give you some context.
I’ve always been a quiet person. Not because I had nothing to say, just that I felt others had something better to say. I never wanted to get in the way of others or let them down. I guess I became a ‘yes’ person, people pleasing and doing whatever I could to help and perhaps to gain their approval.
As I continued living this way, it quickly became my identity. All those expectations people had of me started to shape who I was, and as I was too busy doing all those things, I never really invested time in growing or understanding the real me. I’m not blaming the expectations people had on me for robbing me of that time, nor is it an excuse. It was a choice I made. This lack of confidence eventually developed into a fear of what people would think of me if I showed my true self. Not my finest of choices you might say!
When I was 19 years old, I made the decision to be a child of God (I’ll type up my testimony in another post!). Even though I knew it was the best decision I made, I didn’t fully understand what it truly meant or who God really was. I knew that my life would change and I was willing to see what would happen. Deep down I always felt I belonged to something greater, and that I had a void that no earthly thing could fill. But because of the person I was, I still felt I had to work really hard to be accepted and earn love. That same fear still had a grip on me.
Over time I just drifted along with life as normal, living with fear, people pleasing while constantly busying myself as I strived to be successful, at least towards what I believed success was.
Little did I know, God had other, better plans.
The Power of Thoughts
Thoughts are powerful but incredibly easy to get tangled and lost in. They can be positive or negative. You could come up with an amazing new idea that no one else has ever thought of. Or you could be more like me, currently looking at a blank page and waiting for thoughts or ideas to jump off it!
Honestly, my experience has been more on the negative side of the fence. After years of chasing down the approval of others, I didn’t have any belief in myself. I didn’t feel good enough or know my purpose. I lost who I was.
Being lost causes you to become incredibly vulnerable to all sorts of negativity. The lies, doubts and fears you feel soon block your mind. Only the negative thoughts reside, which then begin to influence and contaminate every single decision, situation, belief and relationship you encounter.
At the age of 28, my negative thoughts and behaviour grew so out of control that I nearly lost my boyfriend, David, at the time. I didn’t feel good enough for him, or anyone for that matter. I created silly scenarios in my mind that were totally unrealistic but when you’re lost in negative thinking, it’s so hard to see things straight. Before you know it you are throwing around false accusations and it’s not just yourself you start hurting.
It took me to get to the likely outcome of losing him to realise I needed to do something. I broke down. I felt like I couldn’t handle anything anymore or focus on anything. All I knew in that moment was that I had to change. I had to make a choice. Do I go on letting these negative thoughts control my life and cause me to lose everything, or do I decide to work through these deep-rooted thoughts and live the life I was meant to live?
Thankfully, I made the right choice. After a lot of hard work, detangling and digging through the roots of my thoughts, I was able to overcome the negativity. Yes I still need to be aware of negative thoughts and break the patterns before they take hold. But all the work paid off! David is now my husband and we have a little one on the way!
There may be times we feel we are not in control of our thoughts, but we really are. We always have a choice. We can choose the thoughts we give power to.
We can either let it grow, take root and bear fruit. Or we can weed it out to prevent further damage.
We need to make sure we are letting the right thoughts in.
Even though I learned new ways to prevent the negative thoughts, I realised there was still one behaviour that stuck with me. Running. Notice I said behaviour, not action, I’m not the most active of people! Running was my reaction when I wanted to avoid something that challenged my character or forced me out of my comfort zone. My way of escaping. My easy way out.
This was something else I knew deep down I had to change, bringing us nicely to that day in September 2017.
During the IDEO U course I was working through, three of my friends from Thriving Life Church asked if I wanted to take part in a course with them by Mercy Ministries called ‘Keys to Freedom’. I had been invited to take part in this course beforehand but I backed out at the last minute. Looking back, I was just making excuses. I was running again.
When asked to take part in it this time, those familiar excuses started to enter my mind, ‘Run, Julie, Run!’ However this time I felt compelled to stop. I felt like my legs wouldn’t let me run. Instead, I started evaluating it all. If you know me at all, you will know I’m a terrible over-thinker!
Bottom line was that these three friends wanted the best for me. They didn’t force or pressure me to do it or make me feel that I had to do it to please them or for their own gain. This is one of many reasons I am so thankful for these women and to God for bringing them in to my life.
Rather than feeling obligated, I felt excited. I was doing it for no one else, just for me. It was time to step out of my comfort zone and stop running.
Friday 22nd September
Usually, Fridays are my favourite day of the week. Mostly because the working week is coming to a close and I can leave it all behind for the weekend. But this particular Friday was a tough one.
It was one of those weeks that I felt surrounded by several mountains. As I was juggling so many things I had very little time to disconnect and rest. The more the week progressed the more drained I felt. You know those weeks when nothing seems to go right and the tiredness you feel makes it that more frustrating? Yes, that sort of week.
Well that Friday one of my friends who was facilitating the course, Brooke, wanted to bring me the course handbook after work. As I mentioned, I was feeling exhausted and certainly not in the mood for facing people, but if I was going to take part in the course I had to get the book from her. I didn’t want to fail so early on or let anyone down. Sound familiar?
The end of the working day arrived and I noticed Brooke was parked up the street so I walked up to her car and sat in the passenger seat. The next 15 minutes were a bit of a blur.
I sat beside her, trying to hold it together and pretending everything was ok when all I wanted to do was to have a good gurn and hide away for the weekend. Regardless of how I was feeling, I told her how much I was willing to invest the time and energy in to the course. After a brief catch up I took the book, gave her a hug, and walked back to my car.
As soon as I closed the car door, I felt like a weight had been lifted. My mind felt lighter, no longer clouded by what was happening that week. I felt a deep reassurance that I was doing the right thing for me by doing this course.
As I walked towards my car, and knowing my own track record, I started to allow negativity and fear to enter my mind. A wrestle between my thoughts had started, like a war in my mind, almost like tug of war. Waves of doubt and lies kept hitting against my thoughts like the ocean hitting off rocks. All those false beliefs I used to carry about myself like I wasn’t capable started to get louder in my head, so much so they nearly made me question the course.
And there it was. Just as I was about to open the car door I noticed one single conker on the ground beside my car. No leaves or anything else. Just this one lost looking conker. It completely grabbed my attention and for some reason I picked it up and put it in my pocket, then drove home.
But it’s only a Conker, right?
Rather than diving in to freelance work when I arrived home, I decided to disconnect. I felt I had to switch off from everyone and everything. I needed solitude. To simply be still with my thoughts. Brave move you might say, as I was feeling pretty vulnerable after the week I was having. Perfect opportunity to get lost in those thoughts again and let the negativity talk me out of doing the course.
Turns out God saw a perfect opportunity and wanted to do some work on me.
A few weeks beforehand, I made sure when I was in these moments of solitude I had the right music playing. Music that contained positive words, truth, all good things to prevent my thoughts from wandering. I would usually open up Spotify, click on my ‘Solitude’ playlist (yes, I even created a playlist for it!) and let it play on shuffle. This time, I decided to open YouTube and search one of my favourite bands, Bethel. This was the song that came up…
The words in this song made me feel stronger again, like I was prepared to face anything. They stirred up an energy inside me and I was buzzing. Complete contrast to how I was feeling an hour before!
God of your promise, you don’t speak in vain, no syllable empty or void.
For once you have spoken, all nature and science follow the sound of your voice…
And as you speak, a hundred billion failures disappear. Where you lost your life so I could find it here. If you left the grave behind You so will I. I can see your heart in everything you’ve done. Every part designed in a work of art called love. If you gladly chose surrender so will I.
— So Will I (100 Billion X), Written by Hillsong United
When you allow yourself to be still and your thoughts open, amazing things can happen.
While listening to this song the conker from earlier entered my thoughts. I took it out of my pocket and looked at it, thinking it was just a conker. But as clear as day, I heard God saying ‘not conker, but CONQUER!… it’s time for you to conquer.’
I was completely floored! Everything became so clear. Time felt like it had stopped while I remained still, almost craving more.
God started listing all those things holding me back, all those thought patterns and behaviours I struggled with for years. It was time to say goodbye once and for all to the lies, fears, doubts I was wrestling with. All the running. All the hiding. All the drifting along in life hoping to just get by unnoticed. It was time to be Julie.
All of this reaffirmed in me that as much as I thought I was just drifting along unseen, God saw everything. He knew every thought, every emotion and every wall I built up to hide behind.
I always believed in God, but it was in that moment of realisation that I was reminded of who He is, what he is capable of, and how much He loves us.
The longer I stayed in this place of solitude, the more God spoke to me. He started describing the conker and the process it goes through to grow and bear fruit. Some of the ways God compared me to a conker made me giggle initially, but boy was it eye opening!
When a conker falls from a tree, it is caged in this green prickly shell. God started to tell me that all the lies and doubts I had been believing for so long were like this green prickly shell, hiding me away and preventing other people from getting close. In order to be planted, grow and bear fruit, the conker needs to break out of the shell. God was telling me it was time to break down those walls I had built up for so long. I have to let go of those things I experienced in my past so I can move forward and live freely, grow and step in to my purpose.
While I was sitting focused on this comparison, this next song came on YouTube next (I don’t usually like how YouTube does this, but this time I did!)
After hearing this God started telling me that regardless of how I’ve ever felt about myself, he has always seen the seed of goodness in me. Even on the lowest days when I didn’t feel good enough, he knew I was. As the song says, God doesn’t make mistakes. Even though the world has an annoying way of making us think we are not perfect because we don’t look like what they rank as ‘perfect’… none of us are perfect. And that’s ok! God reminded me that we are his individual unique creations, made in his likeness, his masterpieces with that seed of light and goodness within.
No matter how rotten you feel, there is a seed within you that contains the essence of who you are.
Experiencing this conversation with God completely opened my eyes, and they have been opening wider ever since. For the first time in a long time I felt good about being me. I didn’t feel I had to compare myself to anyone or measure my successes or failures against others. What people think of me or do to me doesn’t define who I am. I was already accepted and loved.
The process of conquer had started.
Time to Conquer
I absolutely loved the picture God gave me about seeds and how we have to prepare good foundations for them to grow. The Keys to Freedom course also referenced seeds which was further confirmation that God was telling me something big. Throughout the course I was able to dig deep in to past experiences that were effecting my behaviours and holding me back from living my life freely.
There’s an exercise showing an illustration of a tree. The trunk represents our belief system, the branches represents our behaviours and the roots represent our background. Later in the book it covered more about seeds and how growing them is a process. Regardless of external factors, the seed contains everything it needs to grow and flourish. However, we need to make sure we are planted in the right environments so we grow.
We each carry seeds of purpose, destiny and identity that have been within us since creation.
– Keys to Freedom, Mercy Ministries
I’m a great believer in all situations and experiences being used for good, no matter how negative they are. Your story could help other people going through the same thing. Who knows what branches could grow from one story. If it helped one person, I’d say the pain that experience caused was worth it. It makes us all stronger and better people.
All God was showing me had sparked something deep in my soul. Ideas were hitting me from all directions. I started focusing on the idea of the conker as a seed along with those things I had to conquer in order to grow. Being a designer surrounded with all this inspiration, I had to create.
I didn’t really know what the purpose of my creations would be, I just knew I couldn’t waste this moment. Before I knew it, I created the below identity for what I am calling ‘CONQUER’…
I didn’t carry out my usual process when creating a logo or brand, this was the first attempt and I truly believe it was a God given idea. After all, he is the ultimate creator!
There are a few ideas within this one identity that I want to mention as I feel it links parts of my story together. Firstly, the typeface chosen is rounded, creating complete circles or broken circles. These would reference the circles we move in or create in our lives. Our comfort zones perhaps. It is also a strong and bold typeface, both qualities of people who have decided to conquer.
The ‘Q’ illustrates a few things. The smaller complete circle outside the outlined circle represents a thought bubble, referencing the thoughts we have and the power we give them. Also, and this is possibly my favourite, the positioning of the shapes show our need to step out of our circles. We need to take risks and leave our comfort zones. I didn’t believe it for many years, but now I know this is necessary for us to grow and live the lives each of us were made for.
I decided that due to the strength of this shape and how it relates so well to the story behind the concept, I created other graphics focusing on it alone to be used as a logo mark.
I have lots of ideas for where this project could lead. I do feel so overwhelmed by it all at the minute because of the journey God took me on to get here. There’s a great song by Cory Asbury called ‘Reckless Love’ and the words keep running through my head showing how God loves us no matter how much we feel we don’t deserve it…
There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
No lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it
I don’t deserve it
Still You give yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
I think we all have things we want to conquer, the big and small things, and I think that’s what the project should focus on (what that looks like is still a work in progress!) If we put our minds to it, we can conquer anything that is holding us back.
It all starts with a seed.
Watch this space. But for now…
What do you need to conquer?