Cultivating quiet

Or… Fonzie says “get outta the way”

Justin Holland
Apr 30, 2019 · 5 min read

This was the story that inspired my talk at LAST conference 2019. I have since re-written it in the form of a transcript. I think I shall keep the old one as a effigy to continuous improvement and as a memory of a very strange time in my career and life. For a link to the newer version click here.

I think I’m back! Not that this has ever been particularly frequent… but I feel like it should/could be. It has really been on my mind (and heart) to articulate some of the things I have been wrestling with.

I have, however, been a bit preoccupied of late. I started a new role in September, and daughter number two (Jemima, sister to 3 year old Matilda) arrived in November… so as a result, I am experiencing significant cognitive load, at a time when my personal capacity is at the lowest it has been in a while.

Image for post
Image for post
My girls. I gotta get better at drawing them…

Chances are, if we have seen each other recently and you asked me how I was doing, I probably would have said “tired” or “a bit flat” or something to that effect. I haven’t had a lot more to offer. I have been unsurprisingly quite exhausted. Resilience has been low, emotions high, and the creeping sense of overwhelm has loomed over my life.

But I’ve just had 10 days off (thank you public holidays!), and even though I am sick at the time of writing, I can tell that I have some energy back because I just have this urge to create something — so here I am!

I was reminded, thanks to some reflective moments during the break, that there are things in my life that bring me joy — creative expression, moments of curiosity that drive learning, compassion & connection (for/with the people in my life).

Even though I love these activities, I realized that I need a fair amount of energy to undertake them… Good intentions don’t quite cut it, as is demonstrated by a list of ideas and half-finished thoughts without anything to show of it.

It is a simple thing really. But sometimes you just need to have it out there in front of you. Without energy, focus & presence, the bits of life that bring joy, suffer greatly.

Image for post
Image for post

On the weekend I found myself listening to Henry Winkler (yes, the one and only) as he was interviewed on my favourite podcast (“You Made It Weird” with Pete Holmes), and in a discussion about the meaning of life, he came up with this gem:

Image for post
Image for post
I honestly prefer the older, wiser Henry… but anything at all was hard to draw right…

There it is. Get out of your own way… by being quiet enough to move drama and neuroses aside in order to see your path, and be able to take it.

I love these serendipitous moments where somebody articulates exactly what you need to hear (and these moments seem to be more and more frequent of late).

Image for post
Image for post

Sometimes, life has to just be about being. About acceptance — you are who you are, and where you are. That’s it.

Life (and career) cannot be only about doing.

It can feel easy as an individual that loves continuous improvement, to feel the need to always be on, always learning, always be having ideas and innovating — to see that as the goal.

To fix ourselves.

We recommend that teams work at a sustainable pace for a good reason. The same goes for individuals, and we need to be kind enough to ourselves to recognize our limitations.

Alan Watts (whom I am yet to read) also came up in the discussion. After listening I found the reference was from his book “The Way of Zen”:

Image for post
Image for post
Don’t touch it. Seriously. Just leave it.

So there it is. Be still long enough, often enough, for the sediment to settle.

What does this look like in practice?

Mostly… managing your expectations of yourself (and others). Be kind.

Sometimes all the thinking, learning, talking… doing… compounds the problem.

Image for post
Image for post

Let go of your need to control, to be certain.

Rob Bell (in another Podcast — Episode 115: Seasons) introduced me to the concept of “Liminal Space”. If you google the term, this is what you will find:

Between seasons of life for sure… but maybe to a lesser extent between meetings, between home and the office… maybe even in between tv shows.

The challenge is to recognize this liminal space, and not always feel the need to fill it.

To make the most of it, by doing nothing, and not judging yourself for doing so.

Image for post
Image for post
How would you draw “liminal space”?

To not see it as boring, or a waste of time… but precious and necessary. As complimentary to the rest of your life that is plenty busy enough.

The holidays are over, I’m in a new office…

This is a new season. Time to get out of the way.

Image for post
Image for post

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store