So many ways to begin…

Since completing my PhD a couple of months ago, I have been meaning to start writing on Medium as a way of sharing some of the key findings of the research as well as taking the much welcomed opportunity to write more personally without some of the academic constraints I have grown used to. I had an image of myself (montage style!) typing away on my newly purchased sleek, lightweight laptop in some trendy café whilst sipping on a green smoothie or organic coffee. Otherwise, I saw myself getting up before 6am, enjoying a self-prescribed morning routine which culminated in joyfully writing in the wake of some yoga-fuelled high.

Overcoming Perfectionism

The result of this vision? I never began. It didn’t feel like ‘the right time’. Or perhaps more accurately, I didn’t feel like the ‘right’ version of myself. I had internalised a false-belief that I had to become some idealised self before being justified in having something to say and feeling able to say it. This ideal, I believe, has been partly influenced by the Instagram versions of self-proclaimed gurus and experts who capture and share aspirational images and inspirational quotes that create a coherent but fictional sense of an authentic alignment between personal strivings, values, beliefs and everyday lifestyle. The shadow self is denied a reality. Now, I am not criticising these individuals and I continue to learn from and be inspired by them. I am also not completely doubting that for some of these motivational types, they really do live, for the most part, juice-drinking, gratitude-filled, peace-loving, meditative lives. I am proud to say I know a few and they are deeply wonderful humans to be around. I do, though, see a downside to the ultra-stylised, photo-shopped, bohemian versions of countless (delete as appropriate) coaches, writers, lifestyle gurus, yoga teachers etc. in that they can create a sense that only when your life resembles this pastiche of wholesomeness can you offer something to others. In fact, one of my deep interests is in human fallibility, humility and vulnerability. I am a completely imperfect human. I drink too much, experience envy when I would rather be in awe, have a strong self-destructive drive, spend way too much time playing Candy Crush and watching Netflix and neglecting more spiritual, experiential disciplines in favour of cerebral activities even though I am fairly sure that I am out of balance in this way. Right now, I am writing this first article after having taken myself off to the nearest pub and mind-mapped my life goals over a couple of double-vodkas and banter with the bar staff. In a way, I am grateful for my contradictory impulses and pursuits. I came to realise that I want to write in my own way, with my own routines and preferred settings. If that means after a few drinks in the cheap and cheerful local rather than on a rock in some sun-lit meadow, so be it!

Embracing Messiness

Furthermore, I had become too concerned with branding of sorts. Not in a commercial sense but in that I was pre-occupied with how my various writing interests would tie together with some easily packaged golden thread. For the record, I want to write about paradigm change and worldviews, humanising the workplace, the nature of the self and relationships and organisational development to name but a few big topics. But I also want to feel free to write more personally — memoir style essays linking conceptual ideas with autobiographical reflections. Rather than simply starting with what felt right at the time, I procrastinated by endlessly trying to come up with an overall schema linking my topics of inquiry into some pithy, unique summary. Whilst doing so undoubtedly serves a functional purpose, I am going to put this issue to bed for now and simply focus on writing rather than on trying to promote or categorise it. This feels pretty liberating actually — to permit myself the freedom to write about whatever feels pertinent and resonant at the time and to see this as a joyful discipline in itself rather than being overly concerned with how it all fits together. I will let the synthesis unfold rather than force it.

Start from where you are

I have taken a lot of inspiration from various thinkers who talk about the idea of starting from where you are, rather than where you wish you were. If we wait for the perfect conditions before we act, we may well stagnate and live only in our minds and imagination. I forget who told it, but there is a joke about a tourist in the countryside asking a local for directions to a point of interest. The local says, “You want to go there? Well, I wouldn’t start from here!”. If the tourist followed that advice, he would of course never get anywhere (I know, I know, it’s the way I tell them!). In the past, my life goals were often a mish-mash of grand career or personal-passion aspirations combined with lifestyle changes, such as getting up earlier, meditating daily, cutting down on various delicious-but-bad-for-you foods, drinking less etc. The problem became that all my other goals were implicitly on hold until I had achieved this new lifestyle, which ultimately never manifested in its entirety. So, I am going to flip this on its head — pursue those goals that feel worthy and meaningful to me regardless of my emotional micro-climate and, at times, questionable lifestyle choices. At the same time, I don’t mean to idealise or exaggerate those choices. It’s just that, we all have our shadow side, in whatever form that takes, and to deny it or try to overcome it as if it were an enemy, I am starting to think, is not the best way forward.

Living life as an inquiry

Paying attention to hunches and following them wherever they may go is something I want to embrace. In my PhD, I wrote about the nature of the thesis as an ever-deepening inquiry. It is this mind-set that I will adopt for my writing on Medium. Articles may be linked to the PhD itself, or to a quote or book chapter that has sparked some curiosity, or to a personal or work-related experience. There is enough in this overly rational, mechanistic world to impose rules, formulas and predefined schemas. It seems silly to give myself yet more on a platform that does not demand it. Rather than waiting for some false notion of the ‘perfect’ article to begin with — my maiden speech (ha!) — I have begun with a simple but honest offering of where I am at right now. What will follow, I hope, will never be ‘preachy’, holier-than-thou diatribes but will be musings, insights, hunches and experiences shared from a flawed but life-curious, fellow-human.