Be the change you want to see

Gavin Strange on rejecting cynicism for positive change

Photo credit: Gavin Strange

Do work you love. It sounds super-idealistic, right? Well, maybe I am an idealist. But why wouldn’t you want to try to create your ideal world to live in?

It’s so easy to get eaten up with cynicism and negativity, thinking that the good stuff doesn’t happen to people like you, and the opportunities just don’t present themselves. So start by redirecting some of your time and energy to change that. Start bridging gaps, start conversations, start sowing seeds. Don’t focus on what isn’t happening, focus on what could happen.

If you don’t feel there’s a group that represents you — start it. If there’s something missing from the conversation — introduce it.

If you’re working within a larger organisation you’ll have to find the boundaries of what you can and can’t change. Push gently against the things you’d like to be different, help and encourage others with things you’d like to see change. I’m not advocating a hostile or aggressive position, totally the opposite — you can make changes by being a kind, warm and passionate person.

My friend and fellow speaker at the Do Lectures, Sarah Corbett, founded the Craftivist Collective, which combines craft (usually in the form of cross-stitching) and activism to engage people in social change. She does this respectfully and peacefully as ‘gentle activism’. And it works. A few years ago, Sarah was constantly pestering her local Member of Parliament — sending petitions and forwarding on issues — so much so that the MP told her to stop, saying, ‘It’s a waste of your time and my time.’ Obviously frustrated with such a response, Sarah knew she had to appeal to the MP in a different way, so she decided to provoke rather than preach. She used her craft skills to make the MP a handkerchief, embroidered with a personal message and the line, ‘Don’t blow it!’

This personal touch led to Sarah meeting with the MP; they sat down and talked with each other, rather than at each other. They now have an ongoing relationship of ‘critical friendship’ — the MP uses her powers to help those who most need it, guided by Sarah, and in return the MP helps Sarah with how best to use her own skills as an activist.

It’s proof that to make changes you don’t have to be an extrovert or a lunatic, you just have to have drive and purpose. How you manifest that drive is up to you — there’s no right or wrong way.

And things will naturally change too. So you’ll have to constantly re-evaluate yourself. What you want and need from your work and personal life can and will change often. So be sure to take time out every now and then to take stock of what you’re thinking and feeling.

In practical terms, you can do that by just stepping outside of your normal routine — disrupt your schedule a little and give yourself a bit of time to reflect. Make a mental note to check in with yourself regularly. It could be as grand as scheduling a mini-holiday to take some time out and assess your life and work. Try and go away on your own — radical, eh? Or it could be as simple as using a train journey to switch off the social media and just contemplate. Are you happy? Are you being the change you want to see? Ask yourself these questions.

As much as this is an individual pursuit, do take a look at what other people need too. Do your ideas and goals line up with what your colleagues and comrades are doing? Do you believe there’s a better way to do something that will benefit everyone? Collaborating with others to make change happen can bring it about much quicker, so seek out those positive souls who share your desire for change.

Communication is also key for those who don’t want change. In an organisation of any shape or size there will be opposition, so being able to passionately relay your desire for making things different is essential. Sarah’s Craftivist manifesto point, ‘Provoke Don’t Preach’, fits perfectly with this — encourage discussion and new points of view, don’t force it. Force is often met with resistance.

Change? It’s suddenly sounding like a long tightrope to walk, isn’t it? It sure as hell won’t be easy but it’ll be worth it. You want to get to the other side, right?

Gavin Strange is a Senior Designer at Aardman Animations, the four-times Academy Award-winning studio behind Shaun the Sheep and Wallace & Gromit. He is a believer in creative side-projects and develops his own under the JamFactory moniker.

Extract from Do Fly: Find Your way. Make a living. Be your best self. by Gavin Strange. Copyright © 2016 by Gavin Strange. Published by The Do Book Co.

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