Eleven years ago, I was living in Brixton and worrying about paying my council tax bill. I’d recently been made redundant, when the magazine I was working for (gloriously optimistic bible of creative shininess, The Face) was closed down by its new owners.
Specifically, I was standing in the queue at the council offices in Brixton Hill feeling extremely anxious about what to say when I got to the front of the queue, because I’d run out of money and I had no idea what happens next if you have a council tax bill to pay and you don’t have the money to pay it.
My phone rang and I stepped out of the queue.
Would I like to attend a two-day money workshop starting tomorrow, asked the voice at the other end. Someone has dropped out, so the ticket is free, you just have to turn up, you won’t learn anything about budgets or bookkeeping, but you will learn how to worry less about money. I look down at my council tax bill, say yes please I would like to learn how to worry less about money. I hang up, head to the front of the queue, find out the letter I had from the council was out of date and that they actually owed me about £500.
48-hours later, as the workshop is drawing to a close, I’m sat opposite the voice at the other end of the phone, Charlie O’Malley (then director of a sustainable venture capital firm, now founder of the Responsible Leadership Forum). Charlie has just passed £4000 of his own money across the table to me. Because I have just asked him if he would like to give me all of his money and he has just said yes. And he’s smiling. And looking ever so relaxed and happy about the whole thing. I’m thinking and feeling -what-in-the-hell-is-going-on- but I am also smiling and feeling ever so relaxed about the whole thing.
Our workshop host, Peter Koenig, is leading us through something called The Findhorn Money Game (pdf), where you can uncover all the hidden fears and ambitions and superstitions you have about money by engaging in the simple tasks of giving away your money and taking other people’s money. With real money. For real. With sums large enough that you can actually feel it. In my case, that meant £40. In the other Charlie’s case, it meant 100 times that.
The game comes to an end. I still have £4000 of Charlie O’s money. Peter explains that, while most often the participants end up just keeping whatever money they have at the end of the game, today we would redistribute what we have and leave with what we came with. My £4000 turns back into £40. Other Charlie and I are both still smiling. A little shell-shocked, but still smiling.
Before I go home, Charlie comes over to me, takes £40 out of his wallet and asks if he can at least give me the cash to go and have a nice dinner. I try to refuse. He points out I very nearly walked away with 4k of his money and it’s the least he can do. Two days before, taking the money would have felt unthinkable (from a stranger? without earning it? are you crazy?). And I would have had to live with a vivid spectrum of guilt and shame and all kinds of disruptive stories playing out in my mind, probably indefinitely. But, able to immediately put what I’ve learned in Peter’s workshop into practice, I take the money, we both leave happily and I go and treat myself to a nice fish and chip dinner on Farringdon Road.
Since that first workshop in 2005, I’ve been running money workshops of my own, based on what Peter taught me. In 2010, I turned the insights I’d gained from those workshops into this ten-minute stand-up show that I got to perform at legendary stand-up comedy venue Toomler in Amsterdam:
Last year, I wrote this piece, trying to sum up everything I know about money and the stories we tell about money in a bit more detail. (According to Medium, it’ll take you 14-minutes to read. So that’s four minutes more than the stand-up talk. It also has a few less jokes about cats.)
This year, after ten years of money coaching (which I still offer, if you’re interested), I’ve started offering a new session called Identity Yoga. It uses the same underlying process I learned in Peter’s money workshop, but applies it to anything, rather than just money.
Introducing Identity Yoga
If you’ve watched the funny talk about cats and read the slightly less funny Medium article, then you’ll know everything I’m about to explain. But the short version is this:
The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves matter.
We greatly overestimate the effect that money has on our lives.
We greatly underestimate the effect of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
And the effect that money has on our lives is dependent on the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves create a role for us to play.
The role that we play affects every single thing that we do.
We rarely stop to check what role we’re playing — or whether it’s helpful.
We can choose what role to play.
It’s as easy as choosing what story to tell about ourselves.
Deliberately choosing what role to play, rather than unconsciously playing out some unexamined role, is the single most creatively liberating thing I know.
There’s a bit of a knack to it.
In Identity Yoga sessions, I teach the relatively straightforward practice of (1) identifying what stories we’re telling ourselves about ourselves, (2) checking whether they’re helpful or not and then (3) rewriting those stories.
It’s a lot of fun.
And, if you worry about money more than you’d like to, it helps.
If you keep on wanting to go to the gym, but never get around to it, it helps.
If you have a habit that you want to break that you can’t seem to break, it helps.
If you’ve hit a roadblock, a creative impasse, a professional plateau…it helps.
I’ve used it with boards of companies, with artists, with entrepreneurs, with friends and family and, most frequently, with myself. And I can’t really remember what it was like to get stuck like that and not have the option of just unpicking what story was getting in my way.
If you’d like to learn Identity Yoga, I’d like to teach you. Basically all of the instructions are here, so feel free to DIY it. But if you’d like help, I’ve got about ten years worth of Identity Yoga tricks up my sleeve that I’m happy to bring to bear on whatever you’d like to look at. Get in touch.
And then there’s everything else
These articles on ‘Clearing the Way’ are my best attempt to share what I’ve learned about creativity and collaboration. Ever since I started out as Features Editor for gloriously optimistic bible of creative shininess The Face I seem to have ended up single-mindedly devoted to transforming how work works. Because, what I had the chance to be immersed in then was a world of work that depends on creativity. And it felt like my job then was to understand how these most inspiring creative people that we wrote about did what they did. And then teach what I learned from them to everyone else.
So, I took what I learned about stories and storytelling there and made the Very Clear Ideas process — so that anyone who wants to can get clear on the creative purpose of their work at any moment. For anyone who wants to clear away obstructions to their creative potential, there’s the Identity Yoga. And for anyone who wants to make sure they’re also clear in their working relationships — so that collaboration is effortless and creative — I developed a process called Initiative Mapping. The Initiative Mapping process also has its roots in a workshop with my friend Peter Koenig — this time a mini-conference at a Pauline-Carmelite monastery in Hungary. But that’s another story. (I’ll write it soon.)
If you’d like to learn more about nice, easy, clear ways of working creatively, I like talking about it. And I offer coaching and consulting and all of those things. Happy to hear from you: hello[at]charlesdavies.com.