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Life: Point X is in flux

This article is a part of a series called "Life", where I revisit The Good Life Book (2017), and unpublished drafts, and offer an up-to-date commentary as at February 2021. Here, I ponder why so far I've found it really hard to update the book in any meaningful way.

The next article in the series is about the original introduction to The Good Life Book. That article was a surprisingly difficult one to write, and that difficulty seems to be, yet again for me, a microcosm of the overall black/rabbit hole that I’ve experienced while:

  • trying to write an updated edition of The Good Life Book
  • comparing ideas from a future book Complete with The Good Life Book, and in general
  • opining on life or personal and professional growth in the context of my own journey

As I sit down to write these things I kind of go into a recursive loop, and feel like I’ve entered a hall of mirrors. I decided to dig into why this might be, and guessed the answer might be useful to you as well as I.

The he general reason for the difficulty, I think, is that I feel that I haven’t yet reached “solid ground” or a destination a.k.a. a new stable point "X" on my own change journey. I've experienced and done so much new stuff, yet I'm still in a state of becoming.

In many ways X (where I am now) is now less clear than when I wrote the book, and a moving target. In other words, X is in flux. And while that is the case, it is difficult to find the right point of view to write from.

Memories are Spongy

Steve Jobs has said that "you can only join the dots in reverse". Things don't make sense until they do! I believe this, and I feel that that it is definitely part of what I'm experiencing at the moment.

I can see different variations of a big picture but can't always see the way forward so I'm trying to follow my gut/intuition on what the right next step and steps are.

I'm also aware that as humans, our memories and process of "meaning making" have a degree of flexibility and flux built in by default. Memories are not solid they are spongy. Memories change based on how and when you look back on them.

How you weight the significance of specific past events changes too, based on new experiences and point of view.

For example, I have been working on music production over the past month. Then I sat down to write some articles and I recalled a memory for the first time in ages that when I was at school and used to muck around with computerized music demos and sampled music. A lot of people muck around with computers but my time doing that 30 years ago, seems a lot more significant now all of a sudden since I also did it yesterday, am beginning to release music, and want to do it as a (part of my) job.

When trying to write the next article, I spent ages trying to work out what that moment on plane (you'll see) meant, if anything much at all. I was trying to work out the significance to where I am now and the journey here, and whether I responded well or adequately. But, at the same time I'm also trying to work out the significance and universality of the event i.e. whether there is a useful message for you in the story.

For now, I think the significance to you of this discussion is that there are clues to your (new) future littered through your past. You may have seemingly forgotten or blocked out things from your past that hold the keys to your future.

I'm sure we will revisit this topic in the commentary for Chapter 2 since there is an exercise about lifeline where you look through your life for insights about turning points.

Where was X when the book was published

At the time of publication of the book, the point “X” that I was at was a person who had quit a long career, had written a book with some thoughts and an approach (both based on experience and hypotheses) to a better life. And I was embarking on actually trying to make a go of a long held business idea. Although I was starting the business, I feel my point "X" was quite stable at that very moment.

My insights on life and work at the time, coming out of my good life “quest”, galvanized a belief that there was more to life than what I had been doing and how I'd been living (and there is).

In a very binary sense, at the time of publishing the book, I’d already moved across an invisible line, that separates people thinking about stuff and people actually trying to do stuff. My "X" had changed because:

  • I'd quit my job (a lot of people wish they could do this)
  • I'd written and (self) published a professional book
  • I'd formed and started to run a startup
And as a result of that, again in a binary sense, at this new point “X” I could no longer regret (e.g. on my deathbed) that I’d never even tried to do my long held business idea, since I now had. That felt good.
Of course, this good feeling didn't guarantee success in what I'd chosen to do! But, then again, what is that saying "not trying guarantees failure"?

The book is (intentionally) a blend of personal experience/observations and hypotheses, and I felt comfortable sharing these at that point "X" because it was clear that this was my personal story, and not an academic study (I tried to read several of those before thinking of writing the book, and found them dry and not very useful).

Writing the book had been a journey in itself. I learned that to reach a difficult goal you need to find a compelling reason that goes beyond yourself to do the thing you want to do, otherwise you’ll probably never do it (and if you start, you probably won’t stick with it).

As you know, we’re dramatically less likely to let down/disappoint others than ourselves, which is one reason why personal trainers and personal coaches can be effective.

I struggled and faltered while writing the book, and if the book were just for me (a wish to have a book) I might have just given up. But I was writing the book to help others, and perhaps even to help avert what I saw as the political, economic and environmental crises that were/are looming.

I felt a real urgency to write and publish the book and get the ideas in it out into the world. As a result I overcame much second-guessing and perfectionism that can stall (or be the death knell for) creative projects. This is all to say that I felt pretty good about my point "X" when the book was published.

Where is X now?

So, where is “X” now in 2021 and why have I been struggling with some of the writing? The short answer is that "X" is now in flux, and there is also a bit of perfectionism and pride there too.

We are now four years on from the publication of the book, so part of the difficulty in writing since then is addressing an implied checkpoint/post mortem on how things actually went. Plus, as you'd expect given that so much has happened for me in the interim, I have to think about what my current point of view is, and how this new point of view maps back to what it was before (that second part can be hard to do). 

The checkpoint is on both:

  1. how did the ideas (and hypotheses) in the book hold up and
  2. how did everything work out for me.

How did the ideas in the book hold up?

This is really what this “Life” series is about. I plan to go through every chapter and write a commentary, then summarize the whole thing at the end.

But, it's worth saying that, for various reasons, I kind of largely abandoned the book after it was published. I'm sure other authors/writers can relate to this, but I was sick of looking at it after getting through the editing process and wanted to focus on something else. It had taken around nine months of sitting in a chair to get the book done. I was ready to go outside and talk to people (and that is exactly what I did, starting the Total Life Complete podcast).

Also, as I said, I'd felt an urgency to get the book done and out there, while in retrospect it probably would have been better to approach the book in a completely different way, or at least to let it "rest" for some time, before doing a final batch of revisions and rewrites, to give the book more focus and impact.

 

If I had approached the book differently, it might have given me the same commitment to marketing the book as I had to writing it (another lesson learned). As it was, I was never quite happy with the book, I always felt it could be better. That feeling is actually common to creatives, I've learned, so let's see how the book looks now!

Having browsed quickly through the book recently, my sense is that many of the ideas in The Good Life Book hold up reasonably well. I'll be interested to see how I can help make some of the (many) ideas jump out more, and be more useful to you.

Since the book was published I've begun to focus more on my own creative development, including producing music, videos and fiction writing. If you've been following along my work, you'll know that I see creativity as a teachable "superpower" for personal change. As I've been experiencing/developing it, I thought that my new creativity based approach to personal change might replace what was in The Good Life Book.

Exploring the new approach, which I call Creative Personal Growth (CPG), has definitely led to some of the flux I've been feeling about updating The Good Life Book. You might call it conceptual flux, not knowing if the ideas are divergent or will come "full circle" or be complementary.

It is also worth saying that my life has improved in immeasurable ways since I left my old job, in terms of: balance, meaning, growth, contribution, community and so on. Balance all of a sudden didn't seem like such a bit deal, because I now had it! I see that now in retrospect. Instead of balance I wanted to burn with creative energy, to be alive, and to make a mark on the world. To unleash! Unleashing said another way is to "run", while the book was definitely about getting people back on their feet and taking some tentative new steps.

The events of this past year have brought the value of the message and content of The Good Life Book back into focus. I even found myself presenting a regular segment on a streaming electronic music show about self-care. Sure, it is more exciting to talk about burning like a firework shooting across the sky, but sometimes we also just need to be looking after ourselves and those around us.

Doing the show really provided a sense of validation and of helping people. I recognized that the book was written when I had been in crisis mode and many of the messages in there are about timeless topics like truth, authenticity, health, self-care and being good to yourself and others.

As it turns out, I've begun to see the Creative Personal Growth approach as complementary to The Good Life Book rather than a replacement to it. In fact I now see CPG as the yin to the yang of The Good Life Book, and these both are to be wrapped up under the overarching philosophy of Complete.

Eventually, in one or two books time, I’ll probably revise The Good Life Book with the insights that you're getting in this series “Life”, and after fleshing out Creative Personal Growth, and Complete. I'm not expecting a major overhaul (let's see at the end of this article series), but rather a simplification and polish.

Where am I in 2021?

Well, things didn’t work out exactly as I’d planned when I left my corporate job, and the business has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs. This situation has meant my new point X moved on from the stability of the "X" of "book author" and X is now in flux, I'm neither a failed businessperson or a successful one.

The business has led me to rediscover a passion for making music and media, which is wonderful and I'm starting to release some content, but I'm not yet a professional music / film producer either, and it already seems like that might be a multiple year journey too if I pursue it commercially.

If something solid does come of that it could be the new "X", but it is way too early to claim it yet!

I'm also aware that these future possible directions are not all mutually exclusive. There might well be synergies and overlaps, and my life might turn into the very same kind of portfolio I talked about in the book. A portfolio has its own set of challenges but that also seems to be what is happening at the moment.

These things all seem like a work in progress, with a long way to go. It is tough to face that almost 5 years out from leaving my corporate job I'm not yet at the stage of a good sustainable income that will allow me to support the family at a comfortable level. I'm far from it, but in terms of intangibles / new capabilities and regret minimization I'm off the charts!

Despite this, I kind of feel not worthy in a sense, but then like a pioneer in another. Probably which of these I'm feeling like on a day has an effect on my ability to write!

Let me backtrack a bit. They do say that “No plan survives first contact with the enemy/reality”, but I didn’t really think that that would apply to me!

I’d envisaged that publishing the book would generate some buzz, and provide a springboard for the lifestyle/experiences business Total Life Complete, the idea for which had grown from a seed planted on that backpacker trip to Europe in 1998 (that I talk about in the introduction to the book).

The business was planned to consist of seminars on the topics in the book and real world experiences that helped people get out of their comfort zone, learn and meet others. Sounds good, and actually these things are still part of the business today.

What I found in reality though was that, and doubly so if you are self-publishing, it is incredibly hard to get buzz around a book! Not only does the content have to be excellent and distinctive BUT you also have to market the #### out of it for months and perhaps years both before and after you publish it, and have some luck, and so on.

I also realized that at the time I directly knew virtually “nobody” in Dallas who might be potential customers of my business. Since arriving in the US, I’d travelled often out of state so didn’t have many local friends or colleagues. And for the past year before publishing the book I’d been holed up in a local library writing. In retrospect these were obvious warning signs/missteps against a successful launch (or even the viability of the business in practice) but that is the way things were.

I’ll save a blow-by-blow account of what happened with the business between then and now for another article. Let’s just say that while the business eventually did start seeing some bright spots it was really tough going to get there, and even tougher to keep momentum and focus. You'll have heard about this if you've been following along with my articles.

The bigger “good life” point though about the time immediately after publishing the book, is that trying to promote the book did lead me to start a podcast, and that had unexpected outcomes, which sent me off in a different direction.

While that podcast was a great experience and I met some amazing people (many of whom I remain friends with do this day), it eventually plateaued. Given the effort to produce the show each week, I decided to pause for a bit and focus on other activities that might provide a more reliable path to the revenue I’d need to make the business sustainable. And I also wanted to experiment more with video.

It's hard to believe now, but at the time I actually declined a kind offer to help a friend produce a show (and that is one of the things I'm actually focusing on as a service these days, doh!), because I was fixated on getting the "core" business running the way I'd envisaged way back. Hindsight.

The other reason I bring up the podcast, is that it made me realize in a practical way that I love performing/creating/making media. I particularly like music and stories and for those of you watching my videos you’ll have seen that these have become more and more creative and musical in recent years.

The business' focus on media has increased, even as there have been less events and less of the type of activity I’d originally envisaged. I now feel that I have repeatable skills in producing media, if I can put it that way too, and some great collaborators/contacts.

 

It is hard to know whether something you're interested in should be a hobby, a side-hustle or a business, or even part of THE BUSINESS YOU'RE RUNNING RIGHT NOW! Sure, you can look at whether there is a commercial demand for the thing, but you can't predict your happiness level or success in turning a passion into a business.

In a sense, my business has failed. Definitely it has failed in the sense of the goals and financials I’d set for myself, and even when compared to my most pessimistic expectations of how long it would take to get things done. If it weren't for my specific situation (the financial resources I put in place before I started, the low burn rate, and a working and very supportive spouse) then I would have had to call it quits by now.

Yet, if the business had literally and totally failed in every respect, and I’d given up that would be “normal”. It really happens all the time. I’ve seen it with my entrepreneurial peers and colleagues. Failure is, statistically speaking, the most likely outcome.

Coming back to the ease/difficulty in writing, from the point X of a failed business, it still wouldn’t feel great, but at least I would have closure, and a stable X to write the post mortem. And better to have tried and failed as the expression goes.

And if that was the final state of affairs, I've come to appreciate that I don’t believe that it would invalidate the principles and approach in the book.

There is, of course, the situation where who wants to read something written by someone who isn't already successful in one domain or another (even though stories of failure can actually be more instructive)? This is true but I can't let that stop me from writing. I have to own my own history, steps and missteps, and the results I've gotten. There is a whole lot of truth out there that doesn't make it into books, so I believe that there is still value in sharing these stories.

With respect to whether my story affects the validity of, or illustrates what's in the book, in the end, I think I have to ask myself "am I walking the talk of the book?"

The book is about the need to focus on what is really important in life (and I’ve done that). It is about making decisions, committing, having new experiences, trying various approaches and experiments to get to your goals and "good". And it is about learning. Did I do that? Yes.

The book (unfortunately) doesn’t guarantee you success in whatever entrepreneurial ventures that you or I dream up. But, yes, I am walking the talk I believe.

If the business stopped today then it would have been net-net a huge (mainly opportunity) cost for me, and yet also delivered once in lifetime opportunity / growth / friendships. What is more important, money or experiences? What is more important: having more money or less regrets?

What is personally valuable to me beyond financial success, so far, is that I’ve really discovered and, importantly, legitimized my love of creating music and stories (videos, movies) and experiences. Music and video/films will be part of me until I die, whether I do those as a business or career or a hobby.

If I was writing the obituary of the business, and I’m not, then it is not my own obituary (and if it was then I wouldn’t have the regret of not trying). I have to remind myself of that, and that I've tried to stay true to the principles of the book. And that I am living a version of a good life.

Life would go on if the business failed, and life is like a game.

I’d move on to the next round, a different job / career / business. Another chapter. I'd hope to move on to whatever version of a good life came next.

I feel the weight of all the vicarious expectations on me from former colleagues and friends, who remain followers and supporters. I don’t want to let them down, but pretending that everything is going as originally planned is inauthentic. And if it doesn’t work out then at least I hope that I’ve inspired them and you to try something different.

Writing this article has been a good reminder to not always be so hard on myself. To not get stuck in a cycle of wishing I’d made different or sooner decisions, avoided missteps and mistakes, or simply focused on a different area.

That type of cycle saps energy and prevents you from doing the best you can at the time.

I haven’t given up. And, surprisingly even to me, the business seems to be on track for its best year ever. It turns out that others are willing to pay me/us for helping them with their writing, video and, hopefully soon, both music and original production projects.

There seems to be a path to pivot or expand the business to incorporate the things I’m passionate about, and yet passions that I only began to focus on systematically developing because of the business in the first place. I needed to learn audio editing/Digital Audio Workstations to self-produce the podcast, and video production/scoring to make videos to support (marketing) the business.

So, the journey goes on. I am not sure exactly what the future holds. My point “X” is in flux but I’m feeling more optimistic than I have in a while. I believe that I still have something to contribute to you even if I haven't yet made a million or won an Oscar / Grammy etc.

And I’m feeling better about the book than I have in a while. It is not perfect, no book is, but it has helped people in the real world, and having written the book has helped and continues to help in my own development and desire to get better, and do better.

And I often get to do what I love with and for people I love, and the past few years have been a process of trying to do that and then monetize it, rather than the other way around (having the money but not the love), and that in a way feels like progress.

Let me close with the advice to try to make real what you’re frequently drawn to.

I’m deliberately avoiding the “P” word passion here. Find out what makes you come alive, and then go do that.

Work every day to find a way to make that thing a part of your reality.

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