Be Yourself ›

I can’t remember how I came across the article Be Yourself by Tim Nahumck but I instanty saved it. I’ve read twice since then. It resonated with me, in fact the tweets by Aaron Mahnke which triggered this article resonated with me. But most of all, this quote is what I connected with the most. Never have I been more aware of the true meaning of this quote than in the last six months.

I think for most, being yourself is one of the hardest things to do as a human. It takes a lot to get out of your own way, remove the internal barriers, and open up your world to others.

Bored

I wonder how often the phrase “I’m bored…” came out of your mouth as a child? I know it crossed my lips a fair few times, during my years at primary school. As I grew older the phrase appeared less and less, in fact I can’t remember the last time that phrase crossed my lips and I don’t recall it ever crossing them in my years since university.

That’s troubling.

Does it mean I’m no longer getting bored? Do I get bored and no longer acknowledge it preferring to let myself while away the hours fiddling around on the internet or vedging out on the sofa?

Am I capable of getting bored or does the constant gratification provided by the various apps on my iPhone prevent it?

We live in a world where constant gratification of boredom is readily available. A world where children are growing up with iPhones and iPads available to them as soon as they are talking, if not before. Will these children be able to get bored?

These are worthy questions to consider, if people can no longer get bored, and I mean really bored. How will creativity flourish? Creativity out of boredom is a different kind of creativity to that which takes place at work. Boredom creativity is far stronger and more expressive than any other. When we are so bored that we decide to do something because it interests us, that’s when some of the most exciting creativity happens. A child who picks up a guitar and starts picking/strumming a song simply because they are bored isn’t playing that guitar for practise, they’re playing it with a desire to create. A desire to occupy their mind and to express themselves in a way they’ve perhaps never done before. The same goes for an artist who picks up a sketch book, and a writer who picks up a pen.

This is as much a challenge to myself as it is to anyone reading this. Do we allow ourselves to get bored? To get so bored we are compelled to do something productive out if it. Are we capable of letting creativity born out of boredom take place, or do we just occupy our minds with the latest free game on the appstore that’s taking Twitter by storm?

Building

I’m great at making statements and promises about things that I want to do. It’s easy. I think of something I wish to do, decide there and then a means by which to do it, then post to my blog declaring it in the public domain.

In principle it’s a good tactic. The public declaration should be enough of a motivation to make sure I stick to something, but the reality is that more often than not I fall short. I might stick to it for a couple of weeks, but then life will happen and that’s it, the idea slides out of existence. Why? Because of a lack of discipline.

When it comes to discipline I’ve generally been quite good when it comes to doing something that really matters, or something that I have to do. The trouble was when it came to doing something I wanted to do, like writing for this site. So as part of getting back into it, I’ve been taking little steps, to build integrity, trust and discipline.

Integrity

Building integrity with myself is critical. The number of times I’ve set out with an aim to do something, then not succeeded to do it are countless, and this carries over into starting new things. Whilst the intention and desire can be strong, the belief that I can do it less so. It’s been erroded by years of unfulfilled promises to myself about starting to write on a regular basis.

The trick, I’ve discovered is to start small. It’s not a new technique, but I testify that it’s starting to work. I started with The Week in Links, my weekly post sharing a few links to good articles or interesting things that I’ve seen around the internet over the week. As of the time of writing, I’ve now posted an edition of that post for nineteen weeks running. I’ve built integrity with myself that I can post to this site on a regular basis, on a schedule I decided and wanted to commit to.

Trust

Now I have built some integrity and belief that I can do something I want to do and not just something I have to do. I’m building trust in myself that I can actually do it. I trust that I can manage the rest of my day well enough, to be able to set aside time to write.

Discipline

The trust in myself that I can do this, builds the discipline that I need to actually do it. Having established a pattern of turning up each week to post The Week in Links, I’m now disciplined enough to carve out that time each week to make sure I keep doing it.

It’s a knock on effect, or maybe more of a circular cycle. The more belief that I have in sticking by my stated intentions, builds the trust I need to be able to make those intentions in the first place. In turn, that builds the discipline I need to execute those intentions, thus giving myself more belief. It’s why this week I’ve added another step into my morning routine so that I can be sat here at my desk and do a half hour of writing before my work day begins. Not only am I building trust that I can work on writing for my site with regularity, I’m also building trust that I can get up and go through my morning routine with the time to do all that I both want and need to do.

Of course there is another side to this. If I do miss one of my carved out writing slots, I must not give myself a hard time about it. Life happens and I won’t always get to do these things. When that’s the case I need to be able to say nevermind, reset and go again the next day remembering that for the past however many days I’ve been able to do it.

Barriers

Barriers are a strange thing. In the real world they exist to form a separation, a physical division between two things. They can be permanent or temporary, but they exist for a specific reason. Their purpose though, is always the same, to prevent you from going somewhere you shouldn’t.

In the mental world things are slightly different. Barriers exist of course, but for different reasons, though their purpose is similar to their real world counterparts, they stop you going somewhere or doing something. The trouble is, they aren’t physical and that makes them immeasurably harder to overcome.

Eighteen weeks ago I started posting a weekly article with a collection of links to interesting articles I’ve read during the week. I started it because I wanted to get back into writing for my blog. I thought having a regular post to commit to would remove the barrier that I seemed to have errected over the last couple of years. To a degree it’s worked, posting to my blog regularly has helped me to rebuild my interest in it, it’s helped me to establish a desire to post, but it hasn’t removed the barrier.

For the last few weeks I’ve started each week with the aim that this week would be the one that gets me writing a post a week. Several times I’ve drafted something, but each time I’ve failed to publish it. Fear seems to be the barrier preventing me from clicking that button. That little voice that says “No one will read it, no one really cares what you have to say” squarks away as my mouse hovers over the publish button.

So I’ve decided, this week is going to be the week that I breakdown that barrier. The little voice will be silenced and I will post an article every Wednesday from here on out. It is a challenge, but one I want. I have no idea what I will post about, but as Shawn Blanc says I have ideas it’s just a case of letting them grow and taking a bit of action on some of them, regardless of whether they are good or bad, as well as having a bit of courage to press publish at the end of it.

Let me make a note of that

Ever since I got my first iOS device, a 2nd generation iPod Touch, I’ve been on a quest to work out the best way to take notes. I’ve tried a shed load of different apps, Simplenote, Evernote, Notesy, the built in notes app, NVAlt… in fact if you can name it I’ve probably tried it. I’ve always read with interest articles on note taking setups, how people use them, how their go to app on their iPhone works so well for them, and I’ve always struggled to figure out how or why that is.

You see I’ve tried so many times to get into the habit of using an app, or a suite of apps, to make my notes in. But for whatever reason I’ve never been able to stick with one. I’ll go through a spell of forcing myself to use them, to form a habit so that my first thought is to use my phone or the Mac app, but they never stick. I can never get to the point where I can declare, so and so is my goto note writing app.

Except, now that I think about it, I can.

My goto for notes sits right beside me on my desk. In fact for the whole of my working life it’s sat right next to me on my desk, or in my back pocket. What’s it called?

Well it’s called paper, or a notebook, and I make my notes on it with a pen. Try as I might I can not break the habit of using a physical notebook to make my notes.

The habit stretches back to my school days. I always had a notebook, or the back of my exercise books, which I would doodle and scribble in. Then when I was 16 I started a Saturday job in a family run hardware store which further ingrained the habit. I always needed a piece of paper and a pen in my pocket, to make a note of measurements, stock numbers, phone numbers, delivery addresses, you name it and it was on my note paper.

Then when I started uni the habit continued, my sketch book was always with me. I’d use it to make note of ideas for projects, to record comments from crit sessions with my tutors and when I got the odd freelance job, to make notes from client meetings. The way I use my notebooks has barely changed since then. When I meet a client I take my notebook and my iPad, but it never feels natural to pull out my iPad to make notes (I use it to show work). It does however feel natural to pull out a pen and jot down some comments.

There’s something about the convenience of a notebook and pen that an app and my iPhone just can’t break. The technology, which on the surface presents a far more superior experience doens’t seem to be able to break the hold a nice notebook and pen has over me. With my iPhone I can make a note, I can tag it, it’s automatically dated and I can search to easily find what I need. It should be the best way of making notes. Except it isn’t.

Tapping out a note on my iPhone, just doesn’t give me the mental connection that I need when making a note of something. It may be less efficient, in the sense that it might take me a little longer to find a note because I can’t search for it, but I do (generally) remember where on the page I wrote it and over time I’ve developed little quirks to help make things stand out. Tasks get a little box to the left of them, if I think it’s important when I write it, it’ll either get a star or often a box drawn around it. Information gets segregated on the page by lines, but more often than not, the simple act of writing it down is enough to commit it to my memory. It’s something which, in this digital world we now live, I fear we will lose. Processing something in an analogue manner can have a far more lasting effect than doing something digitally.

There’s also something rather nostalgic about using a notebook and pen. I have every single notebook from my professional life as a designer on a shelf. I can pick them up and look back to a certain moment in time and have an instant connection. I can remember where I was, who I was with and what was going on in my life at the time. Some of them are all neat and look like they’ve barely been used from the outside. Most of them are nicely worn, weathered with age they bulge in the middle. But I think most importantly, they present a physical instance of the work I’ve done in my life. The vast majority of it is created on my Mac, sure some of it’s printed, but the ideas and beginnings of it all are in my notebooks. You don’t get that with a list of files on a computer screen, you don’t get little sketches or doodles that seemed like nothing at the time but which turned into a substantial piece of branding. The throw away moments that are so commonly created in a notebook don’t even get considered in a notes app. Those are the very moments I can’t give up, the very moments I won’t give up. They’re the very moments that bring the best out of me and my pen and notebook are the most powerful tools I own.

30 Things I’ve learned in 30 years

When the year turned 2014 I began to reflect on my life, who I am, where I am and what I’m doing. Why should a simple year change cause such a mood to dawn on me? At the end of September I turned 30, it also happened to mark the 10 year anniversary since I left home and moved to university here in Cheltenham. These are two significant events in my life that mark the beginning and end of the last decade, one which has been full of happy times and inevitably it’s fair share of low times. Rather than this become a telling of the story that has been my twenties, I thought it more productive to look at, if I can, thirty things I’ve learned in the last thirty years.

  1. Faith is important.
    Where you put it and in whom you put it has the biggest influence on your life and how you live it. Don’t waste it by putting it into things or people, they will only let you down. Instead, place it in Jesus, He is the only firm foundation that will never go away or let you down. My Faith has helped me through both the highs and lows of the last 10 years in a way which is incredibly hard to describe, but rest assured I will never place it in anything other than Christ.
  2. Family matters.
    In just over the last 10 years (I know I’m breaking the rules slightly) I’ve lost 4 grandparents, they are all missed greatly and especially so when big events occur. If you have grandparents spend time with them. Find out about their life before you existed, who they were, what their dreams were when they were your age. Listen to them and invest in them as much as you do your parents and brothers and sisters. One of the things I treasure most is a letter my Granddad wrote when I was 11 telling me his experiences of the 2nd World War. When I read it I learn as much about my Granddad in that letter as I did when he was alive to speak to.

  3. Friends.
    They will come and go, you will keep in touch with some, you will drift away from others, there’s often nothing you can do about this (although often there is). Make the most of them while you can, go out of your way to help them, support them in all they do and in any way you can. You may never know how much it means to them.

  4. It’s ok to be an introvert.
    I used to, in fact I sometimes still do, struggle with the fact that I am a naturally quiet person. At school, even at uni, I used to see people who can easily strike up a conversation with someone they’ve never met before and feel like there was something wrong with me because I find it so hard to do. It’s taken many years, a lot of reading and thinking, but the realisation that I get my energy from deeper friendships and not from a room full of strangers has been incredibly freeing. The trick is to not let this become a crutch when in a room full of strangers, I still need to work on stepping out my comfort zone, but at least I know what that zone is.

  5. Don’t be afraid to tell your friends what they don’t want to hear and don’t be offended if they don’t take it on board
    My best mate has never shied away from giving the kind of advice I don’t want to hear. I’ve not always acted on it, but on reflection months later I often find it was very good advice. I hope I’ve returned the favour.

  6. Be vulnerable
    I don’t mean go spilling your heart out for all and sundry, but getting to know people properly means you have to be vulnerable. It sometimes means sharing elements of your life you may not be very proud of, but it means your friends will be able to support you in ways you really need, and it means you’ll find out who your friends really are.

  7. Smile
    Don’t be so wrapped up in your own world that if you randomly make eye contact with someone you panic and look away. Instead, smile. Not a forced one, a genuine one. It’ll make people feel like they matter and that they’re not a repulsive monster.

  8. Work isn’t the be all and end all that people make it out to be
    If you’re happy in it great, keep going. If you’re not, put your all into it no matter how down you feel about it. You will probably meet more people through work than through anything else in your life and people can tell if you don’t like your work, but people can tell more if you don’t like it and don’t care about it.

  9. Time Alone
    I’m not being anti-social when I disappear off to my room/office. Time alone is incredibly valuable, too much of it can be a bad thing, but not enough of it can be very dangerous. It’s ok to want to just spend time alone, doing my own thing. In fact I crave it sometimes, and when I don’t get it I can be touchy, cranky, less enthusiastic about things and just generally drained.

  10. Not Knowing is OK
    It’s ok to not know where you’re going. The world is full of people who give the impression they know exactly what they’re doing and where they’re going. Reality is they’re probably just as lost as you are and just bumbling along in a slightly more concealed way than you feel you are.

  11. Having a Plan is OK
    Expecting that plan to work out exactly how you want it to and the world to be a nice fairy tale ending isn’t. That plan you had for your life at the age of 20 is very unlikely to work out, that’s ok. Recognising you are not as in control as you think you are is a good thing. Surrendering to God and his plan is even better. Often it will take a big event to make you realise this, but it will bring you out the other side in a better position.

  12. Don’t be too introspective
    I realise this one is somewhat ironic coming from a guy who is looking back at his life and inward at himself as he reaches what feels like a significant milestone. It is important to reflect on life, the universe and everything, but doing it too often is a bad thing. It sets you up for failure as you inevitably compare yourself to your friends, the plan you had when you were 20… we are broken people and we naturally look at the negative in these circumstances. For every introspective moment, take a minute to look at the now, you’re healthy, God has blessed you with another day on his beautiful creation, you have people you care about and who care about you. Dwell on that for a moment, then go and enjoy the day.

  13. Trust
    Trust people. This is, on some level, linked with point 6. You can not be vulnerable with people you don’t trust, but equally you can not get to the point of vulnerability without trusting someone first. So trust people. Don’t be naive, there are people out there who will abuse your trust to get something they want. In my experience, you’ll work out who they are before it’s too late and the ones you don’t, you’ll learn a lot from. In those cases it will be painful for a while after, but in the long run probably worth it.

  14. Don’t let fear beat you
    That girl you’ve got your eye on, go speak to her. Don’t let the fear of what might happen, or the fear of failing stop you from doing things. Stop thinking of the negative what if’s and focus on the positives. Go, do and learn. This isn’t easy. In fact of all the things in this list it’s probably the thing I struggle with most and it’s also probably the thing I get most frustrated about because I have no clue how to beat it.

  15. Be disciplined
    You’ll never get what you want done in life without being disciplined in some way. Without a bit of discipline you’ll spend most of your time doing what’s easy.

  16. Read
    When I was growing up I used to read a lot. When I got to my twenties what I was reading changed from books to websites. The last couple of years I’ve been actively trying to reverse that change. I still read blogs, but I’m picky about which ones and I make a lot more effort to read books (and my bible). Books have more substance. They’ve taken hundreds of hours to write, been refined over and are written by people who are experts about the topic they’re on.

  17. Think
    Think about things. Think about topics of importance, take time to dwell on them and to understand them.

  18. Don’t apologise for who you are
    You’re who you are because God made you that way, don’t be ashamed of that. I’m thirty and have grey hair. I’ve never once, despite the recommendations of some of the youth I’ve worked with on beach mission in Wales, been tempted to dye it. God made me and He said I was “very good”. Why would I try and change that?

  19. Drink lots of water
    The last couple of months I’ve consciously been trying to drink more water. It’s had an interesting effect, I’ve felt more alert and able to concentrate much better. My skin has been clearer and I’ve lost weight as well.

  20. Stop checking Facebook at every available opportunity
    Just don’t. Your life will be better off without the constant stream of people filtering their lives to make themselves feel better.

  21. Keep a journal
    I wish someone had encouraged me at the age of 20 to keep a near daily journal. There have been several spells over the last few years where I’ve kept a journal. Most of those times have been to help me through difficult times. One day I might read them, but I’d much rather read them and be reminded of happy times and fun times that will help me when I’m going through the difficult times.

  22. Speak to your friends
    That might seem like something that goes without saying, but bare with me. We live in a world that relies on technology so much that it’s tempting to fall into the trap that it’s the best method of communication. My best mate lives 4 hours drive away, in fact for the 9 years that I’ve known him we’ve only lived in the same place for 2 years. Had we just relied on technology (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the odd text) to keep in touch we likely wouldn’t still be the friends we are. Friendships can only be maintained over a distance by putting in effort to speak regularly. Pick up the phone and give your friends a call. Speak to them.

  23. Laugh
    Find people who make you laugh. Find people who will laugh with (at) you when you do something stupid. Find people who will do things stupid that you can laugh with (at).

  24. Exercise
    Don’t just sit on your backside all day, get the endorphins going. Get on your bike, go for a run, walk really quick, whatever, just exercise.

  25. Pray
    You spend time with friends, so spend time with God.

  26. Have perspective
    Don’t just look down at your feet. If you’re so focussed on the now, you’ll forget what’s been and miss what’s to come.

Look up. Look back. Look forward.

This was the phrase I ended the student bible study with last week. Look up at God because you belong to Him for He bought you at great cost. Look back at Christ and remember what He did for you on the cross. Look forward to the day when Christ will return in glory.

  1. Sleep
    Get enough sleep. If I don’t get enough sleep I get tired (well duh). I can’t concentrate on my work, I lose focus when talking to friends, it affects me in many other ways and I see it in others as well.

  2. Organise yourself
    Make lists or use a todo app, but do whatever it takes for you to be organised. You’ll never do all the things you want to do if you don’t know what you’ve got to do.

  3. Shoulders back, head up
    It’s amazing how many people I see walking down the street looking at the ground or staring at their phones. Get your shoulders back and your head up, be confidant and move with purpose, the very least it will do is make you feel confidant. It also means those people with clipboards are less likely to bother you.

  4. Listen
    Be willing to listen to other people’s thoughts and opinions, especially if they are opposite to yours. Show respect to what they are saying and they will show respect to you when you share your opinion. Never shut people down with a blanket statement that dismisses their opinion as wrong and closes down any discussion, it is neither productive nor constructive.

Fresh Start

It dawned on me today that I’ve been writing a blog, in one form or another, for the last 8 years. Initially, I was full of the youthful enthusiasm of someone who had just discovered the medium, I could easily sit down at my Mac and within half an hour have published a new post. Within a few months I had found a number of other bloggers who wrote with a little more quality than I did and with a little more discernment when it came to topics they wrote about. They had built a bit of a larger audience than I had, but with some their encouragement I pushed on regardless. By the time I graduated university in 2007 I had built an audience of around 300 subscribers.

It was a decent number of subscribers, but bore an unfortunate consequence. The number of subscribers caused me to stop enjoying my blog. I wanted to provide value to my readers, say profound things. I felt I needed to bring a focus to my blog in order to do that and I began applying pressure to myself. Eventually falling into the beliefs that the posts I was writing weren’t good enough.

Things dried up and I stopped writing until my blog eventually died.

Since then I’ve been trying to regain the blogging vigour I had when I first started. I just can’t seem to shake the pressure that what I write has to be amazing. I haven’t been able to break the fear of posting to my blog.

I’ve even made things more complicated. When I first started blogging, I would just write whatever came into my head. It would get a tag or two and then be posted. But when I started to struggle I began to seek out solutions to make posting easier. I added linked list posts, so I could just post a link and a little bit of commentary. Then I added quotes, and soon after photos. But it never really worked, rather than making things easier, I had really just added a level of complexity that I didn’t need.

When I started working for myself, I thought I would quickly begin blogging again. I hoped I would be able to add another creative outlet, one that I had once found so valuable. The trouble was, I didn’t know what the blog was for. Was it for my business or was it personal. It had my name on the domain but I wanted it to grow so that awareness of my business would grow. Consequently nothing really changed and, despite a few spells of posting links, it’s largely sat dormant.

Starting again

Over the last two months I’ve finally started to use an app that’s been on my iPhone for most of the last two years. I’ve begun to use Day One in a way that has bought me to a place that I want to write. Almost every evening for the last 2 months I’ve written an entry in Day One that has been tagged “3 Things”. Each post consists of 3 things that I’m thankful for from the day that has just passed. Occasionally the entries get an image, sometimes they get expanded on and I add some thoughts about whatever I’m thinking through at the time. One thing that it has helped me with, is finding that I’m starting to enjoy writing again. Starting to want to blog once again.

It’s with this in mind, that I find myself here. Starting again.

I’ve reset my blog. Gone is the archive of posts that are made up largely of links. Gone are the multiple categories and post types along with the complicated theme they needed to look different. Gone are any other bits of cruft that have built up over the years. Instead, posts are now posts, categories don’t exist and posts will likely be tagged. The site structure is simple, there’s the home page and the posts. An archive and an about page will follow at some point, but for now there are just posts. The theme is simple and clean, designed to be read and for any photos in the posts to look good.

In some ways it’s a sad and disappointing move. I’ve deleted an archive of work that has taken a few years to build up. But I needed to take away the burden of expectation, I didn’t want anything to feel like it didn’t fit what had come before it. I didn’t want a barrier to my blog and it felt like my blog itself had become that very thing.

So this is the new PhilBowell.com, it’s my blog and if you’ve made it to the end of this post I’d like to say thanks for your time hope to see you again soon.

Resolutions and Intentions

At the start of every year, I, along with millions of others around the world, make resolutions. We decide, often quite flippantly, to do certain things. It could be to change a habit, lose weight, or to get fitter and just “be healthier”. But 99% of the time they are lofty goals that last only a couple of weeks, a month or maybe six weeks if you really try hard, but they rarely last.

As I began thinking about my resolutions for the year, I made my usual trip to the dictionary for a definition.

res·o·lu·tion
noun
• a firm decision to do or not to do something.
• a formal expression of opinion or intention agreed on by a legislative body, committee, or other formal meeting, typically after taking a vote.
• the quality of being determined or resolute.

It struck me that a resolution is much more than the lofty ambitions we make at the start of each year. They are intentional. A committee will not vote a formal resolution into place without having a firm intention to follow through with it. Yet very often we determine what our new year’s resolutions will be simply by a fleeting desire or a momentary decision. We base them on nothing more than what we think is going to be a beneficial thing for us to do. We’re not intentional in our thoughts and often do not stand firmly behind our decisions, evidenced by the same resolutions recurring year after year. In stark contrast, a real resolution is intended, it has purpose, it is designed.

in·tent
noun
• something that is intended; purpose; design;

A resolution is pointless if we have not considered why. Why do we want to get up earlier? Why do we want to use our time better? Why do we want to be fitter? All of these are good things but why do we want to do them? If we decide to do these things without thinking about the real purpose, they will never stick.

To make them stick, we must go further than think about why we want to do them. Once we have a firm motivation in place, we must design that resolution using our motivation as a basis. As it says in Proverbs chapter 14 and verse 15:

“A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.”

If we resolve to just do something without thought we not only waste time, we waste our intentions and we waste energy. It’s hard enough to gain momentum when beginning a new thing that has a clear motivation, but gaining momentum on something without a clear aim or goal? That’s likely to end in a failure which has an impact on other plans we make. Once we are discouraged by something it’s very hard to recover the confidence and enthusiasm that we need to start something. The memory of failing at one thing lingers at the back of our minds and saps at what little confidence or belief we have about the new thing.

If you’re reading this as it approaches the second half of January, and you’re struggling to stick to the resolutions you made only a couple of weeks ago, I encourage you to stop for a moment and ask yourself why you wanted to do them in the first place. If you can’t find a concrete answer, maybe it’s time to reconsider. So many times I’ve heard someone declare they want to do something, but because of a lack of a defined destination they struggle, become discouraged and lose all motivation. A complete waste of that initially well placed intention. Don’t waste that limited supply of energy you have trying to build momentum behind something that’s just a shallow thought. Instead put it into a resolution that has a destination, something that has value.

Because it comes down to our own choices. Are we going to spend our time the way we want to or not? Are we going to do the work we say we want to do or not? Intentions are dandy, but real men get to work.

Shawn Blanc

Choices

Do you like to shave?

I like to shave.

Ask most men my age, their late twenties, that question and its usually met with a snort. An upturned lip. A look that says “are you serious?” without words passing their lips.

In fact if you asked me that question a few years ago I would’ve responded in much the same way.

So what changed I hear you say? My approach changed. When I moved into a flat to live on my own for the first time I became much more aware of how I spent my money, every penny suddenly counted much more than it ever had. Spending several pounds on a can of shaving gel had to stop. So I bought a cheap shaving brush and a puck of soap that I knew would last far longer than the shaving gel ever had.

That small change began something. Since it took me a bit longer to have a shave I started to relax, to take my time with it. I began to see shaving as a time to pamper myself and relax. I started to enjoy it.

Fast forward a couple of years, and although I’ve had an electric razor for quick shaves during the week, I’ve always enjoyed my Saturday morning wet shave. Once again an awareness of how I spend my money has prompted another change in my shaving set up. I ran out of cartridges for my Mach 3 and on going to buy some new ones, the cost floored me. I can’t spend £13 on 8 razor heads which will last me only a couple of months before threatening to pull the skin off my face.

I took to Amazon to find out if they were cheaper, they weren’t, but one of their handy suggestions based on other peoples purchasing habits was. I’m not talking slightly either, I’m talking £9 for 100 blades. A grand total of 9p per blade and according to the internet (means it’s true right?), each blade should last me 5 or 6 shaves. That’s about 2p per shave. So I took the next step in my shaving career and bought a double edged safety razor for £20. That means in just over 6 months I’ll be saving money and in 2 years time I’ll still be using the same pack of blades. Brilliant.

But do you know what’s even more brilliant?

I enjoy shaving even more now. I have to take even more time with it, making two or three passes over my face. I’ve had to relearn how to make a lather, turns out I was doing it wrong but the Mach 3 didn’t show it up. In fact I’ve had to relearn how to shave entirely, but it hasn’t been a chore. I now shave 3 times a week, using similar tools to my Granddad who I remember getting up early to shave in the kitchen sink. He used to take his time, I never understood why.

I do now.

Shaving isn’t a chore. It’s a relaxing, soothing treat, and a great way to start the day, or finish it if you’ve had particularly stressful one. In fact it’s more than that. It’s a pause, a moment in time where I’m not thinking about anything else (I tried it once; blood everywhere), it’s an opportunity to give my mind a rest and just enjoy the moment.

Less ›

It is expensive in the moment, but not in the long term. The reason is twofold; I’ll take more time to make a decision, and sometimes that means not making a purchase at all. And of course, if you buy quality, it lasts. Both factors reduce your consumption.

Great thoughts from Chris Bowler on buying less and the reasons behind it. I try to make my purchases count, for the reason of quality and in the long run its a wiser use of my money.

Entitlement ›

Shipping something is difficult. Shipping something is like setting a platter of precious glassware on the edge of a razor-thin knife. Shipping is an action that flirts with risk and failure.

I struggled to decide which bit of this excellent piece by Aaron to quote, but as someone who is now self employed this bit struck me the most. I suggest you read the whole thing.

The One Where I Announce I’m Now Self Employed

There are some posts you dream about writing, posts you’d love to write but never think you actually will. This is one of those posts.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about change. Changing the way I approached something has lead to exciting guidance and a big change in my career.

It started with a conversation with two very good friends of mine. One asked how work was, then followed it up with a query about what I really wanted to do. The other laughed, asked me a question, set me a challenge and then held me to it. That question lead me to writing the last post about a change of approach, a change which, thanks to Gods guidance is leading to a leap of faith.

What’s the leap?

On Friday 3rd August I worked my last day in full time employment and spent my last day living in sunny (!?) Slough. The following day I moved to Cheltenham, again. A place I attended university and a place that I love being in.

With that move came a change of employment. I am no longer a rat running a race, but instead a man working as a business owner. I’ve finally taken the leap into self employment. Relying on the Lord to supply me with enough work to put food in my stomach and to pay the bills.

For a long time it’s been my ambition to work for myself, even while I was studying at Uni I knew ultimately I wanted to have my own design studio. It nearly happened straight after Uni after a little encouragement from my tutor, but I knew it wasn’t really the right time. There was a lot I still had to learn, well let’s face it there still is. I’ve now been in full time employment for 5 years. I’ve grown a lot, I’ve changed a lot and I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve experienced working for a small company and I’ve experienced working for a larger company. Both were good experiences that taught me many different things, but underneath there was always this desire to have my own company bubbling away.

I’m delighted to say that has now happened. I’ve had a little holiday, moved to a new (old) place and am at the end of my first week of self employment. It’s exciting, a little daunting but feels like the best decision I’ve made. Except that I didn’t make it, God showed me the door and I pushed it. Now I’ve got to continue pushing doors, keep faithful to Him, and work as hard as I can.

In the next couple of weeks I’ll be able to introduce you to a new name and a new website. Of course this place will still exist and I hope to increase the level of writing, and hopefully build on some friendships that I’ve established through my blog over the years. It’s an exciting adventure, I hope you’ll join me on it!

If we listened to our intellect we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go in business because we’d be cynical: “It’s gonna go wrong.” Or “She’s going to hurt me.” Or, “I’ve had a couple of bad love affairs, so therefore …” Well, that’s nonsense. You’re going to miss life. You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.

Ray Bradbury

(Via Iain Broome.)

If we listened to our intellect we’d never have a…

I Miss My Cave

man cave
noun Informal .
a room or other area in a home that is primarily a male sanctuary, designed and furnished to accommodate the man’s recreational activities, hobbies, etc.

Dictionery.com

During my latter years at school while studying my GCSEs and A Levels I began to understand the need for a cave. Of course still being at school and living at home I had a ready made one – my bedroom.

As a teenager in the early days of developing an interest in design, that cave allowed me to create the atmosphere I needed to work. I had a drawing table set up where I would work on creative pieces and study for my exams. It had a light that bent over me shining a focused beam on my work space and plunging the rest of the room into darkness. I had some of my most productive evenings at that table. In fact I have long standing memories of working on my graphics coursework close to a deadline with the masters snooker on my little tv and that light beaming a zone of creativity onto my table.

Moving to uni I again had my own ready made cave. The room in my halls of residence quickly became the place for all my creative work. Angle poise shining on my desk, laptop on, a dark room and momentum building music on late in to the night. Then the bedroom in my shared house in the final two years at uni and the first year in employment had a similar feel, but replacing my laptop with my iMac.

I miss those caves.

Since I’ve been living on my own I’ve not really had a cave. A flat with a living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom doesn’t really lend itself to creating one. The living room is a place for relaxing, eating and hosting visitors. The bedroom is for sleeping and relaxing, I need it to be purely for that else I’ll never shut down properly to sleep.

The quest for a cave

Since I’ve no space for a desk and no closet I could convert into a cave I’ve been exploring ways to create an environment that can be quickly and easily set up, then easily removed when I have visitors.

I’ve always tried to zone my living room so that I have a lounge area and a dining area. The dining area is the only bit of my flat that I can sit down and do work at and so it’s become the centre of my quest for a cave.

The table lamp which used to sit on my dining table has been removed and replaced with my angle poise. My laptop now has a home on the table and my wired Apple keyboard and Logitech mouse have come out of storage. All of them can be quickly packed away when visitors are around and for the first time in a few years I’ve been able to begin creating that cave like atmosphere as I work by the light of my angle poise. I can even do it with my iPad instead of the laptop should I wish.

Whilst it’s not quite the same as a permanent cave, it’s a step in the right direction until I’m able to afford a place with room for a permanent cave. Most importantly it’s already having an impact on the way I’m working in the evenings on my own projects as well as on personal freelance clients.

But the lesson that I’ve learnt, in this little exercise is that actually it’s not necessarily about having a physical space, it’s about atmosphere. In order to foster creativity I need the right atmosphere, a permanent place makes that easy to create but the quest for my cave isn’t really for a physical space at the moment. It’s about a way for me to recreate the atmosphere of my early and original caves. It’s about developing a method that allows me to quickly set up at my dining table and focus. Events over the last few weeks have caused me to realise specifically that by my very nature I’m a night owl and not an early bird. Maybe that has something to do with my atmosphere…

I think I would be more approving if someone told me that I’m “developing as a photographer” as oppose to stating that I’m talented because that would at least take into account the fact that I’m “developing” as a result of all the work that I do on my end but that you rarely see or hear about.

Jorge Quinteros on The Topic of Talent.

The Topic of Talent

Reading Stories, Food for the Imagination

I work as a graphic designer. Like many other folks in my profession I find it hard to turn off. I may not be thinking about projects from work all the time, but I’m always thinking about projects I’d like to do or reviewing the things I see all around me. I see every piece of design and mentally critic it, 99% of the time I’m not even aware I’m doing it, but it’s there, almost like a 6th sense wondering what questions the designer faced.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sat in a restaurant looking at the menu only to realise I’m not looking at what’s on offer but the way it’s been typeset. What font did they use? What does it make me think of the restaurant? Does it make the food I’m reading about sound even tastier or does it make me think I’ll be left wanting more? Does the menu fit the surroundings or does it just feel like a designer somewhere threw it together because he didn’t get a proper brief?

It’s a pretty constant state of affairs. Right now I’m glancing at the empty can of San Miguel thats sitting on the dining table. Does it look like the taste? Does it make me want to lie on a hot beach in Spain? What the heck has a ship got to do with beer? Why did the designer pick gold as the main can colour and break away from the green and white that used to be there?

I can’t turn it off, and many a time I’ve amused good friends as I verbalise my critique.

Unfortunately relaxing is made all the more harder by it. I read to do my relaxing, mostly the blogs of a select few but they’re people who I’ve come to trust. I trust that the links they post are to interesting content, articles that can lead me on a chase around the internet looking at websites, new websites. Websites that start the inner critic on it’s familiar chain of questions. Questions that lead me to find another way of reading.

Books.

Mostly made of paper that smell of ink and aren’t displayed on a screen. However, in this age of constant stream of information that feeds a thirst for knowledge, growth and understanding, I find I need a book that doesn’t make me think too much. There’s no point going to bed to read only to lie in bed for hours thinking about the chapter I just read and the challenges or knowledge it imparts. I need a good story. Something that will make me keep turning the pages, compelling me to read. So it is with great joy in the last year or so that I’ve discovered an author I enjoy, one that draws me to read rather than watch inane tv shows.

It’s not the novels that I write this about though, it’s the impact they have on me. As well as helping me relax, they force me to use my imagination. When reading about the unravelling story I’m forced to imagine the scene, what people look like and where they are. I’m forced to stop asking the questions I ask all day long as I review and work on the various projects I have on the go. That time away from questioning and evaluating can only have one impact as far as I’m concerned, that is, to make my work better. Having time to just imagine frees me from the constraints that are so often put in place when working. They may be imposed on me by the projects, or by the presssures I put on my self, but the more I read and use my imagination in a completely unattached manner. The more creative I feel, the more my imagination is fed the more easily I find work.

In a time when the people around me seem to read more than they ever did, I seem to be the only person among my friends who reads novels. I’d like to encourage you to start. Take a short story and read it. Start small and find something that feeds your imagination, a story which gives it new life and see what impact it has on your work.

It’s Just Stuff — Shawn Blanc ›

We live in a world so lost in what it consumes that many people find themselves continually trying to define who they are by the stuff they own. Something so deftly summed up by Shawn in his post:

Instead, look at how he (or she) treats his family. What is his character like? Look at his relationships and his beliefs and how he spends his time. These things — the metaphysical, the intangible — they are the true extension of the soul.

Wecloming 2012 and Setting a Few Targets

It’s that time once again when many people are posting reviews of the year just passed. I always enjoy reading these posts, seeing the people I follow who have achieved all that or more than they hoped to whilst hoping those who didn’t are able to in the coming year. I’m always drawn to writing something myself, and whilst my last year contains many highlights – my trip to Israel, a summer in North Wales and a deepening of friendships that have become increasingly valuable – I always feel somewhat hesitant to “review my year”.

I think the heart of that hesitancy lies solely in my feeling of a lack of accomplishment. I never feel I’ve achieved anything worth writing about or highlighting. I call it the curse of the Internet. It’s so easy to spend time looking and comparing what I’ve done to all the people who have achieved a great deal, all the people who’ve had the guts to sit down work hard and put themselves out there. I’m always left reeling at, what feels like, my complete lack of gumption.

I am learning though. Learning to not let that fear of failure or fear of no one noticing be the reason to stop myself from doing the things I want to. Thats why I’m writing this post, to set out three small targets to try and set me on my way this year. I think they are all achievable and am hoping they will set me on my way to accomplish something this year.

In the last year I’ve put weight on. Some people will argue that I needed to, I’ve always been a bit skinny, but in the last year I’ve put on a little too much. I weighed myself over the Christmas holidays and well the number at the start was too high. My first mission is to lose a stone in weight by exercising more regularly and cutting out those little treats which have snuck into my diet.

The past couple of years has seen my blog fall in to decline, significantly. I’ve always enjoyed writing for my blog, but the past couple of years has seen a lot of things change in my life and it didn’t feel right to be writing about them here. Nor did it seem right to continue writing about things which on reflection are quite trivial when compared to the loss of loved ones. But time is moving on, and I feel that it is time to pick up my pen once again and begin writing for my blog with more regularity. I realise I’ve said this before, and it’s gotten past January, February and into March before I’ve really realised I’ve not done anything I’d hoped to, so I’ve given myself a number to aim for. I’m going to try to write four posts a month. Not four link posts, but four article posts, although I hesitate to call them articles. There’ll be no word count, just original content, content I create because I want to and enjoy it.

The third thing I want to do is a little more open ended and probably something that everyone hopes to do. I’d like to use my time to greater effect.

I’ve always been a night owl, I like staying up late, the quiet cosiness of being up late with a small light on and my book, sketch book or Mac for company feels great. The problem is when you have a nine to five job that kind of behaviour is not really helpful. Hitting the sack in the early hours of the morning and then rising only a few hours later to go to work is a recipe for disaster. Burning the candle at both ends only really has one destination for me, running myself in to the ground and an onslaught of mouth ulcers. So in order to combat this tendency to waste my time, I’m resolving to give my self a bed time and get up earlier. My aim is to be up at six each morning in order to do a half hour of exercises, then spend time reading my bible, praying and whatever is left can be spent writing.

Re-reading that last paragraph makes it feel like a pretty big task, but I think knuckling down and doing it will help me to achieve the other two points. More than that though, having a set time to sit and read my bible without distraction will be the biggest benefit of all.

I’ve always admired those who are able to get up early and spend some time each morning to do this. While I’m away in North Wales for two weeks every year, I spend time leading a children’s holiday club. When I’m there, life is so different to my everyday life that I’m able to easily get up early and spend time each morning reading from the word. I’ve become acutely aware in the last few weeks that it’s all down to a matter of attitude. I’m so aware of how important it is in those two weeks to devote my time in such a manner, that it’s time to change my attitude and devote that time every morning rather than in the evenings when I find it harder to concentrate and often run out of time. It’s something that I enjoy, but often feel a need to do out of duty, yet, when I set time aside I’ve seen the benefits in my life and my relationship with Jesus. I want to do it more and so this attempt to change my sleeping patterns is motivated by that desire.

And so with that, please join me in raising my hot blackcurrent to 2012 and all it has in stall!

In Search Of Flow

Like most of the world, the arrival of an iPad in my life has meant a lot of my established routines and behaviours have changed. I’m no longer setting up camp on my sofa with my MacBook Pro to spend some time reading RSS feeds and going where the links take me, instead this time is being spent using my iPad. I find I’m using my MacBook Pro a lot less than I used too, that’s not necessarily a negative thing though, as the time that I do spend on my MacBook Pro is much more meaningful than it used to be. I’m finding myself going through a shift in mindset as I’m more focused when I sit down with my Mac and don’t find myself drawn to the likes of Twitter and Reeder. My productivity has increased, which can only be a good thing as I gradually pick up more freelancing work. The work that I am doing has become more meaningful, that is with one exception. Here.

The blog. It’s slipped and largely because of my shift in behaviour. Most of my blogging revolved around reading interesting articles and curating them on my site. This then drove me to write longer form content when I wanted and when something attracted me sufficiently. I now find myself both linking less and writing less. Not good.

Reading a Ton More

I follow a lot of very good blogs, most of the things I read are on the internet and since getting my iPad Instapaper has really come in to it’s own. Shawn Blanc nailed it when he wrote

So in short, Instapaper is the best way to read the Internet. And the iPad app … is the best way to read your Instapaper articles.

The trouble is, if a large portion of your reading material comes from the internet, the desire to share increases. It’s so easy in today’s world to share something to Twitter or Facebook, but if you want to add a little commentary to that link and share it on your blog, well it’s a little trickier. On the Mac I can hit Cmd-1 and MarsEdit will fire up with the link pre-populated and any selected text quoted. On the iPad, thats not so easy. Theres no MarsEdit for iPad and well, quite frankly, the iOS WordPress app sucks and copy & pasting back and forth between apps isn’t the easiest or quickest way of doing things. Put quite simply the barrier to entry for posting on the iPad was too high.

So what’s the big deal? Well, like many people I like to write. I don’t consider myself a writer but one of the reasons I started blogging was to give myself another creative outlet; a place to stretch muscles that don’t necessarily get stretched all that much; a place to, should I need, release a little about topics that don’t necessarily interest my friends.

I miss it.

The trouble is I don’t really know where to begin, and so in my usual manner I began to problem solve. The conclusion I reached? I find it easier to write when I have a reasonably steady flow of things going through the blog. Some momentum. The best and easiest way of creating that momentum, or generating flow, is by curating links and pointing people to other well written and interesting content.

For once my thinking on this subject seemed to coincide with some other folk on the internet. Shawn Blanc and Benjamin Brooks touched on this recently in The B&B Podcast. When they visit a site they want to see articles before they will begin to measure if you are worth following. Something I agree with quite strongly, if there is a good article on a site I visit I will take note, if there are a couple in close succession, chances are you’ll end up in my feed reader. But if there are large gaps between articles and nothing else posted it makes a site feel stagnated, a stagnation I feel has begun to develop here. I want my site to feel alive and the best way to do that is to write regularly, and, because I’m out of practice the best way to break a cycle of not posting is to link to others. It’s not and nor should it be the sole purpose, but an active site is a cared for site and a cared for site usually brings good content.

Beginnings of a Redesign

Seeking out an easier way of building that flow led me down the path to the beginnings of a redesign. I needed an easy way to share links on the blog.

So to help me begin to develop this flow I’ve made a few changes to the site. A slight facelift which aligns to a grid but really is a framework for the future and has allowed me to make a couple of adjustments to the behaviour of my links. For those of you who have noticed the titles of the links now point straight to the site I’m linking too, so rather than including the link in the text as I’ve done in the past I’m now free to just include my thoughts. It leads to a more streamlined way of posting from both the iPad and my Mac.

Thanks to Ben Brooks’ adjusted bookmarklet and the plugins that it requires I can now post more easily to the site. The pace isn’t quite what I’d like it to be but it’s developing and my hope is that I can pay more attention in the long run and begin to write my own articles with a little more regularity than the sporadic posting that I seem to have settled into.