After my posts and thinking about discipline last week, on Sunday I decided to order Habits of Grace by David Mathis. It arrived yesterday and the study guide that goes with it is set to arrive either tomorrow or Friday.
It’s a book that’s been on my radar for a while both for it’s subject matter, and if I’m being honest, it’s design. I’ve resisted buying it in the past because I’m aware I already have a large pile of books to I’ve yet to read, but having spent some time in prayer, reading, and thinking around this subject I decided it was time to get my finger out and order it.
I’m looking forward to diving in over the next month, all to often it’s easy to start grinding things like discipline in terms of hobbies and passions. As a Christian grounding the desire for discipline and self control in God and my faith is of far greater importance. Doing that is far easier to say than it is to do, and so I’m hoping that this book, along with building momentum by writing here on my blog will help that muscle of discipline grow into more areas of my life.
Work/Life balance is a thing many of us struggle with. I know when I was 100% self-employed it was the thing I struggled with most, there was always something I felt I should be doing. Whilst many people claim that doing what you love means you have a perfect work/life balance that seems far to idealistic to me. Work is work, whether we love what we do or not and we need a good balance between it and the rest of our lives.
It seems Haptic Architects have that same awareness, and so I was interested to read about the Benefits of the Scandinavian Work/Life Balance that they have implemented in their design studios. It seems a healthy approach to work and demonstrates a real awareness and care towards their employees.
Back in January 2015 when I realised I was ill, and consequently started a course of antidepressants, many people encouraged me to exercise. I had been a keen cyclist and they encouraged me to keep at it and get out on my bike as much as I could. I was told, and in fact read many times, that exercise was a great way of countering some of the symptoms of depression. My issue was that the thought of going out on my bike caused me anxiety and stress, both things which I was trying to avoid and so I dismissed the notion as not for me. Nearly two and a half years later I’m starting to understand a little of what the mysterious they were talking about.
About a month ago I moved into a new flat, one which I’m living in on my own, it’s great to have my own space again. As a consequence of that move I’ve been doing a lot more walking. It’s located in such a place that I can walk to pretty much everywhere I need to go on a regular basis. I can walk to my shifts at the coffee house, my church, a couple of supermarkets, as well as the centre of town, and I’ve been doing that as much as is practically possible. It’s become a time that I enjoy, an opportunity to pop my headphones in and listen to some music or catch up on a few podcasts.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve begun to notice something, when I don’t get my daily walks in my mood suffers. The realisation has come home to roost this bank holiday weekend. On Saturday and Monday I didn’t really go out. I stayed home in my flat tinkering on my websites, making a few adjustments, watching some TV shows, what most people call relaxing. And it has been just that, but today I noticed the heaviness creeping in, it made me realise what effect going out for a walk has on me.
It’s not just the small amount of exercise that a brisk walk provides that I’ve missed today, it’s the intentionality of going for a walk. Instead of the day just passing by, the act of walking to work is intentional and provides an element of structure to my day. I need to schedule in the time for my walk to work otherwise I won’t get there on time letting people down. It helps that my walk to work is a pleasant one down an old railway line, that’s what’s in the photo at the top of this post, for a moment I can be lost in the wonder of looking at the trees and greenery as I walk. It provides a chance to look at God’s creation and see how the same place changes from day to day. It’s a chance to walk and listen to some new music or the latest podcasts, in my own little world that’s outside in the wider world. It’s a chance to pop the headphones out and walk listening to the birds and rustling of the trees. When the sun’s out it’s especially enjoyable, but even on a rainy day I look forward to my walk to work.
Almost by accident I’ve discovered that the act of walking to work provides me with a moment of calm. In that walk there is nothing I can do for my design business, nothing I need to do for my coffee house shift, no tweets or Instagram photos to catch up on (unless I want to walk into my fellow walkers or be run over by the many cyclists), I can just enjoy the simple act of walking.
There’s been a lot of talk on the internet circles I follow about focus and deep work. They’re thought provoking and often resonate with me, but there’s one thing I’ve been struggling to reconcile in it all. The focus of all these discussions is usually aimed at putting your individual desires first, which doesn’t really jive with my Christian beliefs.
Chris Bowler, in his excellently considered article Deep Prayer > Deep Work, seems to demonstrate I’m not alone. In doing so he seems to capture exactly how this kind of thinking should be influencing my approach to my faith.
But over and over, I come back to the fact that while Newport’s concept of increasing our ability to focus is crucial to a successful career, it’s even more crucial to a successful Christian life. One that is lived attuned to the Spirit. One that is carefully watching to see where God is working, then ready and willing to join him in it.
As I sit writing this the BBC are showing their roundup video of the Rio Olympics. Normally when it comes to the Olympics I’m pretty glued to it for the few weeks that it runs. This year, maybe due to the time difference, it took a week or so for me to get in to it.
It was only when the track cycling came on and Team GB started to win medals that I started to watch. The success of the British team on this field is mind-blowing, every four years the team hits form perfectly and brings home gold medal after gold medal. Similarly, the success of the Brownlee brothers in the Triathlon, so consistent year after year resulting this year in the first triathlete to retain the gold medal. Then there’s Andy Murray, only weeks after winning Wimbledon, retaining his gold medal. Not to mention the many other athletes who’ve won medals for Team GB, helping us as a nation to finish second in the medal table.
Most years by the end of the games I’m inspired. I want to try a new sport, or return to an old one I used to play. This year is a bit different. I’ve not been inspired to go and do sport, but instead by the dedication that unites these athletes. Each and every one of them has a level of dedication that blows me away. They are able to apply themselves for every single day between olympic cycles. For four years they are able to focus their energy on one thing so that they can give themselves the best possible shot to win that gold medal.
During one of the events one of the commentators picked up on this. I don’t think it was what he meant, but the way it came across as he spoke of it was that these athletes seem to have a gift none of the rest of the world does. Not in terms of their sporting prowess, but in their ability to apply themselves and dedicate themselves to their chosen discipline. It’s an easy mindset to fall into, but it’s also a dangerous one.
Discipline or dedication is not a thing that we just have, it’s something we can learn. Each and everyone of us can learn discipline and self control in order to focus on something. In order to grow and develop into a great writer it takes dedication and discipline to turn up and write each day. For the artist it takes hours of painting, the musician hours of playing their instrument. Dedication is something we can grow in and get better at. The more we dedicate ourselves to do something, the more likely we are to do it. For the olympic athlete, turning up to training on a wet Monday morning in November makes them more likely to turn up for training on a wet November Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Likewise, writing a post for this blog on a Sunday makes me more likely to want to write one for tomorrow. I don’t want to break the chain or waste the time I spent the day before.
As many people are want to say on the internet at the moment, the key to everything is showing up everyday. The key to winning a gold medal is showing up everyday with an unrelenting dedication to your sport. The key to growing in dedication to our chosen discipline is the same.
Sometimes a day hits you when things that are normally easy to do become the hardest things. I mean simple things like getting out of bed, going downstairs and making a coffee. That’s the nature of depression.
When it happens you have to find ways of getting through because giving in to it can be crippling. Giving in can be the start of a downward spiral, a spiral you don’t want to be in and that can take a long time to get out of. That’s a place you don’t want to go. Instead you have to find a way to push through, to stop the down from taking over. What that looks like is the tricky part, but for everyone there is way of doing it.
At the start of last week I set myself the challenge to blog everyday between then and the end of the year. Yesterday I didn’t manage to post to this site, in some people’s eyes I’ve failed the challenge already. Maybe I have, but it’s not going to stop me carrying on.
These types of challenges are great to do, they add an extra bit of impetus to get going on something you want to do. A little bit of healthy competition goes a long way. But yesterday life happened, two friends got married and the day was rightly taken up celebrating that. There simply wasn’t time in the day to sit down and write a post for this site, it was an exception to the norm and that’s ok. I realised this early on and gave myself permission to have a day off.
A few years ago had I set myself this challenge I would’ve let it defeat me. The chain would’ve been broken and I would’ve let the day off turn into two, three or four days, before giving it one last effort and then stopping it. Over the last year and a half I’ve learnt that sometimes it’s ok to give myself permission to say, it’s just not going to happen today. As long as it doesn’t turn into a regular occurrence that’s perfectly OK, I just pick up where I left off the next day.
It’s been an important lesson for me to learn, perfect is unattainable and being somewhat of a perfectionist it’s a difficult thing to accept. Now in the context of this challenge, had I realised earlier in the week when I started it, I’d have written an extra post in the week so I had one in the bag and didn’t break the chain. In the context of real everyday life, it’s a far more important lesson to learn. I’ve had to learn how to give myself permission to say this is ok, this is good enough and I’m ok with putting it out there.
Do what you love has been a bit of a mantra of late on the internet, at least on the blogs I seem to have been reading over the last couple of years. It’s something that I love the sentiment of, but at the same time something that has never quite sat properly with me. So when I saw the phrase You’re Not Meant To Do What You Love. You’re Meant To Do What You’re Good At in a tweet link to the matching article I instantly saved it to my Instapaper.
I agree entirely with this point:
We’re doing people an incredible disservice by telling them they should seek, and pursue, what they love. People usually can’t differentiate what they really love and what they love the idea of.
But more importantly, you are not meant to do what you love. You are meant to do what you’re skilled at.
The trouble comes when the people who are espousing the mantra of do what you love are the fortunate few who’s skill also happen to be what they love. It gives them a distorted view that everyone should be doing this and it creates a worldview that doing work is a bad thing unless it’s something you love.
The husband of an old colleague of mine had a period of unemployment not long after they got married. It really impacted him as a person and I remember talking to my colleague about how her husband felt worthless because of it. He wanted to work because not working made him feel worthless. When he did get a job, it was not in something he loved, but it gave him meaning again. He was contributing to society, not reliant on it. He was giving something of himself to do it and what he was doing had value because of it.
As a Christian I believe we are designed to work, God even designed and modelled the week around it six days of work and one day of rest (Sabbath). The theologian Tim Keller in his book Every Good Endeavour states
Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer, and sexuality; it is not simply medicine but food for our soul. Without meaningful work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness. People who are cut off from work because of physical or other reasons quickly discover how much they need work to thrive emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
This is exactly what my colleague’s husband experienced. Without work he struggled in exactly the way Tim suggests we will. When we fall into the trap of telling people to only do what they love, we do a disservice to work. For some people their work involves doing what they love, whilst for others it involves doing what they are skilled at. For some, maybe even the majority, it involves doing a job because it gives them value and helps them serve people around them.
The article finishes with this quote which I think sums up the value of work, of any kind, superbly.
The real joy of daily work is in what we have to give. We are not fulfilled by what we can seek to please us, but what we can build and offer. It is not fame, or money, or recognition that makes for a thoroughly meaningful life, it is how we put our gifts to use. It is how we give.
A healthy dose of margin in your life gives you the space you need to think, dream, strategize, wrestle through complexity, focus deeply, and, ultimately, do your best creative work.
This piece by Shawn Blanc has been sat in my Instapaper for quite a while, but when I read the sentence above I immediately agreed. When you’re in constant hustle mode, when everything down to what jobs you work on and when you can find time to send out those all important invoices is imperative to your ability to exist in life, decisions and dreams disappear. When there’s no margin in anything in your life, your ability to work well goes and your ability to even think creatively vanishes let alone do the work your business depends on.
I’ve learnt the hard way, margin in life is imperative to being able to create well.
I finished reading Do More Better this afternoon. It’s a very well written and thought provoking read. I plan on begin implementing some of Tim’s suggestions in to my workflow in the next week or two. If you’re interested in looking st productivity with a biblical grounding, I suggest you give it a read.