I want more. Does that make me an ungrateful jerk?

Do Contribute | Social Entrepreneur

What are you thankful for today?

Admit it. You rolled your eyes when you read that. But probably only in your mind because you know it’s socially unacceptable not to tow the line of gratitude platitudes. You heathen.

What is gratitude? I know how it feels but I had to look up the definition.

Grateful is derived from the Latin gratus which means pleasing or thankful. Gratitude is a stand-alone sentiment — this pleases me or I am thankful I have food to eat. So, how did we get from a pleasant ‘this pleases me’ to eye rolling? Are we simply oversaturated with “be grateful” quotations posted over misty mountain backgrounds? Definitely, but that’s not the full story.

Somewhere we took the deeply personal experience of gratitude and tacked on an implied admonition — Be Satisfied With What You Have. Now, ‘this pleases me’ becomes ‘I have been pleased therefore I should never want to be pleased again’ or to put a fine point on it,‘I am thankful for this food so I should not want for more food in the future.’

It’s absurd. Gratitude is a sentiment, defined by Webster as a state of being appreciative. You can’t measure gratitude. Yet, the depth of one’s gratitude (and the implied contentment with what one has) has become a standard by which we judge others — and ourselves. Here’s how it usually happens for me.

I look at my life, trying to see the long view and close-up in the nooks. My mind immediately hones in on the things that are bothering me like unfinished projects and a relationship I wish was going better and the bike collecting dust in my garage. And. And. And. It’s easy to get stuck here, mired in the unfinished, frantically making the next TO DO list. But if I ignore that list and linger for another minute, my focus shifts.

The annoyances start to fall away. Past the noise and distractions I see the abundance, the blessings. My mind slows way down, taking note of all the goodness, and I am pleased. I am thankful. Ahh, gratitude.

This would be a good place to stop the self-reflection, tuck that gratitude in my pocket and move along. Instead, I press on. And, bam. Waylaid. Again.

I call her Wild Dream. She’s all the secret desires and dreams I carry around with me but am too afraid to give them a voice. Wild Dream has been dogging me for years, carrying the same message: There’s more, bigger, deeper, better and you know you want it.

She’s right. I do want more. But the instant I admit it I feel like I’ve betrayed every good blessing in my life. Then the condemning voice starts in with the familiar questions, Do you know how lucky you are? How dare you want more, especially when you have so much.

Where’s the gratitude list?

It’s no use. Wild Dream has a hold on me. She reaches in and whispers, “Honey, you’ve got it all wrong. Gratitude isn’t the last stop. It’s just the beginning. It opens the door for more.” Let me repeat that. Gratitude isn’t the last stop. It opens the door for more.

It isn’t a final destination we’re striving for. It’s a muscle we exercise, repeatedly, until it becomes a part of us, a reflex. Gratitude is the great multiplier. It births big ideas and hushed dreams. It sets us up, steadies us and encourages us to seek more. Through the lens of gratitude we make better choices about what to pursue. Gratitude assures us it’s safe to push ahead. If our next leap is a bust and we land back where we started that’s ok because where we started is a place we’re already grateful to be.

We can be both deeply grateful and wanting for more. Both. And.

I’ll leave you with my original question, reframed. What are you thankful for today and what does that gratitude inspire you to do?

Social Entrepreneur

Denise Cornell

Co-owner and creative director, Denise is learning everyday. Learning that building a creative business is worlds away from the 10 years spent in the trenches at 3 enterprise software start-ups.

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Do Contribute | Creativity

start > stop

write > copy

draw > trace

new > old

ideas > money

passion > lust

sharing > taking

yes > no

time > money

thinking > Googling

creating > consuming

bridge > wall

radiator > drain

campaign > one-off

edit > waffle

sleeping > boozing

get up > lie down

failing > quitting

heart > head

thank you > F U

outsmart > outspend

trying > contriving

actions > words

different > same

improve > disapprove

we > me

 

Creativity

Mike Nicholson

Bringing almost 20 years of experience from the world of digital, design and advertising. Mike likes helping ideas fly, SCA mentoring & green jumpers.

In search of creative fulfilment : Part 1

Do Contribute | Creativity

                                                                 © Carlo Navato

                                                                 © Carlo Navato

“With all, the beautiful things of the earth become more dear as they elude pursuit; but with some natures utter elusion is the one special event which will make a passing love permanent for ever.”
— Thomas Hardy (1871)

Photography and the complex relationship between identity, memory and the significance of place.

Justin Bovington was ultimately the catalyst and I owe him a deep debt of gratitude. “How long have you been a photographer?” he asked, as we shared a coffee after my talk at Do Wales 2014. I laughed and thanked him for the flattering response to a few of the randomly selected images that had accompanied my meandering personal reflection on curiosity and the creative process. “Oh I’m not a photographer” I responded, “just someone who likes to make photographs.” But Justin had stoked a fire that had smouldered deep inside for nigh on forty years. Whilst I’d loved art, I was dissuaded from studying it seriously at school in favour of more ‘useful academic subjects.’ It was Latin or Art and Latin got the nod. Which was fine — to this day I recall the vivid pleasure of the absorbing Bernie Robson, my un-reconstituted Marxist classics teacher, passionately extolling the literary significance of Virgil’s Aeneas and his journey through the underworld. I did manage to add art O. level to my repertoire in my lower sixth year but when I’d finished by trousering a humble B grade that was that as far as art went.

Justin’s comment, his seemingly innocent assumption that I was a practitioner of some formality, for want of a better way of putting it, released a creative handbrake. It lead to a reconsideration of what the many thousands of negatives, prints, and colour transparencies that I had produced intermittently over many years, and which were now catalogued away in boxes and stored on dusty shelves, actually signified. It lead to a deep re-appraisal of what I was, coming as it did, at a point in my life where I was galloping through middle age questioning everything that I was doing in my career. Perhaps I was a photographer, after all I was certainly passionate enough about it and I made a lot of work. No that couldn’t be right, it had to be more than that. Firstly photographers make money being commissioned to make and sell photographs and a whole bunch of my stuff was shit and certainly wouldn’t sell. Secondly, no one else had ever seen any of the contents of the row of boxes — my work had never been shown. Thirdly I lacked technical knowledge and had no portfolio. But once the handbrake had been released it refused to be pulled up again and gradually I developed the mental resilience to ignore the loud doubting part of my brain telling me not to be ridiculous. Two months later I was accepted to study on the MA Photography and Urban Cultures course at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

My return to academia was blissful and I will write separately about the joyful significance of learning for learning’s sake in another piece. But for now, having created some context, I want to discuss some of the conclusions that I came to through embracing absolute creative freedom in a two-year critical interrogation of place.

                                                                 © Carlo Navato

                                                                 © Carlo Navato

What started as a photographic work — ‘The Forbidden Playground’ — became something much more — a personal attempt to understand a visceral connection with a place of childhood memory. The conceptual idea behind the project was initially inspired by a 1967 essay written by French philosopher Michel Foucault — ‘Des Espaces Autres’ (‘Of Other Spaces’)¹ in which he coins the term ‘heterotopia’ to describe spaces that have multiple layers of meaning and a fundamental and deep relationship to other places which might not be immediately apparent. In a similar vein writing later, Edward Soja describes this as ‘Thirdspace,’ where first space is physical, second space is mental or conceived and ‘Thirdspace’ is the space where:

“… everything comes together … subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the trans-disciplinary, everyday life and unending history” ²

If one is willing to excavate deeply enough unexpected things occur, some serendipitous, some more challenging, but all fundamentally beneficial as they lead to a more complete understanding of self. My investigation was of a very specific place — one replete with the archaeological remains of redundant bunkers and blast pens that litter the landscape of a former WWII Fighter Command aerodrome. This was our forbidden childhood playground.

                                                                 © Carlo Navato

                                                                 © Carlo Navato

The project evolved beyond a photographic study into an excavation of family history, childhood nostalgia and personal identity and was stimulated by a rhythmic and repeated theme of duality that materialised — duration and transition, permanence and impermanence, new growth and decay, optimism and pessimism, playfulness and melancholy. In the act of photographing time and again new contrasts and juxtapositions appeared — space and place, duration and transition, built environment, natural environment, longevity and ephemerality. In particular, the physical interrogation of place started to fuse with a psycho-geographic mental tour of memories and became a metaphor for an interrogation into my own self-identity.

This is why art and the creative process are so important. Engaging in creativity with innate curiosity leads to all sorts of discovery in the adjacent disciplines of art, archaeology, anthropology, geography, psychology and not least philosophy. We are called upon to ask questions of ourselves and by so doing we are invited to reflect on our innermost vulnerabilities.

                                                                 © Carlo Navato

                                                                 © Carlo Navato

Better still is to combine the creative process with walking. With its long history of philosophical advocates, Socrates, Nietzsche, Thoreau among them, walking provides the perfect space for contemplation — as de Certeau puts it ‘the walker constitutes, in relation to his position, both a near and a far, a here and a there.’ ³ It is the most direct, immediate and practical way of interacting with nature and has provided artists with abundant opportunity for self-expression, clearly evident in the work of, for example Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy. Walking allows us to understand and uniquely capture the ambience of place. As Walter Benjamin suggested:

“Only he who walks the road on foot learns of the power it commands, and of how, from the very scenery that for the flier is only the unfurled plain, calls forth distances, belvederes, clearings, prospects at each of its turns like a commander deploying soldiers at a front” ⁴
                                                                 © Carlo Navato

                                                                 © Carlo Navato

By formulating a creative, artistic practice (whether that is image making, writing, composing music or some other), we can explore how much of the attachment to place that we experience is down to the physical materiality of place, and how much is due to psychological under-currents. For me, where man’s built environment is suffused into a semi-natural or natural landscape, in this case one of grass expanses, greater knapweed, wild carrot, small scabious, and hawkweed ox-tongue, both come together. Oxeye daisy, bush vetch, yellow rattle and nettle infiltrate and envelop concrete, brickwork and steel. The acoustic, tactile and olfactory textures of this particular space are so powerful, heightening its visual enchantment to the point where making photographs becomes a process of escapism and flow. The heady perfume of cow parsley crushed underfoot, and the imagined rumble of Hurricane engines, scrambled to intercept enemy Dornier bombers, provide a most potent sensory ambience and memory of childhood.

And thus the making of a body of photographic images was both cathartic and therapeutic and allowed me to wrangle with some deep-rooted aspects of self. ‘Every photograph is a certificate of presence’ wrote Roland Barthes ⁵. The images that I made are my certificates of presence. Diane Arbus said ‘A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.’ ⁶ The images contain my secrets.

“At our best and most fortunate we make pictures because of what stands before our camera, to honor what is greater and more interesting than we are. We never accomplish this perfectly, though in return we are given something perfect–a sense of inclusion. Our subject thus redefines us, and is part of the biography by which we want to be known”
— Robert Adams ⁷

Go in search of creative fulfilment. Don’t accept the noisy voice inside your head urging you to stay safe and sound leading a creatively unexamined life. The fruits of these labours manifest themselves in many different ways, and as a minimum we gain a better understanding of who we are. If we happen to create some art along the way then so much the better, it can be regarded as a fortuitous bonus.

 

References:

¹ Foucault, M., 1984. Des Espaces Autres. Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité Vol. 5 pp.46–49. (The publication of this text, written in 1967, was authorized by Foucault in 1984).

² Soja, E.W., 1996. Thirdspace. Malden: Blackwell.

³ De Certeau, M., 1988. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by S. Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press.

⁴ Benjamin, W. 1979. One-Way Street. Translated by K. Shorter. London: New Left Books.

⁵ Barthes, R., 2000. Camera Lucida. Translated by R. Howard. London: Vintage Random House.

⁶ Arbus, D., first published in the May 1971 issue of ArtForum called ‘Five Photographs by Diane Arbus,’ A Biography by Patricia Bosworth.

⁷ Adams, R., 1994. Why People Photograph. New York: Aperture.

Carlo Navato

Carlo Navato is curious, hungry and persistent. A founder partner of the Do Lectures, he is a photographer, bibliophile, vinylist and an entrepreneurial investor. He makes his living as a property developer, running his business with a passionate zeal for design. He is powered by questions and red wine.

Batman is busy.

 Do Contribute | Education

In your time of need, when all you want is for someone else to sort out your life, your challenges, your relationship, your work, or your world, I have some bad news…

Your superheroes aren’t coming to save the day because they’re occupied, playing out stories of overcoming adversity, meant to inspire US to action.

Plus (spoiler alert) … they aren’t really real.

BUT WE ARE!

And we can be the heroes of our own story.

Not all heroes wear a cape.

I’ve been seeing and hearing this phrase a lot lately.

It’s true. Real heroes don’t necessarily have cool magical tools such as a lightsaber or a Lasso of Truth. And when last did you see someone cantering down the highway on a white steed?

Real heroes are more ordinary than extraordinary.

They may only be equipped with a pen, but their way with words spurs you to action or triggers an emotion. They’re the woman offering a helping hand when you take a nasty spill on the icy steps. Or that guy who cycles past you every day, saving the environment on his way to work.

In short, heroes don’t look “the part”. They look just like you and me.

Everyday heroes have something which makes them powerful.

They have moral fibre.

Guts and grit. Will and courage. Love and kindness.

An ordinary person’s superpower is their strength of character.

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
— Christopher Reeve

But you don’t need to endure overwhelming obstacles to be a hero. It’s not just about what a hero has. It’s what they do with it.

Local heroes …

  • Make wise choices.
  • Take positive action.
  • Show up every day.
  • Aren’t afraid to ask for help.
  • Push themselves so that they can grow.
  • Help and support others to do the same.
  • Hang in there when the going gets tough.
  • Stand up for what’s important to them.
  • Respect others despite their differences.

They set the example, in big and small ways, every day. Irrespective of whether they’re having a bit of a bad day, or need to bite their nails in nervous terror while they’re doing it .

See, it doesn’t take much to be a hero.

Think you can handle that?

Just think of the ballads they’ll sing about you…

When I Googled “hero”, I came across over 50 pop songs with variations of “hero” or “heroine” in the title.

From at least the 70’s, everyone and their band has sung songs about heroes. Depending on your age and musical tastes, there are some epic tracks out there. Think Bonnie Tyler, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Metallica. Or more recently, the Foo Fighters, Enrique Iglesias and Alesso.

But the idea of “the hero/ine” is a seminal storytelling archetype which recurs throughout mankind’s history and TV guides. From caveman paintings and religious myths to troubadour’s lyrics and Homer’s “The Odyssey”. From Cinderella and Nemo to Luke Skywalker and Jason Bourne.

We’re attracted to tales of the valiant chap or daring adventuress doing difficult things, battling bad guys and saving the day. Transforming into a better person as they do so, and getting a kiss for their trouble.

They made the impossible seem possible and it gives us hope.

(Read Joseph Campbell’s work to find out more. Or for those with short attention spans, here’s a quick animated Hollywood version of the Hero’s Journey)

As we travel our own paths through an increasingly discombobulating world, filled with adventure, challenge, temptation and transformation, we need all the hero guidance we can get.

So yes, gain the inspiration you need from heroic stories. Feed your creativity and imagination through escapism. But remember those real-world modern day heroes who took brave steps too. People who made change and who lived with integrity, despite the difficulties they were facing. Martin Luther King, Amelia Earhart, Thomas Edison or Elon Musk come to mind, but who fills that role for you?

Don’t forget to look closer to home for inspiration too. It might be your mum, who teaches special needs kids. Or your neighbour who battled cancer twice, but is the most optimistic person you know.

Take a leaf out of their book. Learn from them. Emulate them. Then, when it comes to how you take on your real world, write your own story.

Save your own day. Be your own hero.

All the best heroes have a talisman of some kind. So arm yourself with what helps you feel powerful.

For me, it’s purple. It’s my power colour and wearing it boosts my confidence at times when I’m stepping out of my comfort zone.

For you, it might be that cool hat, which makes people smile whenever you wear it. Or the little pebble you carry in your pocket, which grounds you when you’re speaking in public. Or that one song which always makes you feel like you can do anything!

I still have Bonnie Tyler on the brain. It’s a fantastic track, but .. poor girl … waiting till the end of the night for someone larger than life. Really? 30 odd years after this song was released, it doesn’t feel very empowering having to hang around doing nothing, while some streetwise Hercules gets the glory. No matter how groovy the chorus or the hairdos might be!

Whatever your musical or movie tastes, remember that the hero you are holding out for is ultimately YOU.

You are all that you need, to make the most of your life.

You have the ability to be your own hero. And you don’t need to be larger than life to do it.

If that hasn’t got you stepping up yet, then here’s a bit of Bowie to help save the day.

Education

Mich Bondesio

Curious about connection, communication, design, learning, wellbeing and potential. Sharing thoughts on doing life and business better in our digital world.