As I battled train delays on my way to Brighton for Meaning Conference and the pre-Meaning Fringe event, for the first time in months I was feeling something I really didn’t like — stressed and a little anxious. I’ve reached a point with The Work Project where everything is coming together and although the money has run out to the point that I have no idea how I’ll buy the Advocaat this Christmas, I’m starting to see how I’m going to pay the bills going into next year.
It’s a really positive tipping point and I have opportunities that would never have occurred to me, or would never have presented themselves had I not stuck with this. Every day is an adventure.
But, as I sat at Southampton waiting for my second delayed train of the day, I felt different. My usual thing is to take in the world, watch it happen around me and just exist. That’s how things had started at Salisbury when my first train had been delayed — I just leant against a wall and let the world go by.
Then my thoughts started linking with each other, joining forces and running away with me. Here’s the brief summary…
- First train delayed, caused me to miss my connection at Southampton (nothing I can do, plenty of time).
- Train further delayed (I have some work to do, it’s a shame there’s no WiFi on the train, losing time a bit now).
- On the train, waiting for an age to depart (how am I going to get all the things done I need to?).
- On Southampton Station facing further delays (anxiety over self-proposed deadlines and what people will think of me for not responding as quickly as I’d like).
I’d involuntarily entered a chain of panic-thought-magnification™ that I’d not felt since Sunday evenings during my ill-fated time trying to revolutionise Medical Records departments in the NHS.
It was unnecessary.
Tweeting with Kev Wyke who, facing worse delays, had managed to get no further than Wigan (and still made it to the pub in Brighton before me), I should have been more philosophical — or at least as chipper as he seemed to be.
But a raft of promised blog-posts, the demands of a live Kickstarter campaign I’d just helped my wife to launch, emails to respond to, opportunities to finalise, the feeling of my #100Connections project getting away from me and a general, unnecessary need to feel connected to the world was squeezing my chest.
When my phone decided to run out of battery, rendering me finally disconnected and unable to Tweet almost two hours from Brighton, I started to meltdown a little, but then I realised I had no choice but to accept it…
Perhaps I should take the opportunity to calm down.
Strangely, at that point things started to look up.
Once I faced the fact that there was nothing I could do about anything, over and above what I was doing, the pressure lifted.
I drafted two blog posts one after the other, ready to type up and send when I got to Brighton (here’s my piece on Friendship for the amazing Sarah Boyd).
Then I sat. I thought. I just existed.
I watched snippets of the coast come and go between terraced housing and industrial estates, enjoyed glimpses of Marinas and cargo ships, main roads and convenience shops, dimly lit against the grey November afternoon.
It became a privilege.
Sure, the burden of the things I needed to do was still there, but by accepting that I can only do what it’s humanly possible to do, I had it back under control.
I shouldn’t have let it be anything else.
On to the rain-swept evening and a coming together of my two favourite groups of people — Culturevist and PTHR. It was a great evening of drinking and conversation (in my case, in that order).
Despite a thorough soaking (inside and out), it was great to revel in a room of like-minded people, blurring work and social, talking about how we’re going to individually and collectively chip away at making organisations and work better, connecting with each other and sharing ideas. I was inspired and went home (via a couple more pubs with my friend Gemmell, who kindly put me up for the night), buzzing.
The next morning, I was ready for Meaning.
After bumping into Doug Shaw in the windy lanes of Brighton and exchanging notes on similarly-themed blog posts we’ve been writing recently, it was game on.
I duly had my mind blown.
The other guest post I’d written on the train was about ‘The Middle Problem’ and referred to my frustration with the way we educate and prepare our youth for the world. So from the moment Mark Stevenson opened proceedings with an amazing talk on the speed of change and the shifts in power and influence he can see coming — I was all in.
But it was when, against this landscape, he showed two photos — one of a classroom in the late 1800s and one of a classroom today, I’d seen everything I needed to. Nothing had changed. Despite the acceleration of change in the world, the way we approach education is, in the main, static.
Earlier this year I wrote a piece for a competition on the future of education. At that point, it all came flooding back — along with an idea for creating a free school I’d sketched out then. With a vengeance.
What followed was a day of inspiration. Great speakers combined with meeting amazing people I’ve wanted to meet for ages. I was completely exhausted by the time I snuck out a little early to attempt to get home in time to say goodnight to my daughter on her 7th birthday (I made it).
Others have and will continue to give far more eloquent write-ups of #MeaningConf, but my fires have been stoked by two things:
- Doing something to incite a review in the way we educate our children. I’m developing the free School idea.
- Ripping up my ideas for All About People 2015. I’ll be putting it back together as something completely different and hitting the world with it in January.
I learned as much about meaning from a personal perspective as anything else over my time at Meaning. I’m really glad.
At lunchtime, Perry Timms said:
Sod eating, I can do that later. I’m going to get stuff done.
I’m having that.
Stress and anxiety can do one — there’s important stuff to be done here and I’m going as fast as I can. There’s no point wasting time on unnecessary diversions, especially now I’m getting close in my personal search for meaning. I can’t kick myself for not being able to be better than I am (it just wastes more time and hurts, I’ve tried). I also have to make time to spend with my family.
PS — If you’re waiting for an email or social media response from me, I’m sorry, I WILL get there☺
By Andy Swann on November 20, 2014.
Exported from Medium on July 15, 2016.