The last time I sat and wrote a proper update on my adventures in the world of work was January. It was a dark time. I’d just learnt a major lesson in what work not to do –namely work purely for money- and had my confidence smashed. I’d started to look into the real emerging trends in work — freelancing, tasking and everything else related to the sharing economy, started to think about more creative projects and committed to writing down my ideas on people-focussed organisations. My bank account was beyond empty, I was scared, it was cold outside and in panic I started to scan job listings.
Just over three months later, I find myself in a very different place. The Work Project is working.
Some extraordinary advice and very honest feedback on the book I’d been struggling to write since November helped me raise my game immeasurably. There’s an entire post to be written on that once I’ve seen how it pans out, but this week I’m finishing a draft that bears little semblance to the original scribblings. I’ve committed to really thinking through my ideas and knuckled down to some hard research. The theories are still largely the same, but they’re refined now and it’s been both fascinating and exciting to delve so deeply into business, organisations, workplaces… and my own psyche. I’m not sure if, how or when Simple. Better. Human will enter the world, but the awakening kick the external feedback has given me really got my year back on track.
The process of refining the Simple. Better. Human ideas coincided with an invitation to speak at workplace conferences in Lisbon, Barcelona and Madrid, as well as one to facilitate a day at a workplace design summit in Amsterdam. The experiences really helped me galvanise and test my ideas, find my speaking style (somewhere between stand-up comedy, chat show and enlightened preaching) and make new friends. Having completed the trilogy in Madrid just over a week ago, I’m in reflective mood — I feel like I’ve found my place and now need to take it and escalate everything. This is partly due to the sheer confidence boost from not having been evicted from any of the events and the personal benefits of spending real time in unfamiliar surroundings with people like Doug Shaw who have been through their own adventures in work to get where they are.
Last week I spent a day playing on design thinking with a global group of high potential leaders for a large organisation. One of the things we discussed is that development is ongoing and cyclical. There’s no start, middle and end — you understand, think, design, build and test, going back and round each as you need to. Applying that personally is a great thing, realising that there’s no set path and that it’s all about trying, testing and trying again is liberating. Failure isn’t actually failure, it’s a positive learning experience.
You may have guessed from the above, but I’m starting to get work, too.
In the midst of it all, real opportunities for paid work have started arising. It’s really interesting, amazing stuff too, working with great organisations on worthwhile projects. Although my imposter syndrome is near-overwhelming with every piece of work I do, talk I give, or event I facilitate, it seems to be going well. Again, no one has evicted me from a building yet…
As well as the ability to pay my bills, the work has given me real perspective and an understanding of what it is I love doing. It’s also showing me I can make a living by approaching ‘work’ on my own terms and fitting it around my life.
Beyond the definition of ‘work’ as tasks or a means of earning money, The Work Project has given me a lot personally. My wife remarks that even though our financial situation has been more precarious than ever, I seem less preoccupied with money, generally less stressed and nicer to be around. I’m guessing it’s because everything is in my hands — every day I wake up and personally decide what I’m going to do. I’ve even come to realise that it’s not only ok, but beneficial to give myself the occasional day off.
My side project on productivity, where I’m attempting to wean myself off email in 2015 has opened my eyes to alternative ways of working, many of which are more enjoyable. I’m communicating more effectively and working more productively and although I’m still sending emails, my life is no longer governed by them. It’s proving to be a really positive thing to do.
I’ve been exercising a lot more and with purpose. Feeling healthy is suddenly way more important to me. I’m continuing with my fitness drive and although I know I’ll benefit when I give myself a real reason to train (I’m working on an idea for that at the moment), for now I’m spending more time active and outside, which is positively affecting my mental wellbeing as much as it is helping me ward off the beer belly that too many ‘pub meetings’ would otherwise encourage.
There are so many more nuances to The Work Project, too numerous to go into here –this already feels too me, me, me for my liking. The one other major thing to mention is the people. Every step of this journey has been shaped by the amazing people I’m meeting. Many of those I now call friends were strangers this time last year.
Two weeks ago I had breakfast with the amazing Lindsay Roth on the 30th floor of The Shard in London. Our friendship sums up everything about this journey.
Lindsay was one of my #100Connections and we struck up a genuine connection via nothing more than Skype and, ironically, email. It was exciting to meet Lindsay on her visit to London and, as we both expected, during our first meeting in person it was like we’d known each other for years. That in itself was amazing, but there’s more…
Lindsay has a novel What Pretty Girls Are Made Of being published in August. We’ve chatted a lot about writing and she’s shared amazing and valuable insights into the process with me, but most selflessly, she introduced me to her Literary Agent Lucinda, who has been the source of the extraordinary advice and honest feedback I mentioned earlier. There’s much more to be written on these amazing women as The Work Project continues to unfold, but without having embarked on this adventure, I’d never have met either of them.
In fact, if I’d never done this I’d be many friends worse off than I am now, I wouldn’t be doing work I love for organisations I’d never have otherwise been in contact with. Admittedly, I’m still only a couple of months away from financial ruin at any given time, but personally I’m having the time of my life. I spend more time at home with my kids, more time travelling, more time in the city, more time in the countryside. For the first time in years, as this comes together, I’m living rather than just existing. It feels good.
Where do I take this now?
Officially I have five months to run on the experiment side of The Work Project, but I’m coming to realise that in the spirit of design thinking, my relationship with work is an ongoing and evolving process — there’s no reason to stop.
At the creative end, inspired by the blending of art, work and personal passions I’m looking at trying to find a way to produce a very special blend of music, physical art and workplace theory. As it’s early stages, I’ll keep it to myself for now and let you know how it pans out. Elsewhere, I need to become more immersed in my project on the sharing economy and get some real insights — so far it’s been too tokenistic amidst the distractions of conferences, work and writing.
Ideas are emerging with every conversation and I’m increasingly convinced that I can continue to build a living in a way that suits my life. Really, this should be some kind of vindication and celebration — it’s possible for any of us to do what we truly want to! There is, however, a niggle…
After a busy and extremely fun working week last week, straight off the back of Madrid, some unexpected thoughts are emerging. This adventure has led me to realise that what I genuinely love doing is based on my ideas around creating simple, better, more human organisations. Over the last few weeks I’ve been sharing the ideas in conversations, at conferences and working with organisations on projects that help them do just that.
It’s valuable, enjoyable and rewarding work, but I find myself feeling the lack of ownership. My work and my approach means I dip in and out of organisations, I never see the full process through. I create short-term impact and seed ideas, but I don’t oversee long term emergence.
I’m starting to think that, in the spirit of The Work Project as a way to find the optimum relationship with work, because of what I do and where it’s needed, to get true fulfilment out of this aspect of my work I may need to become more immersed in an organisation. Create impact through ownership over a longer-term involvement.
The odd thing is, that there’s only one way to do that… by joining the organisation — by getting a job!
There are some vocations that work best within the structures we call organisations. To truly affect them, you need to be in them. It’s true for the work I do, but it’s not just about going out and getting any job, it’s about the right job, doing the right work, in the right organisation, for the right reasons.
I’m not yet sure whether this is an idea I’ll pursue, but I’m starting to let conversations emerge that may lead in that direction, just to explore them. If The Work Project so far has created a mantra, it’s this:
Every day, do the right thing, in the right place, for the right reasons.
If we were all true enough to ourselves to make that our mantra every single day, it would answer the fundamental purpose of The Work Project — understanding how we can change our relationship with work to make it better. It seems that the second phase of The Work Project may not be a question of what, but how.
By Andy Swann on May 6, 2015.
Exported from Medium on July 15, 2016.