You can't control things, only channel them


For the better part of my adult life, I’ve struggled with a c-c-c-combo of anxiety and depression. The hard thing, I’ve been learning, isn’t to admit they exist within you. It’s to recognise how much help you need to ask for, if you want to live well with them.

Because, you see, admitting they exist is a good way to rationalise your choices. Why you are the way you are. But from there to saying “I have an illness and I need more help than I originally thought”… that’s more than your brain speaking. It’s your body taking the reigns and saying its piece. The body keeps the score, but also dictates it.

With that (somewhat weighty) backdrop, let’s get into some of the bites, shall we?

I. Performance

I read somewhere – I can’t remember, as although I take lots of notes, they’re never thorough, more like soundbites to help me remember the core lessons – that what you want in a good team is high performance but low maintenance. Let’s unpack that a bit.

High performance and high maintenance is the classic talented asshole. They’re great on paper, they get stuff done, but boy are they hard to deal with and keep happy, or whatever version of happiness they aspire to. Think Dr House. Or Rick Sanchez.

Low performance and high maintenance is more of a Dunning-Kruger person. They’re not very good, but on top of that create more problems than they help solve. I’ve met a few people like this over the years. I hope I was never this person, but you never know.

Low performance and low maintenance… well, bless them. They might be lovely people, and broadly don’t get in the way, but also you question if there’s a role when everyone is working their butt to deliver. I hope I was also never this person.

And finally high performance with low maintenance. That’s the sweet spot to be in. You deliver stuff (not to be confused with being performative, AKA being seen to deliver stuff), and you’re easy to work with. I’ve never had much patience for the asshole genius trope, and was never talented enough to claim that quality for myself. But if someone says they like my work and working with me… that’s the dream.

But then again, I have massive people pleasing syndrome. Your mileage may vary.

(By the way, the above was from Gareth Southgate. I remembered while editing. But I got too lazy to re-write the whole thing accordingly. That’s ok. This is more authentic.)

II. Channelling

A simple thought. You can’t control things, but you can channel them.

This works with sadness, anger, happiness, contentment, and many other emotions.

Also works with management, mentoring, planning, feedback, client relationships and plenty of other work-related things.

And the more senior you get, the more it becomes true.

The job becomes less about trying and create a river, and more about letting the water flow as freely as it can. Hopefully taking pleasure in the process along the way.

On a possibly unrelated note, this Chinese proverb feels apt (via @Zen_Moments):

“Water and words... Easy to pour - impossible to recover.”

I think when Tina Turner sings “you’re simply the best”, she’s talking about water metaphors. They’re great. Don’t @ me, it’s true enough in my version of the facts.

III. Soul

It’s come to my attention (lol as if people are whispering this sort of stuff in my ear while I do ~global business~ or something) that “psyche” means “soul” in Greek.

Why does this matter? Because when we’re talking about mental health, we know it’s far more than stuff that’s in your head. There’s loads of evidence out there that the stuff in our head directly affects what happens in our body (Dr. Gabor Maté is great on this). But this little trickery of words takes it one step further. The stuff in our psyche is more than our mind, it’s a function of whatever’s happening with our soul.

Is this shoddy science? Yeah. Does it help reinforce the argument that our mental health is more fundamental to all levels of our very existence than what most of contemporary history and traditional male codes have led us to believe? Hell yeah.

Ignore the false splits of mind vs body vs soul. It’s all one thing. It’s called a ‘me’.

Backed by science, etymology, and some planner post-rationalisation. 🤡

IV. Learning

I’ve slowly gotten back to using social platforms in a very private way. I don’t think that will change anytime soon. What I love about social – the access to infinite information and endless niche pockets of culture – trumps what I dislike about it – the social status game. And yes, I know, that’s a feature not a bug (clue’s in the name), but you do what works for you. The tool serves me, not the other way around, etc.

One thing I’ve been curious about (again) is the crazy pace at which the crypto, DAO, blockchain, NFT et al space has been moving around certain Twitter circles. Yes, yes, it’s all full of hype and environmental concerns and things. And yet, I can’t help but wonder this is what the internet felt like in 1998 and lots of people thought it was all a bunch of dudes living in a bubble. And sooner or later, someone was gonna lose their mortgage. Or be the next unicorn. You couldn’t really know until after the fact.

Which it was. But also it wasn’t. It depends on your time horizon, and as with anything there were (dotcom) / will be (crypto) winners and losers. The crazy thing is, I don’t understand half of what I am reading or following and how even any of these new NFT-backed games or community challenges actually work (yet), but you can bet your buttons I am curious about whatever happens next.

Like a good old mystery novel. Except instead of the butler, the bored apes did it.

(This is my attempt at doing a crypto dad joke. Like and subscribe for more content!)

The point is, this is how learning happens. You never go in with 100%. Hell, nothing in life presumes you can go in at 100%. The only certainty is death and taxes (and reply guys). But if you are able to go in at 50%, 40%, sometimes even 10%, knowing that:

  1. You can entertain various conflicting feelings and thoughts about the thing

  2. You can preserve your sense of sanity and hope despite all that inner turmoil

  3. You can focus on trying to explain what you see in the simplest possible terms to someone who knows less about it than you

Then this feels like a recipe for a successful intellectual and/or creative life.

I can talk planning at maybe 50%. I can talk crypto at 5%. I can talk meme culture at perhaps 70%. This sounds like a fun way to gauge how much you think you know. Keeps you humble, while staying hungry, knowing you will never reach 100% and that’s by design. It’s like trying to read all the world’s books or watch all the world’s movies or read the entire archive of, when in fact an unfinished library is the point. It’s a historical artefact of someone who gave a shit with their brain.

(This metaphor may not work as well as I originally thought it did.)

V. Winning

I spotted somewhere ~on the internet~ this Hindu proverb, on the many ways to win:

"There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading in the same direction, so it doesn't matter which path you take. The only one wasting time is the one who runs around and around the mountain, telling everyone that his or her path is wrong."

Which makes me think of a couple of things:

  1. There are many, many, many ways to do marketing, build brands, and stand out. Yes, trust the evidence. If there’s anything you worship, it’s that. But also recognise that the point of evidence, and science, is disprovability over time. What worked until now, may not work next. Sometimes you need to do the opposite of the best practice to get noticed. And that’s the gig: to thoughtfully navigate the crazy, weird, beautiful dance between following what the evidence says, and taking a bet on what the evidence could not possibly predict. What works for Nike will not work for Glossier will not work for Dash Water. In what John V Willshire aptly described as quantum markets, big brands probably work differently from small brands. Until small brands work like big brands (e.g. startups start doing TV and hey, it works too!). And the cycle starts all over.

  2. The same principle applies to our own careers and lives. There are many ways to claim success, but my way will be different from your way, and that’s ok. If that weren’t the case, who could claim such a thing as freedom or free will, right? So while I can’t claim to own any absolute certainties here (anyone who does claim those, you have my permission to mute or block them), I can try and devise models to help making career decisions less maddening. That’s exactly the point (or the attempt) of my talk at the first Sweathead Do-Together, where my brief was, er, a c̶h̶a̶l̶l̶e̶n̶g̶e̶ opportunity?: You Work In Advertising But You Have Doubts About Capitalism–Now What?. I have a 8-minute talk thing that has been professionally edited (for a hot second, I thought I could truly make it as a YouTuber). Followed by a 22-minute exercise to try and get people (including me) to navigate the tight spot between capitalism and advertising, and squeeze some juicy bits out of it. Again, questionable metaphor. But if you’re really into this sort of stuff, I have one (1) free ticket to give away! Just need your email address so I can send to the team, and boom. I’ll see you there, on September 22nd. Hit me up if you’d like it. First come first served, unless you send me your favourite 2021 meme, in which case you may possibly hack the system!

Oh, and here’s a useful tweet if you too are in the middle of an anxiety/depression cocktail like yours truly. Sometimes it’s all about remembering what’s enough, instead of aiming for more. Now I just need to convince my primal brain to believe this too.

If that fails, here’s an emergency moon moon.

A post shared by @thekiffness

Lots of love x