It’s Okay to Enjoy Yourself

On the piece of paper in front of me, I had written “What is the best thing that could possibly happen to your protagonist? How could that then turn out to be the worst possible thing?”

This was a few mornings ago now. I was sitting at the desk in my loft, wearing a pair of pants and a t-shirt, and I was trying to come up with as many different answers as I could to the question above – part of my little daily routine where I read a chapter of Robert McKee’s book Story and extrapolate some kind of creative exercise from it.

Anyway, at some point I looked at my phone to check the time. Wow, I thought. I’ve been doing this for nearly two hours. Jesus, that’s flown by.

I smiled, and then a pleasant thought hit me. I am really loving this lockdown. I’m actually getting on with things for once. And I’m stressing about bullshit a lot less. And it’s true. By and large, I am enjoying this period of my life. It could be that with all the chaos I’ve stopped paying attention to what is out of my hands. I don’t know, but I feel lighter somehow.

I savoured these thoughts for a few seconds, before they started to take a different, much uglier direction. What the fuck are you talking about? You shouldn’t be enjoying this. How dare you? People are dying. God, you’re self-centred.

Before I knew it, my mind had tailspun. I felt very, very guilty for enjoying myself at the same time as there was tragedy in the world. In the days that passed, I kept returning to this moment, tossing and turning over it, trying to work out how I really felt. And eventually I came to a sort of peace about it. I’ll summarise:

It’s okay to enjoy yourself, whatever is going on around you. If you are enjoying yourself, it is a sign that you are engaged in something that means something to you. This is different to pleasure, which relates simply to your senses. Enjoyment is deeper than that.

You are free to feel guilty or ashamed, and as though you enjoying this lockdown period is somehow a selfish act of disrespect. Just don’t think for a second that your guilt or shame is going to do anything to help COVID-19 to stop spreading, infecting, and killing.

It is the guilt and shame that is truly self-centred. Not the enjoyment.

Now, you might be feeling awful. You might not have enjoyed one solitary second of the last few weeks. And if this is the case, my heart goes out to you. I hope you find some peace.

But if you have, and part of you feels funny about it, I want you to know that it’s okay. It’s okay to enjoy yourself. You didn’t choose this. Why should you feel guilty for making the best of it in a way that is hurting absolutely nobody?

Take Your Time

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

Lao Tzu

You don’t need to get it done today. You only need to sit with it, and give it your undivided attention, for a bit. That’s all.

And then tomorrow – after a good night’s sleep has restored and rearranged and revitalised your synapses – sit with it again. Something will leap out at you, something so seemingly obvious that you’ll feel foolish for not having seen it before. But you were no fool, you were simply on a less experienced step of your journey.

If your tendency in normal times is to rush things, because you’re desperate to “get something going”, or to get it “out there”, why not use this hiberation period to do exactly the opposite? Take your time. Take ten times longer than you normally would. Watch what happens.

This Is Making You Stronger

I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent – no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.


Nobody enjoys misfortune. Nobody welcomes misfortune. And nobody in their right mind would prefer misfortune to a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking.

All the same, it’s only when shit hits the fan – unexpectedly, to boot – that we get a glimpse of the greatness lying dormant within us the rest of the time. It’s only when given something to push against that a muscle can grow.

You don’t have to believe me, but what’s going on right now is making you a stronger human being. And that is strength that will stay with you. Forever.

Are You Okay?

Are you okay?

That’s all I want to know. That you’re hanging in there. That you know you’re not alone. That – for once – the politicians are telling the truth when they tell you that we are quite literally all in this together.

But I also want you to know this:

If at any point, you feel even for a second like you can’t handle this shit, and you don’t know what’s coming next and it’s all too much and you just want somebody to get it all out to…


I’ll be here.

PS: (replace the 0 with +44 if you’re outside the UK.)

Use Your Phone Smart

Your smartphone has two jobs.

On one hand, it was hired by you to accomplish certain tasks. In the scheme of things, it’s a screaming bargain and a miracle.

But most of the time, your phone works for corporations, assorted acquaintances and large social networks. They’ve hired it to put you to work for them. You’re not the customer, you’re the product. Your attention and your anxiety is getting sold, cheap.

When your phone grabs your attention, when it makes you feel inadequate, when it pushes you to catch up, to consume and to fret, it’s not working for you, is it?

On demand doesn’t mean you do things when the device demands.

Seth Godin – “When your phone uses you”

Opiates are not evil. They are chemical compounds derived from poppy seeds. Nothing more, nothing less.

Used under the proper medical supervision, they provide incredibly effective pain relief. Used as a way to make money – capitalising on their potent potential for addiction – they wreck lives, they wreck families, they wreck societies…

Your smartphone isn’t evil, either. It’s a pocket-sized piece of space-age technology.

Used mindfully, it can take photos, connect you with your loved ones, grant you access to every song ever recorded, order you your dinner, wake you up in the morning… Used on autopilot, however, and you might just find it taking over your day.

If you feel like your phone is using you, set yourself some limits. One thing that helps me is to spend just one day following this rule: I can only open my phone up if I can first say out loud why I’m about to open it up. Doesn’t matter if the answer is “to piss about for half an hour”… the point is just to be a little more mindful of it.

You only get so much attention each day. Unless you decide to bury it in the garden, some portion of that attention is going to go on your phone. Let’s face it: they’re too damn useful to live without. Well, that’s fine.

Just make sure you’re the one pulling the strings. Use your phone smart.

Keep Looking Until You Find It

“How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to mind the events of the whole day and consider exactly what has been good and bad.

Then, without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day; of course, you achieve quite a lot in the course of time.”

Anne Frank, “The Diary of Anne Frank”

I’m just going to put it out there: whatever we might be going through, Anne had it worse.

She spent two years hiding from the Nazis, along with seven other people, in a secret annexe in a house in Amsterdam. Notice that I didn’t say government-encouraged social distancing. I said hiding. And not, incidentally, hiding from a virus that cannot think or feel, but from a well-organised, fully conscious group of Germans.

A group of Germans who, upon discovering her and her family in the annexe, sent her to the punishment block of Westerbork Transit Camp, then to Auschwitz, and finally to Bergen-Belsen – an overcrowded camp where she died of typhoid three months after arriving.

And all this for the simple crime of being born Jewish…

And yet, there she is… offering us, from beyond the limitations of time and space, a gentle philosophical hint to help us through our own struggles of having to stay indoors when that might not be what we would ideally like to be doing.

As Anne says, “Consider exactly what has been good and bad.” And let me add this: don’t let your mind trick you into accepting its first answer. Really do this. It might be tricky the first time. It might make you feel worse the first time – detox pangs. But persist.

Because if you do, you will find as I have that there is good in everything if you are only willing to look for it. It is always there. Always. It’s just that sometimes you have to adjust your eyes, especially if you’ve got really good at seeing bad things.

You might even say that what you pay to find good is nothing more than the willingness to look for it and to keep looking until you find it.

What Are You Going to Learn?

A week ago, it was looking pretty likely that what the future held for all of was a lengthy period of staying the fuck home. With each passing day, that likelihood increased exponentially. We’ll be on lockdown before long, won’t we?

As I said a few days ago, this is going to mean having to all of a sudden make new decisions about how you spend your days. Nobody spends their time perfectly, but an improvement is always possible. And nothing comes remotely close to spending it in the daily pursuit of learning how to do something that matters to you.

Now, one of my big problems is getting excited about things and wanting to spend hours every day doing them and thinking that it’s not worth doing it at all if I don’t end up a world-class specimen…

These excitements often peter out before they really get started, and a lot of that is to do with having to go places and see people – often perfectly willingly. “Life” distracts me from keeping up with any kind of personal commitment, makes the whole thing more of an uphill battle.

Well, that’s all over – for a while, at least. And so I have come to admit to myself that there is now absolutely nothing standing in my way any more. Only my bad self. There is no reason whatsoever why I can’t put an hour or two every morning of this crisis into learning the thing I want most to master.

What is that? How to tell a story.

I am going to spend some time each day learning how to craft a story. A good one. A meaningful one. One that hits you in the solar plexus. I read books about story, I listen to podcasts about story, I obsess in my head over why they did this or that when I’m watching TV. I can smell good and bad storytelling when other people have done it… I just don’t know how to do it myself yet.

But what about you? What could you put an hour into every day? What have you always wanted to get serious about and never made the time for?

When Things Change, We Change

The best thing about human beings? Our amazing ability to adapt to change.

We can get used to just about anything changing, us humans, whether we’re doing so happily, or with the reluctance of a moody teenager. Hotter weather, colder weather. From rich to poor, from poor to rich. Traversing the desert by camel, covering that same distance in an aeroplane.

When things change, we change. It’s just what we do.

And whilst this is the feature that enabled us to evolve over millions of years into the mind-blowingly incredible creature we are today, it can also be the cause of great misery if left unchecked.

The problem kicks in when things appear not to change very much for a long time. The longer things stay relatively stable, the more attached we start to become to the way things are. We tell ourselves that how things are right now is the way they are supposed to be, and the way that they are destined to stay forever.

Surely you can see the error in this line of thinking. Because the truth is that your current circumstances are just that – your current circumstances. Anything can happen at any time to change them, sometimes violently so. But there is nothing broken about reality when that happens. You might even say that you were getting extra lucky all that time when things were really stable.

The point is that seeing anything that happens as “not meant” to happen, or thinking that reality has made some kind of a mistake, or singled you out unfairly… it doesn’t help anything.

There is no “this wasn’t meant to happen.” There is only “this happened” or “this did not happen.”

There is no “the way things are supposed to be.” There is only “the way things are” or “not the way things are.”

Right now, the whole world is trying to get its head round something huge. In a matter of weeks, all sorts of things that have appeared stable for a very, very long time have suddenly been up-ended. And like the brilliant humans that we are, we are trying to adapt ourselves to these sudden, massive changes. Because that’s what we do.

We will get through this. And we will be stronger as a planet than we were before. But promise me this: you won’t spend another second speaking of this as something that wasn’t meant to happen, or that we shouldn’t have had to go through.

It happened. And we are going through it.

And we’re going to survive.

“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent – no-one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”

Seneca, “On Providence”, 4.3

Start Something. Today.

You are about to gain one thing and lose another.

What you are about to gain is the sudden influx of a lot more free time than you are used to.

What you are about to lose, therefore, are all the excuses you normally employ to let yourself off the hook… for not picking up your pen, or your paintbrush, or your guitar… more crucially, for not treating your creative spirit with the respect it deserves.

None of us know how long this is going to go on for. Why not get started on something that actually means something to you, something you would usually claim you don’t have the time or energy for?

Because if you want to do it someday, I honestly can’t think of a day to get started than today.

Periods of isolation can paradoxically be liberating.

They enable what abundance has disabled.

Vizi Andrei – “Monday Meditations (16/03/20)”

I Believe in You

It’s one thing to not be overwhelmed by obstacles, or discouraged or upset by them. This is something that few are able to do. But after you have controlled your emotions, and you can see objectively and stand steadily, the next step becomes possible: a mental flip, so you’re looking not at the obstacle but at the opportunity within it.

As Laura Ingalls Wilder put it: “There is good in everything, if only we look for it.”

Ryan Holiday – “The Obstacle is the Way”

It’s going to suck at times. It’s going to test you, over and over, and to degrees you didn’t even know were possible.

And yet… not only will you get through it, you will be forged by adversity into one who is stronger than had all of this never happened.

I believe in you. I know you can make this good. Not pretend this is good, not deny the many, many fucked up things about it, but make this good.

And the only thing needed from you is the will to do so.

You Already Know It

I don’t know what you need to hear.

It might be “Stay the fuck home.”

It might be “You’re gonna get through this.”

It might be “Use this opportunity to help those who cannot help themselves.”

But I do know this: whatever you need to hear, you don’t need to hear it from me. You already know it. It’s inside you.

Be brave and do it.

“What Would I Do If…?”

Hello. My name is Oliver and I’m addicted to thinking.

I can’t help it – whoever made me put a motor in my brain. And I know that it causes just as many problems – if not more – than it helps solve, but… like the scorpion said to the frog, this is my nature. This is who I am. As such, I must turn to face it, no matter how reluctantly, rather than keep devising ways to run from it.

Of course, most of my thoughts are used up on bullshit and the inconsequential, but every now and then, I surprise myself by going down a more useful mental avenue. One of the best uses I have found for my chronically hyperactive mind is to pose a question to myself, and to repeatedly ask that same question until I feel myself give an honest answer.

What I mean by an honest answer is an answer that feels true.

I don’t know about you, but most of my thoughts don’t feel true. They sound true, and if I’m not careful, I fall for it. But there’s a huge difference between a thought that sounds true and one that feels true. I can’t describe that difference other than by saying that you will know it when you find it.

Here’s how I see it:

I’m the teacher, standing in front of the class. I pose my question. The swotty kids on the front desks thrust their hands desperately into air, champing at the bit to offer me their brilliant answer, salivating in anticipation of their genius being recognised as such by a superior.

My eyes go past the swatty kids, and I notice one of the cool kids at the back fold her arms and roll her eyes. I ask her what she thinks. She won’t tell me. I want to press her for an answer, but I pause. I decide to negotiate. If I ask every other student before her, then will she consider giving me her answer? She shrugs and reluctantly agrees.

I get the swatty kids on the front desks out of the way first. Each gives a different answer that sounds equally impressive and means equally little.

Then I make my way through the kids in the middle of the room. Now, these kids offer answers with simpler language, and that make a lot of earthy sense, but none of them bowl me over.

There are just a few left to ask now, on the back row. These kids give me the simplest answers of all, and yet I am moved by each and every one. There is depth. There is life. There is reality. There is a deafening lack of bullshit. These kids know something.

Finally, I get to Little Miss Shrugs-Her-Shoulders-And-Rolls-Her-Eyes. Her answer breaks my heart.

That is why you have to keep asking yourself the same question, over and over. Don’t be satisfied with your first few answers. Get through the swatty kids who disguise their lack of substance with peacock-like verbiage. Get through the middle kids who are less impressive but a little more down-to-earth. Get through the kids at the back of the room, who will tell you what you might not want to hear but what you need to hear.

But don’t stop until you to get to that last girl. She’s where it’s at.

PS: Why not ask yourself this one: “What would I do if a pandemic meant I had to stay at home for the next few months?”

Make This Time Count

In early 1665, Isaac Newton was a twenty-three-year-old student at Cambridge University, on the verge of taking his exams to be a scholar in mathematics, when suddenly the plague broke out in London. The deaths were horrific and multiplied by the day; many Londoners fled to the countryside where they spread the plague far and wide. By that summer, Cambridge was forced to close, and its students dispersed in all directions for their safety.

For these students, nothing could have been worse. They were forced to live in scattered villages and experienced intense fear and isolation for the next twenty months, as the plague raged throughout England. Their active minds had nothing to seize upon and many went mad with boredom. For Newton, however, the plague months represented something entirely different. He returned to his mother’s home in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire. At Cambridge he had been bothered by a series of mathematical problems that tortured not only him but his professors as well. He decided he would spend the time in Woolsthorpe working over such problems. He had carried with him a large number of books on mathematics that he had accumulated, and he proceeded to study them in intense detail. He went over the same problems, day after day, filling notebooks with endless calculations.

When the sky was clear he would wander outside and continue these musings, seated in the apple orchards surrounding the house. He would look up at an apple dangling on a branch, the same size to his eye as the moon above, and he would ponder the relationship between the two—what held the one on the tree and the other within the earth’s orbit—leading him to ideas about gravity. Staring at the sun and its optical effect on everything around him, he began to conduct his own experiments on the movement and properties of light itself. His mind flowed naturally from problems of geometry to how it all related to motion and mechanics.

The deeper he went into these studies, the more he would see connections and have sudden insights. He solved problem after problem, his enthusiasm and momentum quickening as he realized the powers he was unleashing in himself. While the others were paralyzed with fear and boredom, he passed the entire twenty months without a thought of the plague or any worries for the future. And in that time, he essentially created modern mathematics, mechanics, and optics. It is generally considered the most prolific, concentrated period of scientific thinking in the history of mankind. Of course, Isaac Newton possessed a rare mind, but at Cambridge nobody had suspected him of such mental powers. It took this period of forced isolation and repetitive labor to transform him into a genius.

Robert Greene and 50 Cent – “The 50th Law”

Nobody would have chosen for this to happen. What makes our plight even more precarious, though, is that we don’t yet really know what “this” is.

We don’t yet know how many people will become infected. We don’t yet know how many lives will be lost. We don’t yet know how much disruption there will be, nor how this will affect the smooth running of the economy, nor how long the damage will take to recover from, nor how all of this uncertainty will prey upon the mental health of the global population.

But whilst nobody would have chosen for this to happen, we must face facts: it has happened, it is happening, and it will continue to happen. So the question that remains is “What are you going to do?” Not about coronavirus – that is outside your control. I mean what are you going to do about you? How are you going to proceed?

Will you glue to yourself to BBC News and tell yourself you’re ‘being a responsible citizen’ by ‘staying informed’? Will you scroll through your Facebook feed hours at a time, waiting for all this to blow over? Will you give yourself permission to wallow in anxiety over the state of the world?

Or will you give your house an early spring clean? Will you learn how to break-dance in your living room by watching Youtube videos? Will you finally write that James Bond/Planet of the Apes crossover screenplay?


I supposed what I’m asking is are you going to waste this time, or are you going to use this time?

There’s a good chance that by now you are self-isolating. You may be doing this out of choice, or you may be doing this because you have been told that you must. Either way, I want you to accept with every fibre of your being that for an unknowable period of time, this is your life. That there is no advantage to be gained by resisting it.

But most importantly, that it is entirely within your control whether or not your life during this period of time is good or bad. Entirely within your control.

Why? Because it is in fact just as easy to look for and find what is good about this situation as it is to look for and find what is bad about it. Both are just a simple decision away, and you are free to choose whichever one you like.

Now, before you start to, please don’t try to justify choosing only to see what is terrible about this with the excuse that… that’s what everybody else is doing. You were given a free will for a reason. Worse, please don’t try and claim that it would be disrespectful to all of the people suffering for you to try and make something good of it. No! Don’t give me that shit.The people who are suffering have not asked you to suffer along with them.

You can be compassionate without being unnecessarily negative. I am not asking you to pretend that something that is bad is good. I am not asking you to deny anything that is true. I am simply asking you to look for the parts that are good.

People dying? Bad. Obviously. But does that then therefore mean that everything about the entire situation is also bad, by default? Not by a long shot.

If you are self-isolating, what is the one thing you suddenly have? An unknowably long stretch of relatively free time. Sudden, unexpected free time. I’ll say it again: you might not have chosen for it, but now that you’ve got it, make the most of it.

And what about the people who are not going to be able to work, and who are therefore going to struggle to make ends meet, even more than they normally do? What good can they find in this situation?

Well, I don’t have to wonder too hard about those people – I am one of them.

I make my living by teaching people guitar and piano – some come to me, some let me come to them. I stop working, I stop earning. Now, I could shit myself about this and decide already that this is a personal tragedy for me, full stop, and there’s nothing I can do. But why? Who can that possibly help? I have to find another way to look at it, something more empowering.

When I quit my teaching job last summer to go it alone, one of the ideas I was excited about was teaching people remotely, via Skype. There were a lot of reasons – I could work from home, cutting down on travel time; I would not be limited to the tiny portion of the world’s population that live near me; and if there was some reason why I couldn’t leave the house for a while, I’d be able to continue making a living.

But I didn’t really ever get moving on it – a mix of not knowing where to get started, as well as trying first to get some local in-person students. And eventually I all but forgot that it was ever my plan to be a remote music teacher.

Well, now that has gone from “nice idea I never really got round to” to “If I don’t do it, how the hell am I going to pay the rent?!”

And so I have decided that I am going to see this as a kick up the arse from reality. Am I really so arrogant and self-absorbed that I think reality sent the coronavirus just to get me to move forward in my business? Of course not! That would be really mad. But I recognise that I have the power to choose what this situation means to me. So am I going to look for what is bad about it or what is good about it?

And that’s my point here, really. You get to decide what this pandemic means – not for the world, but for you. Will you give it a meaning that inspires you to spend this time well, or will you give it a meaning that disempowers you and finds you wallowing in anxiety?

One more thing. I don’t ask for much, but promise me one thing: That your life doesn’t become a Groundhog Day existence where you sit on the sofa in front of the news all day long.

Aside from the essential updates and important advice from the government, nothing else you see on there will be something you can do anything about. I’m not saying don’t watch the news, but be reasonable. Limit yourself. All you need are the relevant facts. It takes a matter of minutes to get them on your phone. Once or twice a day is more than enough.

All that writer’s block I somehow filled a whole post with the other day seems to have evaporated, no? Anyway, I hope you have a lovely Sunday. I have a feeling my writing in the near-future is going to be in this vein – sharing my insights on how to deal with the uncertainty the coronavirus situation has suddenly thrust upon us all.

If you would prefer instead that I be morose about it, and focus only on what is tragic about it, and how powerless we all are, and you are think I’m being irresponsible for even floating the idea that you can try to turn shit into sugar and make something good come from it…

Then stop reading. Unsubscribe. I love you, but I don’t want you.

Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all the other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfill itself? So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.

Marcus Aurelius – “Meditations” Book 4: 49a

Embarrass Yourself

Earlier today, I looked back at a couple of pieces I wrote months ago. I cringed. And then I remembered this little quote:

“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.”

Alain de Botton

He’s right, isn’t he?

It’s impossible to live a good life if your chief strategy is to avoid being embarrassed, or doing things you have a higher-than-zero chance of regretting, or that you might cringe when you look back on one day.

I suggest the opposite: consciously do something every day that has the potential to be embarrassing to your future self.

Most people watching won’t even notice the embarrassing nature of the thing you do. Of the ones that do notice, most of them won’t remember it for long – don’t forget, they have their own lives to live. And of the ones that do remember, most of them won’t think poorly of you. They will more likely admire you for having some guts. They might even be envious.

And if they do happen to think poorly of you, or try to tease or mock you with it, forget them. You don’t need them. They are unhappy people. They must be – if they were happy with themselves, why would they be trying to bring you down?

Similarly, you must treat your past self with compassion. When you think of something that makes you cringe at the thought of who you used to be, laugh about it, and then realise that it’s just a sign of how far you’ve come.

I’m Going Through Something

Oh, I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me. I’m not worried about me. Don’t worry about me.

It’s just that… I really don’t want to write any more. Bit of an existential problem for someone who identifies as a writer, no? Bit of a pisser for someone who made a contractual agreement with his sister to publish something every day for a year, no?

But, as I said, I’m not worried. I’m not going to stop writing. And hopefully, like a butterfly from his cocoon, I will emerge stronger from this literary dark night of the soul.

The truth is actually not so much that I don’t want to write any more. It’s more that since quitting caffeine, I no longer have the desperate and urgent compulsion I’ve battled with for years to get EVERYTHING out of my head and off my chest and into some kind of literary or musical form – and failing to do so 99.9% of the time, I should add.

As such, I’m not quite sure what to do with myself.

It has been 18 days since I stopped drinking anything with caffeine in it – after around 13 years of a pretty solid habit – and that is what is responsible for this change. Going cold turkey has been incredibly eye-opening. On the whole, I feel better than I have for years – I feel more like myself, whatever that means. But great as that is, it’s as though my operating system has changed, or like I’ve upgraded to a new model of brain, and I don’t know how to use it yet because I got so used to how the old brain worked. A whole chunk of my personality seems to have vanished. I feel a little bit like I have to learn how to live all over again.

What I didn’t realise was just how fuelled by stress hormones my thoughts and actions were for so long, rather than by any kind of rational thinking. The only way I found I could get myself to do things was to become so stressed about what would happen if I didn’t that I would do them to break the tension. I’m talking about anything from the laundry and the dishes to writing pieces like this.

Overall, this was a really horrible way to live, and it got worse when I started taking Elvanse a couple of years ago – a slow-release amphetamine. Things might have got done – some of the time – but if the cost was me feeling shitty about them before, during, and after, then was it worth it? I don’t think so.

But before I completely shit-talk the last decade and more of my life, the one single advantage was that this way of living allowed me to be prolific as a writer. It might not surprise you, but I’ve built up a lot of inner turmoil and tension over the years, and that meant that if I could get myself in my writing chair, I never ran out of things to say.

So now without chronic internal stress fuelling my work, I’m running on empty until I find something else to put in my tank. And I haven’t managed that just yet.

But do you know what? I don’t really care. Because I’m a lot happier than I’ve been for a long time and everything else can go to hell.

The Philosophy of a Coronavirus

It didn’t take long, did it? Coronavirus is now officially a very big deal.

Well, I’m not going to come at you with my normal stoic quotes about how if we just get on with our normal lives it can’t affect us… because that’s not true. It would be trite. This thing can affect you, and it well might. It’s just something to be accepted at this point. The disruption that has already begun is going to get worse before it gets better.

But I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try and offer a positive perspective. And as I walked home from getting my hair cut earlier I found one. No, it doesn’t make the virus or the disruption go away, and no, it doesn’t replace the need for pro-active steps to prevent the spread and minimise fallout. But it might help.

What the immensity and seriousness of the coronavirus situation goes to show is how piddly and of zero consequence everything we ordinarily worry about is. Because how often do things of this size happen – things that cause this much global disruption? Almost never. And yet how often do we fear that they are about to? Constantly.

We are conditioned – by the media, by the state, by one another – to live in fear of what could be around the corner. To panic when the wind changes. To sweat when the phone rings. This chronic, fueled-by-cortisol state is the regular mode of existence for most of the world’s population. And yet we’re almost always completely wrong in our predictions of doom.

Panic and worry can accomplish nothing that rational thought cannot accomplish both more safely and more effectively.

But sometimes, it takes a global pandemic to make you wake up to that reality and appreciate just how fine almost everything is almost all the time.

“The pragmatist can’t worry about every possible outcome in advance. Think about it. Best case scenario — if the news turns out to be better than expected, all this time was wasted with needless fear. Worst case scenario — we were miserable for extra time, by choice. And what better use could you make of that time? A day that could be your last — you want to spend it in worry? In what other area could you make some progress while others might be sitting on the edges of their seat, passively awaiting some fate? Let the news come when it does. Be too busy to care.” 

Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman – “The Daily Stoic”

We Want You

We don’t want you flawless. We don’t want you focus-grouped.

We don’t want you homogenised. We don’t want you optimised.

We want you messy. We want you real.

We want you fucked up. We want you missing a tooth and grinning ear-to-ear about it.

Whoever you are, that’s who we want.

“If God had wanted me otherwise, he would have created me otherwise.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Business as Usual

“We are liable to miss the best of life if we do not know how to tingle, if we do not learn to hoist ourselves just a little higher than we generally are in order to sample the rarest and ripest fruit of art which human thought has to offer.”

Vladimir Nabovok – “Look at the Harlequins!”

If there is one aspect of human nature that towers above all others in our current culture, it is our conservatism. We are hell-bent on preserving “business as usual.”

There’s just one problem with that. There is no such thing.

That’s right. There is no “business as usual”. For how could there be?

No. There are only ideas, floating around each of our heads, about the way things should be. At some point in our early life, these ideas harden into a narrative – our personal “business as usual” – and the sum total of all these narratives is our shared culture.

To try to preserve “business as usual” is to pervert the course of nature.

Reality is a dynamic, flowing, wilful thing – it is going to do what it is going to do, and the one thing you can rely on it to is to change. You can resist its changes, or you can go with them, but it remains utterly indifferent to you. To try to halt its changes because they do not mesh with how you think the world ought to be is like trying to grab hold of water.

But I think there’s something even more important here.

For even if it were at all possible to preserve “business as usual”, I wouldn’t bother. Everything that is worth doing lies beyond what we think of as usual.

If you want to live, really live, escape the routine and the mundanity and the way everybody says things are supposed to be. Demand more from the sunset.

“Perhaps the only difference between me and other people is that I’ve always demanded more from the sunset. More spectacular colors when the sun hit the horizon. That’s perhaps my only sin.”

Joe (Nymphomaniac Vol. 1)

You Are the Captain of This Ship

“Energy goes where attention flows.”

Tony Robbins

If you don’t like what you see, don’t look.

If you don’t like what you hear, don’t listen.

Your attention is exactly that – yours. And your greatest asset is your ability to say “yes” to that which you want more of – by paying more attention to it – and to say “no” to that which you want less of – by paying less.

Don’t squander this ability. It is the literal difference between having a good life and a bad life – one where you were focused on what gave your days richness and meaning, and one where you were focused on what gave your days disconnection and ennui.

But what will “they” say?

Who cares?

Anybody who gets upset with your choices is telling you far more about themselves than they are about you. They will try to make you feel reckless and irresponsible for not toeing the line that they invented. See this for what it is: an attempt to control and manipulate you.

They are afraid of you because they do not understand you. That is not your problem, nor is it your responsiblity to bring them round.

You are the captain of this ship. And in this clumsy metaphor, the sea is the world, and your attention is the ship’s wheel. Take your ship where you want to, not where people filled with fear try to manipulate you into taking it.

The Next Chapter of Your Story

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”


Sunday evening. And what did you have for dinner? (Honestly, email me. I’d love to know.) Emma and I had fried chicken, bacon, avocado and a whole lot of mayo, all of it shoved majestically into the last two pieces of stale panini bread the Tesco Express on Abbeydale Road had to offer me. And a few salty chunks of halloumi. It worked.

For most of my adult life I haven’t had to anticipate Monday mornings with the grim reluctance most people seem to, because I’ve either been unemployed, or self-employed, or started work in the afternoon. For all intents and purposes, Sunday evening should feel no different to me than any other evening. But coulda woulda shoulda… it does feel different.

You might see it differently, but Sunday evenings feel to me like the end of one little chapter of my life, and the beginning of another. A sort of mini death and rebirth. And so what I like to do, in a completely informal way, is to ask myself – when I remember to – “How will you shape this next chapter of your story?”

I use the word “shape” very deliberately here. I don’t believe that I can control the future – not even one week at a time – any more than I believe that I can throw a pork chop through a fifteenth-story window and have it land directly into a frying pan. To be honest, no matter whether I leave things be, or try obsessively to control them, things tend to just happen the way they want to happen.

But make no mistake, I am in no way a defeatist. I haven’t given up. There are some things I can do. I can look inside myself and ask who I want to be. And then I can try, just for this week, to act like I am that person. And if I can at least try to do that, then it doesn’t matter how spectactularly I fail… my week will have been, on balance, a damned sight better than if I given this no thought whatsoever.

Fail your way forward, as I have never said, but may start doing from now on.

Well, what about you? How will you shape this next chapter of your story? What would bring you that inch closer to being the person you truly want to be… the person you actually are on the inside?

Be More Wrong

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”

James Joyce

Sure. But let’s be honest for a second, James… isn’t being right a whole lot more delicious than being wrong?

Oh, how I love being right! You know, I really get off on it. It puts me that much closer to God’s right hand. If you could cut me open when I’m in the middle of being right, you will find my veins running rich with the warmth of smugness and self-righteousness.

It’s a feeling so delicious, in fact, that it feels in no way like the addiction it really is – no, it feels wonderful, like running a bath of dopamine.

And that’s what’s so dangerous about it. The neurochemical buzz you get from being right blinds you to reality, to what is. All you care about now is that you’re right, and that you want to stay right.

If all you care about is being right, you are going to severely limit your potential as a human being. Instead of exploring the world, you care more about protecting your current position. You stagnate. You shrink. You become a husk, divorced from reality, and attached to preserving something utterly meaningless.

You don’t grow from being right… ever. You only grow from being wrong – from making an incorrect assumption about reality, being shown the error of your ways, and then correcting course. The more often you can prove yourself wrong – and survive – the truer your perception of reality becomes.

Yes, it’s a paradox. The way to be as right as possible in the long-run is to be wrong as often as possible in the short-run.

Stop trying to prove yourself right. Prove yourself wrong instead. What could be more fun?

“If you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You are doing things you have never done before, and more importantly, you are doing something.”

Neil Gaiman

Be Your Own Oracle

The BBC newscaster, in her twin-set and pearls, comes on-screen to inform you of a groundbreaking new study – one which demonstrates beyond belief that people who eat an average of two squares of dark chocolate every full moon have a 15% percent smaller chance of developing an ingrown toenail.

Great. But what I am I supposed to do with that?

Your hairdresser asks you if you work out and when you say “No, not really,” she spends seven minutes detailing her cousin’s ex-boyfriend’s calisthenics routine – he used to do four press-ups every five days and in no time he had arms like cobras.

Brilliant. I didn’t ask.

And your best friend doesn’t understand how you can have trouble sleeping – so long as she has her phone playing a true crime podcast, and her computer playing Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii, she’s out like a light.

Fine. But when I tried it I tossed and turned all night, in and out of nightmares involving Dave Gilmour and the unsolved mysteries of unsolved mysteries…

If you sometimes feel like the world is little more than a constant reminder of everything you’re supposed to be doing, or not doing, or already are doing but apparently not in the way you’re meant to do it… you’re not alone. Me too.

My advice? Double down on how you’re living now. Plant your feet more firmly where they currently stand. Learn to be comfortable with just exactly who you are and how you do. Build your house on the rock.

And should you then feel a genuine desire to try something new, to shake things up, to grow, to stretch yourself as a human being, then go for it. You’ll probably fare better too, because of your strong foundation.

But if what you’re motivated by is ‘something someone said’, which gave you a fear of missing out, and a fear of not keeping up with the Jones’s, and a fear that you’re getting life wrong…

Ignore it. Stick with your own path.

“Quod ali cibus est aliis fuat acre venenum.”

(What is food for one man may be bitter poison for others.)

Titus Lucretius Carus (1st century BC)

This Is Your Time

Of all the sensitive muso-type clichés there are – and they bring new ones out every year – one I’ve been particularly guilty of is seeing myself as having been born into the wrong era.

Music just isn’t the same these days, I’ll sit and think. I’d have been so much better off in late 60s Laurel Canyon. There’s nothing I can do here…

And then I wake up and I slap myself on the wrist. Because the notion that you or I were born into any other time than the perfect time is a ridiculous one, and I see it as part of my civic duty to rid the world of as many ridiculous notions as possible.

“Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result – eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly – in you.”

Bill Bryson – “A Short History of Nearly Everything”

Don’t you see? This is your time. It has to be.

I’ll forgive you the occasional flirtation with the idea that you might have fared better in the 20s, or the 60s, or even a few centuries ago, or even in Ancient China… but make sure flirting is as far as it goes. Keep those hands above the waist. Leave room for Jesus.

Because you don’t have time to waste – you have work to be done in the present. And I’ll tell you what that work is… helping shape this era, the one you actually find yourself in.

You can’t do anything in those other eras, because you weren’t there. Or then. But you are here. And now. So you can either waste your life lamenting that fact, or you can get on with something in the here and now, where you actually have some sway.

Whenever you are, that’s when you were meant to be.

One final thing: if you genuinely feel with all your heart that you were born into the wrong era, and nothing I say can convince you otherwise, then my advice is to go 100% as deep as you can into that impulse. Turn what I’m telling you is a limiting belief into art. As Ryan Holiday says in The Obstacle is the Way, “Every negative has a positive. Push a negative hard enough and deep enough that it will break through into its counterside.”

The best people in the world have a timeless essence. Whatever it is that makes them unique has very little to do with the times they live in. But they are still nevertheless born into one era or another.

You might as well make the most of yours, since it’s the only one you’ll ever have.

I Knew I Would Never Be Happy Again

I sat on my bed and I looked out of the loft window at the red setting sun and I knew I would never be happy again.

There isn’t much more to it than that. Towards the end of 2002, when I was eleven years old, I fell like a falling safe into my first depression. It was to last for about four or five months.

I had had a great year, all told, right up until that moment on my bed. And it wasn’t just because good things had happened to me that year, though they had. I had spent months genuinely in love with life for no good reason.

My Year 6 teacher, Mr Pownall, was brilliant. I looked forward to going to school every day, because he had found a way to both stoke and satsify my growing curiosity about the world. I don’t know how he did it but he did. And I was getting good on the guitar, spending my spare time learning Beatles songs, mainly by ear. And in the summer holidays, I spent four weeks in Japan on a CISV camp, where I met and got to know thirty-nine other kids from ten different countries. Blew my mind.

And then I came back to England, and pretty much straight away started at secondary school. It might not have been as balls-to-the-wall fun as primary school had been the past couple of years, but it certainly seemed like something I could manage. It was all very new to me, and that made it exciting in and of itself.

There were all kinds of types of people I had never come across before. Of course you had nice kids and mean kids and bitchy kids but then you also had kids that wanted you to think they were hard, kids that actually were hard, kids whose parents were addicts and sex workers and Jeremy Kyle contestants… It was fascinating.

Then six or seven weeks in, we had a week’s holiday. I remember nothing about what I did during that week, only that on the Sunday night, I sat on my bed and I looked out of the loft windows at the red sun setting and I knew I would never be happy again. Every ounce of good-feeling I had ever known – and I had known very much in my eleven years – was gone.

Poof. Just like that.

In a film, when something whacks you out of the blue like that, it’s usually the precursor to some kind of adventure – man falls into a hole, and then the rest of the story is him trying to get himself out of it. But since this is not a film, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to find out that I did what I imagine most people do when most anything happens to them – I just carried on in the hope that it would magically sort itself out.

I was back at school the next morning, getting on with my life, trying to act as as though nothing had changed, as though I hadn’t seen what I had seen that Sunday night. And I kept up the act of being whoever it was I had been before. But it got harder and harder to do that, because deep down I knew I wasn’t that boy any more. I was a different boy. I was a very sad boy.

I have always felt a bit separate from other people. Not disliked, not rejected, just not naturally one of the pack. I find it goes against my nature to spend too much being part of a team – I have to smooth my rough edges to fit in and I resent having to do so.

And up until that point I’d also never given a solitary shit about this side of me before. I might have even taken pride in it. But over those few months, I grew to hate it. To hate everything that made me stand out. I would have given anything to be just like “everyone else”. I would lie in my bed at night and stare at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling and feel ashamed at all the thoughts that were racing through my head. And then I would feel guilty that there were people in the world with “real” problems, and here was me with a cushty life with nothing going wrong lying in bed upset about my own brain… how dare I?

At first, my guitar was a great solace. I had been playing for nearly two years at this point, and whilst I don’t want to blow my own trumpet when there isn’t cause to, for an eleven year with less than two years experience who had never had a single lesson, I was a fucking God on that thing. I would play, and whilst I had it in my hands, there was some kind of temporary relief. But it didn’t last. There came the day when it did nothing for me. The notes that had once been so beautiful were now just sounds, no different to me than a car horn or my mum boiling some water on the hob.

I even put it under my bed for a week during the Christmas holidays so that I wouldn’t have to look at it, because looking at it just reminded me of how far I’d fallen.

It was the longest winter of my life.

There was no one day when I suddenly felt better – it happened very slowly and gradually. Whilst the depression had hit me like a ton of bricks, it had lifted like a particularly weak person picking up each brick individually and carrying it away before returning to pick up the next one.

And there was no specific thing I did or didn’t do to get better – since I had no idea what was happening to me I had no idea how to help myself. In the end I think I’d call it the blind luck of several things compounding to lift me out of it.

My family, who have never been anything but loving towards me. Making friends with Miles and now having a buddy to play guitar with. Getting a lot of exericise playing for a football team. The sun coming out a bit more. Going to youth club at St Chads on a Friday night.

But my specific “recovery” memory is of laying down on the very same bed I’d watched the sun set and felt so god-awful on, strumming my guitar and texting some girl I fancied in my class and suddenly noticing that there was no longer the black cloud above me that there had been.

I don’t know where it went. I didn’t think to ask. I was just glad to see the sky again.

It’s Okay If You’re Depressed

I don’t know who needs to read this. Today, it was me. Tomorrow, it might be you.

There’s only one thing that hurts more than being depressed: being depressed whilst telling yourself you have no right to be depressed.

So let me make it clear to you, in case nobody ever did before: You have every right to be depressed. You don’t need a reason. You don’t need a justification. You don’t need anybody permission. You’re allowed to just… be depressed.

And speaking from personal experience (I am going to write tomorrow about my first depressive episode at the age of 11) I can tell you that the most insidious and depressing aspect of depression is how it robs you of the ability to do the things that would help you feel better. As in… your mind comes up with the solutions, but then won’t allow you to follow through on them. Isn’t that just evil?

So whilst I of course would recommend you do the usual common-sense things, like go to the doctor, talk to someone you trust about how you feel, make sure you’re eating enough plants, getting enough light, going for a walk every day… you might answer “Yep, all great ideas… but I’m depressed. So I won’t be doing them. Because I literally can’t. Bye.”

And I would completely understand. So that leaves you with just one option.

Let it in.

Because no matter how god-awful you feel, no matter how ashamed you are at this depression you “shouldn’t” have, no matter how much you wish you could have someone else’s brain for a day, not allowing it to be is making it a hundred times worse.

Of course you don’t want to admit it. Of course you don’t want to accept it. You don’t want to feel like shit. Why wouldn’t you resist it? It’s just that what you think you’re going to get from resisting it is not what you’re going to get. Ignoring will it always make it worse in the long run. I’ll repeat that: ignoring it will always make it worse in the long run.

Please, for me, if you can’t do any of the other stuff, at least do this. Tell yourself it’s okay to be depressed. At least stop fighting yourself. At least stop using half of your brain to attack the other half.

To whatever extent you are able to, accept that right now, at this moment in time, this is how you feel.

And no, you’re not going to magically become un-depressed. Your life is not going to sort itself out overnight. But you will get the only thing you need – a tiny bit of relief. Relief is all you need. Because if you can get a little relief today, even just a snifter, you can get a little more tomorrow. And then maybe you can try some of the other stuff you know would probably help.

Depression is hard enough by itself. Don’t make it even harder by denying that you’re experiencing it. You might think you’re being optimistic – you’re not. Denial isn’t optimism. It’s incredibly fucking dangerous.

Lastly, I love you, and I promise you I’m not the only one.

Don’t Let Them Intimidate You

“Shostakovich maintained his presence of mind in several ways. First, instead of letting Stalin intimidate him, he forced himself to see the man as he was: short, fat, ugly, and unimaginative.”

Robert Greene – “The 33 Strategies of War”

As you go through your day, you will inevitably encounter people who act in a way that makes you assume that they know more about the world than you do. And regarding certain domains, this may indeed turn out to be true.

The bus driver, for instance, likely knows far more than you do about driving buses. The office worker knows how to survive working in an office. And the professional footballer… when it comes to kicking a football around for 90 minutes a week and being a professional model the rest of the time, I’m afraid he’s got you beat.

But what does any of that have to do with you?

When it comes to you living your life, it is literally impossible for anyone to what is better for you than you yourself. Yes, they might on occasion be able to offer domain-specific advice, but other than that, take anything they say – their advice, their judgments, their criticisms – with an enormous pinch of salt.

And that, of course, includes everything I say.


I saw it tonight.

I would hate to spoil it for you, even by telling you whether I enjoyed it or not. So all I will say is go and see it. And you will take away from it whatever is yours to take.

The one thing I kept coming back to as I watched was just how commonplace it is – downright normal, in fact – for us to place more value on some human lives more than on others. To see some people as more deserving of dignity, respect, and opportunity, often through nothing more than an accident of birth.

And how we will assume that when somebody is rich and successful it is because of their work ethic and great character, but that when somebody is in poverty it is because of their laziness or stupidity.

Who cares why somebody got themselves in the position they are in now – good or bad? If the roles were reversed, wouldn’t you want them to give you the benefit of the doubt?

It’s called the golden rule for a reason.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:37-40

The Value of Experimenting on Yourself

I don’t know why I didn’t do this a long time ago.

I’m only in the middle of my second day of not having any caffeine, and already I can tell that this was a good idea. Other than a mild headache – which started a couple of hours ago and is getting worse – I feel better than I have in years. My mind might not have shut the fuck up, but it’s speaking at a reasonable volume, and about things I have an interest in. That’s not been my experience for a very long time.

You can get used to anything. And just like how a fish doesn’t know it’s in water, I don’t think I quite appreciated how normal stress and anxiety have become for me, how much I have been relying on cortisol and adrenaline to get anything done. But that was normal, so I just kept going. And now I’m not caffeinated, I sort of feel like I’ve been away for a long time and come home. Like I’m waking up from a very deep sleep.

Of course, this could all be a fluke, and that’s what time will tell, but it is slowly dawning on me just how much of what I’ve thought, said, and done for over a decade might have been different had I not had so much coffee in me the whole time.

But I want to make something crystal clear – I am not telling you this as some kind of preach against caffeine. I don’t think that you or everybody you know should suddenly stop consuming it just because for a day and a half I have felt more relaxed without it. Jesus. I have more respect for you than that.

No, it’s not about caffeine at all. It’s about having the courage to experiment. Because you can Google all day long about whether this is good for you or that is bad for you, or if you should always do such-and-such in a particular way… and never actually find out. Or you can do a little (reversible) experiment and find out first-hand. And if life was better before you changed whatever you changed, then it’s a no-brainer – go back to how things were.

The inside-out is superior to the outside-in. It is impossible to know what something will be like until you try it

For example, I gave up alcohol for Lent last year. I wanted to see what it would be like. And honestly, the change was minimal. I slept unusually well for the first two or three nights, and after that I really didn’t notice much of a change in my life. And so when that experiment was over, I went back to drinking. Why not? I like drinking.

The point is that I wondered if there was something better on the other side, and I found my answer.

What’s something you’ve been wondering about? I say go for it. Remember, you can always reverse course if things go really tits up.

What you must ask yourself is this: Is my experience of life right now SO INCREDIBLE that it’s not worth a little experimentation to see if it could be better?

You have far more to gain than you have to lose.

Toss It

“It is a hard thing to leave any deeply routined life, even if you hate it.”

John Steinbeck – “East of Eden”

All day long, for years and years and years, you have been making choices. This way, or that.

Your “past” is really nothing more than the total sum of the choices you have made. And you can choose to see your past in one of two ways.

As a prison sentence – you see yourself as obligated to stay forever consistent to your past choices, even if you feel you now know better.

Or as a gift – you see the past as something offered to you by your former self, something you are free to accept if it still feels right, or to turn down, if you feel you now know better than you once did.

Your past certainly informs your present – and the longer you do something, the easier it gets to continue – but it does not dictate your present. You are always free to change direction. If something your past self has gifted to you doesn’t feel right any more, toss it. Say thank you for the offer, and go in the direction that feels right today.

I’m Giving Up Coffee For Lent

Last year I gave up alcohol for Lent. Why? Because I wasn’t sure if I could. That was reason enough. And it actually turned out to be easier than I thought, and to make less of a difference to my life than I thought it would.

What I didn’t tell anyone at the time, though, was that what I really wanted to do was see if I could give up coffee, but I chickened out at the last second because I was too scared and chose alcohol instead. I was scared both of the first few inevitable days of headaches and irritability, and also of the possibility that I would quit halfway through and down an espresso.

Well, I don’t know what’s different this year, but I’m giving it a go. And just because quitting alcohol for a few weeks wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be, I am under no illusions about this one. I know it’s going to be horrible at first.

If I were someone who just had a weak cup in the morning this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but with two exceptions – four weeks in 2010 and one week in 2016, I’ve drank several cups a day for the last 13 years. And I like it strong. I get a headache if I so much as get to the middle of the afternoon and I haven’t had one.

And that’s just one of the reasons why for about the last 12 years I have suspected my permanently high caffeine consumption was doing me more harm than good, but that’s the frustrating thing about coffee – it’s essentially impossible to look to the outside world for confirmation on whether or not you should be drinking it. For every study that finds definitive proof you should never have another sip, another one finds ten reasons you’re not having enough of the stuff. You can’t go down the objective route. You can’t ask the world if you personally “should” drink coffee, or your search will have you running round in circles for years, like me.

Ultimately, the only way to know if it is good, bad, or neutral – for you – is to have direct experience of both modes of living. I have experienced the full-of-coffee mode for over a decade. I know INTIMATELY what that shit is all about.

I think I owe it to myself to do this measly six weeks. Wish me luck. And if in my next few days worth of writings I sound like I’m down in the dumps, it’s because – chemically, at least – I am.

La Petite Mort Musicale

“Beauty needs a witness.”

Zan Perrion

I’ll let you in on a secret: certain parts of certain songs make me cry every time I hear them. It doesn’t matter if I’m in my bedroom, or if I’m driving, or if I’m walking down the street.

Case in point: I went for a rainy walk this evening, and – amongst a couple of other songs – the third verse of Castles Made of Sand by Jimi Hendrix did it to me. (There was a young girl, whose heart was a frown, ’cause she was crippled for life, and she couldn’t speak a sound…”)

I am powerless to Jimi every time he sings those lines.

But I’m not crying tears of sadness. Far from it. It’s much more like some kind of musical orgasm. I feel this rising tension inside me, and I know what’s about to happen, and then the dam bursts, and my eyes well up and I feel elation and euphoria for a few seconds, and then I come back down to Earth.

For those brief few seconds, I am free. There is no time. There is just beauty. I know exactly who I am and what I came here to do. And then it’s gone and I just have a happy memory of how it felt.

If I could bottle this experience and sell it like a drug, I would. Except that I don’t think that would work out because they do say it’s very bad business for a dealer to get high on his own supply, and I know for a fact I wouldn’t be able to help myself.

Is this something you experience too? I’d love to know.

Don’t Waste Your Life in Worry

From time to time, I like to do nothing but sit and think.

I can’t do it very often. And that’s not because I don’t have the time to – I most certainly do – but because my mind generally spends every moment from morning to night sprinting from one place to the next to the next to the next and “doing something” helps slow it down.

Well, I have no idea how much wine I drank last night – it was my birthday party – but it was enough to ensure that I felt pretty slow this morning, even after my ADHD medication and a couple of espressos. I managed to write my morning pages in the loft, humming along to Station to Station, and when I was done with that, I wanted to do nothing but sit and think. It was very pleasant.

And I don’t know why, but what I kept returning to was what a chronic worrier I have been, basically forever – as well as I might hide it. I thought about all the different things I have spent days and weeks and months and sometimes years dreading, anticipating their coming true in a state of absolute terror. I thought about all the cool things – both big and tiny – that I have stopped myself from doing because “what if…?”

And then a realisation came that made me both smile and frown at the same time: None of the things that I can vividly remember spending a lot of time worrying about have ever actually come true.

That made me sit up. “Nah,” I thought. “That can’t be. Surely… oh… actually, maybe… Jesus, it’s true.”

Every second I have ever spent worrying about anything has been a complete fucking waste of my time. Every. Single. Second.

I felt ashamed. I was given this gift of life. I don’t know how many Gods my soul had to sleep with to get me here, and then what do I go and spend a load of it doing? Smelling the flowers? Savouring my time? No. I was busy obsessing over how woe-is-me it would be if something “bad” were to happen in a future moment, over which I have no control.

Well, I don’t know how to break this nasty habit, and I suspect it is something I will be working on until the day I die, but I’m committed to the effort.

Because – and maybe I’m wrong – I very much doubt that when I am about to kick it, and I’m laying there on my death-bed, wearing old-timey pyjamas replete with one of those floppy hats, that I’ll be thinking “Oh, man, I wish I’d spent more of my life worrying about all that stuff that didn’t end up happening anyway…”

“It’s ruinous for the soul to be anxious about the future and miserable in advance of misery, engulfed by anxiety that the things it desires might remain its own until the very end. For such a soul will never be at rest – by longing for things to come it will lose the ability to enjoy present things.”

Seneca – Moral Letters

A Quick One, by Way of Henry Miller

It’s my birthday. I have a party to get ready for. So whilst I have no intention of shirking today’s writing all together, I’m afraid I do not have the luxury of being able to sit here indefinitely, listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd, and hoping for the Muse to whisper into my ear.

And so with time being of the essence, I decided to rifle through my Ralph Lauren shoebox of notecards for something pertinent and meaningful to share on my birthday. On each notecard is a quote or passage that meant enough to me at the time I came across it to go to the effort of copying it out by hand.

I rifled through, thinking that what would be most meaningful would be something I had copied down so long ago as to have forgotten it completely. But that’s not what happened.

The very first card on the pile – something I copied out at the start of this week after reading it in an article on the amazing brainpickings website – summed up perfectly what I wanted to say to you.

“If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power…

“If you are young in years but already weary in spirit, already on the way to becoming an automaton, it may do you good to say to your boss – under your breath, of course – “Fuck you, Jack! You don’t own me!”…

“If you can fall in love again and again, if you can forgive your parents for the crime of bringing you into the world, if you are content to get nowhere, just take each day as it comes, if you can forgive as well as forget, if you can keep from growing sour, surly, bitter, and cynical, man you’ve it half licked.”

Henry Miller – “On Turning Eighty”

Goodbye, Twenty-Eight

It’s my birthday tomorrow. I will be twenty-nine years old.

When I hear myself say that, my mind offers one of two responses. If my spirits are high, I’ll think “Gee, is that all? How’d you fit all that in? Are you remembering it right? Did you really do that…?” And if they are low, I’ll wonder “Where the hell did that go? You were just tying your laces…”

All this to say who cares? Age is just a number.

We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it…

Life is long if you know how to use it.

Seneca – “On the Shortness of Life”

The best things, the most interesting things, the things that I remember the clearest and the most often, were never the things the things that went right, never the things I set out to do, never the things that seemed like the next logical step…

Instead, they were the things I would, as it were, wake up and find myself in the middle of doing, with no idea how any of it had come to pass.

They were the distractions, the diversions, the sub-plots, the tangents. These were life itself and the only tragedy was that you couldn’t deliberately make any more of them than you were given. To do so would be like trying to grab hold of water.

The best you could do was to notice when a big wave was approaching and then ride it ’til the sun went down.

So if I have learnt anything – and the jury’s still out on that one – it is that it’s wise to have a plan, to follow a routine, to structure your days… and then to throw that shit out of the window like a hot potato the second something shiny comes along.

Because that’s life.

Be Kind… to Yourself

The kindest thing I did today was give up.

I drank the water. I swallowed the pills. I even did a breathing exercise I found online designed to stimulate my vagus nerve…

And none of it could even remotely shake whatever voodoo funk I’d woken up with. You know the kind I mean – you feel like you can remember the words for “sunshine”, and “smile”, and “lolly-pop”, but you don’t remember what they mean…

I rallied round for a few hours, desperately doing things to try to make myself feel better. And then I got sick of it. And I gave up. And the moment I got sick of it and gave up and just accepted how I awful I felt, I felt better. Not “better” in the sense that the black fog had suddenly left me, but “better” in the sense that I didn’t feel as bad as before. Hey, I’ll take that.

I’m not going anywhere in particular with this, other than to say that sometimes you’re going to wake up feeling like you’ll never be happy again. You need to remember two things.

One, that it’s not true – you will be happy again.

But two, if all you do is tell yourself thing number one, and try to push the feeling down, you’ll wake up the same way tomorrow.

I know it doesn’t seem right that accepting horrible feelings that you don’t want to feel is the path to ultimately feeling better, but it is. Feelings – even the horrible ones – want to be felt. The more you run from them, the more damage they will do in the long run.

So next time you wake up feeling like death, be kind to yourself. Drink the water. Swallow the pills. And as soon as you possibly can, give up.

The Time I Woke up in a Police-Car

You know,” I say. “Women resist at first, but they always succumb in the end…” Lucy looks at me like I am on crack. Robyn? She just cracks up.

Allow me to explain…

I’m 21 years old and it’s a Monday evening in March. Sitting on my bed at my parent’s house after dinner, watching Two and a Half Men, I drink a whole bottle of Australian white wine – a 21st birthday present a couple of weeks ago.

Then I’m on the bus to town, Cat Stevens is in my ears, and I’m blissing out to the feeling of warm alcohol running making its way through my veins. I’m at that sweet-spot where your anxiety has disappeared but it hasn’t yet been replaced by stupidity. If I only I could feel this way all the time, I’m thinking.

At the Green Room, I buy myself some more white wine and sign up to the open mic. It’s my turn to play. I’m still conscious enough to put in a decent set, if somewhat growly and aggressive. It’s busy tonight and so the applause feels like twice as much as usual and it makes me feel like superman.

I’m having the time of my life. I drink a few more glasses of wine.

The trouble begins when I hear a voice ask “Does anybody play drums?” Before I know what’s going on, I’m sitting behind the drum kit. Later, I would learn that no sooner had the question been asked, than I had exclaimed “Me!” and run faster than a speeding bullet toward the stage, as though paranoid somebody else might get there first.

It’s Steve who needs a drummer. Steve plays soft, , sensitive acoustic material. There’s a bass player too. They talk amongst themselves, presumably about what songs we’re about to rock out to.

I pick up the drum sticks. This is fine, I think. I know what I’m doing. I can drum. I’ll just test them. I whack the snare drum. “BAM!” I find it hilarious. I do it again. The second one makes me laugh even more than the first. I look up. Steve and the bass player – and most of the people in Green Room – are looking at me.

I’ll give you something to look at, I think to myself. I do an ill-executed drum-roll, and end it with a crash cymbal. Though I hear no cheers, I am delighted with myself, and start hitting the drums almost at random. What’s everybody’s problem? Get off the stage? I’m drumming! I’m a drummer! BAM! BA-BAM! Alright, alright, I’ll wait.

Steve starts a song. I sit quietly. I nod my head. Yep. I got this. I arch my back, steeling myself for my big moment. Here it is… BA-BAM-BA-BA-BAM… oh, fuck.

I have dropped both drum-sticks on the floor, which is a shame, because the fill I was playing was dynamite, but having heard only half of it people are going to make the dangerous assumption that I’m just some drunk who can’t play the drums. I’ll show them.

I find the sticks, and I attempt to rejoin the song. But they’re playing it all wrong. Sure, Steve might have written the song, but I know how it should go – I’m a musician, remember. This is dragging, the way he’s doing it. It needs someone to light a fire under it. And if that someone has to be me, then so be it. I start drumming a little bit faster and a little bit louder. And whilst my intentions were to make the song sound better, if anything, I have made things much worse.

They stop playing, in the middle of the song, and ask me politely to stop playing the drums. I can’t argue with them. Not only because they’re right, but because I’m slowly losing the ability to string sentences together. I go back to the audience. Someone offers me a glass of water. I down it.

It was around this time that Robyn’s friend Lucy arrived. She is very beautiful. I stroll up to her, go to whisper into her ear, and realise far too late that I have forgotten how to whisper. “You know,” I said. “Women resist at first, but they always succumb in the end…” Lucy looks at me like I am on crack. Robyn? She just cracks up.

I feel like my work at the Green Room is done. I bid Robyn and Lucy farewell – “I’m going home, girls!” – and I tear off my orange cardigan and I throw it at a stranger. I leg it towards the door and I continue legging it down Fitzwilliam Street.

The next thing I know, I’m laying down on the pavement.

“Are you alright, mate?” I pick my head up to see who’s talking to me. It’s a police lady in a police car. “Where do you live, mate?”

So now I’m in the back of a police car, with two female police officers, driving down Abbeydale Road. I start humming a little bit. Dum-dum-dum-duuuuhm-duuuuhm. Then mumbling. Morning has broooo-ken. I get louder.

“Come on, girls, let’s have a sing along!” They don’t take me up on it, and their lack of enthusiasm infects me – I give up myself after a line or two more. Now I’m bored. And I start to feel uneasy.

“Excuse me,” I said.


“How do you open the window?”

“Why do you want to open the window?”

“I want to be sick.”

SCREECH. “No! No! NO!” The car stops. I wonder if I’ll have whiplash in the morning. We’re outside ALDI, on Archer Road.

“This isn’t where I live,” I said. The police lady who is in the passenger seat gets out and opens my door for me.

“You can get home from here, can’t you, mate?”

I walk up the hill, throwing up in the woods along the way, and then I’m home. It’s not even midnight yet but everybody is in bed. I wonder aloud if there are any crisps.

If you can’t share your humiliation publicly, you haven’t gotten over it yet. And if you’re not over it yet, you’ve still got this gaping wound in your heart, and it will always keep you from being 100% authentic.

Being authentic — or transparent — isn’t just about being honest. It’s about having nothing to hide.

Concealing the truth from others creates a wall between you and them. Tear down that wall by sharing what you thought you could never share, and you’ll experience a much deeper level of connection with everyone you meet.

Steve Pavlina – “Share Your Shame”


For you mega-fans out there, this story is where the lines from my song, Don Draper, “I woke up in a police-car, they didn’t want to sing along…” came from.

Tattoo You

I don’t have any tattoos.

You know, I wish I had a better reason for this, like perhaps being in possession of some sort of rare ink allergy – I’d feel forty flavours of special. The truth is far less glamorous: as of yet, I’ve simply never got round to getting one.

When I was a teenager, people had this theory about tattoos. And when I say people, I mean teachers, the gobby kids at school, characters off Eastenders… To tattoos, these people ascribed a magical power, and one I never quite understood – that of making you 100% completely and utterly unemployable.

The way they told it ’round the campfire, if you were ever to be foolish enough to let a tattoist have his or her wicked way with just one square inch of your skin, well… you might as well sign up for the homeless shelter now, because buddy, ain’t nobody giving you a job. Not in this lifetime.

I smelt bullshit, if I can be frank.

The evidence for their theory was incredibly scant. And evidence for its contrary was everywhere, especially in places like KFC and McDonalds, but even once in HSBC I saw an employee burst through a door marked “STAFF ONLY” wearing a white tank-top which showed off some kind of fire-breathing dragon wrapped around his tricep.

What’s more, whenever you asked these spouters if they actually knew somebody who had been turned down for a job for being tattooed, it was always “my Dad’s mate”, or “someone my sister knows” – ah yes, the brave hero of every apocryphal tale.

But who knows… maybe their theory wasn’t completely unfounded. I was willing to accept that there were certain situations where, depending on the tattoo, and depending on the job, your prospects of landing the job might be lower than with no tattoos.

But what I wasn’t willing to accept was the unchallenged notion beneath it all that in life there might be things you want to do but for no good reason you shouldn’t do them because… what might happen??? Their model of the world seemed flawed to me, that you could either express yourself or support yourself. But not both.

Nah. Didn’t buy it then. Don’t buy it now.

Henry Ford was right: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Because of course you can have a tattoo and a job – loads of people do. Or you can have a tattoo and no job. Or no tattoo and a job. Or no tattoo and no job. All of these combinations are 100% objectively possible. But your mind will only show you what it believes to be possible.

If you walk around thinking that it’s impossible to have a tattoo and a job, and you live your life as though this were gospel, then… it will be gospel. Reality will show you what you want to see, just like how when you’re thinking about buying a red car, you suddenly see red cars everywhere. The red cars were there, you just weren’t looking for them.

It should go without saying that this piece is about more than just tattoos and jobs. It’s about everything you think to be true about the world.

What you believe matters. When you believe something, you are choosing for it to be true. You are choosing for the world to look like that. You don’t like it? Choose something different.

Beauty Is Just a Choice Away

“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”

Marcus Aurelius – “Meditations” Book 5

If you want to, you can choose to see everything that happens to you as a coincidence, as some kind of cosmic accident. You can choose to see the Universe as completely indifferent to you, like a government or a corporation. You can choose to see yourself as completely separate to the almost 8 billion other people wandering around on this blue rock circling the sun.

Equally, if you want to, you can choose to see everything that happens to you as somehow fated to happen, as part of some grand plan with you at the centre. You can choose to see the Universe as unconditionally on your side. You can choose to see yourself as intimately connected to everybody else in the world, as one part of a whole, where you cannot harm another without harming yourself, and where your joy is the joy of the whole planet.

Neither is “right”. Neither is “wrong”. They’re all just choices. No more, no less.

And yet do you not think – as I do – that if you were to walk around with the first set of beliefs in your head, your experience of life would be drastically different to if it were the second set?

You might not get to choose everything that goes on in your world, but you do get to choose how you look at it, how you frame it. Why not do so it in a way that gives you joy, that makes you feel empowered, that makes you feel rich with life?

The time is going to pass anyway, why not choose to make it beautiful?


Given how often I liberate quotes from it to reinforce my ideas here, I can understand why you might think that, like Jeremy from Peep Show, I have only ever managed to get through one book in my entire life.

Of course, this is not true. I have read several books – one of them, incidentally, being “Mr Nice”, Jez’s favourite. But until something sucker punches me like Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations”, I hope you can live with my incessant referencing of his work.

A Crisp, Green Apple

You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.

Marcus Aurelius – “Meditations” Book 1

I have a crisp, green apple here with your name on it.

Tell me, if you would, what would make my crisp, green apple taste its sweetest?

Should I hand it to you immediately after forcing you to finish a hearty five-course meal, whilst you lay on my sofa in a food coma with not only your belt unclasped but also your trouser button undone, to ease the pressure from your expanded belly?

Or should I hand it to you after you’ve spent three days walking in the hot sun with nothing to eat, not even a lonesome blueberry?

Call me crazy, but I have a sneaking suspicion you’d appreciate the crisp, green apple more after the three days of hunger than the five-course meal.

Let me come clean: I don’t really have a crisp, green apple, and if I did, I’d eat it myself. I’m just trying to make the point that when you have an abundance of something, it’s difficult to appreciate it. The path of least resistance is to take it for granted, whatever it is.

But go without it, become intimate with its lack, and the moment you get some, you’ll effortlessly appreciate the hell out of it. Because you’ve experienced the contrast.

It works with crisp, green apples. And it works with life and death, too.

If you want more from life, don’t waste your time trying to appreciate it more. You might manage it for an afternoon, here and there. But the path of least resistance is to take it for granted. Do you think a fish appreciates the water it swims in? Of course not. It doesn’t even notice it.

No. If you want more from life, then remind yourself as often as possible that one day it will end. That’s a good start. But if you want to get even more for your money, then remind yourself that not only will it end one day, that day could well be today.

Get as intimate as you can with your death. And watch your appreciation for life go through the roof.

What If This Were All Just a Dream?

If this were all just a dream, would you choose to spend it feeling afraid of the other human beings in the dream, and what they might do to you?

If this were all just a dream, would you choose to do something day after day in which you took no joy, no pleasure, no meaning, no nothing?

If this were all just a dream, would you choose to get upset every time you made a mistake, or somebody didn’t do exactly what you wanted them to do, or an obstacle of some sort got put in your way?

I’m not saying this is all just a dream. But is there any harm in pretending?

For me, no, because I know that when I live the answers I gave to those questions, my life is much sweeter, dream or no dream.

Show Your Love Every Day

“I hate Valentines Day. You should show your love every day.”

My Uber driver, last night, at the bottom of Carterknowle Road

It may have been four in the morning, and he may have been taxiing people around since eight in the evening, but that driver was not wrong.

If something’s good enough to do one day a year, it’s good enough to do every day of the year.

Nobody Has a Gun to Your Head

“Baby, that’s grammar school. Any damn fool can beg up some kind of job; it takes a wise man to make it without working. Out here we call it ‘hustling’. I’d like to be a good hustler.”

Charles Bukowski “Post Office”

I didn’t come up with it myself. I stole it from award-winning writers Ryan Holiday and Robert Greene. It’s called “The Notecard Strategy.”

As I read a book, I underline the sentences that leap out from the page at me. Sometimes I scribble my own commentry in the margins too. And then a week or two after I finish reading it, I go back through the book, and I see what still feels relevant – the passing of time helps separate the wheat from the chaff. I then copy out those bits long-hand onto notecards, putting some kind of theme or category in the corner of the notecard, and then I keep all the cards in the shoebox that my burnt-umber Adidas trainers came in.

The Bukowski quote above was something I scribbled down a couple of weeks ago, and as usual, I wasn’t quite sure in the moment why it spoke to me. But speak to me it did, and so I wrote it down.

Well, now that a little more time has passed, I think I know why.

Because Hank (Hank Chinaski, Bukowski’s alter ego in the book) is so, so, so right. And not just about jobs. About everything.

The way that most people go about doing something is not necessarily the best way. It’s not even necessarily a good way. It’s just the way the majority unquestioningly happen to do it.

But who has it has to be your way? You don’t like the normal way? Fuck it. Do it your way.

I’m admittedly the world’s worst at this, but in my rare moments of clarity even I realise that doing something begrudgingly because “that’s what people do” – and having literally no reason beyond that – is a great way to waste a life.

So stop pretending there’s a gun to your head. If there is, it’s only because you’re holding it there. You get one life. Live it your way.

Trust Is Truth

I’m running on two hours sleep, so I doubt that what follows will be any kind of novel. But as I was doing my morning pages at about five o’clock today, I noticed myself writing something that I wanted to share. It went something like this:

You want to know the truth – at least you say you do. You say you want to know the truth because once you know the truth, you will be able to “live” risk-free. You fear that if you were to truly “live” now, with an incomplete picture of the truth, that you will come to harm. That you are in danger of causing irreparable damage, either to yourself or to the ones you love. So you want to wait.

Seek the truth. Please. Go after it with every scrap of curiosity you can muster. But listen carefully: there will never be a moment where you have finished finding the truth. In fact, the more earnestly you seek it, the more you will find you still have to learn. There will be always be further to go, deeper to delve, more layers to discover.

And since you will never finish finding the truth, you cannot afford to put off “living” until you are done, because that moment will never come. No, the truth will come precisely from living. Now. If what you want to do feels important, then be honest with yourself. Do it now, and throw yourself into it body and soul, or don’t do it now. But don’t claim you are going to do it, only later. There is no later.

Look out into the world at what attracts you – whether you understand why or not. What is it that you are moved to inspect more closely? Do it. Inspect it. Engage with it. Go down the rabbit-hole. Be brave enough to follow the breadcrumbs.

Trust reality to keep you safe on your voyage into the curiosity of you soul. Trust is truth.

It was longer than I thought it would be. Sorry about that. Anyway…

Thank you for the emails you’ve been sending me. They have kept me writing – this is my 131st piece pusblished since the 5th of October, and I have no plans to stop.

I write an awful lot about what is and what isn’t under our control. And as with anything I write about, that’s because it has been the single most epic struggle of my life. Perhaps this is what I enjoy so much about having a daily writing practice – instead of allowing all the things I can’t control in my life (99.99999%) to get me down, I have devoted time each day to something well and truly under my control.

I am earning my keep on the planet, one day at a time. Thank you for being a part of that.

You Have More Than Enough

Enough of what?

Whatever it is you actually need, rather than what you have merely convinced yourself you need.

In order to do what?

Whatever it is your soul demands of you.

Yes, there are all kinds of things you cannot do with what you currently have at your disposal. But those things needn’t concern you.

Do what you can with what you have right now, because you have more enough with which to get started, and getting started is all you need to bother with.

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”

Matthew 13:12 (King James Bible)

Why What You Do Matters

You know, it’s heartbreakingly easy to fall into the trap of thinking that whatever you do, none of it really matters. That nothing in the world changes much either way whether you do one thing or another thing or no thing at all. That, cosmically speaking, your choices are not worth shit.

And maybe you’re right – who am I to tell you any different? Maybe nothing you do does matter. You can believe what you like. Nobody’s going to stop you.

But I’ll tell you this: whilst there might be no objective right or wrong thing for you to believe, there are choices are more empowering than others. As Wayne Dyer says, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

“No man is an island.”

John Donne

Have you ever heard the phrase “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with?” It’s true. We humans are largely a herd animal. Most of the things we do every day aren’t done consciously. We don’t spend time deliberating them with our rationality. We just do them. Based on what? On copying what the other people around us seem to be doing.

There is no sense in cursing this lemming-like aspect of human nature – it simply is. It’s happening whether we’re aware of it or not, whether we want it to or not. It is reality. So what you must do is find a way to adapt yourself to it, like – in the words of Robert Greene – a spider to its web. Make this law of human nature work for you rather than against you.

And one uncommon way to look at this is to flip it on its head.

Instead of only seeing the passive side of it – feeling powerless when you realise how much what everybody else does is influencing what you do – you can choose instead to look at the active side – feeling powerful when you realise how the things you do are influencing what everybody else does.

Because you are influencing others, whether you’re aware of it or not. You must be. There’s no way round it. If everybody else can rub off on you, you must be equally able to rub off on everybody else.

That’s why what you do matters.

You won’t be able to remould the universe in your image overnight. But choices add up. A smile here, a kind word there, going the extra mile when there’s no urgent need to…

The things you do matter. They matter because we’re watching you. We’re looking for cues. We want to know how to live.

Teach us, by your example.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

Mohandas Gandhi, in a 1913 piece about snakebites (not the drink, of course.)

Who Wins?

Who wins when you insist on pretending like you’re smaller than you really are?

Who wins when you refuse to share your gifts with the world, all because you cannot control how they will be treated once they are out of your hands?

Who wins when you repeat, day after day, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow…”?

Nobody wins. That’s who.

Consequences Be Damned

“How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 8:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?”

Charles Bukowski – “Factotum”

I’m not saying there won’t be consequences for resisting, for refusing to be who and what “the system” finds most convenient at this time in history. There most certainly will be.

But they will be worth it, in comparison to the inevitable consequence of giving in – having, rather than a life, a miserable, empty husk of an existence.

You weren’t born to be a drone, or a cog, or a puppet. You were meant for something higher, something which is yours and yours alone.

You only get one life. Call me crazy, but I think it’s more than worth the risk to make it your own.

Be “You”

Nobody’s asking you to cure cancer, or to find a way to get children off turkey twizzlers and onto a nice three-bean salad.

Nobody’s asking you to fix the economy, or to write the great American novel.

And nobody’s asking you to do this all without ever breaking a sweat and withot ever needing a day off and without ever accidentally pissing yourself when something gives you cause to belly-laugh.

We’re asking one thing of you, and one thing only. For you to be as “you” as you possibly can. That’s all. It’s the only thing we want and it’s the only thing you can really do anyway.

And if by some coincidence you do any of that other stuff too… let’s just call it a bonus.

If it’s imposed by nature, accept it gladly and stop fighting it. And if not, work out what your own nature requires, and aim at that, even if it brings you no glory. None of us is forbidden to pursue our own good.

Marcus Aurelius – “Meditations – Book 11”

Fear Means “Go Further”

How can you tell when you’re not actually being courageous, but just plain dumb? How can you know when the time is right to proceed with boldness and audacity, and when it’d be better for you to tone it down and be a little more “realistic.”

There are of course as many answers to this as there are people in the world, but here’s one way to gauge it: If, as you contemplate something important to you, there is no part of you trying to talk you out of it, or make you feel like an idiot, or convince you you’re playing with fire this time…

… then don’t worry – you haven’t gone far enough yet. The answer is to proceed with boldness and audacity.

How can I know this? Because fear will only ever rear its ugly head in response to your recognising something important to your soul. It’s the recognising something important to your soul that comes first. The fear is a primitive response. So long as you stay in the lower leagues, it will leave you alone.

You see, something inside you knows exactly what you’re capable of, and in every moment, it is trying to whisper this in your ear. The only hiccup is that at the exact same time, a different part of you hears what the first part is telling you, freaks out at the thought of you going along with it, and whispers an equal and opposite instruction in your other ear. What’s more, it scales perfectly – the more important to your soul the thing the first part of you whispers, the more the other part will try to stop you.

All the misery in the world comes from crossing these two wires – from seeing that voice that knows just what you’re truly mad of, how capable you really are, as some rogue imposter, whilst seeing the voice that fears everything and everyone as the real us.

The truth is the exact opposite.

Fear doesn’t mean “hold back.” Fear means “go further.”

You Don’t Want It? Then Forget About It

I want you to imagine that you are single (if you are not) and that you were looking for someone to get together with. Somebody to – in the biblical sense – know.

Now, you might not always go for it hell for leather, but deep down you’re a person who knows what they want. You’re looking for somebody you are attracted to. Somebody you are willing to open up to. Somebody who makes you feel better when you are around them than when you are not.

Then would it anger you if – as you walked down the street, as you shopped for fruit at the market, as you took a swim in the local baths – all you encountered were people in whom you had zero interest? Would you wave your fists at the sky, cursing the lack of benevolence the Gods chose to show you?

Why? Would that bring Mr or Mrs Right any closer?

Or would you simply brush it off and keep looking for somebody you did want?

The world is filled with things – some of them you want, some of them you don’t.

Go for the things you want, forget about the things you don’t.

The cucumber is bitter? Then throw it out.

There are brambles in the path? Then go around them.

That’s all you need to know. Nothing more.

Marcus Aurelius

When You Find a Way to Love Fate, Fate Finds a Way to Love You

You could be forgiven for believing – what with billions spent every year conditioning you to believe it – that the point of life is to be happy all the time, and that if you’re not, then something “out there” is wrong.

You might also believe that the only way to attain this elusive happiness is by making sure that as many “good” things happen to you as possible, and as few “bad” things happen to you as possible.

I would forgive you, but I would still point out that you have got it all wrong.

For so long as you need things to go a certain way in order for you to be happy, you won’t be.

To truly give happiness a chance of creeping up on you, you need to develop the ability to be fine whatever happens. This might sound like I am advocating indifference, or apathy – a sort of passive, powerless posture. I’m not. This is something much more beautiful.

It’s called AMOR FATI. A love of fate.

When you practice amor fati, you make the active decision to look for the good in everything… because if you look hard enough, you will find it. You love fate – you decide to love something not because it was what you wanted to happen, but because it is what actually did happen.

Now, when something “bad” happens to you, it won’t have the same power it once did to rob you of your inner peace. You will be untouchable. Because whilst everybody else is freaking out, you are too busy looking for what is good about it.

Life becomes a joy, and happiness can finally come find you, because you have stopped putting so many conditions on it.

Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Well, here’s my take: when you find a way to love fate, fate finds a way to love you.

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

You Must Leap

All day, every day, whether you’re listening to it or not, your heart is trying to talk to you. And you are not listening.

What’s more – to paraphrase something George Washingston probably didn’t actually say – your heart cannot tell a lie. Everything it says is 100% true. If you were going to rely on a single source of information, this is the only one you’d ever need.

If you listen to your heart, and you actively do what it tells you to, you will find that it will never steer you wrong – it can’t. But to actually do it? Well, that’s much easier said than done. It takes a huge leap of faith, because between your heart and reality sits your mind. And your mind really doesn’t like your heart.

When you were young, was there someone who your parents tried to get you to stay away from, because they thought they were a bad influence on you? That’s sort of your head’s role in this whole scenario – to poison you against your heart. It is utterly convinced that without its vigilance and intervention, your heart will lead you astray, and put you in danger.

So when your head hears what your heart is trying to tell you, it will go to the ends of the Earth to make you believe that what your heart is saying is ridiculous, impractical, unrealistic, impossible, even immoral… anything to get you to ignore your heart.

And it isn’t playing some kind of game – like your parents were, it is genuinely just trying to protect you from the harm it fears you coming to. Like your parents, it fully believes it is doing the right thing.

But just as you if you want to grow up you have to learn to see through what your parents think about things, if you want to live any kind of life, you have to learn to see through what your head says.

Your heart always knows what is best for you. Your head is just shit-scared. You have to let your heart win. You will never regret it.

This is not something to think about. This is something to do. The only way is through. You must recognise the leap of faith, and then you must take it. Right now. You cannot put this on your to-do list. You cannot make a plan out of it.

You must leap.

The Ballad of the Stolen Big Muff Pi

My old band – Viper Jungle – had a gig at The Boardwalk. I would estimate the year to be 2006.

Back then, I was a big effects-pedal nut. You might not know what an effects pedal is. Well, you’ve seen somebody play electric guitar, constantly looking at their feet, stamping aggressively on something every now and then…? They’re stamping on effects pedals – little metal boxes that do weird and wonderful things to the sound of your guitar.

Me, I had my heart set on an Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi, which was a fuzz pedal – I wanted that creamy, squishy, Santana-on-steroids sound for my guitar solos. A few weeks before our gig, I won one on eBay, and oh, how I looked forward to the moment when I would plug it in and turn it up to eleven (and then quickly back down again before my dad could remind me that we lived in a semi-detached house.)

Day after day I came in from school and asked my mum if I’d had any parcels. The gig was getting nearer. I was getting more and more antsy with each passing day.

Then finally, it came – on the day of the gig, no less! And I used it in our set and I it was everything I dreamed of and more. I had died and gone to guitar-tone heaven. Then somebody nicked it from out of my rucksack whilst I wasn’t looking and that was that.

Oh, well.

Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Most Things Are a Waste of Your Time

“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”

Greg McKeown – “Essentialism”

All things are not created equal, and most things are a waste of your time.

But what do the things that are worth engaging with have in common? I have boiled this question down to two simple sentences for you. A good thing satisfies one of these. A great thing, both.

  1. It is enjoyable whilst you are doing it.
  2. It is enjoyable to look back on having done it.

If whatever you’re doing, or contemplating doing, doesn’t serve either of these purposes – and there isn’t a gun to your head – just say “no.”

A Hot Girl Asked Me Out

Valentines Day. Year 8. Eight days before my 13th birthday. After lunch. A maths lesson. The second floor of the South building of Meadowhead School. I was sitting with Daisy, which is of course not her real name.

Let me tell you about Daisy. Daisy was beautiful. She had tresses of Scandi-blonde hair, a figure far beyond her years, and most impressively to me, she actually looked good in the forest-green Meadowhead uniform we all wore, which was a rare skill.

Now, it wasn’t that I wasn’t attracted to Daisy. It was that I found her so attractive I had mentally placed myself out of her league. As far as I was concerned, there was no point in even entertaining the possibility that she’d be into me. And so I found myself just… being myself. No pressure to be anything I wasn’t. And I had a great time getting to know her every time we had Maths.

You see, back then, if I wasn’t thinking about the Chili Peppers, I was thinking about some girl or another. At this point in time it just happened to be Rachel (again, not her real name.) But whoever it was – it shifted a lot – the more I thought about her, the more mixed up I got inside, and the more awkward and uncomfortable I would act whenever she was near. My desperation for the girl to like me was trumped only by my lack of any idea how to make it happen.

It was different with Daisy. Believing I’d never had a chance to begin with, I was incredibly relaxed around her. In fact I was so relaxed that when she turned to me that Valentine’s Day and said

“Hey, Ol, you know since you’re single and I’m single, I was wondering if you wanted to do something for Valentine’s Day?”

… I didn’t skip a beat. I answered “Oh, thanks, but actually I really like Rachel so I’m going to ask her to do something.”

“Oh, okay.” She didn’t seem heartbroken, but she did get quiet.

And then about five minutes later I realised what had just happened.

You idiot.

Daisy, as it turned out, did like me – my friend told me later that day, confirming at length that, yes, I was a complete idiot to say “no.” And shortly after this she started going out with someone else. C’est la vie.

Now, this happened sixteen years ago – almost to the day – but it still stings like it was yesterday. Not in the way you might think, though. It doesn’t sting because I wish I had said yes and gone out with Daisy and ended up married to her and having babies with her. No, I don’t care about that.

What stings is how wrong I was. I wasn’t out of her league at all – I was just so convinced of it that I couldn’t even take her asking me out seriously.

Ever since that day, sixteen years ago, I have tried to remind myself that no matter how convinced I am that something is too good for me, too big for me, or too difficult for me, I was very wrong once and I’m just as likely to be wrong this time too.

Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t pre-reject yourself. Don’t let your doubts and fears and insecurities win by stopping you from even taking part.

You have no idea what’s actually possible for you. So go for what you really want. Not because you’ll definitely get it if you want it enough or if you try hard enough. No. I don’t believe that. There are no guarantees.

Except that if you talk yourself out of even trying, then you lose by default. Go for what you want because it might happen.

Give reality the chance to say “no.” Because you never know when it’s going to say “yes.”

Adults? They’re Just Old Kids

“Often a very old man has no other proof of his long life than his age.”

Seneca – On the Shortness of Life

I was five…

Do you remember being five years old? I do. And I remember being altogether quite happy with everything being five entailed. There was just one blemish, one thing I couldn’t stand, and that was being treated like a baby.

This didn’t happen too often – my family didn’t baby me, nor did most family friends. I was used to being treated, if not as an equal, then at least as a valid contributor to whatever social situation I was in. And maybe that’s why it felt so patronising – it was rare and acute.

I don’t know if all kids go around feeling this way – I’ve never really asked any – but I can distinctly remember being at birthday parties and thinking “Why are you talking to me like I’m an idiot? I’m a person, just like you. Speak properly.” Like I say, I didn’t need to be treated like an equal, but I couldn’t for the life of me understand the adults’ compulsion to go so far the other way – to put on this strange high-pitched baby voice, and maintain sub-psycopathic levels of eye contact with me. It made me feel as though they were trying to pull the wool over my eyes in some way. It made me feel lied to.

My inner reponse as a child was just to roll my eyes and fight fire with fire – to take the adult before me just as seriously as I felt they were taking me. I didn’t let it bother me too much.

But it did set something into motion that has continued until this day – a keen sense of “What are you trying to hide from me?”

I was sixteen…

The suspicion that I was being cheated of the whole truth by the adults in my life continued all the way through my time at school. At every step, I felt as though there was this animosity between myself and whoever was in charge of me. Every authority figure seemed hell-bent on selling me some different but equally narrow and uninspiring worldview, and for my part I was hell-bent on not believing a single word of it.

But it reached fever pitch towards the end of secondary school, when the teachers began to collectively do the hard-sell on “The Real World.”

The Real World was this weirdly schizophrenic and dystopian vision of what awaited us after leaving school, and they were desperate for us to believe in it. In The Real World, they said, you could technically be, do, and have anything you wanted. Only you probably wouldn’t, because The Real World is a scary, vicious, competitive place, where there are only a certain amount of resources and a certain amount of good jobs and it’s every man for himself and everybody is out to get you all the time…

“… but you’ll be okay if you just do what we say. We’re on your side.”

I looked around in disbelief. People seemed to be nodding their heads, buying it hook, line, and sinker. Jesus, I thought. Oh, hell, let them. Me? I don’t like the sound of this. I’ve struggled to believe a word of what they’ve said for the last eleven years, why the hell would I start believing it now?

What I had known intuitively at five was clearer than ever at sixteen: The adults are up to something. They’re not giving you the whole truth. It’s up to you to figure that out for yourself.

I am almost twenty-nine…

And I was right.

I don’t mean to say that I left school full of confidence in myself and proceeded to go out there and kick the world’s ass and prove my teachers wrong. That would be an incredibly generous reimagining of the last thirteen years of my life. It’s not how it happened at all. But if I’m proud of anything I’ve done, it’s that I did at least make a point to try and figure things out for myself.

And what I figured out was that I was right all along. At least partly.

Because there is no “real world.” There’s just a bunch of adults running around, each one as scared and clueless as the kids, all trying to make the best of whatever shit sandwich the adults in their lives gave them. For most of them, it’s enough just to get through the day.

What I was right about was the fact that the adults hadn’t been giving me the whole the truth, and never had been. But my youthful narcissism led me to believe this was borne of some kind of Machiavellian conspiracy on the adults’ part.

I doubt that very much now, and I suppose the moment my mind changed was the moment I realised that I was an adult.

It happened about six years ago. I met up with my friend one Tuesday night. She was training to be a teacher; I was still training to be a person. We went to the Lescar for a few drinks, and then we went back to hers for a few more drinks. We were laughing and being loud and being idiots, and eventually she said she really needed to go to bed because she had to be up for school at half six. It was about one-thirty. I bid her farewell.

As I walked home, it dawned on me that without any warning, adulthood had crept up on me. I thought about my friend teaching a class full of kids in the morning, and then about the teachers I had had when I was young. I smiled when I realised that it was just as I had suspected all along…

Behind all the bluster and the authority and the suits and the detentions, they didn’t know much more about the way the world worked than I did. They, like me, were making it up as they went along.

I smiled and forgave them for babying me. And for trying to warn me about the evils of the world. They weren’t out to get me. They weren’t trying to deceive me. They weren’t up to something.

They were just trying to get through the day.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Although it can certainly feel like it when you’re in the thick of it, you were not put here to suffer indefinitely. Whatever you’re facing, Abe Lincoln was right – “This too shall pass.”

You were put here to live a life. But whether you’re happy about it or not, life – a real life – contains a certain amount of sorrow.

Like me, your first response to this news might be to spend the next few years thinking “Okay, so I’ll just figure out how to avoid sorrow at all costs, then. To be “out” whenever he knocks on the door. To forever be one step ahead. How do I do that?”

Well, I won’t stop you from trying, and I couldn’t even if I wanted to. But what I can do is nudge you gently towards an alternative way of seeing things.

I remember the first time I ever read the following passage. It was over eleven years ago in a piece by Steve Pavlina titled Follow Your Heartbreak, and it has haunted me since. I took the hint there and then that maybe there was more to lose by trying to avoid my sorrow at all costs than there was to gain.

Eleven years on, and several experiences on both sides of the coin later, I can confirm this to be true: joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin and you cannot have one without the other.

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Kahlil Gibran – “The Prophet”

There Are Three Kinds of People

Some create…

They hear that still, small voice inside, and decide to honour and immortalise it, putting it into some kind of tangible form. A song. A restaurant. A seduction.

Some consume…

They sit with their mouths and their minds wide open, passively waiting for somebody to shovel something – anything – into it. A cheeseburger. A reality show. A terrorist attack.

And some exploit…

They have nothing of any substance inside whatsoever. They know how to do but one thing – leach.

Firstly, they leach off the ideas of those in the first group, step one being to strip those ideas of anything beautiful, original, or soulful. They commodify. They corporatise it. They homogenise it.

And then they leach off the attention and mental real estate of the second group. They exploit the fact that these peoples’ lives are completely empty of meaning – an emptiness they helped create – and they convince them that for a low, low price they can be, do, and have everything they ever dreamed of.

Somehow it never happens, and somehow they always get away with it. So they line their pockets with the consumers’ disposable income and they laugh all the way to the bank and they pat each other on the back as they erode which is good and true about humanity.

We are living through a time where more than ever the world explicitly venerates the exploiters, whilst it implicitly encourages us to be mindless consumers.

Don’t fall for it.

You know, perhaps the most dangerously cunning thing the exploiters ever did was to convince us that without them, this whole thing would fall apart. Believe me, it wouldn’t. We don’t need them. They offer nothing.

And we don’t need the consumers either. The passive, faceless, interchangeable masses, so beloved by the exploiters for the fact that they can see no further than their own noses. All they do is use up oxygen.

There is only one group actually necessary to the continuation of humanity – the creators. Only the creators are actually doing anything, are actually taking energy from one place and putting it somewhere better for humanity. If the consumers and exploiters suddenly died out, the creators would just have a party and keep creating. If the creators died, however, it wouldn’t be long before the others did too.

What does it take to be a creator? It doesn’t take skill. It doesn’t take privilege. It doesn’t take belonging to any particular race, creed, or ethnicity.

It takes a decision. That’s all. A decision to be of use to humanity, in the way that only you can. You could paint a picture. You could run a business. You could raise a child. You could be a true friend. There is no limit to what you can do with the creative spirit fueling your every move.

Just don’t expect the world to encourage you down this path. Expect it to put obstacles in your path. Expect it to be always encouraging you to be a consumer or an exploiter. Unless you make a concerted effort to be one, you won’t find yourself accidently a part of the creator group.

So make that decision now. Create. Direct the least of your actions towards being of use to humanity. Even if the only reward is being able to sleep at night, it’s worth it.


To err is human, to forgive, divine.

Alexander Pope

Forgiveness comes easily to nobody.

Reluctantly, begrudgingly uttering the words “I forgive you…”? Anyone can do that. But a genuine acceptance and letting go of the resentment someone else has caused you to bear? God, no.

Perhaps it’s down to a simple fact of biology – we are if nothing else wired to value immediate gratification. We want to feel good now, and we want to think about what it costs later – if ever. Freud’s “pleasure principle.”

That’s the thing – resentment feels good now. Why don’t we just admit it? Thinking about all the ways you have been wronged, all the different people you would love to see suffer for it, that delicious feeling of self-righteousness you anticipate when those responsible are are inevitably brought to justice… I know it’s not just me that takes a kind of sick pleasure in this.

But like any nasty habit, the damage shows itself over time. Because there is no such thing as a free lunch. Resentment gets you high and it gets you hooked, and then after the first time you can never quite get there again. Now, every slight you hold on to, every injustice you refuse to let go of, every resentment you cling to, costs you. You carry them like a boulder around your neck. And with every day that goes by, the load gets heavier and heavier.

The price you ultimately pay for holding onto resentment is your life.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is no fun at first. In fact it’s downright painful. Because unlike resentment, which lures you in with a hit of pleasure before condemning you to chronic misery, forgiveness asks for payment up-front, without so much as hinting at what you are going to get for your money.

The initial price forgiveness demands, which nobody in their right mind wants to pay, is that you swallow your pride. The big surprise? Once you do it, you are free.

Forgive. Not for their sake. For yours.

Forgive. Not because they deserve it. But because you deserve it.


If It Moves You, It Is You

When he hears that fire-bell chime,
Fireman Sam is there on time.
Putting on his coat and hat,
In less than seven seconds flat.

He’s always on the scene.
Fireman Sam!
And his engine’s bright and clean.
Fireman Sam!
You can not ignore,
Sam is the hero next door.

Maldwyn Pope

I’m not afraid to admit it. I get goosebumps when I so much as think about the theme tune to the original Fireman Sam series.

I have no idea why it moves me like it does – it wasn’t even my favourite TV program when I was little. But there is something in that combination of notes and chords and 1980s timbres that touches me.

If something moves you, that’s not a coincidence. There is a part of you that is resonating with the object of your attention, and the resonance is what is making you feel so wonderful, like you’ve come home after a long journey. It is moving you because in a sense, it is you.

Life’s too short to waste time on what doesn’t move you. If it leaves you cold – whatever “it” is – move on. Make room for what resonates, what hits, what touches.

And be proud of it. Even if it is the Fireman Sam theme tune.

The Guts to Ask

If I have led you to believe, by the words I have written, and the times we have shared together, that I am someone who has anything – let alone everything – figured out, then it is high time I apologised for this deception.

The truth is that I am just a ravenous child, hungry to know what it all means. Desperate to try and make sense of the world around me, because I can’t stop finding things that fascinate me, but frustrated because every new thing seems to throw what I learnt yesterday out of the window. I am cross-legged on the floor of the universe trying to assemble the jigsaw pieces of life at the same time as new ones keep showing up in the box.

It is this paradox that keeps me going. As Albert Einstein said “The more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know.”

Never think less of yourself because you don’t know the answers. Think highly of yourself for having the guts to ask the questions.

“The Way Things Are…”

Reality is negotiable. Outside of science and law, all rules can be bent or broken.

Tim Ferriss

People just love to say “I’m sorry, but that’s just the way things are…”

I don’t think they are sorry. I think they’re grateful. Grateful that so long as things are the way they are, they’re off the hook. Now they don’t have to feel guilty about selling themselves short. They can just hide behind “the way things are.” It’s the perfect excuse for the person too afraid to live.

It’s a lot braver, however – and a lot more fun – to try and prove them wrong.

Because reality is far more flexible than we realise. It just sometimes it feels very rigid. It feels as though there is a set of rules, that things are indeed “the way they are”, that what the people in charge say is correct whether you agree with them or not, and that there is depressingly little room to manuever inside all this.

This is not the truth. It’s just one very limiting perspective.

The truth is that whether you’re aware of it or not, you are an active participant in the creation of the world, not a passive spectator. Every action you take is a fresh brushstroke on the canvas of the future, and splash by splash, together we create the world we share.

The world asks “What kind of world do you want to live in?” and then it listens for your response. And your response is communicated through your actions.

Do something you feel lousy about for the money, or the fame, or the prestige, or the attention, or because you’re afraid to leave your comfort zone, and you have done nothing objectively wrong. But you have helped to create a world where those things are the most important things.

You could just as easily do something for joy, or for beauty, or for compassion, or for honour… and if you did, you’d be helping create a world where those things are the most important things.

It is entirely up to you.

Risk: It’s Safer Than Comfort

If you want to get it right, you must first be willing to get it wrong. There is no life without risk, only existence.

But what you find on the other side of risk is that it is actually much far more enjoyable to make a mistake in the pursuit of something – and then work out how to fix it – than it is to give into inertia, and to be so afraid of getting anything wrong that you refuse to act unless you can foresee and prevent in advance every little thing that might go awry. Not only is this approach futile – only Gods are blessed with such omniscience – it is exhausting.

When you calmly accept that a good life involves risk, and that you can never be 100% certain on anything, and that literally the only thing you can do is just make your best guess in every moment, then day by day, scene by scene, you may well appear to be taking two steps forward and one step back.

Perfect. You’re still moving foward. And you’re doing it a lot quicker than if the only time you ever take forward steps is when you are completely certain that you can rule out backward steps.

If this is you – and I can say this because I admit that more often than not, it’s me – then I hate to be the one to tell you, but there are snails making more out of their lives than you are.

Err on the side of taking risks. Firstly, because you never know – it might work out. Secondly, because if it doesn’t work out, you will handle it. And then you’ll be stronger and wiser than if you’d never took the risk in first place. You cannot lose.

Taking risks is, ironically, the least risky way to live.

In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with.

But I would rather have it bent and dull and know I had to put it on the grindstone and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused.

Ernest Hemingway – Preface to “The First Forty-Nine”

The Forgettable Unforgettable

Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form.

Robert McKee – Story

Emma and I watched a film last night. It was called – with more than a hint of irony – Unforgettable. It starred Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl. And it really did not need to be made.

It wasn’t a bad film – great acting, some nice panoramic views of southern California, costume and set designers who knew what they were doing – but it was without a doubt a pointless film. It followed an excruciatingly clear formula to its logical conclusion. It was a product, no different than a Big Mac or a Sharpie pen.

I do feel bad singling out Unforgettable though, because it’s really just one example of a mucher bigger issue that plagues every art-form, and in fact, every facet of society and culture:

Most people are shit-scared of taking a risk.

Most art, as Oscar Wilde reminded us in the preface to The Portrait of Dorian Gray, is quite useless. And this is why – the people making it are too timid. They search for a formula and when they find it they use it as a shield they can hide behind. Conservatism has become the most dangerous vice of the 21st century.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. The missing ingredient is courage. The courage to learn the timeless principles of what you are doing, and then the courage to bend and twist those principles into something you find uniquely beautiful. And remember, courage is not something bestowed by a deity. Courage is a muscle, and it gets stronger every time you exercise it.

Better to fail trying to make something courageously unique than succeed making something soulless.

Your Path With a Heart

It’s possible that what I am about to say contradicts what you were taught growing up, but I don’t care. I am not here to toe any party lines. Consider me nothing more than an independent whisper on the wind. Here goes:

Not only is there nothing wrong with putting yourself first, it is of vital importance that you do.

There is no honour in blind self-sacrifice. No dishonour in blind self-interest. There is nothing inherently good about acting selflessly. Nothing inherently bad about acting selfishly.

The thing about your life is that… it’s yours. Every step you take is a step on a path unique to you. Nobody but you can walk this path, and nothing but your own heart can tell you whether or not you are on it. It is yours and yours alone to discover and walk anew every day.

On your path, of course, you can certainly try to enrich the lives of others as they walk their own paths. You can become incredibly charitable and altruistic. The irony though is that unless you know yourself, listen to your own heart, and put yourself first, you will have very little to give anybody else.

The state does not care about your path with a heart. The masses do not care about your path with a heart. And sadly, there are probably plenty of people in your life who do not care about your path with a heart.

All the more reason for you to care about it.

Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path. The trouble is nobody asks the question; and when a man finally realizes that he has taken a path without a heart, the path is ready to kill him. At that point very few men can stop to deliberate, and leave the path. A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.

Carlos Castaneda – The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien

If you were to make a point to smile at ten strangers today, it might be the case that at the end of the day none of them had yet decided to leave you their life savings.

And if you were to make a point to perform seven sit-ups as the sun rose, it might be the case that as it set a chiseled six-pack continued to elude you.

And if you were to make a point to dust one of the cobwebs from one of the corners of one of the ceilings in your home, it might be the case as your head hit your pillow that you felt you hadn’t quite achieved a state of domestic nirvana.

Perhaps not. But you would have been that little bit closer than you were previous. And that alone would have made the effort a worthy one.

Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien
Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.

(In his writings, a wise Italian
says that the best is the enemy of the good)

Voltaire – La Bégueule

If You Don’t Clean Your Frying Pan…

A dirty frying pan makes for a dirty omelette.

It doesn’t matter how free-range the eggs are. It doesn’t matter how grass-fed the butter is. It doesn’t matter how many five-star reviews the recipe book got on Amazon…

… your first step is to make sure your frying pan is clean. Everything else comes second.

Do Tiny Things Well

The smaller the acts you set out to perform, the higher the chances you will be victorious. The more your confidence will grow as an able human being, and the more you will be ready to tackle ever-larger problems.

This is how you change the world. Not by trying – and inevitably failing – to do large things, but by consistently succeeding at tiny things.

It doesn’t matter how noble your aims are, or how brave and tireless your efforts are. If your energy is being poured at things that are not open to your influence, you are pissing your energy away. You are running head-first into a heavy door, not realising there is a key in your pocket.

Far better to try to shift reality a quarter of an inch in your direction, and actually shift it, than to try to move it a foot, a yard, or a mile, and find that it won’t budge, or worse, that it shifts even further away from you.

Make Yourself Immune to Bad Days

Deep down, we all know it’s true: If you took a snap-shot of even the happiest person in the world’s life at any given moment, there would be all kinds of shit they didn’t want in it. Awkward and embarrassing moments. Things they mean to say “no” to but can’t stop blurting out “yes” to (or vice versa.) Addictions of all shapes and sizes. Irrational fears.

And I suppose that short of isolating yourself in a bunker, Hitler-style, there’s very little you can do about this stuff. It’s just a fact – no matter how great your life becomes, it will always contain some quantity of undesirable matter.

Some realise this and become apathetic. They see trying as futile – what’s the point, if my life is never going to be perfect anyway? Well, that’s just it. It’s never going to be perfect, no. But wouldn’t it be a fascinating experiment – and completely worth it – to see how close you could get?

Imagine the shitty things in your life as magnets, pulling you away from your joyful centre. Now, instead of paying too much attention to them, and trying to resist their magnetic pull, you could instead provide a counter-balance by deliberately inserting as many of the things you do want as possible. The things that light you up. The things that get you off. The things that make life a beautiful adventure.

These additions will help return you to your centre, and not get so swamped and overwhelmed by the negative elements in your life. You are not seeking perfection, but helping to create an ever-more favourable ratio of desirable to undesirable elements.

I’ve been doing an experiment with this over the last week. I made a list in my red notebook of ten very small and easy things I want to do every day, and I’m trying my hardest to tick them all off every day. There are things like picking up a novel, picking up my guitar, doing at least one pull-up, spending at least half an hour outside…

I’ve managed two days with all ten little habits ticked off, and I’ve hit at least seven every other day. And on the outside, my life is of course just the same as it was last week. But on the inside, I do feel a little bit different. I feel a tiny bit more in control of myself. I feel a little bit more indifferent to the negativity. I feel a smidge lighter.

Mostly, I feel ever so slightly more immune to having a bad day.

You Already Won

Whoever it is that the twists and turns of fate have helped you to become, your story actually started exactly the same way everybody’s did.

All those years ago, you were nothing more than a tiny sperm cell swimming around inside your Dad. You measured just one-twentieth of a milimetre in length.

But you weren’t just any old sperm cell. You were actually… the best one. You must have been, or else don’t you think one of the others would have beaten you to your mother’s egg? That’s right – you beat every last one of them. You were number one.

And by the way, there weren’t just a few others competing with you – the average human male releases between 40 million and 1.2 billion sperm cells each time he… well, you know. If that’s not fierce competition, I don’t know what it is.

I only bring this to your attention to give you something to contemplate on your darker days. When you feel like a pretty rotten example of a human being, or you feel as though you just can’t measure up to what’s expected of you, or you feel inadequate in every conceivable way, or you feel like you’re nothing because you can’t afford this or you don’t deserve that…

…if you’re even breathing, if you even made it to the womb, you are a fucking champion!

So think about that next time you’re being uptight, next time the stakes feel too high, next time it seems reality is putting you in a corner…

You already won. Years ago. Being a sperm was the struggle. Life is the prize. What are you going to do with it?

It’s just a ride.

But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok … But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride.

And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love.

The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off.

The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.

Bill Hicks

Staying True to Yourself

The left path or the right path?

Every now and then, you reach a fork in the road, and a decision is required of you.

To go right would be to honour your true self – to do what you really want to do – but would involve risk. To go left would be to betray yourself, but maybe avoid a temporarily uncomfortable situation.

You are free to make either choice, but you must realise that whichever path you choose, you are making a habit. Next time you’re in a similar situation, you will be slightly more likely to take that same path again.

Of course, that’s not what you’ll tell yourself when you take the left path. You’ll tell yourself that this time it’s different, it’s a temporary excursion – you genuinely don’t have a choice. And after all, it’s just this once – next time you’ll definitely take the right path, you promise…

No, you won’t. If you don’t practice taking the right path, it will get harder and harder to ever do so.


I turned down a couple of gigs recently. They were both for the same band – a band I quit last summer. One was in Great Yarmouth, the other was in Camden. I knew straight away that I didn’t want to do the gigs. I knew that the right thing to do was to say “no.” But man alive, it was torture trying to get myself to do it.

There were plenty of reasons for the conflict. I’m a musician – why wouldn’t I want a gig? There would have been a little bit of money – that never hurts. I’ve stepped in on previous gigs since I quit the band – what’s different this time?

I knew that “no” was my honest answer – to myself and to them.

And it might seem child-like to admit it, but saying “no” – and then sticking to it when the other party tried to negotiate my “no” – was a big step for me. Because I am – shamefully – a veteran of the left path. I’m practically a black belt at ignoring my inner voice when it’s the slightest bit inconvenient to hear it.

But I’m trying to be better.

Redefining honesty

When you think of whether someone is being honest with you or not, do you ever go further than just their words? I know I tend not to. But I’ve been thinking differently about honesty. Words are cheap. But actions mean something. They have weight.

So if I say “yes” to doing something I don’t want to do because it’s easier to in the moment, I might think I’m being polite, or kind, or going along to get along. Really, I’m really just lying. There’s nothing more to it.

Real honesty is shown through how you act – whether you go left or right at the fork in the road – not with your words.

You get what you practice

The more you do anything, the easier it becomes to do the next time. This is no less true with doing what you believe to be right than it is with baking a cake or painting a bowl of fruit.

I know, I know. Sometimes you will find yourself in a genuinely tight squeeze, where it will feel impossible to stay true to yourself. But I contend that most of the time when you feel like you have no choice, it’s a lie. You do have a choice. You’re just out of shape.

The only way to make it easier to live your truth is… to live your truth. Start with the things that feel easiest. Let your momentum build. This isn’t a pipe dream. This isn’t false optimism.

This is a tool available to you right now at this very second.

“Courage is grace under pressure.”

Ernest Hemingway

“Keep Going, Ol…”

Last night I got an email from my friend Ben telling me to keep writing my pieces.

I don’t need to tell you that it meant a lot. Obviously it meant a lot. But it meant more for arriving at a particularly ripe moment – I felt like shit last night and I had no idea why. I don’t know about you, but I can handle the feeling shit. It’s the not knowing why that really winds me up.

Anyway, to try and get out of this funk, I got into bed and put my headphones on and listened to the 50th anniversary remix edition of Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones at full blast. A bit later I checked my email and saw what Ben had sent me. Well, I don’t know if it was You Got The Silver, or Ben’s email, but I welled up, and all was right again, for a while. But Ben’s email made me think of a similar message my friend Miles sent me about five years ago.

That morning in 2015 I awoke possessed by a Dæmon that visits every now and then. It fills me with nervous energy and drives me to spill my guts onto a page and share it with the world. It had been building for a few weeks – it doesn’t start off as a Dæmon, but as a niggling feeling of ennui – and I was paying the price for ignoring it.

I cancelled my band’s rehearsal – I don’t remember what my excuse was – and walked to Starbucks on Ecclesall Road with my laptop in my brown hunting bag and typed furiously. When it was done, I shared it to Facebook. It was about 1000 words long, but the general theme was “Death is coming. Follow your bliss.” I don’t change. Five minutes later, I got a text from Miles saying something along the lines of “Ol, whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.” And I welled up just like I welled up last night, just like I well up any time somebody tells me to keep going.

Because the most encouraging thing you can hear as a creator is not how great you are, or how you’re going to be huge one day… it’s to be told to keep going. To keep doing what you do.

When somebody tells me I’m a good writer, I don’t know what to do with it. I appreciate it, but I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean when I say that it makes me feel the same way I feel when I’m standing in front of a birthday cake and everybody is singing Happy Birthday to me – I’m flattered, but I don’t know where to look.

But when somebody tells me to keep going, that’s all they need to say. In those two words – KEEP GOING – they have communicated far more than any other praise or feedback would have. They might not even think very much of what I’ve done so far – I don’t either, most of the time – but they are praising the mere fact that I keep showing up. Praising the effort, rather than the results. Praising the part that I had something to do with.

The main thing I’ve gained after the past few months of posting something every day is an ever-increasing detachment to the quality and the ultimate reception of each individual day’s work. The longer I go, the less each piece I publish matters to me. Of course, I want each one to say something, and I want each one to feel as right as possible the moment I click “publish”, but the truth is that I really have only one ambition – to stay in the game.

You see, I’m figuring this shit out in front of a live audience. So to me, not being booed off the stage is a good day. But to be explicitly instructed to keep going? That, my friend, is the ultimate compliment.

Thank you for lending me your eyes.

Permission to Be Yourself

“The first and most important thing an individual can do is to become an individual again, decontrol himself, train himself as to what is going on and win back as much independent ground for himself as possible.”

William S Burroughs (1914-1997)

From day one, they’re grooming you to be something you’re not.

They want you to fit in. They want you to be predictable. They want you to consume.

And like any good wife-beater, they know how to spin it – in the most benevolent terms they can. They are on your side. They are thinking of you. They are trying to keep you safe. They are doing it all for your benefit.

Most people suffer from Stockholm syndrome. And given the chance, they’ll prove it – they’ll tell you you’re crazy, that there’s no conspiracy, that nobody’s trying to keep you down, that you shouldn’t be so dramatic…

They’ve fallen for the villain’s lies. That doesn’t mean you have to.

Because the truth is that they do want to keep you down. In fact, they need to keep you down. Because if you knew how much power was available to you simply by learning to trust yourself and do things the way you believed to be right, you would be impossible to control. And they know that.

And they can’t have that.

You might not realise it, but you are so much more than they would ever grant you the permission to be. So fuck ’em – give yourself permission. Permission to be yourself.

That is your gift to the world. Not your slavish obedience to whoever’s in charge – teachers and parents and queens and corporations. Any moron could do that. I suppose that’s why almost every moron does.

Only that which has contrast is interesting, and worth paying attention to. I don’t want to know the ways in which you are the same as everybody else. I want to find out what’s inside you that belongs to you and you alone. That’s what makes life living – for both parties.

Do not live one more day believing the lie that it is selfish to be as fully yourself as possible, and to unapologetically live your own unique truth – however uncomfortable it might make authority figures.

It is the most generous way you could possibly spend your life.

Love What You Do

It is not doing what you love that will make you happy, but loving what you do.

Doing what you love is a dream, and for that dream to come true, a whole lot of things you have no control over have to go your way. No matter how badly you might want it, no matter how happy it will make you if it comes to be, you are leaving an awful lot to chance.

Loving what you do, on the other hand, is a decision – one that you can actively choose in every moment. When you find something to love about everything you do, and you practice this as often as you can, and in the most dire circumstances you can imagine, you hold your happiness in your own hands.

Nothing can touch you.

You’ll Wish You’d Started Today

Tomorrow, you’ll wish you’d started today.

Next week, you’ll wish you’d started today.

In a year’s time, you’ll wish you’d started today.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao Tzu

The only thing standing between you and taking that single beginning step is… you.

If it feels too difficult, make it easier. If it feels too big, make it smaller.

Determine which way you ought to face, and then do whatever you must to ensure that a step is taken in that direction, no matter how small or insignificant.

Eventually, Whether It Wants to or Not…

I’m sitting between a lady in a turquoise cardigan and bald Steve Jobs at Billund airport. We’re coming back to England today, after three weeks in Viborg, Denmark.

I don’t have much time – we’ll be boarding soon and on the plane I’ve decided that I’m going to either read East of Eden or listen to the Chili Peppers but definitely not both. So here is a passage that has meant a lot to me since I first came across it in a Robert Greene book eight years ago:

It’s like chopping down a huge tree of immense girth. You won’t accomplish it with one swing of your axe. If you keep chopping away at it, though, and do not let up, eventually, whether it wants to or not, it will suddenly topple down.

When that time comes, you could round up everyone you could find and pay them to hold the tree up, but they wouldn’t be able to do it. It would still come crashing to the ground…

But if the woodcutter stopped after one or two strokes of his axe to ask the third son of Mr. Chang, ‘Why doesn’t this tree fall?’ And after three or four more strokes stopped again to ask the fourth son of Mr. Li, ‘Why doesn’t this tree fall?’ he would never succeed in felling the tree.

It is no different for someone practicing the Way.

Zen Master Hakuin (1686 – 1769)

Be Kind to Yourself

“I can resist anything except temptation.”

Oscar Wilde

You and me both, mate. But there’s something else I would add to Wilde’s quote.

I can resist anything except temptation… but I wildly over-estimate my ability to do so.”

Just as difficult as resisting temptation is admitting that you maybe you aren’t as mentally bullet-proof as you wish you were. This doesn’t make you weak, or crap. It makes you human.

So what’s to be done? Well, as Robert Plant sang, there are two paths you can go down. And as always, one is a path of denial, the other a path of acceptance.

On the first path, you resolve to stay strong at all costs – in the moment. You believe that you can resist any temptation if you just try hard enough – in the moment. You strain to remain virtuous – in the moment – and you believe that if you can stay ahead of your temptations today, it will be easier tomorrow.

Don’t. It never works. And even when it does, it’s miserable.

The thing about “the moment” is that it’s too late. If you’re having to make yourself miserable just to stop yourself doing something “in the moment”, the damage is already done.

You need the second path. This one has a different flavour, but it has the dual advantage of being more enjoyable, and… actually working. Here it is:

Make it easier to do the right thing.

Trying to resist temptation is excruciating. And even if you somehow succeeded 100% of the time – which nobody does – it’s a magnificent waste of your energy. Every unit of energy you spend on resisting temptation is a unit that now cannot be used towards something better.

So instead of trying in vain to be stronger, why not make the weights lighter instead? Stack the deck in your favour. Tweak your environment to rid it of as much temptation as you can?

If you want to stop checking your phone so much, turn it off and put it in another room.

If you want to spend less money when you go out, get some cash out in the afternoon and leave your cards at home when you meet your friends.

If you want to go for a run after work tonight, arrange to go with a friend so that it’ll harder to get out of when you can’t be arsed later on.

Don’t wait until “the moment” to try and stay strong. Be kind to yourself – do the work in advance. Remove the temptation from your environment – in any way you can – and see how much freer you feel.

Most Things Should Be Left to Chance

I did something shameful yesterday morning that led to the creation of a new personal rule.

It was 11:31. I had already laced up my running shoes and threaded my earphones up through my t-shirt ready to go in my ears, and I was sitting on the floor by the front door, scrolling through my Spotify library for an album to listen to on my run.

Now, I have a handful of go-to albums for running. By The Way. Revolver. Warren Zevon. Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg. Rage Against the Machine. For whatever reason, none of these seemed appetising yesterday morning. And yet neither did any of the other albums I have saved.

This is tricky. I kept getting ever so close to picking one, but then I would remember that actually I’m not that into the guitar solo on track 6 of that one, or that that one’s a hair too Californian for a day like today, or that maybe today would be a good day for something instrumental…

My legs started to ache, and I looked at the time. 11:49. I’d been there eighteen minutes and was still no closer to a decision. Something inside me snapped. For fuck’s sake, Ol, you’re a joke. That’s it. It’s going on shuffle. Go. Run. You knob.

And you know what? It was great! Love Hurts by Nazareth. Apache by The Shadows. The End by The Beatles. I Can’t Wait by Stevie Nicks. As each track ended I couldn’t wait to hear what was coming next. Best of all, it was completely out of my hands.

My new rule? Unless you already have a better idea, leave it to chance.

I know this is a stupid little story. And I doubt you’re as pathetic and incapable of making a simple decision as I am.

But the point I want to make is that there are good ways to spend time and there are bad ways to spend time, and agonising over inconsequential decisions like what album to listen to on a run is… well, I don’t even need to finish my sentence, do I?

It’s a waste of life.

There are, of course, decisions that matter, ones that ought to be agonised over. But these are rare. Most things really do not matter. So don’t waste your energy on them. Leave most things to chance.

Don’t Be a Bully

Not because it’s a shitty way to live – though it certainly is. Don’t be a bully because it doesn’t actually work.

It never has. And it never will. But I can’t deny that there are times when it genuinely feels like not only the best way to get what I want, but maybe even even the only option.

This is always a lie. And if being a bully ever does appear to be working, know that the day will come – sooner than you think – when it will abruptly stop working. We each reap what we sow, and when you’re a bully, you are reaping resentment and bitterness. Even if they take a while, they will catch up with you.

What works better than being a bully – and helps you sleep at night – is figuring out how to not need to be a bully. There is not one thing you could possibly want in this world where bullying is the best way to get it.

Think about it this way – if bullying was was going to solve your problems, don’t you think it would have solved some of them by now?

Try something else. Anything else.

It’s Your Life, so Live It Your Way

“Madness is something rare in individuals — but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages, it is the rule.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

In one of the all-time best episodes of Seinfeld, Elaine gets fired from her job at the J. Peterman Company because she cannot hide any longer just how much she hates the interminable movie “The English Patient”, which everybody in her life will not shut up about.

Do you ever catch yourself doing the same thing? Hating something, but keeping it to yourself, feeling you’d be violating some kind of unwritten code if you admitted the truth?

Or perhaps it’s the other way round – you actually like something, but you fear what people might think if they found out and so you pretend not to like it?

I doubt there’s anybody who could truthfully answer “No, never…” to both of those questions all of the time – if there is, I’d sure like to meet them. And call them a liar. I digress… this kind of white-lying is just part of living in a society. A certain amount of it is both inevitable and healthy. We’re all doing it.

But are you doing it from strength, or from weakness? Are you keeping your true feelings to yourself because, well… they’re your business and nobody else’s? Or is it simply because you’re afraid of being found out?

There’s a very big difference. I have no problem with people consciously being private or modest. But what I do have a problem with is when we unconsciously invalidate our own thoughts and feelings, when we see them as unimportant, as somehow mattering less than those of “other people.”

It’s such a great way to waste the one life we’ve each been given.

When you prioritise what “other people” might think about you, over how you yourself perceive things, you are making a grave error.

Firstly, because to quote Olin Miller, “You wouldn’t worry about what people may think of you if you could know how seldom they do.”

But secondly and more importantly, even if they were thinking about you, you could never actually know what they were thinking. You can guess and you can presume, and that’s about it.

And so you put a fantasy – what you imagine might be in their head – ahead of reality – what actually is inside your head. As a human being living a subjective experience, your feelings are a primary source of information to help you navigate the world. What you imagine other people might think, on the other hand? That’s not information. To give it more consideration than what’s going on inside you… well, that’s just dumb.

If you are lucky enough to find something you enjoy, I’m happy for you. Own it. Don’t be embarrassed. What right does anybody else have to decide what you are allowed to enjoy? And if you don’t like something, own that too. Who cares? You don’t have to shout it from the roof-tops, but don’t awkwardly hide your disgust. Just go focus on something you do like instead.

You have to realise that your thoughts and feelings are just as valid as anybody else’s. In fact, a good way of weeding toxic people out of your life is to see how they respond to you simply being honest about what you do and don’t enjoy. If they try to belittle you or invalidate you, fuck ’em. You can let them down gently, but definitely do let them down. You’ll both be happier without each other.

What I really want to get at here is that it you were not mass produced. There was only one of you ever made. You are incredibly rare. And the most valuable thing about you is your unique perspective. How dare you waste it by acting like it’s less valid than everybody else’s.

I leave you with a piece of Marcus Aurelius:

It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. If a god appeared to us — or a wise human being, even — and prohibited us from concealing our thoughts or imagining anything without immediately shouting it out, we wouldn’t make it through a single day. That’s how much we value other people’s opinions — instead of our own.

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations: Book 12

The Benefit of the Doubt

I started wearing glasses every day three years ago.

When I was living in Rome, it started to dawn on me that other people could see things I could not. I don’t mean metaphorically, or in some abstract sense – I mean literally seeing things in front of me with my eyes.

I remember telling my parents when they came to visit me to look out for a particular number of bus, but not to feel bad if they missed it because the displays on the front of the buses were almost impossible to read, even up close. With perfect timing, a bus drove slowly past us and my parents laughed and asked me what I was talking about because they could both read it absolutely fine. I looked. It was all fuzzy to me.

So when I moved back to Sheffield, I had my first eye test in seven years and was told I needed glasses, especially if I was going to be driving. I didn’t tell them that until about a year before I’d been driving all kinds of places and that really it was a wonder I was still alive. I tried contact lenses, but they were fiddly. I also considered being one of those people that only wears their glasses some of the time, but that sounded like a lot of work and I saw myself losing pair after pair, and so I just resigned myself to wearing them all the time.

I don’t mind it at all. But the reason I bring this up is because the year after finding out I was short-sighted, I was diagnosed with ADHD. Now, in some ways, they are similar. They are both a hard fact of your biology. You can’t outrun them. You can’t “try harder” to see – you can just wear glasses that compensate. And you can’t “try harder” to regulate your attention, or your emotions, or your sensory overload, or however your particular form ADHD manifests in you – you can just find ways to work around the difficulties it causes.

But the two conditions are very different in one key way: everyone else can see your glasses. They can’t see your mind.

Psychological issues are difficult socially, mainly because they are invisible. Because whilst you’re going round with a brain that functions differently than it’s meant to – through absolutely no fault of your own – you still look “normal.” And so through no fault of their own, people expect you to act “normal.” And if and when you don’t – because you can’t – they don’t understand why. How could they?

And so you have not only to live with the condition, but also to sort of be aware that unless you really spell it out for other people what’s going on in your head, they’re going to look at what you say and what you do and just assume that you’re rude, or anti-social, or you don’t give a shit, or you’re lazy, or you’re unreliable… and when they believe all these things, you have to think “Yeah, I’d probably think that if I were them…”

The whole journey has obviously taught me a lot about myself, but more importantly it has taught me how to deal better with other people. I’m a hell of a lot slower now to form judgments about people. I rarely just assume that I have any idea what somebody is going through. And when they do or say something, I might have my theories as to why they did, but I try not to let them settle into an opinion. Because I know I’m probably wrong.

Perhaps this is also why I bang on so much about what you can and can’t control – that does seem to be the message of at least half my pieces of writing – because I know what it’s like to feel you have no control over yourself, let alone over the rest of the world.

I want to give everybody the benefit of the doubt because I’ve had to struggle my whole life to give it to myself.

Every Action Is a Vote

I’m still in Denmark, by the way.

And I didn’t write anything yesterday because we went to Emma’s grandfather’s birthday meal and not many other people were helping themselves to the carafe of red wine that kept being refilled and so by the time we got home I was drunk as hell and as soon as the Real Madrid game was over I pretty much went to sleep.

But rules is rules, and so today I must write two pieces. This is the first. I’m starting writing in the afternoon and so if you caught my piece last week about finding the right time to work you’ll know that by this time of day I’m pretty much toast.

I have nothing to say to you and yet here I am typing away. But perhaps that’s the lesson, after all.

You don’t get stronger by lifting the easy weights. And whilst I am fairly certain that the piece I am writing right now will not be one I remember or think of as a great piece… I am at least writing it.

I could be watching the second season of ‘You.’ I could be playing backgammon – a game I had never played until about two hours ago. Or I could be scrolling through some feed on Instagram, chuckling every now and then at something that tickled me… but I’m writing this.

I went for a run earlier and whilst I was running I listened to The Beatles but once I had had enough of running and wanted to walk I listened to a podcast with James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits. He said that every action you take is like a vote for the person you are becoming. Who you are is the sum of all those votes. I liked that. Because it is entirely focused on the part that I can control – the action. The results take care of themselves if they feel like it. It’s not my business.

So I am voting right now to be a writer, but I suppose it’s one step more than that. I’m voting not to just write, but to publish work I know full well is far from perfect. Good for me.

Well, I just read through that and it wasn’t as interminable as I had expected it to be. Let’s see if my second piece of the day is any better…

“he talked a big game” : a poem by oliver manning

he talked a big game

he told me don’t sweat it

he told me chill out

he told me go with the flow

he bought each of his hawai’ian shirts

from the right vintage shop

and his girlfriend never wore

a bra

his words sounded good to your ears

if you were looking

for something other than yourself

to blame for the sorry state

of your life.

and so when he said them

the people believed them

and the people believed him

and the people never suspected

that on the inside

he was ninety-eight percent sawdust.

The flow exists. And you do have to go with it. To the degree that you do, you will have peace. To the degree that you do not, misery.

But go not blindly, friend. For if you “go with the flow” without first understanding what it is and what it isn’t, you are a matador without his sword, and the flow will gore you with its horns.

What is “The Flow?”

Firstly, what it is not.

It is not avoiding confrontation. It is not living apathetically or apologetically. It is not refusing to ever try at anything. It is not bending over and allowing yourself to be sodomising with whatever “the world” wants to sodomise you with. It is not painting yourself as a victim. It is not affecting a cool pose. It is not claiming to be a child of God. It is not being meek in a vain attempt to inherit the Earth.

Are you ready to hear what the flow is?

The flow is everything outside your control.

Going with the flow starts by acknowledging the utter indifference with which almost every single molecule in the universe views you. And then seeing what’s left. Which of the molecules remain open to your influence. What is left we will call “your corner.”

Work your corner. That’s it. And leave the rest of it for “the flow.” Push it from your mind, as far as you can. There is nothing you can do anything about any of it. Why bother entertaining it for one second?

Accept that you don’t have any control over most of reality. You could be King, Queen, Empress… most of the molecules in the universe would still resist you. So free your shoulders of the weight of the world. And then put every ounce of energy you can muster into that tiny bit you can do something about.

And if you do that, something magical happens – your corner gets a little bit bigger. You find a few more molecules to influence. And so on. And so on.

That is what it means to go with the flow. It is not just some bullshit California wisdom espoused by beautiful people to whom the flow has already been more than benevolent.

It is open to everyone.

Most of all, it is open for you.

The Longest Way Round Is the Shortest Way Home

In a previous life, I wrote exclusively in block capital letters.

I don’t remember the exact date I started this habit – nor the reason why – but it lasted for about eight years. If you wanted me to write anything by hand, YOU GOT SOMETHING THAT LOOKED LIKE THIS. One time I wrote a very tender and heartfelt letter to a girl whose heart had captured mine and her response to it was “Why are you so angry with me?

And then one day on a sofa in Rome in 2016, I went back to writing the way I was taught to at school. Lower-case. Joined-up. Scruffy. Again, I don’t recall what prompted the change.

On a lark, I decided this morning to do my morning pages – three stream-of-consciousness A4 pages – in block capital letters. For old times’ sake. Just to see what it’d be like. It was quite a trip.

As early as the first paragraph, I could sense something different happening in my brain, and soon my reflections on the process ended up on the page, in a kind of movie-within-a-movie way. It was something like this:

I can type much faster than I can scribble long-hand, and I can scribble long-hand much faster than I can print in block capital letters. But other than the speed at which I got words onto the page, I didn’t expect there to be any difference between approaches. I, Oliver Manning, am the unchanging variable in all three situations – I’m the writer.

Well it turns out I was wrong. Dead wrong!

When I type, my fingers fly across the keyboard. I’m incredibly fast. I also don’t hit a lot of wrong keys like some people who type fast. And yet when typing I rarely feel as though “I” have anything much to do with the words that end up on the screen. I might get a lot of them on there very quickly, but they don’t mean anything to me, and they always need a hell of a lot of editing to make sense or to be remotely publishable.

Most of all, it’s very hard for me to figure out what I’m trying to say if I try to figure it on the keyboard.

There’s a big step-up when I write long-hand. Now I feel much more as though “I” am writing. The words end up on the page more slowly – a lot more slowly – than when I type, but the experience is so much more pleasurable, and when I read my work back it means something to me.

What I am trying to say presents itself to me much earlier than when I type, and so I don’t waste as many words. And whilst continual editing and rewriting would keep making what I came up with stronger and stronger, it doesn’t need it so desperately.

But boy, this morning made me wonder why I ever stopped writing in block capitals. I felt like I was one with the page. Now, that’s always what I’m chasing when I write, like an addict who can’t get enough, but I never actually get there. Today there was this sense as I printed and printed that what I was saying was true. And my mind was quiet, save for the writerly part of it telling me what to put next. It was a real joy.

What all this made me reflect upon was how the longest way round probably is in fact the shortest way home. The slower I go, the quicker I seem to get what I actually want. The faster I go, the longer it seems to take, if it gets done at all. And the more I’ve thought about it since this morning, the more I keep finding that it applies to just about everything I try my hand at.

Everybody is different – what works for me might not work for you – but have a think. Are you trying to blast through everything you do because it seems wasteful or extravagant not to, or to value something other than speed, like joy? How is it working out for you?

Remember: if it doesn’t actually get you home, then the shortest way round is no way at all. Find the way that works… for you.

Who Are You?

You are not the name you were given.

You are not the country whose borders you happened to be born within.

You are not the colour of your hair.

You are not the job you work.

You are not the words you speak.

You are not the thoughts you think.

You are one thing and one thing only: the choices you make.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Victor Frankl – “Man’s Search for Meaning”

Believing a lie doesn’t make it true. And refusing to exercise your power to choose doesn’t let you off the hook. It doesn’t strip you of this power. It just wastes it.

No matter how cornered you feel by circumstances, or by the other people in your life, or even by the voices in your own head… at any moment you are free to remember the truth: that you always have the power to choose, to go with what is right and what is true for you.

Nobody can bestow you this power upon you – it lies within you, itching to be used – nor can anybody ever take it away from you.

I decided a long time ago that whatever years I had remaining here would be spent living this lesson as fully as I could. Exercising my power to choose, and in doing so discovering who I am more deeply every day.

I’m not telling you this because I find it easy to put into practice. There is nothing about this that is easy. No, I’m telling you this because whilst it might be excruciatingly difficult to act upon, it’s worth every penny and more. There is not a more worthy way to live than to consciously commit to doing what you believe is right.

I invite you to join me.

The Cats and the Trees and the Clouds…

I saw a cat crossing the road this morning. It was white and black.

That cat, I thought to myself, has no idea that at midnight she will be crossing not from one side of the road to the other, but from one side of the decade to another.

Nor do the trees know, as they line the streets.

Nor do the clouds know, as they creep across the sky.

The cats and the trees and the clouds just do what it is in their nature to do. They don’t care what decade it is. They have a job to do.

If something was the right thing for you to do in this decade, then it’s worth continuing with tomorrow.

And if something you did was wrong for you, if it was unworthy of your nature, then it will still be wrong tomorrow.

What is right and what is wrong has nothing to do with the calendar.

The best of you is eternal. Have a wild decade.

Oliver x

You Left the Womb for a Reason

“Space, I can recover. Time, never.”

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821)

I was seventeen, and I was a film student.

My teacher set the class a lot of essays. So I developed a system. Whenever there was an essay due, I would open up Microsoft Word at about 9pm the night before, and go at it furiously until I had a completed essay coming out of the printer, however long it took.

My system worked – I got good grades. But one day my teacher suddenly slammed my writing – in front of the whole class – as weak. He said that it was a shame because I could put words together well, and I had good points to make, but there was one cardinal sin I made over and over and over:

I couldn’t just… make a point.

Peppered throughout my essays were all manner of qualifiers, like “in my opinion…” “I believe that…” “what you could say is that…” I seemed desperate to distance myself from whatever I was trying to assert, desperate to let the reader know that this wasn’t all necessarily objectively true.

Back then, I really didn’t understand why this was a problem. After all, my essays were my personal exploration of the topic at hand – they weren’t objective facts. They were opinions, conjecture, subjective guesses… was I not being kinder to the reader – and treating them like an adult – by being crystal clear with them about this?

No. It was actually condescending. Because people aren’t stupid. They already know they’re reading opinions and beliefs – they don’t need reminding every couple of sentences. So whilst I didn’t enjoy being chewed out in front of the class, my teacher was absolutely right. My writing was weak, and it all stemmed from this one bad habit.

I bring this up today for two reasons.

Firstly, because it helped inform the way I write today.

I preach the things I preach as fact. I state things, I make assertions, I try not to constantly remind you that you are reading my opinions and beliefs. I assume that you’re smart and that you already know this. I respect you enough to tell you what I believe to be true without coating it in sugar, and leave you free to agree or disagree with me.

I know that the more I try to soften the hard edges of what I write, the less power it has, and the less anything meaningful is communicated. So I really try not to do this.

And the second reason is that whilst I might have learnt that specific lesson as it relates to the way I write, I still have a very long way to go in the rest of my life. It’s just one of the many ways I have been deathly afraid throughout my life to take a stand. To pick a side. To risk being wrong.

The fear, I suppose, comes from believing deep down that if I am wrong about a decision, that it would somehow be impossible to ever recover from, and so it’s just not worth the risk. I don’t know why part of me believes this with such fervour – especially when it is so obviously bollocks – but it does. It seems to weigh up the potential gains of making a clear decision against what I have to lose if I’m wrong, and ultimately decide that the risk is too large.

Well, I want a lot of things for the 2020s, but more than anything, I want to seek out like a bloodthirsty hyena all the places in which I am sitting on the fence, terrified of going one way or the other, and for fuck’s sake make a move.

I want to prove to myself what I on some level already know – that there are no mistakes from which I cannot recover from. No, in fact, it’s even bigger than that. There are in fact no mistakes that I cannot ultimately find a way to profit from.

Sitting on the fence is not a neutral action. It is a clear decision to do nothing. With no action there is no motion. With no motion there is death. Most people die spiritually a long, long time before their body gives out.

Realise: you left the womb for a reason, and it wasn’t so that you could spend your life trying to recreate the warm and cozy conditions you enjoyed those nine months.

Don’t be so afraid of making a wrong move that you stand still forever.

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.

John Augustus Shedd – “Salt from My Attic” (1928)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Carl Von Clausewitz

Kein Operationsplan reicht mit einiger Sicherheit über das erste Zusammentreffen mit der feindlichen Hauptmacht hinaus.”

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800-1891)

Or, translated and paraphrased into plain English: no plan survives contact with the enemy.

If the change you seek to make in the world lights up your bones when you think about it, then it is unlikely you have sold yourself short – small goals just don’t have that kind of bone-lighting-up power. You have likely chosen something grand, something daring, something that puts you at risk of being mocked by non-believers. I hope so. For anything else is a waste of time.

It’s important not to let yourself be embarrassed about having grand aims. Ambition is not a dirty word. You have my applause for even daring to dream that something better is possible. Just know that the path to get from where you are now to where you wish to be will not be easy. Nor will it be straight. It will zig, it will zag, and it will go off on tangents and subplots.

Of course, it would be wonderful if there were some way to straighten your path in advance. Some way you could craft a perfect, omniscient plan that made not just failure but any kind of temporary setback impossible. But there isn’t.

There is no value whatsoever in trying to plot a rigid path to your giant goal, because the moment you take any action, the playing field changes. Think about it this way: if you knew enough right now to plot out an invincible, fool-proof path to your goal, wouldn’t you have done it already?

It’s better instead to – as Jeff Bezos would say – “focus on the things that don’t change.” Life is, if anything, unpredictable. It always has been and it always will be. So instead of wishing for predictability, embrace unpredictability. Make it a feature, not a bug.

Carl von Clausewitz, everyone’s favourite 19th century Prussian, called the difference between our plans and what actually happens “friction.” If you attempt anything in this world, you are going to experience friction before long. The only difference between reaching your goal and not reaching your goal is how you respond.

If you work with the friction, finding ways to incorporate it, surfing it like a wave, then you will forge a rich, elegant, soulful path to your goal. And as you look back on where you’ve been, you will be amazed at how you somehow made the dots connect, and you will be grateful for everything that arrived unexpected and unannounced, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you rally against the friction, on the other hand, trying to control every little thing, allowing yourself to become disheartened and disillusioned every time something unforeseen occurs… you will quit. And you will wrongly assume that your mistake was either to have not spent enough time planning, or to have picked too large a goal to begin with. But more planning wouldn’t have saved you from friction, nor would a smaller goal.

If I could boil what I’m trying to say down to one sentence, it would be this: Allow friction to change your plans, never your aims.

Aim for the sky. Please. And when things go “wrong” – which I guarantee they will – turn shit into sugar.

I Live For The Bad Days

ME: Type. Delete. Type. Delete. Ugh…

RESISTANCE: It’s been over an hour now, mate. It’s not happening today. Why don’t you just give up? Nobody’s going to care. Write two pieces tomorrow. You’ll be in a better place tomorrow. You’ve got nothing to say today. I’m only thinking of you, mate…

ME: Fuck off.

The constant conversation in my head

I write and publish something every day and have done so for almost three months now. And on days like today, I curse the Oliver from three months ago who decided to commit to this habit, and who – in his infinite wisdom – signed us up to a habit-tracking service, where we have to pay money if we don’t keep our commitment!

What a dick!

No, he’s not a dick. It turns out he was a wise man. Truthfully, I’m very grateful he did those things.

It’s just that sometimes it comes easy and I can barely keep my fingers off the keys and I have so much inside me I want to impart to you and seemingly the only thing stopping me is the other obligations in my life…

… but more often than that come days like today.

I look inside myself, and I find that I am empty. There is nothing on which to feed myself, let alone to impart to others. Well, that’s not exactly true. I can sense that there are volumes inside me, pieces that in more capable hands could be translated into works of art. It’s just that they are written in a language that on days like this I have forgotten how to speak.

And yet… I live for these days. The bad days. Where it’s all an ugly struggle and there’s no point in anything and I don’t remember why I committed myself in the first place. Why?

Because there’s no glory in only doing things when they’re easy. If nothing inside you is resisting what you seek to do, you are conquering nothing. But if you can summon the will to try when every molecule conspires to make you give up, you’ve done it. You’ve found the secret.

Don’t you see? It’s not about whether I write anything good. I don’t care if I never write anything worthy of being read again. Ever. I don’t care if nobody is helped by what I write. Or amused. Or if I’m later embarrassed by something I published. Or if I offend the wrong persons’s sensibilities. Or if I annoy you like a barnacle in your inbox. Or if I somehow become a laughing stock…

None of that matters. There is only one thing that matters, and that is keeping up the effort, and the harder it is to keep up the effort, the greater the reward there is for doing so.

Whatever it is inside you that seeks to stop you becoming who you were meant to be, I don’t believe it can be destroyed. And even if it could, I don’t believe that it would help. It exists to help you grow.

So stand up to it. Tell it in no uncertain terms that no matter what it says and no matter how persistently it says it, you are not going to be stopped. Use its opposition as fuel. Make it make you better.

Be More Binary

The human brain does not thrive in a grey zone. It prefers to work in binary terms. On/off. Awake/asleep. Eating/fasting. Working/resting.

The modern world conspires to push us away from these extremes and ever closer to the middle. Instead of spending some time at 100 then some time at 0, we are encouraged to stay as close to 50 as we can all day long. If we do not resist this unnatural progression, we risk becoming mere shadows of our ancestors.

When you’re doing something, really do it. Go all out as though it’s the last thing you’re ever going to do. Then when you switch, really switch.

This is how nature intended it, and the last hundred years of scientific progress isn’t going to change that.

Before You Ask for More…

… what are you doing with what you’ve already got?

Are you wishing you made more money, whilst spending every penny you currently make on shit you don’t need?

Are you wishing you had a flashier car, whilst leaving the one you currently drive in a state of disrepair?

Are you wishing you had cooler friends, whilst treating the ones you already have poorly?

Something inside you always knows. You’d waste the extra money, you’d neglect the new car, and you’d treat your cooler friends just as poorly.

If you can’t show appreciation for what you have right now, you will unsconciously hold yourself back from better things.

You don’t have to pretend anything’s perfect that clearly isn’t. You just have to appreciate it for what it is.

When Are You at Your Best?

All hours are not created equal. Trying to blog every day has taught me this lesson the hard way.

Until a few months ago, I never gave too much credence to the idea that I might perform better or worse at different times of the day. I figured that no matter what time of day, I am Oliver Manning, with Oliver Manning’s brain and Oliver Manning’s fingers, and Oliver Manning’s laptop.

I was wrong. So wrong. Here’s what I’ve found:

If I can write during the good hours (roughly 10am to 2pm) I will not only write better material, I will write it faster, I will find it much easier, and I will enjoy the process a whole lot more.

If I try to write outside these hours, however, the quality will suffer, it will come out slower, I will find it really difficult, and I will resent the whole affair.

In every single area – quality, speed, ease, and enjoyment – working during my peak hours is orders of magnitude more effective. The upshot? I need to make sure I use this time for what is important.

What about you? When are you at your best?

You might be a lucky freak who is capable of roughly the same all day long. In which case, congratulations. But it’d be worth checking if that’s true – I thought that was me, until I realised it wasn’t.

If life weren’t short, this wouldn’t matter. But since it is, it does. Scheduling your important work for when you’re at your best can have a disproportionately positive effect not only on your results but your experience of life itself.

Do better work faster and easier, and enjoy it more – simply by changing when you work.

Morning Pages

Habits are like sperm – for every habit that successfully becomes a part of my daily routine, there are hundreds of others that never make it. A smarter man than myself might be able to explain just why that is. I shan’t waste my time.

All I know is that there is one habit I am eternally grateful to for having stuck with me this year. It’s called Morning Pages and I don’t mean to be dramatic when I say that I don’t know where I would be without it.

From “The Artist’s Way”:

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning.

There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only.

Julia Cameron – The Artist’s Way

Here’s how it plays out for me:

To get started, I’ll usually write a sentence about how I feel that morning. Next, I’ll find myself analysing why I feel that way. Now that I’m getting warmed up, I’ll often notice myself thinking about something unrelated, so I’ll write that down. And basically, I follow – with my pen – whichever train of thought grabs me the most until I have completed three pages, which generally takes me about 40 minutes.

And at the end of it, I feel a kind of runner’s high. As though my mind has been dipped in a cold stream and had the dirt and grime washed away. I have never not felt better after doing my Morning Pages.

If you’ve never done anything like this, try it. Here is a link to Tim Ferriss’s article on the topic, which is where I discovered this practice.

Go out of Your Way to Be Wrong

Admit it… you love being right, don’t you? I’m not juding – I do too. Isn’t it a delicious feeling? It’s the best.

Unfortunately, needing to be right is death to anybody who is trying to do great things in the world.

Sure, it might be comforting when things go exactly the way you expected they would, but you must realise that you will not improve this way. You will not get smarter. You will stagnate and you will stall. You will die inside.

You get better – in every way – only when things go differently than you expected. In other words, only when you are wrong.

There’s a very simple reason for this.

You navigate life using a kind of mental map of reality. This map – which is influenced by every experience you have ever personally had, as well as the biology you inherited from millions of years of ancestors – tells your mind what it can expect in any given situation.

Generally, it is so accurate that you don’t even notice it is there.

You notice, however, every time you confront something that contradicts your map. You expect one thing, but what happens is something quite different. And when this happens, your mind springs to attention. It rushes and rallies to process this new information, and it is at this moment that we can go in one of two directions.

If we accept the new information, integrate it and make it part of a new and improved map, we get smarter. Our map more closely resembles reality and we enjoy an ever-more interesting and engaging life.

If instead we deny the new information out of hand, and insist that our map is fine the way it was, we get stupider. Our map gradually becomes more out-of-touch with reality every day. It takes more and more energy to cling to an out-dated map in the face of so much contradictory information, and life becomes a miserable, frustrating experience.

Go out of your way to be wrong. The more times a day you can violate your prior expectations, the more often your map will be rewritten, the more nuanced and detailed it will be, and the more closely it will resemble reality. This will quickly bring you far more joy than the pale and transient pleasure of “being right.”

You gain nothing by being right, and everything by being wrong.

Forget All That Bullshit and Just Play

“Master your instrument, master the music, and then forget all that bullshit and just play.”

Charlie Parker

The thing I like about Christmas is the down-time.

Use it.

Sip yourself silly on an egg-nog, or a snowball, or some other such seasonal beverage, and cast your mind back over previous year.

What worked? What didn’t?

What are you glad you did? Where did you fall short of your true standards?

Take a cold, dispassionate inventory of yourself. Be as brutal as you know how.

And then forget all that bullshit and just play.

Live Right, or Play It Safe: You Can’t Do Both.

I was awake for a couple of hours in the night. It happens.

An hour or two before bed I had finished reading “A Farewell to Arms.” I’ve read it before, and so I knew all along just exactly who was going to die, and how unjust it would feel, and how it would stay with me, but none of that served to soften the blow. It hit me hard and it was still on my mind when I woke up in the night.

I wasn’t at all disturbed as I lay there thinking about death. I watched my mind go this place and that as though it were being projected on a screen in a cinema – I, the lone attendee of the premiere.

I watched my own death several times over, scouring my imagination for all of the most unpleasant ways I’d heard it could happen. I saw myself crucified, like Christ. I saw myself marched to Semynov Place in St Petersburg with a black hood over my head, like Dostoyevsky, only unlike him I wasn’t pardonned at the eleventh hour – I got the firing squad. I saw myself ordered by the Romans to slit my wrists in a warm bath, like Seneca.

There was nothing morbid about this spectacle. I almost enjoyed it – historically it tends to be the good people that are subjected to these kinds of violent endings. Perhaps if I played my cards I would be one of them. JFK and Martin Luther King? Assassinated in their prime. Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover? A stroke at 81, and a heart attack at 77. I know which side I would rather be on.

And so after the thrill and high of the narcissism wore off, I went on a new train of thought – is it possible that fearing conflict and the possibility of an unpleasant death is affecting the way I live my life? And sadly, I had to admit that it was. More than I had ever realised.

I started to see just how much of my days are filled with avoiding conflict at all costs, choosing to play it safe for fear that if I didn’t I wouldn’t be capable of handling the consequences. I saw how when I detect the mere hint of the possilibility of conflict on the horizon, my mind races to me suddenly being on trial for crimes I didn’t even mean to commit, sentenced to torture and then to death by a faceless regime who just don’t understand me.

I asked myself which I would prefer: to exist for as long as my biology held out but feel on a daily basis that I was selling myself short; or to live for just one more day, but live it ‘right’, whatever that might mean?

It’s easy to say I’d prefer the latter. But now I have to prove it to myself through the way I live. Philsophy is not about grand thoughts. It is about our choices in every moment of every day.

Here’s the truth: You can’t have your cake and eat it too – you can’t live right and play it safe. Sometimes they are one and the same, but in the moments when they are not, the side you tend towards sums you up.

So when push comes to shove, will you prioritise doing the right thing whatever it costs, or avoiding all risk and conflict? From one comes life, from the other, mere existence.

When you live rightly, you do indeed put yourself at a higher risk of upsetting people, of offending people, of displeasing the regime, and yes, of potentially of having your years on this planet cut short. But even added together, these are miniscule prices to pay, when you realise the alternative:

And that is to have never really lived at all.

The Quality of Your Life Is in Your Choices

Every time you choose to do this, you also by default choose not to do that.

And whatever choices you make, the sum total of these choices ends up being your life.

There are all kinds of possibilities and potentialities and things that could happen and things that might happen, but there is only ever one set of things that actually do happen.

You only live once – that is a fixed quantity. You came into this world with nothing but a birth and a death, just like the rest of us.

The quality of your life, on the other hand, is entirely within your hands. Will you live deep, or will you live shallow? Will you be grateful, or will you be bitter? Will you have an open spirit, or that of the miser?

There is not one perfect choice to make in each situation that you must make or else you’ve somehow fucked life up… It’s far more subtle and forgiving than that. What matters is the intention with which you make your choices. Because in the end your choices add up to equal your life.

If you want a good life, then make your choices with intention.

Everything Can’t Be Fun All the Time

You probably beat me to it, but I only realised the following fact of life relatively recently: Everything can’t be fun all the time.

As I say, that might sound blindingly obvious to you, but it honestly wasn’t to me. Instead it was an upsetting truth I resisted and reluctantly accepted at a snail’s pace on my way to the ripe old age of 28 and 10 months.

Thinking back, I have no idea what gave me the impression that life was meant to be fun all the time. There was never a time when it was for me, and looking around I saw no evidence it was for others. But in my younger days I supposed I saw myself as the exception – the one who would finally buck the trend and have a good time all the time.

My chief aim in life for a long time was to feel as though every day were a paid-for trip to Alton Towers every day. Anything less and life was clearly cheating me.

Well, I’ve wised up now, in fits and starts. The big change seemed to be that – over a very long period of time – instead of demanding life give me good day after good day after good day whether I deserved it or not, I just stopped giving a shit about what kind of day it was. And I started to look at my role was in what kind of day I had. Was I dwelling on what was out of my control? Was I remembering to be grateful for the fact that the chances of me even being born were incredibly remote, and yet here I am?

I didn’t adjust my expectations – I stopped having them altogether.

And what I found on the other side is that whilst I might appear on the surface to be more dour and pessimistic than when I was younger, the truth is the opposite. Taking the days as they come and trying to do my best within them has made me far happier than expecting life to do all the work for me.

Stop Blaming “Them”

“Another person will not hurt you without your cooperation. You are hurt the moment you believe yourself to be.”


It wasn’t my fault – “they” made me do it.

I would go for it… if only “they” would stop standing in my way.

When “they” start treating me with respect, I will do the same back.

Painting somebody else as the puppet-master of your fate – whether an individual or a group – is a brilliant way to hide. In one fell swoop, you have avoided taking any responsibility for your lot in life, as well as receiving the delicious ego-gratification that comes from self-imposed victimhood.

The problem is that like crack, it’s awfully more-ish. What starts off innocuously gets out of control very quickly.

You know the Spiderman quote: “With great power comes great responsibility…” I couldn’t agree more, but have you ever considered its reverse? That without taking great responsibility in the first place, you will never have great power? I believe it.

Most of all, it takes two to tango. You are a victim to the exact extent that you see yourself as a victim. This has nothing to do with external appearances, and everything to do with the story in your head.

Give Yourself a Moment

My fingers are struggling to type these words because I just went climbing with Will Green.

I last went climbing when I was 16. Whatever level of skill I attained during that one session back then had predictably worn off over the 12 years since.

Still, I really enjoyed it. But as with most things in life there was one thing about it I liked more than anything else. And it was this:

You get up on the wall, hands somewhere, feet somewhere. You look for where either your hands or feet need to move to next. An easy option doesn’t obviously present itself. A voice in your head says “Well, that’s it, it’s impossible.” A moment later, you realise it is possible, and you do it.

This happened over and over again today and I wanted to tell you about it. There is an evil voice inside your head and mine that has a kneejerk defeatist reaction to everything. It comes first, and it makes its point loudly, but that doesn’t stop it from being a lie.

Whenever you find yourself thinking something – big or small – is impossible and that’s there’s nothing to be done about it, give yourself a moment. Ask yourself if you really believe this to be true. If the impossibility holds up under closer scrutiny, then fine. But if not, then you just unlocked a piece of life that was previously hidden to you.

You just glimpsed reality, which is a much better place to play than kneejerk defeatism.

Leave the Right Things to Chance

No child left behind…

Pythagoras. The various uses of crude oil. How and in which order Henry VIII’s wives died…

When it comes to ensuring that no child gets left behind, these are the things that school deems just too damned important to leave to chance.

On the other hand…

Managing your money. Coping with stress. Understanding the people in your life and why they do what they do. Finding a career that enriches both you and the world. How to know when you’re being lied to by politicians and advertisers.

This stuff goes on the “I guess we’ll just let ’em figure that stuff out by themselves, yeah?” pile.

Start with the things that don’t change

The point of school is to prepare young people for their future. And what a noble thing to aim for. But how to decide what to teach? There are three things that make that decision tricky.

One is that the future is unknown – it’s hard to know exactly what will be useful moving forward. Two is that everyone is different – we are born with unique temperaments and natural abilities and learning styles. And three is that even if we knew exactly what would be useful, we do not have the resources to give each student individualised attention based on exactly what they need.

So educators came up with a solution. They said “Let’s just guess what will help the average student, and then let’s hold all students to these arbitrary standards we’ve just made up with no basis in reality. Let’s not include anything explicitly useful to their adult life, but instead let’s fill them to the brim with fear and anxiety over how well they can memorise trivia.”

I have a different proposition.

It is impossible to know what will be useful in the future. And everyone is different. And even if we knew what would be useful, we don’t have the resources to give every student individual attention.

Fine. That’s the lay of the land.

So in the face of all the things we don’t know, and all the things we can’t do, then why not let’s start with… oh, I don’t know… the things that every single human being in recorded history has had to deal with?

Flip it on its head. Instead of worrying about how it’s impossible to know what will be useful in the future, think about what has always been useful. And instead of worrying about how every student is different, think about the ways in which they are the same.

It’s really not a mystery – some things don’t change. We are born. We die. We interact with people. We work. We deal with money. That’s called ‘life’ – it hasn’t changed for thousands of years and it isn’t about to.

I’m not suggesting for a second that everything taught at school is trivial and irrelevant, or that we should do away with it all. No. Only that we should rethink what goes into the curiculum first, and what gets brought in next if there’s still time left over.

Some things have to be left to chance – life is short. I just think we’re picking from the wrong pile.

Do Not Fear Your Audience

There are two ways to think about your audience.

One is to hold them in contempt. To see them as a necessary evil in the creative process, as an obstacle to be overcome. What this approach really betrays is your fear of the audience.

Some hide this fear behind the guise of “giving the people what they want.” But you don’t know – or particularly care – what they want, only what you want. And so you don’t ever bother to find out. You see them as faceless mob instead, and cynically second-guess what they want. And then you wonder why your creations miss the mark you aimed for time and time again.

Really, you are not in this game for the creation of something great. You are after ego-gratification, and personal glory, and you believe that if you can just deceive a large enough group of people for a long enough amount of time, you’ll get your reward.

You audience is a means to an end. And nothing you create will last.

The other approach is to see your audience as a kind of willing co-creator. To see them not only as necessary, but as an incredibly useful tool when it comes to shaping your work.

Instead of giving people what you think they want, you put everything you have into figuring out what they need. Of course, you don’t answer this question on Day 1 and then start creating… it is an attitude that you carry with you at every stage of the creative process.

You do all you can to get outside of yourself and into the minds of the people that are going to experience your work. How will they see this? What will this make them expect? Will I do what they expect, or will I surprise them? You try to see your work from as many different angles as possible.

You never worry that this process will make your work somehow less “yours”. You are still the one doing all the work. You are the artist. There has been no compromise whatsoever. It’s just that instead of working solely from your ego – which is what happens when you try to second-guess them – you have invited the audience to be a part of your creation. Without them even knowing.

But they’ll know it then they experience your work. Because it smacks of something real. Your audience will sense something in it that they are famished for in this crass, commercial age.

People know when they are being talked down to, and when instead they are being taken on a journey. It’s up to you to decide which of the two paths you’re going to take.

There Is Only One Direction

“Get out of here and move forward,” Don says. “This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.”

Mad Men – Season 2, Episode 5: “The New Girl”

If you allow it to, your past will stick to you like a stag-beetle.

It will make all your endeavours twice as heavy.

It will make you fear your own shadow.

But at any moment, you could escape this fate, simply by deciding to.

Who you are and what you consider to be just and true right now at this very second is all there is. Everything is else is imagined.

Discard who you were yesterday. Throw it away. The parts that were worth keeping – the people, the ideas, the good times – they’ll stay with you. Whatever you lose wasn’t worth keeping in the first place. Let it vanish. It was a lie anyway.

There is only one direction.

Life: The Election Fought Anew Every Day

Now is not the time to be despondent.

Now is not the time to be self-righteous.

Now is not the throw your hands in the air and say “Oh well, we tried our best, but the evil fuckers still won.”

For if you genuinely care about creating the change you seek in the world – which is after all the whole point of voting – you’ll realise that what you did yesterday in that polling station was a drop in the ocean, democratically speaking. And seeing it as any more than that is incredibly foolish.

You are here to bring about change – that is what you were born to do. To bring about a unique change – one that only you could bring. There are an infinite number of ways to do this, the only limit being your creativity and your willingness.

And so to view voting every few years as the best way – or indeed the only way – to do that, is to pretty much guarantee the change never happens.

Have you ever tried to cut through a shoe with a butter knife? Well, that’s what you’re doing when you expect meaningful change to come from engaging with our current blunt system of democracy – voting for parliamentary seats in a first-past-the-post election. It’s better than doing nothing, sure, but only slightly.

Your problem is that you do not view your every waking breath as an opportunity to create change.

Yes, vote when asked to. But for the love of God don’t cast your ballot paper and then think “Right, I’ve done my bit. I’ll be happy for a few years if ‘we’ win, angry for a few years if ‘we’ lose.”

Yes, you have done your bit. But don’t kid yourself – that was all it was: a bit. The bare minimum. Now do something else.

Life is an election that is fought anew every day. And there are only two options: good or evil.

Don’t wait until we’ve had another five years of this shit to start trying to choose good.

Don’t Ever Say It’s Impossible

“If something is difficult for you to accomplish, do not then think it impossible for any human being; rather, if it is humanly possible and corresponds to human nature, know that it is attainable by you as well.”

Marcus Aurelius

We share one Earth.

We breathe one air.

We drink one water.

We eat one bread.

What is possible for one of us is possible for each of us.

Yes, accidents of birth make things easier for some on the surface. But don’t forget that no matter what position or privilege someone possesses, we are all flesh and blood. There is nothing inside the billionaire that is not inside you. It might sound ridiculous, but what is possible for him is equally possible for you.

It might not be probable for you to create the change in the world that a billionaire can – he has more resources – but that has absolutely nothing to do with how possible it is. Unless something is impossible, it is possible. And where there is possilibity, there is hope.

We are living through a time when those who have much have deliberately rigged the system to allow them to have ever more, and for those who have less to have less still. This can indeed seem like an unmovable object. But was this current system handed down from the heavens? No. It was made by humans, and so it can be changed by humans.

So don’t say it’s impossible. It might be difficult. It might be improbable. It might be more than you can achieve in your lifetime. But don’t ever say say it’s impossible.

Know Your Enemy

“As the opposite poles of a magnet create motion, your enemies – your opposites – can fill you with purpose and direction. As people who stand in your way, who represent what you loathe, people to react against, they are a source of energy. Do not be naive: with some enemies there can be no compromise, no middle ground.”

Robert Greene – The 33 Strategies of War

There is evil in this world. I am sure of it.

But evil can only triumph when good people shirk their duties. Evil withers and dies when those same people get into motion.

You are one of these good people – you seek to create positive change in this world.

But since the change you seek to create is a positive one, you try to disassociate yourself with anything negative or agressive, and you think that you can get where you’re going simply by being nice, and smiling a lot, and doing a good job. You do not want to make enemies – you see yourself as above all that.

Don’t be so naive. Those who do evil will do so as long as they can get away with it – as long as you refuse to oppose them out of some misguided modern sense of morality or fairness. There is nothing moral or fair about not calling evil by its name.

Your opposition needn’t be violent – in fact, the height of strategic genius is not to slaughter the enemy, but to win the war without minimal bloodshed. But it has to be there, even if it’s just in your mind.

Who do you hate? Who sickens you to your stomach? Why? What is it that they appear to stand for?

Stand against them. Declare an inner war upon them. Let the thought of their evil be what inspires you to seek change.

You will gain far more clarity and energy by directing your anger and your hatred at a specific and deserving target than you will by thinking it’s somehow wise and smart and progressive to sit on the fence.

Keep Trying

It isn’t over.

No matter how many oppose you, how vehemently they may do so…

No matter how often you have lost your way. Felt crushed. Felt defeated. Felt forsaken by a God you aren’t sure you believe in. ..

No matter that nobody – not a single person before you – has ever achieved the thing you know were born to do…

No matter how much you feel you are Sisyphus, pushing that boulder up a steep, steep hill, only to see it roll back down again each and every time it approaches the top…

… it isn’t over.

Until the moment you breathe your final breath, it isn’t over.

Keep trying.

You Know Best

A boat-load of bravery

The decision to put your trust in yourself above all others is without a doubt the bravest one you will ever make. It requires a Julius-Caesar-crossing-the-Rubicon level of bravery.

Not bravery in the sense that you are braving physical danger, or indeed risking anything of importance, but bravery in the sense that there are so many forces within and without you conspiring and compelling you to do just the opposite. These forces feed themselves on your lack of self-trust and self-reliance, and so they will do anything they can to convince you it’s a risky and foolhardy endeavour. You need cajones of steel.

But the fact remains: your whole life, you have been lied to. Not by any particular individual, nor with clear, plain-spoken words. But you were lied to all the same, for embedded in the attitudes and dispositions of almost every living human is an untruth responsible for more evil and destruction than the most blood-thirsty dictator ever dreamt of.

That lie is this: “Other people know better than I do.”

You may keep reading, but if this is all the time you have, allow me to clear this up before you leave:

“No, they do not.”

You were born knowing what’s best

In one sense, relying on yourself is a skill like any other skill – when you practice it, you get better; it feels easier. When you don’t, you get worse; it feels harder. But there’s another gaping difference between this skill and others like, say, playing the piano.

If you take a young man who has never played the piano once, dress him up in a nice tuxedo, plant him in front of a grand piano on the stage at the Royal Albert Hall, and say “Go on, PLAY”… it’s unlikely that what comes out will be music to anyone’s ears.

That’s because he was born the capacity to play the piano – factoring in time, natural talent, and/or instruction – but not the ability to play the piano.

The next dy, suppose you take that some young man – who, incidentally, has never made love to a woman before – strip him of his clothes, and lay him in a bed next to the perky love of his life… I’d put good money on him figuring out what to do next.

Why is this different? Because there are certain things – like the physical act of love – that we are born knowing how to do. Self-reliance is one of these.

It’s not difficult, just unfamiliar. You don’t need more information, just more practice. You must realise that you were born containing all the wisdom you would ever need. And the only thing holding you back from accessing this wisdom is that instead of ever calloing upon it, you have a naughty habit of deferring to others. You presume that they know better than you what is better for you.

Think of it like a muscle. When you neglect a muscle, it shrinks. When you exercise it, it grows. But even when it shrinks, it is still there, though it may be temporarily weak. At any moment you could pick up a dumbell and strengthen it again.

There is no special formula to using this superpower. You need only to use it.

If you don’t claim it, someone else will

I have told you how brave it is to trust in yourself. And I have told you that you do not need to learn how to, but to remember how to. And I was going to leave it there, but then I thought of a final important piece to the puzzle.

I didn’t tell you why it matters – why you should care.

The human mind always seeks something to worship – a deity, a person, an idea… And your trust is always seeking to take up residence somewhere. If you do not actively house it in yourself, you will find that it has housed itself somewhere else. And every location that is not You is the wrong location.

You have heard it said a million times that nature abhors a vacuum, and nowhere else is this truer. Perhaps in the absence of self-trust and self-reliance, you will look to friends and family, or to your critics, or even to some kind of faceless mob. Wherever it goes, for good or ill, rest assured your trust will not stay on the market for long. Unless you claim it for yourself, it will go to a buyer who at best puts their own interests above yours, and at worst doesn’t give a solitary shit about you.

The good news though is that right now, at this very second, you can take back ownership of your Self. You can decide that there is no higher authority on all matters ‘You’ than… You. And in doing so, you will not only become a valuable asset to this world – as all who are truly unique can boast of being – you will find that life is really quite a trip when you allow it be.

Use Your Death

It’s all well good me writing to you impressing upon you the importance of doing ‘the right thing’, but how are you supposed to know what that right thing is?

It’s tempting to try to use your mind. To analyse it, to weigh this against that, to be rational and logical and objective. Don’t bother. It’s not necessary.

Use your death instead.

Remind yourself intead that one day – maybe even today – you are going to die. Don’t get sad about it. Just accept it. Drink it in. Swim in it. Because it’s true.

Why am I telling you to do this?

Because when you keep your death close at hand, your true priorities magically make themselves known. You stop giving a shit about trivia. You no longer have a need to taking things personally. It becomes impossible to bear grudges.

Only when you remember your death, will you know how to live.

There Is Safety in Boldness

Bobby wants to get started, but he’s waiting for things to settle down a bit first. When they do, he’ll proceed. Seems reasonable.

Billie promises she is about get started, but she’s no fool – it’s only sensible to wait until she’s got a few more quid saved up… just in case. Once that happens, she’ll be ready to roll.

Barry really thought he’d be started by now, but he’s decided that first he wants a guarantee. He wants some kind of signal that he’s made the right decision, and that everything will work out just fine for him. Then he’ll get going.

Bobby, Billie, and Barry think they’re being wise. I think they’re chicken-shit.

Life does not have a ‘pause’ button

When there is something you want to do, but present circumstances are not perfect, you have two choices: You can take some kind of action anyway, or you can do nothing whilst you wait for the circumstances to become perfect.

And intuitively, waiting feels like the safer option. The neutral choice. As though nothing is at stake. Like you’ve hit ‘pause’ on life, and though by waiting you might be not gaining anything, at least you’re not losing anything, so it evens out, really.

Taking action, on the other hand, feels decidedly risky in comparison. As though everything is at stake. Like now you’ve hit ‘play’ on life, and whilst, yes, you could stand to gain something from taking action, it’s also possible that you could lose something.

The truth is in fact the complete opposite of this.

Because life does not have a pause button. The stakes are the same in all moments. Waiting is not the neutral choice. There is no neutral choice. Either you are acting, or you are refusing to act.

And if you you are clothing your refusal to act with ‘waiting for the right moment’ then the truth is that you are not wise, but in fact a coward.

Waiting is much riskier

It is in fact riskier to wait for circumstances to change than it is to act under the present circumstances, whatever they might be. Riskier, and far more damaging too. And that’s chiefly because of the message you are sending yourself when you wait.

You are in effect telling yourself that you are only capable of moving forward under an extremely narrow set of perfect circumstances. Anything less than perfect, and you can’t do it. You are selling yourself incredibly short.

This is disempowering enough to begin with, but let’s suppose for a minute that whatever you’re waiting for actually does come to be – if it’s money you need, let’s say you find it somewhere. And now you can get started. What a happy ending.

It’s just that… what if it doesn’t? What if circumstances are never ‘just right’ for you? Think of all that time you’ll have wasted. What a sad, pathetic life you will lead, compared to the one you could have led if you weren’t so fearful.

The other thing is that even if – and it’s unlikely – circumstances become perfect, old habits die hard. What makes you think you won’t change the rules of the game and invent some new perfect circumstances that have to met before you’ll do something?

Wherever you go, there you are.

To take action – no matter how imperfect the circumstances – is to take a small, calculated risk.

To wait for circumstances to be perfect is to take the biggest risk of them all – your life.

“I certainly believe this: that it is better to be impetuous than cautious, because Fortune is a woman, and if you want to keep her under it is necessary to beat her and force her down. It is clear that she more often allows herself to be won over by impetuous men than by those who proceed coldly.”

Nicolo Machiavelli – The Prince

You Always Have the Power

Institutions erode. Demagogic strongmen stoke primal fears. Tribalism rises exponentially. Mistrust abounds.

This is what happens every now and then. When things change more rapidly and more violently than we are accustomed to, there is a void into which can step good or evil.

When I say “This is what happens every now and then…” I don’t mean to excuse evil behaviour. I don’t mean we shouldn’t do anything about it. But I do mean that if we are in any way surprised that this is happening, then we are stupid, and we need to read a history book or two…

Because human nature does not change.

Give people the ability to amass power, and some of them will. And give them the opportunity to take advantage of those with less leverage and mobility, and some of them will. And once they’re in the middle of it, they will do everything to convince themselves – and the rest of the world – that what they’re doing is somehow right and moral.

And they will try to manipulate public opinion. And they will try to silence those who seek a more level playing field. And they will appear to be succeeding…

… and then because they are mortal human beings, they will die. And their corpses will rot, and with the passing of enough years nobody will even remember them, let alone the evil they did.

All this is to say that whether you’re living through good times or bad, through justice or injustice… none of that affects your ability to do what you believe is right. To decide that you won’t be evil. That you won’t degrade the culture for personal gain. That you won’t willingly partake in the suffering of others.

You always have the power to do right. Exercise it.

Curiosity Doesn’t Kill Cats

There was the Asian girl with the perfect eyebrows who looked incredibly glum as she glanced every few seconds at her boyfriend. He was involved in a particularly animated phone-call and every time he chopped the air with his arms to emphasise a point she rolled her eyes.

There was the balding man in the loose, scruffy suit and trainers. He grinned maniacally at nobody in particular in a far corner of Cafe Nero. He had his fists on the table, and he hadn’t bought a drink.

There was the very tall bearded man walking solemnly past the Apple store, carrying a sleeping twin under each arm. His wife pushed the empty pram with her left hand, and with the false-nails of her right, tapped loudly at her phone screen.

I wondered about them all. Who they were. What they were about. How they got here. And why.

I didn’t get any answers, of course. But I wasn’t looking for answers. I was looking for respite.

Curiosity doesn’t kill cats, but it’s the best weapon I have found in my lifelong duel against a relentlessly unhelpful inner monologue.

Does It Keep You From Doing the Right Thing?

It was just after ten when I woke up. I was on a sofa-bed in Rome. And I looked at my phone and discovered that the British public had voted by a narrow margin to leave the European Union.


I got up and made a coffee, and whilst it brewed I browsed the news websites. Each one spoke of what a massive, life-changing thing had happened, and speculated on what was likely to happen next. Of course, they had no idea, but they weren’t about to let that stop them. And over a thousand days later, they are still none the wiser.

I scrolled down my Facebook feed, and what I saw depressed me. Everybody was so bummed out. It surprised me how bummed out they were – I had been living in Rome for a while at this point, and so I hadn’t discussed Brexit with most of my friends.

I discovered that – like myself – most of the people I knew had voted to remain. Some because they loved the idea of EU membership. Some because they saw no compelling reason to leave. And many, because they were suspicious of committing to any course of action whose most vociferous champions were a trio of cunts like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Nigel Farage.

I went out onto the balcony with my coffee and sat in the hot sun listening to the streets of Rome below. If I just focused on the sound, I didn’t think about Brexit. But then I couldn’t help it. Through no fault of my own, I kept returning to it again and again.

Mainly I was thinking of Emma – my new Danish fiancee. We had only just begun. How was this thing going to affect us? Oh, God, life sure felt a lot simpler yesterday…

I was at my limit – which isn’t saying much – and so, sitting in the hot sun, beseiged by my worries, coffee long finished, I reached for the only thing I knew could comfort me – Marcus Aurelius. And as I always do, I found something to settle me:

“Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all the other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfill itself?”

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations, Book 4


Next week’s election

As we hurtle towards the climax of what has been undoubtably the nastiest British election campaign in my lifetime, I know without a shadow of a doubt which horse I’m betting on to win, just as I did in the EU referendum. And I’m sure you know yours too.

But my plea for you is this: whether your horse wins, or a different horse wins, don’t let it ruin you.

I have no desire to be apolitical in my writing – I think that to describe our current government as scum would be incredibly generous. They lie, they cheat, they have nothing but contempt for the citizens of this country… and they get away with it because they have the billionaires who run the media in their pocket.

I want them out. I want them gone. Not because they’re Tories, but because they’re both ineffective and immoral – crap and evil. And that’s not exactly a killer combo for leading a country.

HOWEVER, if they do win – no matter how ill-gotten I might believe their victory to have been – that is the reality I must then come to face. I can argue with the sky until I’m blue in the face, but if they win, there is only thing I can ask myself:

“Does the fact that this happened stop me from doing what I believe to be the right thing?”

And so far, the answer to that question has never been “yes.”

Taking the Bull by the Horns

You go through your day thinking of yourself as the author of your own story, forger of your own destiny. And yet when you look in the mirror, late at night, who stares back?

Are they an active, wilful hero, one who knows deep inside the very thing they must do, and decides, come what may, to do it?

Or are they instead somebody who spends most of their time on the sidelines of life, waiting to be picked, waiting for cirumstances to be just so, and in the meantime fills their days playing bit-parts in other people’s stories?

If your honest-to-God answer was the second one, you’re not alone.

You’re a human being.

The minimum, conservative action

No organism ever expends more energy than necessary, risks anything it doesn’t have to, or takes any action unless it must.

Robert McKee – “Story”

Does this quote not sum up perfectly why we can be so sure of what we want, know exactly how to go about getting it, yet so rarely do anything about it?

Don’t feel bad – it’s literally not your fault. The modus operandi of the human being is very simple: take the minimum, conservative action.

In light of this, almost everything we do can be traced back to just two motivations: habit and necessity.

Habit or necessity?

Depending on which behavioural scientist you ask, between 40 and 95 percent of our actions are done habitually. I think the ’40’ people are being very generous – habit is clearly responsible for the lion’s share of our day.

And whilst we tend to only think of a habit in terms of time – a habit being something we do frequently and repeatedly – there is a more important aspect: will power.

Because a habit isn’t just brushing your teeth twice a day or going to the gym three times a week – it is every single thing you do without having to consciously decide to. It is your default response in every situation.

Habits are brilliant – they are the reason you don’t have to make a fresh decision every few seconds of your day. Every now and then, though, something happens which disrupts our equilibrium and breaks us out of our habitual behaviours. We are forced us to act. Let’s call this necessity.

Now, whilst it might look like we are doing more than the minimum, conservative action when necessity compels us to, we are not. We are still doing the bare minimum. It’s just that the thing that broke us out of our patterns raised the minimum. More is at stake if we do nothing.

So we do what we must – and no more than that – and once we feel that our equilibrium has been restored, once our life is back in balance, we happily default once again to our habits.

Seize the initiative

Living this way – doing either what we always do, or what necessity dictates – our lives become incredibly passive. We are either on autopilot, or we are reacting. There is no active element – we are not creating anything. And we are certainly not bringing forth into the world the changes we seek to make.

The solution then, if you wish to bring that change even an inch closer, is to seize the initiative. To take the bull by the horns. To take action long before necessity dictates you must.

If your autopilot is not serving you, switch it off and take the wheel.

If reacting to other people’s drama is not fulfilling you, then deliberately take your own actions.

When you start to live this way, something changes: rather than being tossed this way and that by the tides of fate and feeling as though everything happens to you, you become a willing and active participant in the game of life.

You start to get a sense of just how powerful you are.

ta eph’hemin, ta ouk eph’hemin…

You might water the plant.

You might feed the plant.

You might put the plant on the window-sill, so that it can get as much as light as possible.

But you cannot grow the plant.

The laws of nature dictate that the plant will quite happily grow all by itself, so long as the conditions are favourable.

Your job is simply to do the bare minimum that will allow those favourable conditions, and to let nature do the rest.

This doesn’t just apply to plants.

PS: The title of this piece is an old Greek saying.

It means: “What is up to us, what is not up to us.”

It Is What It Is

Imagine a football team.

It wins almost every match. It lives at the top of the table.

Its fans proclaim it to be the best team in the world, and although you might wish that weren’t true, your arguments fall flat – they have the numbers to prove it.

Now imagine that this streak lasts for a while – several centuries – before things very slowly begin to decline. It starts with the team drawing a little more often than it did. Then it loses a game – which is practically unheard of – before losing another. And then another. Before long, you are looking a pretty average football team.

Except that this doesn’t seem to have registered with the fans. Or the players. Or the manager. Or the board of directors. As far as they’re concerned, the team is still number one in the league. It’s still winning every game. And it’s going to last forever. And anybody with the audacity to question this is branded a liar, a traitor, and a heretic.

As everybody involved with the team continues to see things through rose-tinted spectacles, its fortunes continue their descent. The team slips further and further down the table, gets relegated again and again, until one day, there is no further left to fall, and nowhere left to hide.

You’ve just imagined Britain in 2019.

Reality is my drug

“Reality is my drug…

… Reality has its own power—you can turn your back on it, but it will find you in the end, and your inability to cope with it will be your ruin.”

50 Cent – “The 50th Law”

What causes misery? Fearing reality – what ‘is’ – and turning away from it.

What causes peace? Seeking, loving, embracing reality.

Whatever you confront today, you need only one sentence with which to confront it: “It is what it is.”

Reality cannot hurt you – only that which is false.

If what you confront is not what you expected, alter your expectations.

If what you confront is not what you desired, alter your desires.

There is absolutely nothing to be gained from blinding yourself to what it is, and everything in the known universe to gain from willingly opening up your eyes and accepting what you see.

It is what it is. It is what it is. It is what it is.

You Are Limitless

A pilot has three choices

This probably won’t surprise you, but I don’t really know how aeroplanes work. Still, was I going to let that stop me from using them to make a point? Of course not. So here goes.

When it comes to deciding how high to fly a plane, there are really only three choices a pilot has: she can make it go higher than it currently is, she can make it go lower than it currently is, or she can keep it the same as it currently is.

You think that you work the same way. I’m afraid not.

Your default is to get worse

There is a happy ending coming, but first we have to go darker.

The unfortaunte truth is that unlike the plane, you only have two options: you can up or you can go down. And if you’re not actively going up, you are going down. Your default is to get worse over time.

You are more like a muscle than a plane.

If you give your leg muscles hell at the gym, they will grow – it’s their job to respond to whatever stress they’re given. Give them more to do than they comfortably can, and they adapt by becoming stronger, ready for the next challenge.

But what happens the moment you stop giving them something to do? Do they stay big and strong? No. They start immediately to shrink. It’s not their fault – you stopped stressing them, and so they simply did their job and adapted.

Your brain works in a very similar way. When you give yourself slightly more to do than your comfort zone permits, you adapt. You become better, smarter, stronger as a result. But the moment you stop challenging your your brain, it stops adapting. You get weaker.

This is the why complacency is so dangerous – we feel as though sure, we could actively try to improve ourselves, but we don’t need to, and if we just stay relaxed about it all, we might not get any better but at least we won’t get any worse

No. There are only two options. Actively improve, or automatically deteriorate.

You are limitless

Now for the good news.

Just as there was a difference between you and the plane, there is a key difference between you and your leg muscles.

If you gave your leg muscles hell at the gym long enough, you would eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. You would have to keep giving them more hell to make them grow any further, and at some point more growth would become physically impossible. This is because your muscles have a genetic limit – a ceiling, if you will – determining how much they can grow. It would take you years to hit this limit, but hit it you would.

You, on the other hand, have no such limit to how much you can grow as a human being. Any and every second of effort you expend doing something slightly above your current level of ability makes you grow. And this never stops.

In fact, you could start right now in this moment doing something simple to try to improve yourself, and even if you lived to a-hundred-and-ten, you would still be growing. You can never reach a point where there is nowhere left to grow. It’s literally impossible.

Isn’t that something?

So how do we improve? What do you have to do?

To be honest, the what is arbitrary. It really doesn’t matter what you do, so long as it takes you in the direction of growth. So long as what you do challenges you – even in the most minute way – you will grow. And you will then be ready for the next thing. And the next thing. And the next thing.

Why Not You?

I went to a climate protest in Sheffield today.

I watched mere teenagers stand on the steps of the City Hall and give rousing speeches to a huge crowd. They were passionate, and they were articulate. They were heroes.

And they gave me chills. I’ll tell you why.

It wasn’t because the speeches were impressive – though they were – and it wasn’t because they stood up for something they believe in.

No, it was because they didn’t wait until somebody gave them permission. They were ready and willing to lead – willing to go first in the hope of co-creating a brighter future. An alternative.

An alternative to what, you might ask…?

The architects of doom

Well, contrast their vision and courage, if you please, with the complacent resignation of the people who – on paper at least – rule this country.

Nine years on, and the nasty, cynical Tory government we get to call our own have no compelling vision for the future.

The party who believe they were born to rule – yet can somehow neither attain nor keep their power without resorting to dirty tactics, bare-faced lies, or to having most of the British press in their pocket – have spent the past nine years subtly lowering the expectations of its citizens.

Have you noticed how we’re no longer surprised by the contempt with which our government holds us in? That this feels like… business as usual?

In one sense, you have to hand it to them – they might be unfit to rule a country, but they sure are black-belts at selling the mess they’ve made as inevitable, as reasonable, as the status quo.

Well, the young people I saw today aren’t falling for that shit. Not only do they have a vision, they are following it with conviction, courage, and integrity.

Don’t be discouraged

The message, I suppose, is don’t be discouraged. Because they love that.

They love when you feel like there’s no point doing anything because it’d just be a drop in the ocean.

They love when you get intimidated by their billionaire friends, and their blue suits, and their positively evil track records…

You know what? Fuck ’em.

You can make a difference. Not alone. But nobody said you had to do it all yourself. Nobody said you couldn’t co-ordinate. Nobody said you couldn’t organise.

What would you change about the world, if it were possible?

Whatever it is, I guarantee you there are other people – possibly millions of them – who share your vision. Now, if you all keep quiet about it, nothing will happen. Somebody has to make the first move.

Why not you?

Larry David and the Fake Fruit of Silicon Valley

“I grew up in Brooklyn. Of all the wonders and pleasures that can be found in nature, none of them can be found in Brooklyn…

“There were no flowers, just artificial ones. Every apartment had artificial flowers. People took great pride in their artificial flowers. And fruit – let’s not leave out the fruit. Anything fake – we love good fake things. The greatest compliment you could give somebody was to mistakenly pick up a piece of their artificial fruit, and take a bit out of it.”

Larry David – “Earth to America”

The virtual world

How long have you spent looking at your phone already today?

That’s not an accident, you know? That’s not just one of those things that naturally evolved, the way giraffes grew longer necks. It was deliberate. It was imposed upon you. And it was orchestrated by a very small group of people, none of whom give a flying fuck about you.

During the last couple of decades – and especially the last one – the internet changed dramatically. In short, it went from being an ‘information highway’ – and a cultural asset helping humanity soar ever higher – to a capitalist’s wet dream.

Basically, a small handful of US corporations started to figure out something with huge ramifications. They realised that this internet had incredible potential when it came to gaining control over the masses. And that nobody had quite managed it yet.

Deliberately designing devices and applications to prey on and trigger our basest instincts, they got us all hooked on a virtual world. More than that, they got us to believe in our very core that this virtual world was just as real – perhaps even more so – than the world perceived by our senses.

This is not a conspiracy theory – it’s fact. What happened is not up for debate.

What is up for debate, however, is where we go from here. How we get back to the real world.

Evil is a choice

I don’t think we let the rich and powerful off lightly enough. Not considering what they’ve done – wilfully and persistenty destroy the culture to line their pockets until they die in a few decades time…

I’ve noticed, listening to a mixture of other people and my own thoughts, that when we hear about a Zuckerberg, a Bezos, a Trump – somebody in a position of vast power and resources – doing things that benefit themselves at the expense of humanity…

The most common response is akin to: “Well, yeah, but how can you expect anything else from them?”

Sorry, what… how can we… not expect them to act in the interests of humanity? Nope. Doesn’t wash with me. When we talk like that, we’re enabling their bullshit. We’re actually treating them as victims. And they are anything but.

We don’t let a rapist off the hook by saying “Well, what did you expect? He likes raping!” So how is this any different? Why do we let the people who wish to destroy the best parts of humanity for their own selfish purposes get away with it? Because they’re rich? Because they’re CEO of a company? Because they have a lot of lawyers?

When Zuckerberg takes daily action against the interests of the human race, he has a choice not to at every step. Let’s not pretend he doesn’t. Because that just lets him off the hook.

It’s not evil to be a billionaire. But it is evil to do evil. And evil is always a choice.

Be the change

I can’t just leave it there, with me slagging off the rich and powerful. For one, I don’t believe that most of the rich and powerful are doing evil – it is a small minority.

But also because other than refusing to use their products and services, or vote for them, it can feel as though there is little we can do in the face of such evil. But there is. There is so much.

Start by being the change you want to see in the world.

Because really, how dare you rally against what you see as the immorality of the people on top if you yourself don’t live with integrity? If – when faced with the choice of whether to good or evil – you don’t choose good, what right do you have to challenge anybody else?

Just as at any point along the way, Zuckerberg et al could have said “Let’s do something awesome for humanity instead of just pretending to…” you get to decide how you’re going to live. Which direction your compass is going to face.

Don’t pretend you’re backed into a corner, or forced to do things you disagree with. The road will be uncomfortable, and likely full of conflict – you will scare people and they will try to pull you back into the bucket like the good crabs they are.

But you will have your feet planted firmly in the real world. And that, my friend, is priceless.

You don’t have to accept the fake fruit Silicon Valley wants to feed you. You always have a choice. Start exercising it.

PS: Larry David – Earth to America

Premeditatio Malorum (The Pre-Meditation of Evils)

At war with yourself

When you find yourself stuck and unable to move forward – but desperately wanting to – realise that this is war.

It is a war between your higher, rational self, and your lower, irrational self. Between the rider and the horse.

In war, the victor is not normally she who acts rashly, or who denies reality. She is usually the one who takes a step back, takes a deep breath, and accepts the situation as holistically as she can.

That is to say – tempting as it is – it’s probably not going to help you to simply deny that you’re afraid and try to barrel through with action.

I have a better solution, and one that has stood the test of time.

Premeditatio Malorum

There is only one reason why you are stopping yourself from moving forward, and that is because you’re afraid of what might happen if you do.

Not what will happen – what might happen. And every second that you stall, you give into your fear of what might happen.

You need to look what you’re afraid of squarely in the face. And doing it all in your head is not always that helpful – our minds have a tendency to circle and ruminate rather than “think.”

So get out a piece of paper, and on it, write down in bullet points every single thing that could happen, if you did what you intend to do.

Don’t judge the list – it doesn’t matter how likely something is or isn’t. All that matters is spilling out onto the page – getting it out of the subjective medium of your mind and onto the objective medium of words on a page.

When you start running out of ideas, stop. Look at your list.

Go through it, bullet-point by bullet-point, asking yourself “If this did happen, what would I do?”

I don’t do this exercise often enough. But every time I do, I realise that swimming around my head were dozens – sometimes hundreds – of nagging little fears, and for every single one, the only answer I can honestly give is “I’d handle it.”

Because it’s true. I would. And so would you. You can handle anything. Hopefully you won’t have to handle the worst things you can imagine. But if you had to, you would.

Best of luck.

CAVEAT: Don’t just skip the exercise and say “I’d handle anything, me, I’m tough as nails…” You need to identify the things you’re afraid of happening first, and then realise one-by-one that you’d handle even the worst of them. Only that which is brought into the consciousness can be dealt with, not that which is allowed to remain unconscious.

For F***’s Sake, Read a Book

“What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9

When your car breaks down on the way home from losing your job, a couple of days after you forked out money you didn’t really have for a service…

When the person you thought you’d spend the rest of your life with suddenly tells you they fucked your best friend…

And when you see corrupt politicians rewarded for telling lies, for cheating, for decimating lives and communities…

It’s tempting to see these as entirely unique problems. Things that have never happened before and never happened to anybody else.

Except that they have. Hundreds, thousands, millions of times. To people of every colour, on every continent, and in every era of human history.

And this is why I read. To help me realise that whatever I’m going through, I’m not alone – people before me have not only solved the exact problems I’m facing, but they had the generosity of spirit to write it all down!

There is nothing new under the sun, and this includes problems. So read for fun. Read to relax. But most of all, read to connect yourself to the human race.

PS: If this post has inspired you to read something, I recommend you start with something which has stood the test of time.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius has been championed by the wisest amongst us for hundreds of years now. Here is an Amazon link to the best translation of it.

Disclaimer: Just so you know, I don’t receive any money if you happen to buy the book through that link – I have no idea how you set that up and I don’t really care.

I just want you to read the book!

It Was Bigger Than a Head…

It’s dinner-time.

You’re shoving a delicious piece of chicken into your mouth when your younger brother starts talking about the enormous dog shit him and his friends saw on the way home.

“It was bigger than a head…” he reports.

Before he can go any further, your mum snaps at him: “Jake! Not while we’re eating.” She shakes her head. Where did I go wrong with that kid?

Jake shuts up.

Now, I’ll be honest – I’m on your mum’s side.

I don’t want to hear about a dog shit bigger than a head whilst I’m trying to enjoy the dinner she slaved over. Call me old-fashioned.

But there is something else we do this about. All the time. Where we try to stamp out all mention of it and deny its existence in the hope that we can make it go away…


We don’t like talking about death. We don’t like thinking about death. We treat death like the proverbial dog shit bigger than a head at the dinnertable.

And paradoxically, all we are doing is we robbing ourselves of life.

One day – and there’s no knowing when – will be your last. It could be today. I hope it’s not. I hope you have many, many more days. But one thing I do know – you don’t have an infinite amount left.

So use them. Use them on stuff that matters.

Just like night gives meaning to day, and darkness gives meaning to light, let your death give meaning to your life. Let it focus you like a laser. Let it cut away the noise, the waste, the inertia…

When you were born, Mother Nature gave you a time-limit. And it was the most generous thing she ever did. She could have given you forever, but she knew better than that. Make her proud.

Be Willing to Be Hated

If someone out there hates what you are doing…

If someone out there wishes you’d stop doing it…

If someone out there wishes you were dead…

Don’t stop. Whatever you’re doing, it’s working.

The evil people-pleaser

If I’m about anything, it’s trying to live with intention. I want to live a good life, and I want to share what I find along the way in the hope that it might help you live a good life too.

Well, one of the greatest obstacles I have found to living a good life is trying to please everybody all of the time.

For one, it’s impossible. You can’t, you won’t, so don’t try. But you already knew that, didn’t you? I’m preaching to the choir. What you might not have thought about, however, is this angle:

People-pleasers are actually evil. And they do not get the stick they deserve.

They often get a lot of sympathy instead. Unlike the way we treat other addicts, we justify the bad things people-pleasers do by saying they were operating with ‘good intentions.’

So what? The junkie was just trying to make himself feel better. Why don’t we give him a medal…?

The dirty truth people-pleasers don’t want you to know is the real motive behind their trying to please everyone.

They are not saints who wish to please everyone because they’re made of more saintly stuff than the rest. They are simply cowards who try to please everyone so that they don’t have to face their fear of being disliked.

And the icing on the cake is that they don’t even really end up pleasing anyone.

I should know. I’m one of them.

I’m a recovering people-pleaser

Just like how a racist will claim they can’t be a racist because they have a black friend, I feel I am allowed to be pretty nasty about people-pleasers because I am one.

And I can confirm what I said a second ago to be true – I am not a saint who wants to please everyone. I’m just terrified of displeasing them. But why?

Because – and this is my lizard brain talking – if I don’t try to please them, they might reject me. And – again, lizard brain – if they reject me, that would be awful… for some reason. So I’d better live carefully. I’d better avoid doing anything that might upset or offend. Anyone. Just in case.

Fortunately for us all, there is more to Oliver Manning than just his lizard brain. I have two more newer brains on top. And using the third one – the uniquely human neo-cortex – I can attempt to see this in a more rational light.

You know the whole fight-or-flight thing, right? Well, that’s what it boils down to, more or less, neuro-chemically.

When confronted with the thought that someone might dislike me, my survival feels threatened. This causes a surge of adrenaline. I then misread the adrenaline – the emotions it creates cause me to conclude that I must have done something wrong, or else why would this person be anything less than enamoured by everything about me?

Compulsive people-pleasing is nothing more than the fear of being rejected. Repeat this pattern enough times, and you’ll find yourself avoiding taking any actions that could possibly upset or offend anyone – real or imagined.

You’ll find yourself miserable.

There is a better way

At various times throughout my life I’ve noticed this sickness and tried to deal with it using the apathetic posture of the teenager: “I’m just going to be me and if everyone doesn’t like it, forget them!” Reject everyone before they get a chance to reject me.

But it’s a dead-end, believe me.

We live in a world where, whilst we might not need every single person on our side to survive – let alone thrive – we do need the co-operation of at least some people. And so rejecting everyone is a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

So what’s the alternative?

Well, we can’t please everyone. And when we try, we end up pleasing nobody. And we can’t reject everyone – we need some people.

But we can please some people.

So who?

The smallest number possible.

The smallest number possible

When I was single, I cared a horrible amount about what women I didn’t know and would never know and wasn’t even particularly attracted to thought about me. Worse, I didn’t want to make any rash decisions that might put any of them off – if I had a haircut that was too slick, I’d put off the girls who preferred guys with messier hair, for example.

This was not a fun way to live. Nor was it a particular fruitful approach to meeting women. Bad all round.

But then I fell head over heels for Emma, and as we got to know each other more and more, I noticed that I’d stopped giving a shit at all about what any other woman in the world thought of me. I’d gone from trying to avoid – in anticipation – the rejection of millions of women I’d likely never meet, to trying to make one real woman happy.

It felt a lot better.

The point of this is not that you should find a Danish girl to marry. It’s that there’s a magic that happens when you narrow your focus, when you focus on as few people as possible.

When you try to please everybody – when you avoid rejection from anybody – you really have your work cut out for you. You’ve got to try and stay on ‘the right side’ of 7 billion people. What do you think your chances are?

Willing to be hated

The final piece to this is that whilst choosing the smallest possible number of people to focus your energies on is a great step, it’s just one half of the equation. It’s like putting your foot on the accellerator pedal whilst the handbrake is still on.

If you want the car to move, you need to release the handbrake. To do that, answer me this:

Who are you willing to be hated by?

There is no dark without light. No day without night. And no love without hate.

If you want to do anything good, anything real, anything that means anything, you are going to be opposed, perhaps violentally. The better, more real, and more meaningful that thing is, the more hate you will get. And you will drastically slow yourself down if you are always trying to avoid that hate.

Invite it instead. If you’re living right, that should upset some people. It should offend some people. Some people should be pissed off by your very existence. This is not something to be feared.

Earlier I mentioned that my big people-pleasing mistake was that I misread the signal – if someone seemed to disapprove of me, I would take it as a sign that I’d done something wrong. The confusion was that I had never defined who I was for, and who I was – by definition – against.

If I had done that, I would have known when somebody opposed me whether they were opposing me from my side or not. I could have thought “Ah, you hate what I just said. But I didn’t say it for your benefit, so that’s fine.”

Once you have defined who you are for, then you can happily ignore the judgment of every other human being in the world. Because it means nothing.

Who are you for?

Dance With Uncertainty

Of one thing I’m certain: until the day I die, I don’t ever want to be sure what’s going to happen next.

I’m a shitty writer

I spend at least a couple of hours every day writing.

And it may not surprise you to learn that I never know what I’m about to write about until I’m actually writing. Sometimes I think I know. And sometimes I’m dead certain. But once my fingers start moving, I am always proved wrong. Every single time.

For a long time, this actually bothered me. Really bothered me

Not because I didn’t like the results of my dive-in-and-figure-it-out-as-you-go approach, but more because I felt like I should be able to do it the other way. To think of a topic, to brainstorm on it, to structure a piece of writing, and then to execute. That’s what they told to do at school.

They told me this kind of left-brained approach was what smart people did. They sold it as more streamlined, effective, organised, efficient… but even back then I remember thinking it was a crock of shit. I got the distinct impression that all that anal preparation everybody treated as sacred was not actually out any desire to do great work, but instead out of a fear of writing. A fear of coming out with anything real, anything they hadn’t approved of in advance. A fear of… art.

Still, slag it of as I might… I tried it. Many, many, many times. And every time I failed at it – producing either incredibly shitty, forced writing, or giving up and just watching telly – I felt worse about myself as both a writer and a human being.

Until at some point I realised that those couple of hours I spent diving and writing every day – with zero clue what was about to come out – were the best parts of my day. And there had to be a reason for it.

There was. I was dancing with uncertainty.

In the face of uncertainty

These days, not only do I not try to plan what I’m going to write about, I don’t even listen to the voice in my head when it makes suggestions. I make myself wait until my laptop is in front of me, and I type. And I watch. And I shape. And that’s that.

But there’s a bigger reason behind this approach:

When I sit down not having the foggiest idea what I’m about to write – but mashing my fingers on the keyboard in the face of that uncertainty – I know I’m about to discover something. I know I’m about to be surprised. I know that in a couple of hours I’ll be a slightly different person because of what came out of me.

And isn’t surprise – which is only possible through uncertainty – what makes life interesting? When something happens just the way you expected it would, it’s nice, sure, but it’s kind of boring, no?

I don’t want to know what I’m about to do next. And not just on the page, but in life.

Life = story

I’m as guilty as anyone of this social crime.

I’ll be talking to my mum or my friend or whoever, and I’ll start telling a “story.” Halfway through telling I’ll realise a lot of the details I’ve given were not really relevant, and now that I think of it, it’s not really a story… more just some things that happened that interested me because they were about me. And sometimes I’ll finish it and sometimes I won’t.

But what is it that makes something a story, rather than just a thing that happened, a series of events?

It’s actually quite simple. One word: tension.

Or more specifically, the tension between what you thought was going to happen and what then actually did happen.

So, imagine that you’re somebody who wears glasses. You wake up in the morning in plenty of time for work, reach for your glasses, put them on, go to the toilet, flush it, go downstairs, drink a glass of water…

This is not a story. Why? No expectations have been violated yet.

On the other hand, imagine that you wake up an hour later than you meant to, reach for your glasses, accidentally knock them off the bed-side table, and then tread on them as you look for them. Now what are you going to do? You’re already going to be late for work as it is, but you can’t do a day’s work without your glasses. Then you remember that last summer you bought some prescription sunglasses and even though it’s the middle of winter you decide that’s the best choice you have. You scour the house for them, the clock ticking. Finally, you find them in the most random place imaginable, and you set off. You make it to work in the nick of the time. Your boss calls you into her office. She sounds angry. You think she’s going to ask you why the hell you’re wearing sunglasses. You get ready to apologise and explain yourself, but instead she pulls out a pair from her drawer and says that from now on Fridays will be shades-day. She applauds you for having the cajones to express yourself so freely. She asks you if you’re doing anything for dinner tonight. You say “no” and that you’d love to see her – you’ve liked her for a long time. You smile as you leave her office, until you remember that you promised on your life that tonight you’d help your nephew with his school project that has to be handed in tomorrow…WILL YOU CHOOSE?

Well, now you’ve got yourself a story. Because rather than everything going the way the you expected it to, your expectations kept being violated, causing you to keep adapting to the new situation. You kept being forced to grow.

Whilst the first version – where everything went as planned – might have ended up as an easier, more carefree morning, you’ve got to admit that the second version where nothing went as expected was a lot more interesting. It was a better story.

And real life is no different.

In real life, if everything happened just the way we expected it, just the way it was ‘supposed to’, 100% of the time, we’d all be incredibly bored. We wouldn’t learn. We wouldn’t grow. It’d be horrible.

We need uncertainty.

Dance with uncertainty

Why then do we crave certainty? Because we have our signals crossed.

We seek certainty in all we do. We put certainty on a pedestal. We direct all our energies into making the world conform to our expectations. We want to completely rule out unpleasant surprises.

But it never works. It just makes us miserable.

The truth is that – to use one half of a well-worn cliche – the only certainty in life is death. Everything else is up for debate. Everything else. There is nothing else certain. But guess what? That’s fine!

If everything is uncertain – and it is – then doesn’t it make for more sense to learn to dance with uncertainty than to hope and wish for a certainty that will never come?

Because when you resist uncertainty, the result is not more certainty. It’s more pain. But when you choose to allow uncertainty – to dance with it – you paradoxically feel more certain than ever. Not perhaps of specific things going a specific way, but a more holistic certainty that whatever happens – good or bad – you’ll be absolutely fine.

Don’t obsess over certatiny. Dance with uncertainty.

You Are Enough

You are enough.

Right now, at this very second, you are enough. I’ll go one further – you are actually far more enough than you’ll ever need to be.

Enough what, though? And enough for what?

Capable enough of handling whatever life happens to give you.

The worst week of my life

Since you asked, it was the circumcision that hurt the most.

But that was just one of the three painful things that happened to me one week in September 2009, a fortnight into my first semester of university.

So first, as I said, a surgeon cut off my foreskin. It had been in the calendar for a couple of months, but that didn’t make it any more pleasant, or the physical recovery any more pain-free.

Then a few days later, as I lay in bed dopey from the codeine and feeling altogether sorry for myself, my Grandma died. I couldn’t travel with my family down to Ipswich – I’d have only been able to mope about in pain there rather than in Sheffield – so they left me on my own. But what choice did they have?

And whilst all this was going on, my girlfriend told me – bravely, I should add – that she wasn’t feeling good about our relationship since I had moved away, and that it might be best for us to not be together. Perhaps any other week, I’d have handled that conversation with a calm, cool detachment. Instead it just about destroyed me.

Not a great week.

I went to counseling

Life went on, as it tends to, but the events of that week left me feeling like I was losing my mind.

The closest metaphor I can give is this: I felt as though just a few weeks earlier I had been happily hanging out on dry land, but now I lost at sea, treading water just to stay alive.

I found out that Leeds College of Music offered a counselling service. I didn’t expect miracles – I didn’t expect anything, to be honest – but I was desperate enough to give it a try.

And it’s funny what, with the passing of years, you do and don’t remember. I can remember the specific melody almost every line of dialogue in Friends is spoken with, yet I remember just one of the conversations I had with my counseler. But it was a biggie.

My mortal fear of the word “no”

How I got onto it, I’ll never remember, but I started telling the counseler one week about how when I was a child I was really scared to ask my parents if I could have my tape on in the car.

I would be sitting in the back, often sandwiched between my older brother and sister, wanting desperately to ask if I could have my tape on, but deathly afraid of hearing “no.”

Basically, I was afraid of was that if I took the plunge, and asked – which I had built up into this big thing in my head – and for whatever reason somebody said “no,” that that ‘no’ would destroy me it would be more than I could handle.

My solution, generally – my “best bad choice” – was to not ask. I opted instead to live in a kind of “Schroedinger’s Tape” situation, where I was both allowed and not allowed to have my tape on, where I both heard “yes” and “no”, and never had to risk actually asking.

Now, for context, this was not because my parents were mean and would never let me have my tape on. In fact, I was very often allowed to have my tape on. So I brushed it off as just one of those silly kid things. But the counseler got me to keep on talking about it, and as I elaborated more and more, I started to see that this might not have been something I only did with the tape in the car, nor something I had grown out of.

It might in fact have been the very way I had related to everything and everyone in my life for as long as I’d been living.


You’ve always been enough

Though it felt like a fierce shove, what the counseler had gently guided me towards realising was that I’d been telling myself quite a destructive story for perhaps my whole life.

If they say ‘no’, I won’t be able to handle it. I will crumble before them and be destroyed. I am not ‘enough’ to handle it.”

It sure would have been nice not to have go through a circumcision, the death of my Grandma, or a painfully disintegrating relationship to end up counseling in order to realise the story I’d been telling myself wasn’t necessarily true.

But c’est la vie.

The more I’ve thought about this in the years since, the more untrue I have found it to be – the more certain I have become that there has not been a single moment in my life yet that I genuinely couldn’t handle. Where I wasn’t ‘enough’.

There have been plenty where I didn’t feel able. Where I didn’t feel I had enough inner resources for whatever the moment seemed to require of me. But after ten years of searching, I still haven’t found one where it was actually true.

I urge you to look for yourself

Yes, I urge you.

Because whilst I don’t think many people had such a specific fear – of not being allowed their tape on in the car as a child – I can’t believe for a second that I’m the only person here who often feels like they can’t handle life.

And if you do look into your own life history, I think you’ll find the same thing I found.

You’ll find moments where you felt like you didn’t have enough strength or fortitude or willpower, you’ll find moments where you were convinced you were about to crumble under the pressure, you’ll find moments where you lashed out at someone, moments where you lashed out at yourself, and most of all, you’ll find moments that you feared not being to handle well in advance, only to end up handling it after all…

But try as you might, I don’t think you’ll find a single, solitary moment where you truthfully were didn’t handle it, one way or another. You might have fallen short of your high and exacting standards, but there has never been, a moment which required of you more than you already had inside, and there never will be.

“What does this moment require of me?”

Questions beat statements.

No matter how vociferously certain well-meaning authors champion them, I hate affirmations. The fact is that for me, repeating “positive” phrases to myself gives me the willies. I can say “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better ” til the cows come home, but every time I do, my mind is going to reply “No you’re fucking not.”

When I feel a certain way, saying something that contradicts that feeling just causes cognitive dissonance. I feel a fool. What I like to do instead is ask myself questions.

If you feel overwhelmed, and as though life doesn’t have your back, and as though everything is just too bloody much…

Ask yourself: “What does this moment actually require of me? And do I have it?”

I cannot oversell the pain I have felt from feeling like I wasn’t enough. But the saddest thing is not the pain – pain goes away. The saddest thing is that 100% of the time, it was a complete lie. It was totally unnecessary.

Perhaps today is the day that you realise you’re enough. That you’re more than enough.

How To Be Generous When You Have Nothing

Do you ever wake up hours before your alarm is due to go off? I do.

Once I’m awake, I can pretty much assume I won’t be going back to sleep. Just like how a child will run into its parents’ bedroom at 5am and make noise until they give it the attention they crave – my mind being the child.

But it’s not a cute child. It’s a mean, egoic voice, telling me all kinds of mean things about myself. The harder I try to sleep, the nastier it gets.

So I get up. Water. Pills. Coffee. And then I pick up my purple A4 journal. Since I should be asleep, I’ve technically gained a few hours – I might as well use them productively, to try and figure out why I feel so rotten inside.

I aim for 3 pages of A4 – an idea I stole from Julia Cameron – and by the time I’ve done that, I always feel ‘better’, even if I never really got to the bottom of what was bothering me.

This morning it took about half a page for me to work out exactly what was bothering me. And I didn’t like what I found.

I realised just how much of a stingy bastard I’d become.

How generous are you?

That’s not an easy question. But believe it or not, there is a correct answer.

We’re different people at different times, sure. But whilst there are certainly moments in life where you find yourself being more or less generous – you might be lavish with your cash yet stingy with your time, for example – you have an overall average level of comfort when it comes to being generous, and this tends to remains pretty constant over time.

Think of this as a line extending from ‘Not Generous At All’ on the left, to ‘Extremely Generous’ on the right. Somewhere along that line is you.

If you’re all the way over to the left, you do not feel you have very much to give anyone. You fear that if you were to give away the little you do have, you’d end up with even less than you started with. Not being an idiot, your natural tendency is therefore to be stingy – to hoard what little you do have, in the name of protecting it.

Right at the other end of the line, you feel totally secure, completely comfortable, and incredibly abundant. Since you know that you have more than enough of whatever you need, you are naturally quite happy to spread it around and let other people have a slice.

Where would you place yourself on this line?

Why are some people more generous than others?

Is it simply because some of inequality? That some people have more to be generous with, and therefore they are? It’s tempting to believe this.

You want to believe that it’s easier to be generous with your money if you’re rich, easier to be generous with your friendship when you have more friends, and easier to be generous with your time when you have a lot on your hands.

You want to believe that if you suddenly became £1,000,000 richer than you are right now, that you would also become more generous, because now you could better ‘afford’ to be.

But you’d be completely and utterly wrong.

Your position on that line has nothing to do with what you actually have – or don’t have – and instead everything to do with conscious choice.

What do you choose to do with what you have? Do you hold on to it for dear life, or do you happily give it away?

What you have or do not have makes absolutely no difference to your ability to be generous. But it sure as fuck doesn’t feel that way, does it?

Expand your definition

If you’d like to be more generous, then let’s face facts – feeling you don’t have enough is going to hold you back, no matter how much or how little you have.

You cannot be generous with what you do not have. But the good thing is that you don’t need to.

The problem is that you are looking at generosity through a keyhole, instead of opening the door and seeing the whole room.

All oranges are fruits, but not all fruits are oranges. Generosity goes way beyond the material. More than anything, it is a posture. An attitude. A way of being the world. To be generous is to have a generous spirit.

So what do you do if you feel you don’t have enough to be generous with?

Find the things you do have

I’ll give you an example.

Right now, I don’t have as much money as this time last year. I quit my job in the summer because I wanted to move on. We’re getting by. But currently, money is not something I can be lavish with.

Does that mean I can’t be generous? Fuck no.

I have a lot of time spare time.

I have the ability to string sentences together, so I can write pieces like this that might help people.

I have my musical abilities, so I can play gigs and busk and entertain people. And I can show other people how to play instruments.

But even if you took away all those things, I’ve still plenty to work with.

I have my ears – I could find somebody who simply needed someone listen to them.

I have my mouth – I could go for a walk and try to smile and say hello to everyone I passed.

I have my gratitude – I could send somebody a text to tell them I appreciate something about them.

For everything you feel you don’t have – and therefore cannot afford to be generous with – believe me, you have more than enough of something else that you could be putting to work.

When you feel as though something is missing in your life, you’re damn right it is. You are not giving enough of yourself.

In every moment lies the opportunity to be generous.

But… why bother?

I’m a fairly selfish person. I don’t particularly relish doing things that won’t benefit me in some way.

But I don’t preach generosity – and try to live it in my own life – because I heard someone else say it. Or because I’d like for it to be true. Or because I’m some saint who wants to teach the world to sing.

I do it because the more generous I am, the better MY LIFE gets. How?

Life doesn’t feel like a struggle. I go to bed feeling beautifully empty. Things that I would normally feel responsible for and stress out over work themselves out. People text or email me with opportunities. PEOPLE BECOME MORE GENEROUS WITH ME!

Please don’t take my word for any of this. Test it out.

Right now, your ego is trying to convince you that you don’t have enough to give yet. You do. You have plenty. You just need to look for it. And then give it away. You’re not going to run out.

It’s impossible to run out of anything that matters.

What are you going to be more generous with?