Storyboard

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“Life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself” – George Bernard Shaw

 To me, New Year always feels like being given a clean sheet of paper on which to write a new chapter of my life.

Somewhere, amongst the festive busyness, I managed to find some time and quiet space to reflect; to revisit 2013 and to think about what 2014 might look like. Reflection is something which even the Queen advocated in her Christmas speech this year.

On reflection, 2013 was a year where I’d given myself a bit of a kick up the butt and actually done some of the things I’d wanted to do for ages. It’s felt great to do this. Here are a couple of examples.

During my summer holiday I started writing this blog, which is proving to be a real joy. I am truly humbled, privileged and gratified when readers share their own thoughts and experiences with me.

Recently, I applied to be a School Governor and I am very excited to report that I have been successful. I can’t wait to get started !

 “We cannot teach people anything. We can only help them discover it within themselves” – Galileo Gallilei

As you know from my previous blogs, I am a huge fan of Seth Godin’s books. If you want an inspirational, short read to set you up for the year ahead, my recommendation would be his book “Graceful”.

In “Graceful”, Godin summarises a speech made, at a Princeton graduation ceremony, by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com.

Graduates are at the start of their careers, facing a blank sheet of paper and choices about how to fill it. Bezos poses the following questions, to help them develop their storyboard.

  • “Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions ? Will you follow dogma or will you be original ?”
  •  “Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure ? Will you wilt under criticism or will you follow your convictions ?”
  • “Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling. When it’s tough, will you give up or will you be relentless ?”
  •  “Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder ? Will you be clever at the expense of others or will you be kind ?”

Bezos’ questions can only be answered from the heart. “When your heart speaks, take good notes” – Anon. The answers provide a reference point for creating life’s storyboard; a set of values and principles to guide our decision making.

“Sometimes, on the way to a dream, you get lost and find a better one” – Lisa Hammond (Permission to Dream)

 All good stories contain surprises and unexpected endings. Along the way our path will twist and turn. In response, we’ll “ad-lib” and to do so, we need to have a strong set of values in our armoury.

 “For my part, I know nothing with any certainty. But the sight of the starts makes me dream” – Vincent Van Gogh

 None of us knows what the year ahead will bring.

My New Year’s resolution is to squeeze as much as I can out of 2014; to live life to the full, to put my energy into realising my dreams.

I know that to be truly happy I must live life in a way that is in tune with my beliefs, values and passions and this will be my guiding principle.

Perhaps you will, like me, spend some time over the next few days distilling your New Year’s resolution and from it, creating your 2014 storyboard.

I hope that you have a happy 2014.

PS – I would love it if you feel able to share what you come up with. If you do, please post it as a comment at the bottom.

Blank canvas

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“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls”

Pablo Picasso

 It’s half term break and children’s ability to entertain themselves never fails to amaze me.

My 10 year old and his school friends are in the grip of Minecraft, a computer game they play together over the internet, communicating via head-sets. Normally, I despise computer games, but not this one. The lads build their own world using blocks made from different materials. The thought and consideration that goes into each build is awe-inspiring. My son’s latest addition to his Minecraft world is a cake and coffee stand, complete with an outside toilet and a sharing table for people on dates. By exploring their creation you get a (sometimes scary) glimpse into how they see the world, what their dreams and aspirations are. I suppose that’s it is an indoor version of building sandcastles on the beach.

For the next few days I’ve unhooked my son from his X-Box and dragged him on a family visit. He’s been having a magical time playing in the piles of leaves brought down by the storm and throwing sticks up into the trees to bring down prime, shiny conkers.

As a child, when I wasn’t whizzing around on my bike, I liked to trash the kitchen inventing horrible, inedible recipes (usually involving raw pasta and Oxo cubes) or build dark and wobbly dens in the garden hedges, in which I’d try and cook sausages over candles. I sometimes wrote stories, which I thought were silly, but my grandma used to take them off me, put them in a shoe box high in her wardrobe and tell me that one day she’d publish a book of them called “Juicy Jelly’s Tiny Tales”.

Now that I’m all grown up I still love doing the same things. However, my recipes aren’t quite so inedible, my house is my den and this blog has (for the moment…) taken the place of my stories.

I’ve recently read a great book called the Icarus Deception, by Seth Godin. In it he defines art as “the unique work of a human being, work that touches another”. To me, all of the weird and wonderful creations described above are pieces of art.

 “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”

George Bernard Shaw

 I find that there’s nothing quite like losing myself in a really good book, with a gripping plot, full of deep, complex characters. I move into the fictional world I’ve created in my mind and develop intimate relationships with its population.

The downside of a great novel is that inevitably, someone turns it into a movie which I can’t resist watching and “BANG”, my fabulous creation has gone.

Watching a movie is passive – it does all of the creating for us. If we’re not on the look-out, life can creep up on us and do exactly the same thing.

The good news, explains Godin, is that even when we are working we have a “choice between doing art (and forging our own path, on our own terms and owning what happens) and merely doing our job (which pushes all the power and all the responsibility to someone else).” It’s not about being an anarchist. We will always have unavoidable boundaries and constraints within which we have to live or work. It’s caring deeply about what we do, challenging the status quo and being a proactive pioneer.

 “A cook follows a recipe. A chef invents one. We have too many cooks. The world is begging for chefs”

Seth Godin

 According to Godin, to be truly awake and living our lives to the full we shouldn’t be waiting for a map, we should be drawing one.

A 12 year old school girl from the USA, Brittany Wenger, became interested in computer programming after a talk by a futurist and taught herself how to do it. When her cousin developed breast cancer, a 15 year old Brittany developed a breast cancer diagnostic programme which is 99% accurate. Wow.

Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s summer palace on the Isle of Wight, is one of my favourite places to visit and should, in my opinion, immediately be added to your “places to visit before you die” list. It was designed by Prince Albert and is packed full of inventions and innovations. For example, cockleshells were used for insulation – a stunning example of self-drawn map and a true work of art.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were fascinated by technology and often invited scientists and inventors to Osborne to demonstrate their latest discoveries; for example, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone and Marconi the wireless telegraph. Securing such patronage must have boosted the adoption of their inventions.

 “Creativity is contagious – pass it on”

Albert Einstein

Godin advocates the following six daily habits for artists:

  • Sit alone, sit quietly
  • Learn something new without any apparent practical benefit
  • Ask individuals for bold feedback, ignore what you hear from the crowd
  • Spend time encouraging other artists
  • Teach, with the intent of making change
  • Ship something that you created

For me, the most important habit from the list above is “encouraging other artists”. Those artists include our children.

A friend of mine, who was a social worker in a coastal town, told me how she often came across children who had never been taken to the beach by their parents, despite living five minutes’ walk away. That really stuck in my heart. It’s the most wonderful children’s playground and it’s free – a place where imaginations, along with little legs, can run wild.

There is a truly wonderful gift we can give our children – to teach them that the world is their blank canvas and to provide them with every opportunity and encouragement to create.

But we can’t stop there.

As Pablo Picasso observed, “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up”.

I’ve chosen the path of “doing art”, will you ?