A guest post by BIDN alumni Scarlett Stock, who attended our workshop in April 2017: Before I Die I Want To…Be Me.
Tomorrow I am graduating from University. How do I feel about entering ‘the real world’? Numb. To be perfectly honest, I feel numb. I’ve tried to write this blog countless times, but all I could come up with was cliché nonsense – ‘I’m nervous but excited,’ ‘I’m so proud to see three years of hard work pay off,’ ‘after three years of ups and downs, I can’t wait to see what comes next.’ Pff. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the job I’ve got lined up makes me feel so passionate about the prospect of the positive change I could make over the next two years. However… those phrases do not encapsulate how it feels for me to leave behind the most thrilling, emotionally draining, empowering and character-affirming time of my life so far. For me, there are too many conflicting emotions to process.
And I’ve realised that’s okay. Some people are terrified. Others are overflowing with enthusiasm. What I’ve learned is that there is no ‘right’ way to feel about change; although a core factor that has kept me some version of sane is self-awareness.
On the day I got my 2.1 degree result, I felt absolutely nothing (that, and a tinge of relief). I sat in bed and thought “Oh, I should probably tell my family.”
“GOT A 2.1 LAW DEGREE!!! Xxxx” were the words I sent, as I sat there straight-faced. I felt like I should be happy. Or, failing that, at least try to sound happy – like everyone’s Facebook statuses announced throughout results day.
For me, these three years have been tough, but the most fun yet. I’ve figured out how to be happy. And the biggest part of that is learning what makes you happy; living life on your own terms. Hence, the prospect of leaving uni, a place where I really discovered my happiness, was not something I wanted to face. Being someone who is usually the ultimate evader of change, I knew that accepting I was in my final year was one of the greatest mountains to overcome.
So what did I do? I forced myself to research jobs, no matter how much it pained me. I forced myself to be completely aware that I was leaving. I’d talk about it openly, instead of avoiding it.
I was so in the moment, I could readily process every part of the last times at uni. In the days that I stopped facing up to the situation, going into a state of denial, reality would soon hit me slap-bang in the face and I would feel awful. Lost. Scared.
However you feel about your next steps in life – be aware of it, and don’t let that stop you progressing. You need to give yourself what you need. You are unique.
In my job-hunting research I stumbled upon the Before I Die Network. I was lucky enough to be in London on the day of their goal-setting workshop, and along I went. It was the most mentally stimulating and emotionally exhausting five hours of my life. It made me question what I want and who I am, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
One of the greatest lessons from that night – success is on your own terms. Whether it’s money, or travelling, or helping people – you have to figure out what you want out of life.
Me? I’ve always been involved in charity work. It was staring me right in the face the whole way through my Law degree that this was the sector I was made for, but I just didn’t see it – owing to lack of self awareness.
The Before I Die Network helped me to ask these terrifyingly large questions; in 100 years, what do I want to be remembered for? What do I want to achieve? Nothing meaningful happens if you don’t open your eyes to this.
Once you find the answers, then you work on the how.
For now I’m entering my first stepping stone towards the impact I want to make in my life. I’m open for the how to change along the way. And I’m excited for it to do just that.
Olivia, who founded the Before I Die Network, instils this sense in her work of us all being unique and extraordinary. It’s a wild notion in a world where we all feel the compulsion to fit in. But we each have something distinct and irreplaceable to give.
Sounding too hopeful for you? A graduation speech transcript Olivia sent me has stuck with me since the day I read it. One part in particular – ‘The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.’
In times where everything feels futile, I remember: It makes sense to be hopeful.
So I intend to fill myself to the brim with hope, embrace success on my own terms, along with however that makes me feel, and then fling myself full-throttle into my next chapter – because there’s no reason not to.
A guest post by BIDN alumni Pippa, who attended our workshop in November 2016: Before I Die I Want To…Make Fun-damental Change.
Before I die I want to… use my time on this planet to make a real contribution and be proud of the work that I do.
Something that’s stayed with me that I learned from the BIDN workshop… is that this planet is filled with open-minded, kind, innovative human beings who want to make positives changes to this world too. So there is hope and we might just be okay after all. Also, that there is nothing wrong with making mistakes. In fact, this is perhaps one of the most important lessons I learned at BIDN. Even though this is not a new concept to me (we all learn from our mistakes, blah, blah, blah), it’s absolutely the first time I believed it and perhaps even accepted it. ‘Mistakes’ for me were always these big terrifying monsters that had the potential to swallow me whole. BIDN reframed mistakes in a way that turned that monster into more of an ally. That might sound kinda bonkers, but it’s helped me so much in the weeks since the workshop!
What I’m proudest of having achieved since the workshop… is that I finally decided to invest in myself in the form of a HUGE career change. When the practical aspect of this fell apart, I didn’t give up… I persevered and have actually ended up in a much place, and one that I could have never imagined. If I’d given up at the first hurdle I would never have met such an amazing new group of people and be on my way to a really exciting and rewarding new career path.
What I’ve noticed about how I pursue my ambitions now is… that I am able to do so with real conviction and confidence. BIDN gave me the support and encouragement I needed to become much more self-aware with what it was I wanted to achieve. Now, with such a clear goal in mind the pursuit of it is exciting, instead of drenched in anxiety.
My current focus/challenge around my goal is… to find balance. I’ve done all the heavy lifting, I’m on my new path already. I need to make sure not to get burned out or lose inspiration. In the first workshop we did a visualization exercise and I still use that when I’m feeling overwhelmed or thinking about giving up. Giving up has been my party trick for the last few years and part of my goal is to break this cycle!
People can reach out to me to help via my email: phillipabrown [at] gmail [dot] com. I especially like book recommendations 🙂
Let’s get real about a few things.
This has been a year of unspeakable chaos, death, devastation, conflict and disempowerment – and from the news of the past few days, it seems set to continue until the new years’ bells toll.
But if we just focus on those headlines – on the things that have been “taken from us” in 2016 – it’s easy to lose hope, hide under the duvet, and feel like we’re on an express train to the next apocalypse.
So if we want to make 2017 the year we stand up and fight for the kind of world we want to live in, let’s move away from the headlines, come out from under our duvets and take a moment to reflect on the small, grassroots, individual and community things worth celebrating from 2016.
We asked the alumni of our Before I Die Network workshops to share the things they want to celebrate from 2016.
This is what they shared.
Workshop attended: Aug 2016 (Connect)
Before I die I want to… become a UX designer and book a visit to a city I’ve not been to before. Do more yoga.
Things I’m celebrating about 2016:
There are four developments that have defined my year in 2016:
- • One: First year of freelancing and not making a loss
I left my job in 2015 because I was unhappy. I spent the rest of that year figuring out what to do. I just went freelance, and have had a steady flow of jobs and income.
- • Two: Working on a new career path – one that I’m excited about
From attending a couple of life-changing workshops (including BIDN) I let go of some dreams and another path revealed itself: the world of UX design.
- • Three: Being a vegan for almost a year
Becoming vegan has played a fundamental part to my personal development this year, it’s taken me to question a lot about how I live, how I see the world, the ethical choices I take…
- • Four: I’m 40, I’m healthy and content
Somehow, upon turning 40 years old, I’ve let go of a soul-wrenching angst. I feel lighter, because … my focus has turned to what really matters to me…
- Ah … and then there’s celebration. I decided to celebrate my birthday for the first time in 19 years. The reason being because life has to be celebrated. I’m thankful for the life I have, I’m in a place in time where I’ve come to a self-realisation of what I can do. It’s a simple acknowledgement to come to, but to see the world, and see one’s own life; not for what it is, but what to make of it, is a gift.
Workshop attended: Dec 2015 (Live Boldly)
Before I die I want to… be a person of international influence
Things I’m celebrating about 2016:
In addition to completing the brilliant Spark & Mettle’s Star Track programme [for young people to discover their future career]…
- • I interned with Clearview Research and Bite the Ballot, which involved helping at a workshop with Demos then assisting in the creation of an All-Party-Parliamentary-Group for political education
- • I earned one of 18 placements out of 864 applications for the 4Talent work experience scheme to join the Channel 4 app division, and I was later featured in The Huffington Post – young women doing incredible things
“I co-produced a series of events at the Battersea Arts Centre’s record-breaking Homegrown Festival as part of their team with fellow young interdisciplinary artists, and hosted open forums exploring how to encourage more diversity in the industry.”
- • I was invited to speak at Parliament, Facebook, Twitter plus others on access to technology, digital democracy and coding
- • I travelled to 12 countries for the first time this year: Uganda, Lithuania, Sweden, Vietnam, Ireland, Poland, Netherlands, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Scotland and China
Workshops attended: Sept 2014 (Make Change Happen), Jan 2015 (New Year, New Goals), Dec 2015 (Live Boldly), May 2016 (Mayday Mayday)
Before I die I want to… My goal for 2017 is to explore with BIDN how we can become Exponentially Human! I’ve been exploring how to help people figure out how they want to influence the way people and digital tech go forwards together now and later – which is what the “Exponentially Human” idea is all about.
Things I’m celebrating about 2016:
- • In 2016 I had even more freedom than usual to “be myself”
“Instead of judging myself by the standards of traditional organisations (where I have no place in the recognised hierarchy) I can choose to celebrate my pioneering zeal, my determination to follow my curiosity, and my decision (back in 2000) to embrace a low-responsibility, flexible-working, low-income, lifestyle.”
- That approach was my response to the challenge of achieving a life-work balance, where I could do what I value.
- • I feel less isolated now than I felt back in January. On reflection that may be because I began to feel more “mainstream” as my “tribe(s)” became easier to find and join. (NB: In this context the “tribes” I belong to are a bit like a collection of extended families, with multiple connections between them, so it’s easy to belong to several.) BIDN is one of my tribes thanks to what it does and how it does it (I don’t know anyone else leading such an enjoyable, fun approach to what could be existential anguish – you are amazing and inspirational).
- • I contributed a chapter called “Exponentially Human” for a book called “50:50 – Scenarios for the Next 50 Years”. The chapter discusses how power, work and our relationship with digital technology will shift over the next 10 years. The idea is that as Exponentially Human people in 2027 we will be thinking together, imagining together, and combining our varied perspectives in ways that people in 2016 would have found hard to imagine.
- So that’s me on your deadline of December 16th. Lots of challenges ahead for next year but plenty to look back on and celebrate – and the way different threads in my life are coming together, I’m hoping it will get much easier for me to write shorter posts in 2017. Seasons greetings to you and everyone in BIDN. Thanks for your inspiring encouragement during the past 12 months and for nudging me to take this time for reflection on personal positives and progress in 2016.
Workshop attended: May 2015 (Make Shit Happen) – and every one since!
Before I die I want to… help social organisations succeed by providing strategy and business applications through human centered design, and to feel tangible impact from it.
Things I’m celebrating about 2016:
“Getting to my goal that I set at your workshop initially by having a full portfolio of awesome projects with social organisations I’m working on!”
- • Getting my mom moved to Spain! That took all of like 14 years
- • Finding an awesome boyfriend after 2 years of crap dating in London and me starting to think there was no hope left (ugh, I’m making myself throw up. Cheese galore!)
- • Having clients and projects come to me because of people recommending me
- • Going to my first football game in England (Liverpool vs Barcelona!) and losing my voice because of it
- • Winning the food & agriculture start up pitch for SafetyNet in Paris (and presenting in front of 2000 people!)
- • Meeting fantastic people, and being grateful for the ones already in my life 🙂
So yeah. My life’s pretty awesome. No big deal.
Workshops attended: Sep 2014 (Make Change Happen), Oct 2014 (Shake Up The Status Quo), Dec 2015 (Live Boldly), Aug 2016 (Connect)
Before I die I want to… make my life and my work one cohesive brand using my various thisnow websites. I’d like them to transform into something that supports me and other people to. To change from living and working into being.
Things I’m celebrating about 2016:
- • This year, I stopped worrying so much
- • I visited India and Japan
- • I won a photo competition and a photo I took was published in a national newspaper
“Six months into the year – and after some pretty intensive soul searching and lifestyle changes
– I met someone who literally changed my world.”
Workshops attended: Aug 2014, Jan 2015 (New Year, New Goals)
Before I die I want to… find a sense of home, in myself and in the world. And to explore ways to offer others their sense of home, too.
Things I’m celebrating about 2016:
- • I embraced uncertainty by saying YES to good love and YES to more travel.
- • At the beginning of the year, I realised that despite a massively enjoyable career and lifestyle, I was ready for more romance and love. Six months into the year – and after some pretty intensive soul searching and lifestyle changes – I met someone who literally changed my world.
- • Through saying YES to being with my partner, I opened so many new doors I never expected at the start of 2016. I moved across the world (for the second time in my life), and in the last half of 2016, I had the privilege of visiting six different countries and double the number of cities, which showed me life, landscape and personality in a million different shades.
- • Through my relationship and my travels, I have struggled and accomplished more than I ever really knew I could. I am so proud of myself for not running away from uncertainty and so committed to more YES in 2017.
Workshop attended: May 2016 (Mayday Mayday!)
The goal I set in that workshop… to travel in my own camper van
Things I’m celebrating about 2016:
I’m definitely celebrating finding Ruby, my new camper van!
Workshops attended: July 2014, Oct 2014 (Shake Up The Status Quo), Mar 2015 (Break Free!), May 2016 (Mayday Mayday!)
Before I die I want to… 1. stop thinking I can’t be the greatest version of myself. 2. start my own community space.
Things I’m celebrating about 2016: Something I want to hang onto was finishing the London Marathon, in a time I was so happy with, across a city that has now become home, for a charity that feels really personal. Coming towards that finish line, I felt something that I don’t often feel for myself, but I was proud. I want to hold on to that.
“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” – Carrie Fisher
Before I die I want to… become a UX designer and book a visit to a city I’ve not been to before. Do more yoga.
Things I’m celebrating about 2016:
There are four developments that have defined my year in 2016.
One: First year of freelancing and not making a loss
– I left my job in 2015 because I was unhappy. I spent the rest of that year figuring out what to do: to continue to looking for a new job or freelance. The latter just happened, and continued throughout 2016. I’ve had a steady flow of jobs and income.
Two: Working on a new career path – one that I’m excited about
From attending a couple of life-changing workshops (including BIDN) I let go of some dreams and another path revealed itself: the world of UX design
Since then I’ve taken practical steps to becoming a UX designer. I’ve attended meet-ups to learn about the UX design process, finding learning resources to enhance my understanding, evening coding again.
From attending a tech jobs fair I spoke to BBC, TfL and Conde Nast which has lead to fruitful conversations, and more recently, well the other day, a tech company would like me to forward my interest formally with CV.
Three: Being a vegan for almost a year
Becoming vegan has played a fundamental part to my personal development this year, it’s taken me to question a lot about how I live, how I see the world, the ethical choices I take, my relationships with the people in my life, those who I cross paths with, and generally my own well-being.
Four: I’m 40, I’m healthy and content
For 401 days counting-down to my 40th birthday I wrote a one-line journal daily. Most of it was about facing personal struggles. Somehow, upon turning 40 years old, I’ve let go of a soul-wrenching angst. I feel lighter, because … my focus has turned to what really matters to me. Forty has become a filter, a letting go of the unnecessary (I’m still filtering).
Ah … and then there’s celebration. I decided to celebrate my birthday for the first time in 19 years. The reason being because life has to be celebrated. I’m thankful for the life I have, I’m in a place in time where I’ve come to a self-realisation of what I can do. It’s a simple acknowledgement to come to, but to see the world, and see one’s own life; not for what it is, but what to make of it, is a gift.
I’ve spent a long time being down, being put down, being let down, and knowing what I have in me, and what I’m able to live for.
“I’m grateful to be where I am now and to live more, for me.”
PS. I’m on track for my goal: I booked a flight to Oslo in March to attend a friend’s birthday. In January, I’ve bought a pass to do 30 days of yoga.
A month after I landed in London, I attended a workshop by myself, and we were asked to fill in the blank of “Before I Die I want to…”
I stared at the empty box, not knowing what to think. To be honest, the thought of dying hadsn’t cross my mind. I began to remember the devastating moment when my 14 year old cat passed away in 2014. Most pet owners would agree, our precious pets are our friends and family. My cat passing lead me to rethink my priorities, in the sense that death is inevitable, so seize the moment to avoid life regrets.
As a result of that thought process, I look back at the things I’ve accomplished since I graduated from university. I was told all my life that I need to have a stable job to survive, so as soon as I graduated, my only mission in life was to find a corporate job. 7 years and 4 different departments within the same organisation later, I quit my corporate life in Vancouver to exercise my working holiday visa before I was too old to take advantage of it. Something I never thought I would do: quitting. The irony is, as soon as I relocated, I got so ill I couldn’t even leave my bed for two weeks. I guess this is what can happen when you take a real break.
Devastated from illness and trying to adapt to the London life, I began my job search journey. I spent a solid month talking to recruiters, applying for jobs, working trial shifts and doing endless volunteering. I started to think my London escape might have been a mistake. At this moment, a friend of mine told me about the Before I Die Network and that there was an event happening on December 16th.
Why not? I thought. The worst case scenario is spending money on tube fare and 3-4 hours of my time. But “what if”? What if it was awesome? So I went. And it was a great experience.
So back to the box, what did I write?
Before I die I want to … Be comfortable being myself, have the confidence to face reality and be the boss of my own future without feeling guilty about it. I want to stop following others and do the things I care about. I want to take control.
Living in this fast-paced-dog-eat-dog world of opportunity, time is money, but most importantly timing is everything. It was a struggle to stick to my goals and not look back to what I had. I love dedicating all my time to helping others but the opportunity cost is really high. I over-volunteered for a few months and lost complete control of my life. Fortunately, my passion to follow my dream – to run projects with social impact hasn’t changed. My strategy, however, changed massively every time I reflected on the goals I wrote at the BIDN: Live Boldly workshop.
One thing I really enjoyed about the BIDN workshop was the skills section. There were 5-6 categories (i.e. creative, academic, entrepreneurial,etc), each represented with a different color post-it. Participants were asked to take post-its of what they are good at and stick them on their arms and write the skills they lack on their chest. I ended up gaining valuable advice from a lady involved in the food and health industry, then chatting with a graphic designer, and learned some tips on photoshop.
Another great aspect about the workshop is the accountability section where we form small groups to encourage each other. I made friends with one of the girls there and we went out for lunch a couple of weeks after the workshop.
My current focus:
- My jobs
- My feel-good projects with the people I pick to be on my team
- Volunteer gigs that I really want to do
- Everything else
Since the workshop, the most exciting project I’ve worked on is facilitating in a youth exchange on social entrepreneurship in Lithuania and Ireland for people age 18-30. As a result of that youth exchange, I made friends in Portugal and Spain and am now planning a charity fashion show focused on female empowerment and clothing donation to refugees to prepare them for winter.
I am an Event Planning and Marketing Consultant and Founder of Catch Events. I specialise in customised events, corporate launch, charity galas and conferences. My current focus is to find innovative ways to tackle challenges within the social innovative space. The two main projects I am working on include #RedstartStories – a collaborative project to bring awareness to the ethical aspect of the fashion and art industry through storytelling; and the Social Enterprise Experience Tours, where social businesses in London will be featured through interactive walking tours. The purpose of these projects is to build a portal which promotes the importance of collaboration. I am also an active member in the social innovation networks including: MakeSense, Empowerhack, Ammal.io and GCDA.
You can reach me via the following channels:
“Before I die I want to…” Are you ready to fill it out?
A statement few people will disagree with, regardless of their political/spiritual/intellectual leanings: It’s been a pretty damn intense couple of months.
Since May this year: my fearsomely inspiring grandmother ended 95 years on this planet, a young man’s swim times determined the length of his rape trial sentence (resulting in one of the most honest and heartbreaking accounts of sexual assault ever written, and the realisation that women still have a long way to fight to feel safe). Two weeks later marked the worst mass shooting in US history, and killing of LGBTQI people since the holocaust, and then no sooner had the candles stopped burning when Britain voted to leave the EU, the Prime Minister resigned, political parties were thrown into turmoil, the pound plummeted, racist incidents soared, and one of the most far-right, pro-austerity, anti-immigration, anti-LGBT, anti-women’s rights and anti-environment prime ministers was appointed to lead the UK. And that’s before we even get started on the police shootings of unarmed black men, the refugee crisis, global terrorist attacks…
Care for humanity feels like it’s hit an all time low – it’s become tough to ask friends how they’re doing these days without prefacing it with “other than the fact that the world’s falling apart, I mean…”
And yet – through these turbulent times, I’ve also seen incredible reasons to find hope. People coming together as communities and creating grassroots actions to offer support to those who need it. Young people engaging in politics for the first time in their lives, questioning what’s important to them, and fighting for it. The most radical shake up of our politics – of our world – that this generation has ever seen. An opportunity, perhaps, to rebuild the future we want on our own terms?
If nothing else, Brexit is a wake-up call. When 52% of the population vote against society’s predictions, it is evident that the the rest of us have been stuck in a bubble for too long. It’s too easy – too naive – to think that 52% of the country is racist (much as some racists would like us to believe!), and indeed I’ve spoken to Muslims, Jews, liberals who voted leave to push for a more tolerant, democratic society.
What’s clear to me is that we need to start listening. Not just to the tweets and Facebook posts of those within our own circles, but also to those whose viewpoints we don’t agree with. Listening without judgement. Without assuming. Trying to see the world through another person’s eyes.
Only then can we start to break down borders. Only then can we start to find unity and hope amidst the disparate voices.
I’m reminded of a recent This American Life podcast – a campaigner’s experiment to change minds on controversial topics such as marriage equality and abortion. The most effective method for changing people’s minds? Listening. Just listening. Empathising with someone’s experience. And then sharing your own perspective, based on your own experiences.
The fear and instability that many of us are feeling about the world around us also seems to be reflected in how we feel about our own lives – and I think the same logic applies.
To carve out the life we want for ourselves – the future we want for ourselves – we have to be able to understand our own hopes, values, ambitions and fears – and to listen to those without judgement. And also – to listen to our neighbours, communities, strangers, enemies – without judgement. To build unity from those differences, and to build a future that works for all of us.
I don’t know all the answers, but I know they’re questions that are vital to explore. So the next Before I Die Network series will be on the theme of connecting. We’ll be hearing from a speaker who knows a great deal about just listening, and discovering what the world looks like when we look at it with empathy.
Another reason to find hope? The last time it felt like the world was falling apart (to me, at least) was the recession of 2008. Unemployment, disempowerment, lost jobs, lost homes… but also a massive rise in social enterprise, social change projects and of people pausing to redesign their lives on their own terms. The Before I Die Network was born out of that recession, and a desire to write a new story. What stories could be written this time around?
The Before I Die Network are returning with another workshop series on the 9th and 16th August on the topic of listening – and connecting. Sign up here: beforeidieiwanttoconnect.eventbrite.co.uk.
Before I die I want to…
Collaborate with younger people on “future facing initiatives” – collaborative work involving people in London, in English speaking sub-Saharan Africa, and other locations across the planet, which is emerging from work I’ve done over the past fifteen years.
The original work could never have happened before the existence of the internet. Much of it happens online. It has a strong emphasis on practical projects, learning-by-doing, sharing what we learn, and co-creating a better future.
The future initiatives will happen in an organisation set to grow according to Teal organisational principles i.e. with high levels of self-management, “wholeness” (bringing “all of who we are” to what we do) and evolutionary purpose.
Progress since the last workshop
I’ve started collaborating with EvolvingOrganisation to set up structures for our expansion, and I’m doing a lot of learning and collaborating with people who are actively altering the way we work together locally and world-wide – you can see some of them in a recent open letter I wrote to a friend – Update on People, ULab, Holacracy, Teal and more.
All of this means that there are endless possibilities for you to get involved in new initiatives and create a role for yourself around your strengths, interests and values.
(Reality check – my work isn’t paid work, but there are other rewards and perhaps there will be paid work in future if all goes well.)
My current focus / challenge around my goal is…
I’m not much good at expressing what I’m doing, quickly and succinctly, so people can be inspired to join in.
I need help in telling the story of what I’ve been doing, and why, and who with, and how useful it’s been. We have evidence of its value. I need help to share the vision of what could happen if more people joined in.
The problem is that I can’t explain the “what” and “why” very well until I’ve found the help to tell the main story and share the vision in an attractive and effective way, both face-to-face and online, so I need breakthrough communication help, then more help to follow.
Changemaking moments with The Before I Die Network
What I love about The Before I Die Network is the playful, but seriously helpful, “thinking big” activities – like imagining you’re about to get the Nobel Prize, or that people are having an annual celebration day to remember your life, and you have to say why.
Such challenges clear the mind of what is totally impossible and leave space for new thinking about the possible. Immediately huge potential categories of achievement fall away with complete certainty. In my case for instance, well, I know it wouldn’t be for physics or any “hard sciences”, and nothing musical or “artistic” either. It’s definitely not sports or anything else on TV so…. hmm… that means I just have to take what I’m doing now and blow it up in my mind to earth-shatteringly-amazingly successful proportions and think what that would look like.
Looking at present efforts from that ultra-successful future perspective has the effect of “Wow. That does look good. I think I should go for it.” Then, in true BIDN style, we have to speak it out loud, as if we mean it, and because no-one laughs at us, the realms of the possible are suddenly, wondrously expanded.
On running an organisation that supports people to find their life direction, while losing sight of your own
In our Before I Die Network Socials, there’s a question I always enjoyed asking.
“5 years from now, this group is reunited for the first time. As luck would have it, you’ve all achieved everything you ever wanted and more. So stand up, assume the posture and attitude of your successful future self…and introduce yourself to your neighbour.”
The answers were always as beautiful as they were diverse.
“That charity I was dreaming of starting 5 years ago? We now employ 20 people, and have impacted over 50 000 young women around the world.”
“I have 2 daughters, and we live by the sea with our pet goat, Charlie. The cupcake business is BOOMING.”
“I’m now a travelling photographer, documenting social issues around the world. I’ve just got back from my 2nd awards ceremony for the work I’ve done.”
It was a question I enjoyed equally for the clarity it brought myself – and as The Before I Die Network was starting out, my answers were ambitious and far-reaching:
“Globally, young people have changed the way they approach their lives and careers. The whole concept of ‘human resources’ (Humans! As resources!) is laughed at, and over 1000 000 young people around the world connect with the BIDN community to dream more boldly, and follow a life path that inspires them!”
As the realities of running a tiny start-up with dwindling cash and staff and tech capabilities set in, and yet another digital platform prototype didn’t quite take off, my answers became more reserved…
“Against all the odds, there are now BIDN community hubs in over 10 countries around the world…”
After a while, it became a question I came to dread having to offer my own answer to. I stopped using the organisation’s name in my answers, although my vision for the change I wanted to create never changed.
“It’s been a rollercoaster, and there were times when I thought we’d never make it, but the workshops I run have helped to build communities of people in the UK who support each other to pursue the kinds of lives they want to live.”
The trouble with running a social enterprise that’s all about helping people to live out their wildest ambitions is that it makes it that much more difficult to admit that you’re failing to do that for yourself.
After a year of dwindling savings, endless late nights and increasing self-doubt, I decided to put things on hold to figure out the best way forwards.
I felt profoundly guilty. I didn’t know what to say to this beautiful, ambitious community I’d worked so hard to grow – and who were deeply embedded in my own ambitions. I felt as though I’d asked them to put their faith in me, and I was failing them. I didn’t know how to talk about feeling lost, or not having all the answers, or feeling as though this thing that I’d nurtured into the world was slipping away from me, or the anxiety I felt about continuing and the grief I felt about giving up. So I said nothing.
And therein lies the problem with the Before I Die Network model. We tell people to plan out a pathway towards their beautiful, ambitious, terrifying goals – to identify their first actions, to build a support network – and then to start walking. And yes, things probably won’t work out quite how you originally planned. Certainly, there will be potholes along the road, but if you keep walking, you’ll get there eventually. In the idealised BIDN pathway, potholes are allowed, but there isn’t space for ravines and crevasses.
If you’re going to start something that allows people to be vulnerable, and to be ruthlessly authentic in the lives they pursue, you’d better be damned sure you can do that for yourself.
There are many lies that we tell about entrepreneurs, and one of the most damaging is that they must be invulnerable.
There are too many stories in start-up culture that don’t get shared. And when we don’t talk about vulnerabilities and the times when we’re struggling, the consequences can be severe.
Back in March, I ran a workshop in Brixton to help young entrepreneurs to develop their business ideas. There, I met a homeless young man called Nathan. We spoke about his idea for a start-up – to support other care-leavers like him to develop skills to find employment and resilience. We worked together to plan a fundraiser to get it off the ground, I crowd-sourced links to organisations who could help him to get started, and we spoke about vulnerability; how damaging it can be when we hide behind a mask of ‘normality’, because when we look around and everyone else is doing the same, it can feel incredibly lonely. I could tell the conversation struck a chord.
Nathan drifted out of contact a few weeks later, and I’m sad to say I never heard from him again. Two weeks ago, I got a call to say that he’d committed suicide.
There is a conversation missing in the world of start-ups and innovation. Tech Insider notes that 30% of entrepreneurs surveyed have depression – far higher than the average population. There is an inherent loneliness in start-up culture – where by definition, you are attempting to do something that hasn’t been done before. I was reminded of a talk by UnLtd founder Cliff Prior – that the single most unifying factor amongst social entrepreneurs is having been in a situation that they didn’t know how to solve.
And before anyone starts making panicked phone calls to my mother – I’m not suicidal, I never have been, and (touch wood), hope I never will be. To draw comparison between my own situation and Nathan’s would be callous and insensitive, beyond which to say – our cultural inability to talk about mental health and the moments in which we’re struggling is catastrophic, far reaching, and stifles some of the most creative souls on the planet.
So, for the sake of openness and vulnerability, and in the hope that it might strike a chord with someone else who’s been battling similar demons, here’s what I’ve learned over my past 6 months of ravine exploration.
1. Stop living your life for your critics.
One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned in the past 6 months was inspired by a Seth Godin blog:
“Are you working to make… the 5 star reviews more intense, more numerous and more truthful than ever…? Or are you working to minimise the number of 1 star reviews?
It’s very hard to obsess about both, since they tend to happen together.”
I have lived too much of my life in fear of those who will criticise me. In doing so, it sacrifices my ability to create change for those who matter. So here’s what I’ve come to realise. If everyone in the world rejects you for what you create, but through that you manage to change one person’s life profoundly, that makes it all worthwhile. Live your life to connect with people whose own lives you can change deeply and profoundly. That’s who to live for.
2. Melancholy and confusion are important parts of life. Give time to them.
To pause. To reflect. To contemplate. To get stuck, and upset, and to niggle over a problem for days and weeks and months. We need to allow and give space to our struggles as much as our successes, because often those moments teach us far more than all of the rest.
3. Build a great support network
The past 6 months would have been immeasurably more difficult without the support of some incredible women. Nadia Laabs, Katy Robinson, Claire Malaika, Josiane Smith, Katie Welford, my psychotherapist(!), Ariana Jordão, Claudia Comberti and countless more… you’ve helped me more than you could know.
Surrounding yourself with people who have the patience, passion, enthusiasm, non-judgementalism and belief in you when you’re struggling to find those for yourself can be the difference between throwing in the towel and doggedly persisting through the rough bits for that bit longer. I owe them my undying gratitude.
4. Connect back to your vision/your passion/the change you want to create
Find what remains unwavering even when everything else is cast into doubt. Put the big stuff on hold, and focus on that. Reconnect with the people you’re doing this for.
Even when everything seems hopeless, and you have no idea how you’re going to make things work, keep moving forwards. Take baby steps. And follow Laura Billing’s advice – if piloting an idea feels too overwhelming, simplify it until it feels achievable. Run a pre-pilot!
5. Your end-of-life self has some pretty awesome advice
Surrounded by the overwhelm of everything that’s going on in this moment, it can be difficult to find perspective. And – this won’t work for everyone – but imagine yourself many years down the line on your death bed, when it’s time to pass on, reflecting back over the long and eventful life that you’ve lived. Ask that person for advice on where you are now. The response can be surprisingly insightful.
Moving forwards. So where do we go from here?
A memorial fund is being set up by Nathan’s friends and family to launch a foundation to raise awareness of mental health issues amongst young men. You can support the project here.
The Before I Die Network is continuing! After 6 months of reflecting (and melancholy, and breakdowns, and slowly finding answers), we’re running another workshop this December at the Impact Hub Brixton: Before I die I want to…Live Boldly. Find out more here.
My dream has always been to place the tools in the hands of those who can best make use of them. So we’re prototyping a new workshop format, which will give you everything you need to run a social for your own community. It’s currently in pre-pilot phase, but if you want to get involved, drop an email to olivia[at]beforeidienetwork[dot]com.
And finally if you’ve been struggling – reach out. Speak to someone. Speak to me! You’ll be surprised how many people have been through exactly the same thing.
This is a guest post by Rachel Hammond
Wandering through the fields with my sheep, I enjoy the sight of the rolling green hills and the smell of fresh grass all around me…
Just one of the imagined experiences I enjoyed at the Before I Die workshop I attended recently.
Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t in a field. Nor were we tending sheep. But this workshop was a fresh, new way of looking at life, what I want out of it and where I would like to be headed, and why I want to achieve those things.
Do you ever really consider how you would like to spend your time? Do you have a burning passion and not know how to earn money doing it? If you’re anything like me (and most social entrepreneurs), you rarely take time out to consider specifics and enjoy the headspace to really analyse them.
A common issue for a lot of us. The first problem is often that we don’t know what that magical thing even is, to which we would like to dedicate our working time. Those of us lucky enough to know what that driver is, and where our passion lies, there is still the issue of how to create it, what the first step to take is and how on earth we think we can make a living from it.
The workshop was run as part of Marmalade, Oxford’s annual Social Enterprise event, in Turl Street Kitchen, the hub of many social ventures in the City.
The Before I Die Network is a fun and exciting collective, headed by Olivia Comberti, who runs these workshops around London, and is looking to expand the network beyond the capital.
I came away knowing exactly what I would like to achieve in the next few years, and with some very clear next steps to take. I realised the value in taking even just small steps towards your goal, and in not losing faith in accomplishing it.
If you aspire to do something, or you don’t even know what that something is yet, I would strongly recommend going to one of these workshops.
Who knows, it could be the best two hours you spend?
Oh, and for the record – my own goal? To contribute to legislative changes in the construction industry, reducing the use of concrete and cement in buildings, and increasing the use of traditional building methods.
I’ve kept a journal since I was about 8. In it, scribblings & doodles, words desperately trying to capture time. Dreams. List on list of what I want to be ‘when I grow up’. Archeologist, Singer, Artist, Superhero, Dancer, Fashion Designer, Rally Driver, Adventurer, Furniture Maker, Tattooer, Mechanic, Traveller, Business Owner, Writer, International Gymnast, Lawyer, Surfer, Photojournalist, War Correspondent, Film Maker; my list goes on, depending on my age or what I was into at the time. Admittedly, not all of these stayed with me in the 26 years I’ve been pottering about – Singer didn’t remain a strong contender for very long. Mostly because I can’t sing. And that my mother may have been lying about the fact that I could.See, I had the misguided belief that growing up was a linear process. I was to be a child and then I would be an adult, and that transition would be smooth and painless and A-Okay. Bull. At 26, I feel like I am an oversized teenager still grappling with where I want to be. But, maybe I am being unforgiving to myself. I’m projecting into a future, when I can’t even see where I am right now; instead straddling an invisible space where on one side I am in the past and the other, my future. What of this moment? Earlier in the year I started to “date myself”. Slightly narcissistic, possible, but I realised that the relationship I was having with myself was started to seriously damage what I wanted to be. Where the saboteur in me would relentlessly scream that I couldn’t do anything. By allowing the space to begin a more nurturing dialogue with myself, I began to learn to self love, and in doing so, I connected with who I was (present, awesome me) and who I wanted to be (future, awesomer me), and figuring out how to get there. I’ve began to spend more time in life, rather than getting ready for it.During the last few months, life has followed the chaotic rhythm of trying to figure these things out, and it was then that I met Olivia. In between swapping mutual existential meltdowns, we sat outside a party, smoking cigarettes in the cold with an American guy screaming about how much he loved Liverpool. It was against this setting that she started to tell me about the Before I Die Network, which she founded as a fun and inspiring way for young people to pursue and achieve their goals in life. There are few things that are truly genuine, that hold no facade, than that of passion, and I couldn’t stop myself from smiling listening to her talk. A few months later, I rocked up to my first social, excited to meet new people, but decidedly nervous about what the evening would hold. In sitting down to write this, I looked over my journal after the event, and found two goals; (1) stop thinking I can’t be the greatest version of myself & (2) start my own community space, with the words, “Amazing night, so many ideas buzzing, such lovely feedback. It dawned on me that, that I have embedded deep into myself the need to be irreproachable before I thought I could be good at a chosen career, but in actual fact, this irreproachability is unrealistic and ultimately means, I will never have the courage to get going”. During the course of that evening, intimacies were swapped and vulnerabilities shared. I thought of where I wanted to be in the future, in a year, three, five or ten, and I saw myself sitting on an overnight flight to my first posting as an art psychotherapist overseas. I wore and looked very much the same as I do now, and while everyone around me slept, I smiled.
Since the workshop, I started doing. When I left that evening, I had the same phrase run through my mind again & again: read more, see more, be more. I’ve since signed up on an Art Psychotherapy course. I quit a job that was going nowhere, and on the back of that been offered projects to lead. I started to draw again. Properly, with love, for the first time in…years. I began to play once more, within the public space, with the itsprsnl project. I’ve sat in parks over the summer, drinking iced coffee, reading books and books and books on art psychotherapy in conflict. I’ve been happy, alone, spending time in the chaotic unknown of now.
There are a few things that paralyse me, and two include the question, “what do you do?” and thinking about death. But, death can serve through life to remind us to keep living. Often our own grazes too close to the end of the living, ticking, breathing remind us this, or through the loss of loved ones. The difficulty lies in not forgetting it. And when asked what it was I really want to do with my life, I stutter and stammer until my face glows hot with…shame? Shame that perhaps, I should have a one word answer prepared. I don’t. I won’t have. I am a patchwork of things, making & doing, and that’s the way I like it. My life is messy, unpredictable and wonderful. The fact that I cannot answer that question with a one word answer, makes me irrevocably content. I’m on my way.