I have been reading Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal this week. It throws a fascinating light on the experience of getting old and I commend it to everyone. As a window on the world of narrowed horizons and the choices available to the elderly and frail it is fascinating. I suppose it was a particularly relevant book for me, given my own father’s increasing frailty but I think the main message in it for me is actually that all of us need to be prepared for this stage of our lives which does not tend to treat us kindly.
There is a section in it which struck a chord with me very loudly. Gawande talks about the change in how we seek to spend out time at different stages of our lives. ‘When horizons are measured in decades, which might as well be infinity to human beings, you most desire all the stuff at the top of Maslow’s pyramid – achievement, creativity and other attributes of “self-actualization”. But as your horizons contract – when you see the future ahead of you as finite and uncertain – your focus shifts to the here and now, to every day pleasures and the people closest to you’. (Gawande, 2014, p.97)
This explains a couple of conversations which I have been involved with over the past couple of weeks. Both during my mentoring session and during the Bristol seminar by Patricia van den Akker (See my last post) I have been asked the ‘where will your business be 5/10/20 years from now’ question. I have found this particularly difficult to answer this time around: I am aware of a definite shift in my energy levels and inclinations recently and I find that my knee jerk response to this question is ‘who says it will be anywhere at all!’ But this makes things very awkward. If I don’t know where I am going why set off? What IS the point?
There are still good friends who are certain that what I do is simply a hobby, that I do it to keep myself amused. I suppose it did begin like that and then there was a stage where I needed an outlet for my work so that, at the final reckoning, my children didn’t enter the loft with fear and trepidation wondering what on Earth to do with all those pots! But now I have to acknowledge that things have gone beyond that. I am chasing a dream of it being successful and so presumably I do need to know what success is going to look like when I get there.
Why does it have to be all about the money?
I find that cannot drift about simply making stuff and hoping that people like it, I need a reason to make in the first place and, for me, that needs to be connected to somebody else wanting it. But at the same time, I am not sure that I have to be utterly driven by building the business. I need some aims but they don’t have to be measured in financial terms. And anyway, what does success look like? I don’t think that it necessarily has to have a load of pound signs in front of it. It is something I need to give some more thought to but I do know roughly what it looks like and I will share it as it happens. In the meantime though, I am no longer sure that we do have all the time in the World!
This Friday I attended a workshop by the amazing Patricia Van den Akker, director of the Design Trust and creator of the Dream, Plan, Do planner which is designed for creative people to help and support them in their business.
This lady kicks some ass! She is proud of the fact that she asks the questions which hurt; which dig under the skin; which make you question what you do and why. There was a moment during the day when it dawned on me that, as it currently stands, my business is completely unsustainable! I cannot physically make the volume of work which I need to create (and sell!) in order to make ends meet.
This level of work is simply unsustainable.
Whilst for some people that might sound like the end of the road, for me, sitting in the auditorium listening to this inspiring woman, it simply means ‘Look out, Guys, there are a few changes coming this way very shortly!’ In actual fact, it is a relief. I have all but burnt myself out over the past couple of months trying to support the demand for my work and I knew something had to give. Patricia has given me the ideas, the determination and the drive to make those changes.
One of the more entertaining exercises that she asked us to do related to considering how our own personality and artistic behaviour informed our business: She asked us to imagine ourselves as a form of transport. What would we be?
Pitting ourselves against the elements.
I tried this out on some of the family yesterday and whilst my husband sees himself as a sailing boat because of the desire to pit himself against the elements and be challenged, my daughter visualised herself as a double decker bus, seeing above the crowds, travelling in style and at speed but able to stop regularly to pick up and set down ideas.
I would be a ferry: I love water travel and go out of the way to be on or near the water whatever the weather. Ferries often cross spectacular reaches of water between beautiful waterside landscapes. Ferries help people on their journeys, they often make it easier for someone to arrive at their destination by providing a shortcut. People love a ferry ride – it gives them a little buzz of excitement. Indeed the King Harry Ferry in Cornwall is so popular that it has its own Webcam on which people can, and do, watch the chain ferry live as it plies backwards and forwards across the Truro River saving people a long round trip from the Roseland Peninsular to west of Truro. Of course, being an artist, I also don’t expect to be paid until I get them to the other side!