Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Producer Awakening

The Birth of a Maker

Six years ago, I was sitting at a cubicle on the 19th floor of a grey office building in downtown Calgary staring at my computer screen. I just returned from another uncomfortable meeting with the CEO of the company. I had enough. Something's been scratching for a while, and I've not been able to put my finger on it. Was something wrong with me, or is it this world we live in?


A simple question kept lingering in my mind. It started as a whisper. Over time it got louder. The more I tried to avoid answering to it, the louder it became, until it rung in my ears all the time. With everything I did, the question kept coming: "This cannot be it. Is it?"

The Question

It started one day when my oldest son asked me what it is I do everyday. At the time he was twelve. I thought it will be a quick and easy answer, but as it goes with questions from inquisitive minds, they don't relent. Neither did he. He kept pushing, no matter how hard I tried to give him a sensible reply. The more I said, the less I liked what I heard.

I've been an independent IT Management Consultant for almost two decades. I've travelled the world, and already lived on three continents. My clients included large multinational companies. At the time I was made the Vice President of IT for a utility company, after delivering a particularly challenging systems implementation. I was having a tough time with a group of luddite executives. No matter what I did, most of what I was hired to achieve for the company was opposed at every opportunity by the CEO. He pushed me to the end of my rope, and something was going to give.

My son's question fell on very fertile ground that day. I was having a hard time to answer the question for myself. I just kept staring at my computer screen and my mind was spinning. My email was open, and little reminders kept popping up in the top righthand corner of the screen. Three hundred emails already screaming for attention. Is this it? Is this what life is all about?

The Grooming Game

The more I observed my circumstances, the more it dawned on me. The corporate upper and middle management world I live in and the work I do, largely resembles the inner social workings of a troop of baboons. Very few people seemed to be making anything. Instead, we spent an awful lot of time and energy grooming each other by exchanging (or not) useless information in all kinds of ways. We do it in meetings, in emails, over coffee, chats and at impressive lunches. Everyone appears terribly busy.

I took the red pill, and suddenly I saw it for what it was. It struck me! No one around me was making anything. We are all very busy being busy. But, when the day is over, what do we have to show for it? Where is the sense of purpose and achievement? What is the value to ourselves and to those around us? An empty email inbox. Fake loyalties. Another meeting. A car we don't own. A house mortgaged to the kilter. The next thing. More stuff. This was not my idea of achievement.

There must be something more out there.

Doubts

Suddenly my contribution to this world is in question. My own sense of purpose and motivation lost. Who then are the people responsible for the world we live in? Who has purpose and the motivation to work at it each and every day?



Humans are learning entities. Curiosity drives learning. Through natural selection, the more curious amongst our ancestors were selected to continue the lineage. The ones that learned better, survived. Clearly, I have the gene in spades and it is driving me nuts.

I resigned my post. My journey of discovery commenced.

I didn't realize then, just how amazing the journey is going to be. So far it has been six years of discovery. I've not only questioned the value of the work I was doing, but slowly I've ended up questioning a whole lot of what we consider to be "normal" life. It is amazing. It has changed my whole perspective on life, for the better. It's been a phenomenal experience already, and more is to come. I

Here are some ideas that stuck:
  • Make Something: There is purpose, fulfilment and value in making something. There is a whole movement towards people making things. Better than any job out there, if you make something for yourself that you like and can use, chances are that others will like it too. It is often the foundational start of a great business opportunity. See more here: http://makezine.com/ and The Maker Movement. It is easier than ever to make something. Technology is more accessible than ever before. Information is freely available. All that is needed is your interest and some energy. In the last six years I've taught myself to be a Barista, Coffee Shop Owner, Baker, Gelato Master, Nougatier, Chocolatier, Leather Carver, Street Vendor, Camera Man, Editor, and the journey just got started. See how easy it is to turn your passion into income: The $100 Startup.
  • Technology is Everywhere: The tools to make things are now more accessible than ever before. No longer are workers held hostage by company owners that control the means to produce. You can order just about anything over the internet. Machines, tools, materials and knowledge on how to use it is freely available. You don't even have to own it. You can borrow it (http://www.makershed.com/).
  • Learn Things: The Internet is exploding with information and educational resources. You can hunt for it on your own, join forums, scour YouTube or enrol for some quick and easy courses. Udemy (https://www.udemy.com) is a favourite. The amazing move in online education (as many classic educational institutions are discovering very quickly) is no longer to bed you for years, a small fortune and mostly worthless certificates. It is rather to get you going with a new skills or information as soon as possible. Thanks to sites like Udemy, there is more of an incentive for experts to share their knowledge than ever before. Now you can learn from people online, that actually knows what they are talking about. Their success depends on your preference for the quality and value of education you receive (now there is a novel thought isn't there).
  • Sell Things: Access to a market is no longer controlled by the landlords. Again, the Internet provides amazing opportunities to sell what you make or create. The well known sites like EBay, Amazon and others are there. For crafts people there is Etsy (https://www.etsy.com/) There is also a proliferation of markets in every town and community. These markets are always on the lookout for local producers and crafts people to sell their wares. The best part of selling your own creations directly to customers, is that you get to earn more of the profits. No need to share with a retailer and wholesaler.
  • Rats in a Cage: If there is one pair of shackles that is the hardest to break in my journey of discovery, it is the shackles of debt, and the lure of more stuff. It comes around every week, or month. The two goes hand in hand. There is an old and popular saying in Dutch: "Wiens brood men eet diens woord men spreekt." It basically means that you are owned by the person that pays your way. If you are working for a job, your employer largely determines your income, standard of living, and a considerable amount of your fate. The same goes for the banks and financiers. If you take their money, you are bound by their rules. The only way to get off the wheel, or out of the cage is to lower your overhead, and let go of credit traps of mortgage, credit card and other consumer financing. Here are some people that will help you get underway: The Minimalists will show you how to declutter your life, get rid of stuff and discover more. The Tiny House Movement will show you how you can live well without a mortgage. If you like traveling, see the Escapees.
  • Money is Relative: I discovered that money is a means to an end. If the end changes, then the means get a whole new perspective. If there is no more point in chasing mortgages, new cars and more stuff, then it is remarkable just how different the role is that money plays in one's life. See this one: Richest Man in Babylon. For twenty years I've put money ahead of purpose, motivation, meaning and fulfilment. I've nearly lost my soul. The funny part is that it is relatively easy to make money and live well. The issue is not making it, the issue with money is finding ways to hold on to it.
  • Mind-Space: In a connected world we can access all kinds of news and information all the time. No mystery there. What is mysterious is that we are now more concerned with events and people that are thousands of miles away from us, with little or no chance to influence our daily lives, than we are with our neighbour or fellow house member.  I am still looking for a term to describe this phenomenon. For the time being let us call it the "connection-fallacy". We give mind-space, thoughts and concern to matters that have nothing to do with us, and is unlikely to have any bearing on us. The Kardashians is probably the best example of the media using the "connection-fallacy" to suck people's into a world of irrelevance. The same goes for matters we cannot control. We cannot control what other people do, or say. We can have an opinion about it, but that is the magnitude of time and mental dedication that should be invested. Every additional moment of concern is wasted time. I've become increasingly jealous about my mental space and the things that I choose to think about. All the time, I am checking if it truly matters. If not, it has no place in my mind-space. It has helped to focus me.
  • Relationships Matter: If there is no need to groom your fellow workers, boss or underlings in the corporate circumstances, then one can become quite selective about the company you keep. I've become impatient with people and relationships that has little value. At the same time I've become more dedicated to the people near me, and the ones that I love. These are the relationships that truly matter. The relationships that doesn't leave at 17:00, or starts at 09:00.

Conclusion

I am on a journey of discovery. Stick around and I will show you more. In the mean time... make something. You will be amazed at how your life changes when you do.

Hendrik van Wyk

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