Ideas are more powerful than bullets

It’s been a week now and there has been a lot of noise. Since the rounds were fired in the Bataclan, the screams of those innocent people have been replaced with the constant drum of empty rhetoric. From apologists, to commentators, to politicians, to preachers, to sympathisers, to bigots, to well-wishers, to aid-givers, to you. Everyone has something to say and someone to blame for what happened around the world (NOTE: not just Paris) on Friday 13th when nearly 115,000 died.

Whilst it is interesting to see the world responding to what is going on, no one is actually listening. I have been silent all week, refusing to talk about the attacks, not with the intention of ignoring it, but with the aspiration of absorbing as much information as possible. It is the tendency of many, like in an auction, to be the first to put in their bid for an opinion. Although getting there first in this case is not likely to yield any reward.

This week we have seen more bombs dropped on Syria, more attacks in Iraq and Lebanon, tighter restrictions of freedoms in France, heavier surveillance around the world and a shift of attitude towards those of the Islamic faith. 115,000 people have died and the reaction was to strike again, to continue this escapade for bloodshed, as if this is likely to put a stop to it all. It breaks my heart.

Even having this conversation with my family, I have visibly seen the fear and anger in their eyes when they say that we have to get to them before they get to us. The understanding that violence is justified if the ‘right’ people are being killed. However, where is the accountability for the thousands of lives that have been taken by Western powers during my lifetime? Where are the investigations into manipulation, extortion, lying, torture and falsification that now surround every war that we have fought in the 21st Century? The two sides of a warzone leaves nothing but devastation.

There is no reason that will ever be able to justify the deaths of the people who were sadly taken in Paris, Lebanon and Baghdad last week, whether ISIS claim the attacks or not. For me, there is absolutely no justification for killing, whether it be in retaliation or not. I don’t accept that in order to end this, we need to forcibly destroy every individual that claims to think a certain way. Ideas are more powerful than bullets, and we cannot just extinguish them.

I have turned off a lot of my feeds and I haven’t changed my profile picture. I think it is best if we take some time to understand what has happened, and really decide what it is that we want before we do anything else. Do we want to get even or do we want to be safe? These are not mutually exclusive.

Watch your governments and use reliable media. Don’t get caught up in rhetoric that uses fear as its catalyst. There will be plenty of people that will be telling you what you want to hear, but not what needs to be done.

Rebuilding the world starts with forgiveness. And forgiveness is an idea that transcends all hatred and fear.

For me, that is much more powerful than any bomb or bullet.


You Won’t Be Loved

Credit: skley / Flickr

Credit: skley / Flickr

Responsibility is a very funny thing. It puts you in a position where you can make the difficult decisions, move towards a vision that you are personally invested in and share this with the people around you in the hope that they will walk with you. My leadership style has evolved over the past few years to be more inclusive – to try and empower everyone to fill my shoes regardless of where they stand – it is called servant leadership.

A servant leader is one who chooses to work for his team and not the other way around. It requires an individual to value and weigh up the opinions of those around them, without being scared to make the tough calls when need be. And I think the most effective way to take on any sort of responsibility. To ensure that you value the humanity of the human beings that break their backs for the good of the cause.

However, it is a very lonely experience. The one thing that I have noticed about taking on responsibility this year is that you stand alone and at the front. There are no safety nets or comfort blankets. Whether I have liked it or not, every decision has been a risk that needs to be taken, without being able to make people happy and learning to justify each and every element. It has been a fight against myself and sometimes others. There are no easy wins.

I have lost friends and gained colleagues. The lines become so blurred that you become the face of the responsibility, and that every conversation is about work. The positives are taken for granted with the understanding that these are expectations which needed to be met. The negatives are riddled with ridicule, criticism and personal attack – and you become a brick wall for people to bounce their frustrations off. You wear your heart on your sleeve, but you must keep your emotions locked away. People want to see strength from those at the top, albeit at any personal cost.

Some responsibilities in themselves are a poison chalice, with only the passion and enthusiasm for the cause being the motivation to carry on. Because there is the potential for you to do something amazing, you have to wade through the tough waters first. It doesn’t get easier, but you become tougher, with the conviction that you are doing the right thing; even if it means upsetting those people who matter to you the most.

As a leader, you won’t be loved. You will not be praised for your good decisions, but will be responsible for the bad ones. There are no prizes for the process, and the outcomes are important to share with the team, rather than take on yourself. You will not be thanked, and people will inadvertently take you for granted. A servant leader will get the job done, but no one will really know what happens behind the scenes.

Everyone who fulfils their responsibility will understand these hard truths. It will not have been what they signed up for, but what inevitably becomes reality. We must forgive those that make rash decisions and don’t understand the implications; we must protect those that are vulnerable and need support; and finally, we must love those that won’t love us back. It is our jobs, the burden that we inadvertently chose to accept when we took on the responsibility.

The silver lining is that the people around you will finally realise how much time and effort you went to, to make them happy and spur on their success. When all of the petty arguments evaporate as the wider vision is achieved.

This is a fantastic day and you will cherish it. But by the time they realise, you will have inevitably moved on, and it will be too late.

You are not important, but the vision is. You won’t be loved, but you will be successful. This is the curse of leadership itself.

What’s that coming over the hill?

Trek Fat Boy Trek

Well, this is it. It feels surreal as I think back to that video that I saw 2 years ago that convinced me in that moment to climb a mountain. I actually paid the deposit within hours and told my parents that I was going on the trip afterwards. As you can imagine, they were not best pleased. It has taken me a while to get them onside.

Since then, I have been patiently waiting and frantically fundraising so that I can step foot on a plane that will be the biggest physical challenge that I have faced so far in my life. Not the plane, the mountain climbing bit…you know, the trek – anyway you know what I mean. It is going to be tough.

In the last few months, it has been great to (attempt to) train and get my kit together and now the two bags that are going to safely take me to nearly 6,000 metres altitude are ready. I am staring at them and realising that this is everything that I am going to need and I can carry it on my back.

I have absolutely loved talking to people about their experiences. Your words of encouragement and laughs have dialled down the nerves that are now starting to creep in. I know in my heart of hearts that I am not physically ready for this challenge, but there is nothing (bar falling off the edge) that is going to keep me from reaching the peak.

There have also been a lot of doubters and mockers. I was one of them for a while, and I am the one actually doing it. However, the privilege has been raising over £3,000 for Meningitis Research that I know will make a huge difference to people’s lives. I do not want to be verbose, but meeting and listening to some of the people that this money will go to help has made this all the more worthwhile.

I could have just paid for my trek and gone and done this myself. However, I never would have had the motivation of doing it if I wasn’t walking with all of the support behind me. I am carrying the names of all my donors on my back and thinking about the gentlemen that burst into tears when he told me that his wife died of Meningitis in early hours of a bucket collection in central London.

This is real and it is happening. When I next speak to you I will have been over the clouds and be back on the ground again. As much as this is an “easy” climb, compared to others, I am not going to take this for granted.

For anyone that is thinking about making a stupid or impulsive decision, my advice is to throw your huge size 10s into it and apologise later. This could be the dumbest thing I have ever done or it could (and will) be the most amazing. The only way to find out is to actually do it and suck up the fear.

I am absolutely terrified. But I am also massively excited. What’s that coming over the hill? It’s a fat boy, mate. See you on the other side!


The Alternative Narrative

Credit: whatmegsaid / Flickr

Credit: whatmegsaid / Flickr

We all have an inside voice. Some of us have many. The interesting thing about this meta-narrative is that people generally consider it to be either extremely positive or negative. It either motivates or debilitates them. There seems to be no middle ground when I talk to people about this and it becomes a question of mental strength. Note that I didn’t say mental health.

It still fascinates me that we do not entertain the full capacity of our minds, and that if anything we mentally underperform considering the breadth of mental strength we have. Not to go into too much detail, but the ability of the brain to create unique connections through synapses far surpasses the capabilities of many other species. That is why we seem to have utmost control of our immediate environment.

However, we seem to be our own worst enemies. In a world where we are not challenged for authority by other animals, we tend to find the enemy within ourselves. Our ability to cope with adversity, especially within the understanding of our own weaknesses, is woeful. We choose to focus on the negatives, because we are surrounded by the similarities. Every organism that we come into close contact with (for the most part) has the same build as us, talks in a similar language and moves in a way that we ourselves frequent in.

We don’t see the narrative, because we take it for granted. As human beings, we are incredibly lucky to be a position of ultimate control. It is like growing up and suddenly being promoted to CEO and enjoying the spoils. We treat being human as a right, when it is in fact a culmination of thousands of moments of effort. For those who believe in karma, and more so in reincarnation, you will be aware of the idea that being born again as a human is the pinnacle of existence.

So why do we get distracted by the narrative? Why do we let the voice(s) inside us dictate the way that we behave? If, as a collective, we have been able to effectively colonise and populate the Earth with our own kind, it is crazy to think about the amount of conflict that we put ourselves in and reflect on other people. We press the self-destruct button when this narrative, our intuition, works against us like rubbing up a carpet the wrong way. We fray.

The most inspirational leaders make this alternative narrative work for them. The greatest sportsmen and women, business leaders and spiritualists understand that their self-talk is the difference between them getting up in the morning and winning…and pulling the covers over their eyes.

We are built to win. Yet, we underestimate our own abilities. It is time to turn that critic inside your head into a coach. And the quicker you start teaching yourself lessons, rather than berating your mistakes, the closer you are to being the pinnacle of existence.

That voice in your head is probably telling you to ignore this.

Take control.

20 Messages

Credit: davidalexanderelder / Flickr

Credit: davidalexanderelder / Flickr

I am very bad at keeping in touch with people. This sentence alone probably has many of you nodding your heads thinking, “yes, I just remembered you didn’t reply to that message that I sent you x days ago. What a twat.” Well, I apologise for not responding and if I didn’t, it wasn’t meant to be intentionally malicious. I’ll be honest and say that I just don’t prioritise as much time as I should to catch up with people I haven’t spoken to in a while. Or sometimes even with those I speak to often.

Going back to the beginning, I find the advancement of technology difficult to adjust to. Before owning a proper mobile phone (really only in the last few years) I found it easier to keep in touch with people because I could see them. Graciously on their part, knowing that I would be rubbish to get a hold of, they would either call or meet me in person. I could hear their voice, watch their nose crinkle as they laughed and look into their eyes when I spoke to them. I could resonate with their humanity.

The ones who did not meet me after my invitations or seemed to become more distant, was painful at the time but slowly I have understood that they had priorities and I wasn’t one of them. That is not to say that if I ignored you above that I don’t value you, if anything it means the opposite. Because I only speak to those that I value – those are the ones that I make time for. The frequency of communication does not heed the development of a relationship. My best friend, who is incidentally getting married this week, is someone I only see every 6 weeks or so but I couldn’t be closer to them. Absence, like appearing offline, makes the heart grow fonder.

Now, it becomes easier and easier to string people along. To give them the impression that you care without ever really valuing them. I read an article recently on the phenomena of “ghosting” where an individual deals with the idea of ending a relationship by just ignoring them. Rather than facing up to the reality of saying goodbye, they choose to revoke that courtesy from both people. It was confusing and frankly quite scary. I can understand why this can lead to people becoming so mistrusting.

With this in mind, I have decided to experiment with something. Considering my distaste for technology, it has taken quite a lot of self-convincing. I am going to send 20 messages out over the next week. Knowing that I am bad at sending that first message to people, it is going to be interesting to see their reactions. I am going to send it out to people that I am close to, those that I have moved away from, those that have inspired me and those I want to learn from. In some cases it will be a “thank you” and a hug, in others an “I’m sorry” and in all of them a “Hey! You know what, I really value you and your time – let’s have a conversation.”

I am not going to tell them about this, but it would be nice if they made the connection themselves. And it doesn’t mean that I am just messaging 20 people and cutting the rest out. It means that I am taking myself out of the comfort zone and building a bridge. If we can’t do that, then we might as well be ghosts.

No Greater Insult

Credit: marcusjb / Flickr

Credit: marcusjb / Flickr

I constantly kick myself for not knowing enough about the world. Every day I learn about a new figure or amazing personality, and as excited as I am to learn something new, I always berate myself for not finding out about it sooner. There are so many things that I should know, but there is a finite amount of time within which to learn it.

My hunger for knowledge overtakes my commute. The two hours that it takes to get to the office (not an exaggeration) is a combination of listening to new albums on Spotify, reading my book on marketing and watching a daily TEDx talk. A lot of people have spoken to me about TED talks and tell me that they fall asleep to them. I don’t know how they do that as I am hooked from the moment the video starts.

On Friday, however, with the onrush of the working day rendering me physically exhausted, I had to retire at home and get my learning fix from elsewhere. I may be overdoing it. Well, I am overdoing it. It often happens that I fall ill have to restore settings to the last time that they worked properly. On instruction from my manager to rest, I chose to watch The Imitation Game, as it was another on the “must-watch” list of films that I haven’t made much of a dent in. You can probably tell I am not the sort to sit still for two hours straight.

However, the entire film engulfed me. Even though the Hollywood interpretation makes Bletchley Park look like a luxury estate, when after seeing it as a high school student it looked more like a dilapidated college, I was taken aback by the work of Alan Turing. I had never really heard of him before. I had seen a poster or two and the name rang a bell, but nothing more than that. It still upsets me now that I did not look into it further.

I could not be typing if it were not for the work of this man and his team. It is incredible to think that the digital civilisation that we find ourselves in now can be traced back to a shelter in the south of England that cracked the most difficult puzzle in the world. My life would be completely different without him, and I didn’t even know his name.

It unsettles me. The idea that a man’s name could be forcibly forgotten because he was gay. One of the most important minds in the history of the world could be so easily tossed aside because of his personal life. He is the reason that 14 million people lived on and that the war finished early. A society that he chose to save gave him no option other than to kill himself. There is no greater insult than that.

And now our personal lives are on show. The secrets that Alan kept and the truths that he cracked are now celebrated (by some). There are other parts of the world where he would still be considered a criminal. It frightens me that you can be imprisoned/killed for something that you can never atone for – a part of your being that is considered fundamentally unlawful. And for goodness sake, your sexuality is not a choice. It cannot be ripped from you.

As soon as we forget our humanity, and we choose not to see it in others, is the day that we ourselves become inhuman. The monsters that we hope to extinguish. The only question is: how many more great minds must we lose before we remember?

There will be more thoughts on this in the future I am sure.

Nine Two Five

Credit: yu7yu / Flickr

Credit: yu7yu / Flickr

Working life is in itself an oxymoron. I have found it very difficult to distinguish between work and my life since I started my internship. The company itself, to its credit, prides itself on finding the right work/life balance and making sure that you have something outside of the job. Yet it is very difficult to find that when you are interning. The idea that you are 5 weeks away from a job that could secure you for the next chapter, makes it difficult to make time to play tennis three times a week.

It is this constant nagging concern that you aren’t doing enough. There is no benchmark for knowing what is going to happen, and so you are working, thinking, doing everything you can to impress. And it’s absolutely exhausting. Looking back after half my time in this job, I have never worked so hard in my life, and I usually work for myself. The ability to prioritise, work at a thousand miles an hour and make sure that I make the 17:36 train to London Waterloo makes it a challenge every day.

I would be lying if I said that I enjoyed every second of it. Everyone who says that is lying. At times, it is incredibly stressful, upsetting and downright frustrating. I am starting to make headway, but it has been a very steep learning curve.

Luckily, I do have a great manager who is incredibly perceptive to the journey that I am on. In a typical 9 to 5, it feels like I am doing 925 hours of work and he is appreciative of that. However, there are plenty I have seen that have killed the motivation of interns they have working for them because they simply don’t have time. It amazes me how managers forget that they started at the bottom rung of the ladder and someone gave them a step up.

I have no idea whether I am going to get this job or not. And now five weeks in, I realise that this is out of my control. What I can control is how I present myself in this environment. Winning means doing the best you can, and if it doesn’t work here, then it will work somewhere else. Effort has never let me down. It has always taught me to be hungry for more.

I am taking this weekend to reflect about how I am really doing. Personally, rather than professionally. I think that is why I am starting by writing down my thoughts here. My development is as important as the bottom line.

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