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The Joy Of Letting Go

I don’t know why it took me so long, but I finally truly acknowledged the benefits of not doing my own programming.

Yeah, this coming from a personal trainer. For some reason I would recommend everyone else get someone else do their training for them. Except me.

Ultimately it ground me down, culminating in 2013 being one of my worst years of training as I was simply burned out.

You see, I was holding on to something I didn’t need: proving to myself that my coaching worked by doing it for myself. I didn’t need to prove it because my coaching has worked for hundreds of other people. I didn’t need it because it’s a foolish, ego-driven thing to want.

It’s funny how such disparate things as meditation and fitness can be linked. But finding nirvana, just like finding success in physical training, is linked to a certain letting go. The “flow” state that elite athletes and musicians experience is often described in similar ways – they almost feel like they are simply experiencing, rather than dictating the events. If you have ever experienced it, you know that it is one of the peak moments of your life, never to be forgotten.

Anyway, my insistence on clinging to certain things, born of pride and stubbornness, lead to a great deal more misery than was necessary. This much is obvious, looking back. But in the mire everything clouds.

The trick is to acknowledge your over-keen grip in the moment.

The trick is to just let go and see what happens right when you least want to.

Letting go is a freeing process. Just like the process of minimising your life – removing clutter, clothes, possessions. With this freedom comes clarity. Letting go of things which don’t matter allows you to see and to move. You are weighing your own personal anchors.

With training, it is freeing because it allows you to focus on what matters. Training. When you are programming for yourself then doubts and second guessing become normal. When you commit to follow a programme written by someone else you can dedicate yourself to the simple task of executing the programme to the best of your ability. (The programme I have been following with great enjoyment and results for 8 weeks now is Competitors Wod by Ben Bergeron).

With a more tightly focused energy you can accomplish far more. If you are putting some energy in to planning your training which might have otherwise been used for that training, then your training simply will not be as effective as possible. No amount of number crunching, paper-reading, or periodisation can change that.

This applies for more than just fitness. I have this problem, so I know that at least some others do: there are too many things I want to do. I cling, partially, to many of them. The result is that all my endeavors suffer since none receives enough focus to make significant strides.

Letting go of some of them – even temporarily – allows me to make greater progress in the long run. Playing guitar less allows me to write  more, writing less allows me to work on my business projects more. Cutting out sundry business projects allows me to focus on the one with the most potential reward.

People can be anchors too – letting go of people who do not benefit your life can be one of the best things you ever do. It is a significant boon (to say the least!) to have only positive, productive people in your life, who have your best interests at heart.

Strive to be the best version of yourself in order to earn the company of the best people you know – and let everyone who holds you back go.

What are you holding on to which weighs you down? What have you let go of recently, and how has it benefited your life?

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It’s Time To Face Facts: Learning How To Accept You Were Wrong

A religious man told Kailash Singh that if only he didn’t bathe, he would surely have a son. For 38 years Kailash has resolutely stuck to this advice.

In that time he has successfully fathered 7 daughters.

And how many sons?

Zero.

None, no sons. No male progeny, offspring, or sprogs. Yet still Kailash does not bathe, convinced that at the age of 66, he and his wife of 60 might still give birth to a son.

Kailash never learned something very important; when to admit you are wrong.

One of the most useful things you’ll learn in your mission to become good at everything is how to accept you were wrong.

Kailash could have spared himself (and his no-doubt long suffering family) from decades of filth by simply accepting that he, and the religious guru he consulted, got things wrong.

He could have spared himself even further torment if he had been equipped with a mental framework able to throw up big shiny bright red flags at the absurd notion that not washing guarantees sons.

Empower Yourself

Learning to accept correction is one of the most empowering qualities you can ever give to yourself.

You begin to understand this simple truth: if you prove someone else wrong, you win in a limited way. You may have been right, but you did not grow a great deal. However if you are proved wrong then something incredible has happened; you have learned. You have won in the biggest possible way because you have bettered yourself.

Once this attitude is ingrained the childish tendency to cling to beliefs even after they have been demolished is greatly quailed.

This step is one of the most significant you will ever undertake in your journey to truly know yourself and excel at anything.

It will also make your life a lot easier. The temporary pain of admitting you are wrong is quickly subsumed by the pleasure of being right in the end. It is also vastly more pleasurable to get along with one’s fellow person if at all possible.

This is why Richard Dawkins has said that if he is proved incorrect about something, he will accept the correction gratefully. Grateful, because he is now smarter than he was before. Grateful because a correction now can spare deeper embarrassment later.  Grateful because the truth is awesome and something we should all be seeking.

(Side note: I once said this to someone and they said: “you mean you would accept it graciously”. There’s really no way out of that kind of irony, so I just let it drop).

Learning to accept when you are wrong can also help develop in you another logical superpower: the ability to say “I don’t know”. The two combined will grant you more wisdom than you ever thought possible. Certainly far more than if you try and be right all the time.

The corollary to accepting you are wrong, is learning when to accept that you cannot persuade someone. In fact, as a rule it is good to assume that you cannot change the mind of anyone else. It will be true more often than not.

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There Has Never Been A Greater Time Than Now

The other day I chanced to see an article on Facebook bemoaning the lack of jobs for young people.

Intrigued, I read it, but became confused. It stated well that there are fewer “regular” jobs in the economy, that traditional employment opportunities are dying up, and that the hapless governments of the world have large hands to play in royally fucking the prospects and economic opportunities of university educated “yoof”.

However I was confused when the article claimed that there exists fewer and fewer opportunities.

I was confused because we live in the most prosperous and opportunity-filled epoch in history – yet it seems few actually recognise that fact.

The conclusion that there are no opportunities seems to arise when one still buys in to the “go to university, get a good job” paradigm. I believed it, as did many others, and most of us were lied to. University was, and is for many people, a gross misallocation of their time.

There are simply too many degrees, and too few degree-worthy jobs. However people have been lead to believe that earning a degree entitles them to skip several pay grads. For some – doctors, dentists, certain lawyers and engineers – this may be true.

But for most, spending time drudging in minimum wage – or worse than minimum wage – jobs is a necessity. A necessity which now seems beneath them.

But I am veering off course. The point is that there has never been more opportunity for a person to make their own way in the world than now.

Any taste, predilection, fetish and preference can be shared. Anyone can find other people who are like them. You might be the only gay in the village, but you’re certainly not the only gay who dresses as a pony and engages in romantic relationships with cartoons in the world. In fact there are thousands of you.

These tastes and preferences all need to be served – and this is the economic opportunity. You can be sure that somewhere, there are probably enough people who want to pay for your unique insight or product on a particular weirdness that you can make a living from it.

The trick is doing it.

It’s no easy trick. And it is certainly not a trick that can be learned at university – at which nothing pertaining to real life can usually be learned.

It is easy to blame parents, teachers, and governments. And certainly a great deal of blame lies with them. But ultimately one must take responsibility. If you are concerned about a perceived lack of opportunities then you must create opportunities. If you do not know how to create opportunities then you must learn and practice.

This requires a fundamental shift in mindset, and will take time. And most of your friends and family and acquaintances will think you are probably mad. But the truth is that you can make your own way. You do not need to follow the old path – you can hack down one of your own. Or you can carefully cultivate and nurture it. The choice is yours.

It is your right, your power, and your purpose (if you choose it) to create for yourself a life that suits your desires. Not those of someone else. Not the “supposed to”s. Not the “ought to”s. Not the “should do”s.

And it has never been more possible. The internet allows you to literally teach yourself anything – the only thing stopping your ascension being your commitment, and your natural limits.

Anyone who tells you otherwise – that the game is rigged against you; that the poor have no way out; that the young have got no chances – anyone who tells you these things is your enemy.

What is the purpose of telling someone something negative? It is to prevent them. To keep them down. It is possible that someone saying these things has your best interests at heart – but if you hear it from the media, on TV, or see it bandied about by any figure of influence and reach, then that is a warning sign.

Negativity keeps you down. It is designed to keep you down. If you think the game is rigged, then you won’t even try. If you think you have no hope then you won’t even start. If you end up believing these things, then the opportunities around you will pass you by. With your eyes staring straight at your feet, you will pass the world by, and it will pass you by too.

The truth is that there is more opportunity now than ever in history. Your job is only to seize it.

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Anxiety, Working Out, and Paralysis by Analysis

Recently I have been trying my best to help someone new to training get started. Let’s call this someone Jerry. Everyone has some sort of nerves or worries about training before they start. Even experienced people do – as we will go in to in more detail below.

But Jerry has a particularly acute and severe issue with anxiety. The challenge has been finding a way to present advice which prevents further questions.

This is particularly challenging because my normal modus operandi is to give information in a way which encourages questions. Questioning, is fundamental to living a better life. But this is a case in which too much questioning of every little detail is significantly harming  Jerry’s quality of life, and has so far prevented him from working out on a consistent basis – despite a strong claimed desire to do so.

Despite having a simple programme and progression scheme, despite having a good basic grasp on nutrition, and despite having a personal trainer willing to help for free, Jerry was unable to convert these advantages in to consistent action.

The first obvious point is the difficulty of forming a new habit – it is painful. It is painful because one must unseat other, long-held, yet negative habits. These might be activities not normally considered a “habit” such as spending too much time researching for more advice or information. This latter is also normally considered a boon.

However, as in all things, indulgence rather than compulsion is the wiser path. Indulging in research is beneficial up to a point. No amount of research can cause someone to take action.

But the other deep-seated issue lies in Jerry’s anxiety. Genuine nerves and terror over ordinary and every day things – things almost everyone has experienced, such as being weak when new to the gym. No one likes feeling weak. Most people are able to overcome this feeling with the thought that if they do nothing they will remain weak.

Jerry’s fear of feeling weak however leads him to think “what’s the point?”.

I realised – and said as much – that if I didn’t train every time I felt anxious before a workout that I would literally never train.

And it’s the truth.

I get anxious every single time.

I get heart palpitations.

I get stress induced IBS and nearly shit myself, and have to spend half an hour or more on the toilet. I get so nervous my whole body shakes.

Every single workout is a mental battle.

But overcoming that mental battle is part of how you become a better person. If I didn’t get any anxiety before doing a workout, then either it’s a rest/deload week, or I’m being a bitch.

In a weird way, the performance nerves can get stronger as you get more advanced. It becomes far more difficult to make progress, and the margins for error become smaller and smaller. Too much and you’ll over train. Too little and you’ll regress. Finding the sweet spot can take ages, and often you’ll miss entirely. This is one of the primary reasons why all top athletes have coaches – they simply cannot afford to expend so much mental energy on figuring out their programming on top of doing the work itself.

I had been telling people this for a while but for some reason never listened to myself. The result was that in 2013 my training stagnated big time. 6 weeks ago I decided to start following programming written by someone else and my progress has been so good I almost feel like a beginner again. The biggest change is the lack of mental stress. Of not questioning everything and second guessing my own choices.

So it was that I have developed a different approach to dealing with Jerry than my usual one. Normally I offer open ended solutions and advice. “It depends” is my usual answer, and I am in favour of presenting non-biased, experimental arguments.

However with Jerry I ignored that. I opted for gently dogmatic, insistent, “do this and ignore everything else”. Because too much information is killing him. Because he needs someone to literally say “now tie your shoe laces; now put one step in front of the other”.

That is not a slight or judgement on Jerry. It’s how he is, and is no doubt the product of his experiences. It’s just how he has to get through his own journey – some people need more structure and guidance, some people need less.

And this leads me to another thought – the world is full of people just like him. This is why cookie-cutter programmes sell so well. People like being told “this is THE ONE TRUE WAY”. They do not, generally, enjoy ambiguity.

Anarchy is a hard sell at this moment in history for the same reasons. Science is misunderstood continuously because it rarely deals in the definitive. We grow up having our hands held, and a good deal of us don’t like letting go in adulthood. This isn’t something to be ridiculed, but it is something that needs to be understood, and guided, with patience and love.

There are many more issues at play here, but I’ll save those for another day.

Albert Einstein’s Secret to Effortless Learning

Einstein is known as a genius for his scientific breakthroughs. Thanks to that fame, we have also come to know his insight into other, non-scientific ideas.

One of his best and most timeless pieces of advice is the secret he taught his son in a private letter. It is a secret which can make learning anything an effortless process.

Einstein wasn’t a brilliant father or husband by accounts I’m aware of, but we can all benefit from understanding the following:

[T]he way to learn the most, [is by] doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.

[Note: the full letter is reproduced below this article]

Each of us will have had moments in life where we experienced this. An obvious example is playing a fun new board game – you learn the rules and how to be good at it almost by accident as you laugh and joke and compete with your friends.

Another less obvious time where this rings true is in childhood. Children are like little learning sponges, absorbing knowledge from every possible direction.

This is a deeper insight from Einstein’s advice that perhaps many will miss: curiosity is in itself a source of entertainment. Perhaps one reason (in addition to brain plasticity and so on) for the rapid rate at which children learn is there sheer unadulterated enthusiasm and curiosity for whichever new thing it is in front of them.

Children love it.

But they don’t think to themselves “wow I’m having such a good time”. They simply let themselves be fully present in the moment, enjoying and learning as they go along.

Our adult brains are full of distractions, worries, doubts. But when we are able to turn those off and truly enjoy something it is possible to learn something almost as quickly as a child would.

Enhanced by the extra processing power and wisdom of an adult brain, learning can once again be a speedy and joyful process.

It becomes possible not only to learn to play the guitar in a month, but to love almost every second of it too.

So here is the real secret: find ways to stimulate your deep, true curiosity.

Find ways to connect with the subject matter you are learning.

Find ways to make it more fun.

Play games with it. Get other people involved too.

Eradicate the stress that is often part of learning something new and different by deciding that you are going to enjoy the heck out of it.

Recently I taught myself OIympic weightlifting over 5 weeks. Every day I woke up excited to get to work. It was difficult taking rest days.

Every night I went to sleep buzzing with ways to improve, ideas, recollections and analyses of my performance. These are all signs of obsession but also joy.

Indeed there are two stages in learning something where joy is most easily attainable: the beginner stage, and mastery. Being an intermediate however, can suck.

As a beginner there is joy in the new, in learning fast, in improving yourself and gaining confidence.

As an intermediate things become difficult. Progress slows dramatically. Vast amounts of effort are required for minimal returns. Frustration is inevitable.

As a master you can enjoy your ability to dictate the task to your whim. You can play a guitar without thought, never missing a note. You can freerun through the city like a monkey in the jungle. The joy is in the flow which comes from mastery.

Finding joy in your pursuits won’t just make them easier and your learning faster. It will improve every facet of your life.

So, go learn whatever you want, just make sure you have a damn good time while you do it.

Is there a time where you have learned something almost by accident, simply from enjoying it so much? Let me know in the comments below. Here’s Einstein’s letter to finish:

My dear Albert,

Yesterday I received your dear letter and was very happy with it. I was already afraid you wouldn’t write to me at all any more. You told me when I was in Zurich, that it is awkward for you when I come to Zurich. Therefore I think it is better if we get together in a different place, where nobody will interfere with our comfort. I will in any case urge that each year we spend a whole month together, so that you see that you have a father who is fond of you and who loves you. You can also learn many good and beautiful things from me, something another cannot as easily offer you. What I have achieved through such a lot of strenuous work shall not only be there for strangers but especially for my own boys. These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it.

I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . . .

Be with Tete kissed by your

Papa.

Regards to Mama.

The 8 Principles of Rapid Learning

Below is a collection of some guiding principles I have discovered which enable radically accelerated learning in order to get you from “suck” to “good” as quickly as humanly possible. Each will be expanded upon elsewhere – this is merely to serve as a reference point, perhaps to help get you in the right frame of mind or remind you of something forgotten.

Each principle should be considered essential if you truly want to make the fastest possible progress.

Having Principles
Understanding that principles are essential is in itself an essential principle. It focuses the mind and allows you to strip out anything unnecessary regarding the task at hand. Having foundational principles makes everything else click in to place much more easily.

For example, you can identify people who lack firm ethical principles because their behaviour will be internally contradictory. To use a cliche; they have no internal compass. Principles will make sure you are doing the right things all the time – if you listen to them.

Action
This might seem incredibly obvious but action is a prerequisite for learning. Learn by reading, doing, thinking acting on the object of your focus.

Frequency
If you want to get better at anything you need to do it as often as possible. Every day is great. Multiple times a day can be better. Skills are about motor-learning, your brain rewiring the way it works to become more efficient when faced with new challenges.

“Greasing the groove” is one example of how frequency can be used to, for example, double your pullups in only a few weeks.
Rest
You cannot simply work flat out eternally and never rest. When you begin you might think you can. You’re wrong. Rest is a key part of the equation. Rest is when your body recovers, repairs and improves itself. It is when your brain has an opportunity to go over for itself all the new things you learned.

Deliberately avoiding the thing you want to get better at is one of the best ways of having a breakthrough if you are facing a plateau, or getting otherwise frustrated. This works for many things, including general problem solving. You’ll find your brain just figures it out while you’re occupied with other things.

Deliberateness
It is no good to just strum around aimlessly without a plan, without anything deliberate in mind. Each time you practice there should be a purpose, something which you want to focus on or improve.

Each repetition, each chord, each word should be performed deliberately, as though you are rehearsing. Because you are rehearsing. There may be no performance lined up for you, but this is a rehearsal for life.

Strive for perfection, but don’t let it get to you if you can’t yet attain it.

Analysis
Taking the time to reflect on your practice is essential. Meditate on what went well and what did not. Think about how you need to improve next time. Do not be too harsh on yourself but equally do not delude yourself into thinking you are yet a master.

Are you letting yourself become unduly frustrated with an aspect of your learning that doesn’t really matter that much?

Are you focusing on the things you are good at, and enjoy, at the expense of learning more rapidly?

Continual Challenge
Growth requires continual challenge. To do the same thing each day is in reality to regress. In weight training we talk about trying to “beat the log book”. What this means is that if last time we squatted 100kg then next time we will attempt 102.5kg, write that shit in our log book, and look forward to beating that in. If further workouts to come.

This principle can be applied to anything. Play a piece of music with one less mistake. Take 2 seconds less to recall a particular word in Arabic. Find the little victories and revel in them, because they are your stepping stones.

80/20 Pareto’s law
If you want to become a master then there are no shortcuts. You must learn everything.

If you “merely” want to become good however, then there are ways to speed up the process. Pareto’s law doesn’t apply to everything, but it almost does. This is something where it can come in useful. If you want to learn a new language you will find that 20% of the words are used 80% of the time. Learn those 20%, or close, and you will appear fluent and be able to face any situation in that language.

A few simple chords will allow you to play almost any song. Learn those chords and a world of music, performance and joy is opened up to you.

Just a few exercises can make you stronger, fitter and leaner than you ever thought possible with no need to ever do anything with a fucking bosu ball.

What do you think?
Are there any other principles I have forgotten? Have you used these principles with success? Let me know in the comments below.

Full Mental Reset – A Recap on 2013

The below is long (2314 words), somewhat rambling, and probably uninteresting to anyone else reading. It’s a recap of a very interesting year for me in which I seemed to take 3 steps forward and 3 steps back. A lot happened. A lot didn’t. A lot changed. A lot stayed the same. Read at your peril.

2013 was something of a transitional year for me. It has been one of the most up and down and inconsistent years I’ve experienced and has been marked by a struggle for me to find a place for myself in the world. A struggle which persists.

After the gym I was working at as a personal trainer in 2012 shut down I found myself in limbo of a sorts. I was thoroughly disillusioned with working at pubic gyms, yet unable to find personal training vacancies elsewhere. Due to logistics (I did not have a car) I was unable to keep my client base.

Job Hunting

At the same time I was trying to (re)grow my personal training business, I was attempting to get my equipment company Smash Weights up and running. Some people can do it, but I was not able to build two successful companies simultaneously, each from scratch.

I began looking for part time work. Being naive to the world of business I fell foul of some incredibly awful companies, one which was a straight up pyramid scheme doing its very best to describe itself as anything but. Marketing itself as a graduate management training programme and dressed in slick suits but with the soul of a conman.

It turned out there was no programme, nor any employment. All “staff” were actually self employed, running their own “businesses”. These consisted of pretending to be loft insulation experts and convincing people that the government would pay for them (a genuine scheme at least) by going door to door for 12 hours a day.

The “office manager” would get a hefty cut of all the commission his “staff” made. His manager would get a heftier slice, and the guy at the top was trousering millions each year.

I left after 3 days of misery in the snow and rain. A few months later I rekindled contact with my mentor, whom I actually liked, and discovered that the whole fraudulent enterprise had collapsed after it was discovered the office manager had been looting money from everyone there.

The AdTech Company

In all it took me 4 months to find regular employment, which ended up being temping for a tech company who makes advertising technology.

Working for this company became a dominant sub-story to my year and brought with it a large amount of joy, frustration, and experiences both good and bad.

It was initially incredibly exciting. The company was a proper start up, growing at a furious pace, in an industry which is currently having bubble-like growth.

Having only been initially interested in easy-come, easy-go temp work, I became very interested in developing some life-lessons by trying for a full time job at this company. I discovered they needed a writer and showed them my blogs, articles, and books.

They were also in need of marketing expertise, and my couple years of experience with email and online marketing was a natural fit. Through a fairly emotional ride I was eventually offered full time employment as a marketing assistant, with the promise of progression, growth, more responsibility. This was due in no small part to the efforts of the newly appointed marketing manager who seemed to have real belief in my skills and ability to contribute. I had access to the directors – who seemed to value my opinion – and was able to write full time for a living – incredible!

The first real bump came just two days after my offer when the marketing manager was fired. I was in some shock, as I imagine so was she, but knew that for their own reasons the directors did not like her and it didn’t seem to be a “fit”.

Nevertheless, after that I developed a rhythm. Writing copy, getting drafts checked, writing improvements. I was reporting directly to the directors and to the designer. I was fairly well autonomous in terms of tasks I should prioritise and how to do them. I was proud of the work I was doing and felt I really contributed to the team – in particular I spent two 18 hours days finishing website copy in time for an important feature in the newspapers.

I was able to save a lot of money, and managed to pass my driving lessons and buy a car within two months. I was burning the candle at both ends, getting up at 7am to work for an hour, before heading to “real” work. There it was 0900 – 1730 but really more like 0830 – 1745. I’d get home and work till 1am some days – other days I’d have to crash out earlier, exhausted.

For a while this was as close as I had ever dreamed to being a “dream job”. I woke up each day excited to go to work, and spent my nights thinking about how I could make my efforts at the company even more valuable to them.

Over a couple of months however a transition happened. As the company grew I began to feel more removed from everyone around me. I was getting less and less feedback on my work and mostly just told to “just keep going”.

One of my best friends suffered a very traumatic personal issue and it affected me strongly. My worsened mood and performance was noticed by one of the directors who called me into his office to chat. He gave me one of the most pathetic pep talks I’ve ever encountered. He then told me that I had been writing too much. He told me that I had been sending them too much unfinished material that needed too much editing and spell-checking.

These criticisms are perfectly valid without context. The context however makes them fucking stupid and was that they had asked me to send them everything I wrote in first draft form.

I was bemused to say the least, but resolved to improve. I began to send them far less, far more honed material.

People have experience as a writer know that you can sometimes reduce a text by as much as 90% to get the final copy. And that the editing process is very often by far the most time consuming (and tiresome) part of writing.

You’ve probably guessed it already but now I was told I was not doing enough.

Anyway, a new marketing manager was eventually brought in. He took me for coffee and we had – what I thought at the time – to be an excellent chat. He listened attentively to my grievances, and to the things I really liked. He seemed to agree with them all.

He gave me some tasks, and a timeframe in which to do them. By the end of the second week I was a week ahead of schedule. I had sent the new manager daily updates, and he told me to “just keep at it”.

Then he bollocked me via Skype. While he was sat in front of me in the office with his back to me. He told me that he was disappointed with my output, and that I needed to step it up.

I duly did and produced the next 3 weeks worth of copy in 3 fairly frantic and full-speed days.

Then I was fired.

Being fired came as an enormous, emotional, relief. I felt a swathe of emotions but sadness was not one of them. The company had become an very unpleasant place to work since I first started and the atmosphere was unrecognizable. An old-boys club seemed to have developed in the Commercial department which involved coming in to work hungover at 10am having been up to 3am at strip clubs – and lying to wives about it. All sanctioned by the Commercial Director.

This was increasingly an uncomfortable environment for me to be in, and I had only intended on stomaching it for a couple more months. As it was, I was pleased to move on.

Smash Weights

It has been a frustrating year for me as an entrepreneur. Stuck in a seemingly endless limbo of: need money to start company; can’t get money to start company until company is started.

I tried and failed many, many different things. Most people would have given up and perhaps I should probably have done that too.

But I would never have learned the things I did. I have learned marketing, writing, HTML and CSS, how to source and manufacture products, how raise money unsuccessfully (yes, this is an important lesson!), and how to Keep. On. Going.

I spent too much time building a crappy website before I discovered that I could get a better one in no time at all for a very small fee thanks to Shopify.

I spent too much time trying to figure out how to go for the Big Vision in one giant leap when I should have been starting small and building my way up.

I spent way too much time waiting on other people. One of my burns in 2013 was hiring a promising web design company to do some illustrations for me. Their websites look great, they promised their illustrations were great too, and they offered an attractive price.

They took a deposit and then… Nothing. I had to cajole email updates out of them routinely. They even took a holiday without telling me, meaning I emailed them once every two days for a week with no response, and no clue why.

When I saw the final drawings after months of attempting to draw blood out of their stone I nearly cried. They were truly awful. They have had great and deserved success building websites for people, but these designs were shockingly bad. Their customer service with me was also appalling but I put that down to growing pains as they are a small company.

I lost and regained my focus maybe hundreds of times after the year. I alternated between profound joy and optimism and black despair. I read about the psychological turmoil that entrepreneurship can inflict and saw some of the bad signs in myself. I resolved to continue making friend time and me time and it made a huge difference.

I spent too much time focusing on things which did not further the business directly but which I felt were important. Busy work. At times when I was overwhelmed with tasks and decisions I often chose the easiest and least meaningful. Sometimes I chose the hardest and it paid off. Note to self: remember that feeling.

Getting fired allowed me to once again focus 100% of my energies on Smash Weights. I was fired in November. By half way through December I had sourced a manufacturer and ordered a prototype of my Outlift Barbell which then went into production, successful prototypes for my Lockdown Collars, and finalised some important points with the manufacturers.

I also began working with a concept artist on a project I am incredibly excited about which will kick into gear in February 2014.

Personal Stuff

This is not the space for a full inquiry into my personal life, but 2013  was also the first year I spent with the woman of my dreams. I met her at the tail end of 2012 and our relationship began in earnest around New Year’s Eve. Thanks to her the emotional ups and downs of this year have been far more manageable, and the slopes far gentler.

Being the weird person all my life has been generally great, but it also brings with it a large amount of loneliness. I don’t feel lonely when I’m with her.

I was also fortunate to spend some really quality time with my friends and family this year and I feel all our relationships have improved and grown. I am eternally grateful to my family and friends for their love and support, and though I can’t really ever repay them I will try.

Full Mental Reset

In a way it seems as though the last few years have been a process of discovering and rediscovering myself. I realised I had put down some personality traits from my childhood and early teens that I really rather liked. I had picked up some nasty ones in their place.

2013 feels like the last year of that process of rediscovery. It may continue, but at this point I feel much more in touch with the kind of man I want to be, and much happier with the kind of man I am.

It’s as though I’ve had a full mental reset – embarking on a fairly long-winded journey only to discover at the end that I was already there right at the beginning, if only I’d let myself know it. Of course the paradox of that story is that (maybe) I’d never have known if I hadn’t gone to the wrong places on the way.

Somewhat less metaphorically, I had some real tangible achievements in the year. Learning to drive – everyone does it, but it’s been something I needed to do for a long time. Having my writing featured in a national newspaper and used by a fast growing tech company is something I’m proud of – even if that didn’t end well.

Sourcing the great products I want to sell and very soon putting out an attractive proposition in order to sell them are also things I am proud of. The process has taught me much.

This post doesn’t even cover much of what happened in the year, it is just things that popped into my head while writing. I’m not going to edit it much, it is what it is. Apologies if it’s not a great read – I just needed to get these thoughts down.

And here’s to 2014!

Maughan Library

What I Really Learned At University

A lot of people have just started university, and this year I finished. I figured it was a good time for me to reflect on my last few years in education at a top university in London, and to offer any insight that I might have for others who are just beginning.

For many, university is where they find themselves.

I had the opposite experience. Continue reading