A couple of years ago, I was attending a workshop for social entrepreneurs.
This was my in-between season.
This was after I had shut down the life-sucking graphic design business. This was after I had decided that I didn’t want to design brochures and leaflets for corporate clients any more.
I knew I wanted something different… something MORE… but I didn’t know what. I didn’t know where to begin.
I also knew that I wanted to do something that would – in some way – contribute to the Greater Good. I wanted to help… make a difference… leave some kind of positive finger print on the world.
I was sooooo OVER the idea that life had this singular theme: Make-Money & Buy-More-Stuff.
I want to do more than that.
So – because I’m an ideas-person… I began conceptualising creative projects that could – in some kind of way – help communities in need. And then (as I’m prone to do)… I threw myself in the deep end and dedicated my life to these various projects.
The first project was called “Beautiful Life Project” – self-esteem workshops for women & girls. I had been approached by somebody who knew that I had previously struggled with self-abuse (i.e. cutting) – and she told me that – at the school where she worked – it was a growing problem. Girls were abusing themselves in all sorts of ways (eating disorders, cutting, dangerous sexual behaviour, etc) – and she asked whether I had any creative ideas on how this problem might be addressed (I did. I do). So – it began with a layered creative workshop for the girls in that school – and it morphed into all kinds of other things from there.
Whilst working (very passionately, I might add) on Beautiful Life Project… I was approached by somebody else who asked if I had any ideas on how we might create opportunities for poverty-stricken women in the rural communities of Kwa-Zulu Natal – whilst simultaneously creating public awareness of how HIV/AIDS is decimating those areas – and to simultaneously support and raise funds for a community centre (doing fabulous work in the area). That project was called “Tapestry of Dreams” – and I dove in, enthusiastically… believing (naively) that if I worked hard enough… that I could help “fix” or “change” the situation.
The Big-Fat-Tapestry-of-Dreams event had barely finished and – again – I was approached by someone else… this time, a huge corporation – who wanted to know whether I had any creative ideas on how to deal with disenfranchised and frustrated youth in a poor community just outside of Johannesburg. Again – I did (I always have creative ideas!!)… and so VENT! was launched – (and funded by the big corporation).
I think I was – in a way – trying to make up for all the years of what I considered meaningless work that I had spent on designing marketing material for rich corporations.
During this Heather-Trying-to-Fix-the-World season, somebody told me that I was a Social Entrepreneur – and I embraced that description. I was nominated as a Tearfund “Inspired Individual” and they sent me all over the world to train me on how to be a better – and more effective – social entrepreneur.
Once VENT! was over – I needed a new project to pursue… and launched an NGO called WOODO (women who DO!).
And shortly after that…
I had a melt-down, burned out… and lapsed onto a deep, deep depression.
I felt utterly USELESS.
It seemed to me – that NONE of my projects had “fixed” anything (as I hoped they would).
- Young girls were still cutting themselves, starving themselves and trying so desperately hard to be viewed as “hot”.
- The poor women in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal were still poor.
- HIV/AIDS was still as prevalent as ever and people were dying like flies.
- The disenfranchised youth of Zamdela – were still poor and disenfranchised (with the exception of a tiny handful who found a way out).
- The women that WOODO had tried to help – were still unemployed and living in shacks.
And to make matters worse – most of my projects (and especially WOODO) exhausted me. Instead of doing creative work – I was project-managing. I was fundraising, organising, admin’ing, handling money and doing all the stuff that I suck at doing.
(Although – at the time – instead of recognising that these things were not my areas of strength, I berated myself continually for being weak, disorganised and pathetic).
My “Fairy-Do-Gooder” took a huge blow during this season.
Bear with me – I am getting to a point…
During this season of burn-out and misery – I attended one final workshop – specifically designed for social entrepreneurs. I attended mostly because I had promised somebody I’d be there.
And I was also hoping that my enthusiasm for Fix-the-World projects would be somehow restored…
I was hoping for some kind of lightning bolt inspiration.
But – instead – I felt even MORE useless.
Even MORE out-of-place. Even MORE like I just didn’t belong amongst this group of enthusiastic go-getters… all of whom were dreaming up ways that they could launch businesses and invent products that could make a difference – AND – make money ( Richard Branson’s book, “Screw Business as Usual” was a handbook of sorts for them).
And I remember… kinda clocking out of the sessions.
And I remember getting up from the table, pouring myself a cup of coffee from the refreshment station… and then sinking into a bean-bag in the back of the room – away from everyone else.
And I took out a notebook (intended for session notes)…
And I wrote this:
It was another one of those lightbulb moments. And I stared at the page for a long, long time.
Maybe I wasn’t a social entrepreneur after all.
Maybe I didn’t want to leave behind some kind of impressive, scaleable, sustainable “organisation”.
Maybe I wanted – instead – to be (or have) a VOICE. And inspire through stories, music, art, poetry, film, theatre (and all kinds of other creative outlets).
Maybe I was just…. an artist – who wanted to make a difference by sharing stories and creating unique experiences for others to enjoy.
Questioning & Journalling
Writing those words on that page was the first time I began:
- Journalling my responses to those questions
That process of questioning and journalling has since filled up hundreds of pages of journals and notebooks… and it played an enormous role in finding myself and rediscovering (and finally embracing) my HAT’ness.
So – if you want CHANGE in your life… start here: Question EVERYTHING (and I mean: everything!). Ask yourself questions like this:
- Why am I here in this job / town / life / relationship / etc?
- Am I happy? Is there some kind of reason or purpose to this?
- If I’m not happy… or if there doesn’t seem to be a reason or a purpose for any of this – then why am I here?
- Did I just kinda drift here – or end up here?
- Do I want to be here?
- Is there a way to change direction?
- Can I leave? Can I walk away?
- What am I afraid of?
- Am I afraid of how people will respond?
- Whose response am I most afraid of – and why?
- Why do I believe what I believe? (religious beliefs, political beliefs, social beliefs, whatever – let there be NO taboo topics. Question it all!)
- Do I believe the same as my parents? Have their beliefs influenced mine?
- Am I – in any way – limited by the beliefs passed down to me from my parents?
- Who taught me to believe what I believe?
- Have my beliefs been influenced by my social circles / media / culture / friends / family?
- To what extent am I simply fitting-in and going along with what everyone else is doing and feeling – as opposed to truly thinking about the what’s and the why’s – and living according to my own values?
- What’s important to me?
- Why are those things important to me?
- What is NOT important to me?
- Why are those things not important to me?
- Am I doing the things that are important to me? And if not – why not?
- What – or who – is holding me back?
- What excites me? What do I love doing? What makes me come alive?
- What frustrates and angers me?
Anyway… you get the picture… (the questions you could ask yourself are endless).
Important to note: The Questions don’t require “Answers” – as in “this-is-the-RIGHT-answer” or “this-is-the-WRONG-answer”. The Questions ask for your response.
What is your RESPONSE to the questions?
How do they make you feel? What are the thoughts that pop in to your mind when you ponder on those questions?
And – importantly – what questions are you just too afraid to ask? What questions have you swept under the mat – refusing to acknowledge their niggling presence? And why are you afraid of them? Do you feel that certain pillars in your life may be placed at risk if you address those questions? Do you feel that it’s just easier or less threatening to ignore them completely? Do you think there may be long-term consequences (of ignoring – OR – addressing) those questions?
Think on the questions. Chew on them. Wrestle with them.
And journal your responses… again and again.
Write… type… draw… scribble… paint… collect ideas, quotes, photos, articles… write some more… draw some more… scribble some more….
And when you do this – an interesting thing begins to happen: the fog begins to clear… and slowly but surely – a picture of the Real YOU begins to take shape.
I can’t emphasise enough… I truly can’t… how POWERFUL this process was for me. The process of questioning – and journalling my responses to those questions (and doing this regularly and long-term)… has changed EVERYTHING.
I’m going to post a video on youtube soon – and show you one of my first art journals from start to finish (I’m just struggling to get the audio right – or else I would have just added it here!)…
My perfectionist – as always – is screaming at me and telling me NOT to post videos until I can ensure that they are “perfect”. But I’m learning, slowly but surely, how to ignore her…
Wordy post again… (I know)…