In the mid nineteen nineties, I lost my job. The European Development Centre I was leading was closed down. I could give you my first hand opinion for why that was, but as the reasons became the central point at issue in legal proceedings, I shall refrain from comment. Suffice it to say that I had to rethink my career and my life suddenly.
So I sat down and tried to imagine my ideal future (one which I have not yet achieved, I hasten to add). I wanted to know what I was all about, what motivated me and what made me happiest. More to the point, I wanted to articulate what could give me satisfaction, motivation and make me feel that all the effort had been worthwhile. Working like a dog for a development centre that was ultimately closed down did not feel worthwhile. This was a time of intense introspection, aided and abetted by Myers Briggs profiling and career counselling. (For those that know what Myers Briggs typing is, I am an ENTP, if you’re interested.)
Here’s what I came up with. It’s a personal motto, of sorts. A creed to live my life by:
Imagine, invent, inspire, create, encourage, enlighten and edify.
That’s as neat a summary of my world view, belief system and mission as I could come up with and it still serves me well. Here’s why:
- Imagine – I think there is a lot of power in the imagination. Everything we have that improves our lot starts out as somebody’s imaginative thinking. Imagination is the tool that provides solutions for seemingly intractable problems. It succeeds where rote process does not. It opens up the world of possibilities and lets you see things differently, or from different perspectives. It’s also one of the nicest places to spend your time, your imagination. Imagination is the well spring of hope and making things better.
- Invent – If you don’t take that imaginative solution and realise it, then it was just a happy dream. Invention is making imagination tangible. It’s the conduit through which ideas for a better future actually cause a better future to arrive. Invention is applied imagination.
- Inspire – Nothing great can be achieved on your own, really. People need to help along, rather than hinder. I also happen to think that unlocking everybody’s imagination is the key to survival as a species. It distresses me greatly to see people unwilling or unaware of their imaginative potential and powers. So, inspiring people is very important. It’s how the whole world becomes imaginative and inventive. You owe it to everybody to inspire them.
- Create – This is aligned to invention, but it speaks to making things of beauty that don’t necessarily have utility. Beauty is its own reward. We should all create more because that makes our surroundings and hence our own minds happier and better. We’re more peaceful and less agitated and aggressive when we are creating, not destroying, or when surrounded by the fruits of our creativity. Making something out of nothing is a wonderful facility and we humans seem to have this ability in spades, compared to other species. It’s why we really are worth preserving, each and every one of us.
- Encourage – So much of our conditioning, throughout life, is for conformance and obedience to higher authority, that it takes genuine courage to confront, question, reject or disregard the orders issued by those in authority. Without that courage, so much that needs to be done, created, invented and imagined, will never happen. You have to be brave enough to have a go. In fact, if you feel discouraged, the best antidote is to encourage others. We need to be brave enough to display our vulnerability and to try things, even though we may, in the eyes of others, fail. It’s never a failure, if you plan the experiment and know what it is you are trying to learn, whether or not the experiment succeeds or fails. Courage is an essential ingredient in making things better for all and so encouragement is sorely needed.
- Enlighten – Every now and then, if you dig into something deep enough and for long enough, a blinding flash of lucidity will overtake you. You will suddenly see things clearly or have the answer. You might have a simplification, or have seen a connection that everybody else missed. Somehow, you have a valuable piece of new information. When that rare event happens, I think you have a duty to your fellow human beings to enlighten everybody with the fruits of your thinking and the products of your experience. Why keep it a secret? If you can explain, clearly, lucidly, unambiguously and simply, then it lets everybody take a short cut around having to think it through for themselves. Of course, you might be wrong and people are free to reject your enlightenment, but every so often something worthwhile spreads. Think about Albert Einstein suddenly seeing that time was not constant. Important idea. Imagine the world today, had he not enlightened others to that possibility. (your mobile phone and web browser would instantly disappear, for example). Everybody has an important idea, once in a while. Share it, before it is lost.
- Edify – I have come to realise that, though I was educated in an elite classroom for gifted children, it doesn’t matter how bright you think you are, you’re not bright enough and you certainly do not have a monopoly on imagination, inventiveness, creativity, being inspirational, insight, the ability to enlighten or on courage. Every human has the capacity to make some massively worthwhile contribution to some or all of these fields. For that reason, we should try to lift each other up, not put them down. It’s why competition is so corrosive. It is wasteful. It leaves the losers by the wayside, utterly destroyed and defeated, when they, in fact, have much of value to still to give. You only win in a competition if the competition favours your particular qualities. But if you count the other qualities, no clear winner is apparent. Much of our modern zeitgeist is utterly blind to this truth and we have an entire, global economic system based around this grave error of belief in winners.
So that’s what I came up with, all those years ago. I commend it to you. It might serve you as well as it has served me. Or you might come up with an analysis of your own, about what drives you and gives your life meaning. In any case, it’s a worthwhile experience to think this through for yourself and one that I was forced into, because of unemployment.
Every cloud can have a silver lining.