“Only a few achieve the colossal task of holding together, without being split asunder, the clarity of their vision alongside an ability to take their place in a materialistic world. They are the modern heroes… Artists at least have a form within which they can hold their own conflicting opposites together. But there are some who have no recognized artistic form to serve this purpose, they are artists of the living. To my mind these last are the supreme heroes in our soulless society.” —Irene Claremont de Castillejo, via David Whyte, The Heart Aroused
I’ve been grappling lately with the concept of soul and work. It isn’t always the case that we need to bring all of ourselves into what we’re doing. Sometimes we can just provide a service or make a product that fills a need and do our best to be a contribution. Our jobs do not define our identities or our worth.
But some of us (myself included) feel most of service when we bring our entire selves to whatever we’re doing. We are constantly on a path toward integrating what we do with who we are, and when we leave that path, we abandon a part of ourselves.
“Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost.” —Isak Dinesen, Babette’s Feast
I worked for a long time to integrate myself into my work as a consultant. As long as that took me (maybe a decade?), it came much more naturally to do that as an individual creator than as a leader of a larger team. Now, as CEO of &yet, it’s been like starting all over again, learning to balance my own unique vision with the gifts and needs of the whole.
Ironically, what I’ve discovered is that it’s less about balance (even though I just used that word) than it is about permission. Permission for me to be fully me and you to be fully you. Figuring out how we can all bring the gifts we want to bring to the table and turn that into something more beautiful than what we could have made on our own. And the courage to do that in the face of all kinds of fears and discomforts. Particularly now, in the middle of this historic pandemic and national uprising.
“A life of our own, from which we can give to others and to our organizations in an unresentful and ultimately generous way, after all, must be one of the great tasks of work, of art, of literature—to live and work each according to the way we are individually made for this awkward and beautiful world.” —David Whyte, The Heart Aroused
We all must do our own work around knowing our gifts and deciding which ones we want to bring to the table. But one thing this pandemic is teaching me is that there are no guarantees. I know who I am, and I want to lead fully from that place. I know who we are as the &yet team, and I want to make our unique gifts accessible to all who would benefit from them. I want to know who you are and what your gifts and needs are, so we can journey together to get where we want to go and enjoy the process.
I am writing a book. Actually, two books.
The first book, you probably know about. It’s called Gather the People: A human approach to marketing for people who would rather make what they love than persuade people to buy it.
I wrote this book five years ago, and have been working on a second edition for two years. To state the obvious, this second edition has taken me a long time to write. (Also, not to bury the lede: I FINISHED IT! It is done! The incredibly Amy Lynn Taylor is working on final design tweaks, and then we are shipping this!)
So much has happened for me personally since I started re-writing that book, but two things, in particular, made it difficult. First, I took on the role of CEO at &yet a year ago, and establishing our vision has taken some time. Second, because I couldn’t decide whether I was writing a new book or updating the old one. Turns out I’m doing both.
What I’ve been hearing from laid-off individuals and small business owners is that the principles and application exercises in Gather the People are needed in this moment. Its gentle way of guiding the reader, step by step, through taking an idea from its infancy to execution, gathering people around it along the way, and doing that again and again, is bringing a sense of motivation and hope to those who are re-reading it in this new context.
So yes, last month, I finished the updated text. (It feels so strange to write that. I finished. I finished!) It is still a book for individual creators and consultants. The core message of the book is the same. I’ve given it a refresh based on reader feedback and my own expanded experience.
Folks who have pre-ordered the digital version will be the first to receive it. Audiobook pre-orders will be next. For folks who have pre-ordered the beautiful print version, we are unsure when that’s going to happen, with the economic uncertainties on the supply side; we’ll update you on the status as we know more. We are also offering a new on-demand course, if you’d like more structure as you do these exercises.
As for the second book, I will save that for another time. This email is getting rather long as it is, and even though I’ve written much of it, it still feels like a puzzle where I’ve put together all of the edge pieces, but I still don’t know what the front of the box looks like.
Now, how is all this relevant to my grappling with work and the soul? Well, as you may have noticed, I’ve been pretty quiet online for several years. I have posted a few things publicly, but mostly have let myself not. The most I have shared is with you, and that has been with a light hand.
One of the core principles in Gather the People is creating out loud—creating with people, rather than for them. I have done this covertly, reaching out to friends and past collaborators and clients. I have shared some with you. But now it is time for me to share more publicly, both in the service of the book and its readers and in the service of &yet.
I have been practicing in small ways. Adam and I started a podcast. I wrote and recorded journaling exercises for Gather the Courage. I’ve been playing with Instagram stories.
But in all of these tiny steps, I haven’t talked about my work, not at all. I have been afraid of taking too large a step and scaring myself away from it entirely.
It seems like such a navel-gazing thing to write about, my social anxiety filtered through my experience with social media. But I know I’m not alone.
“…the price of our vitality is the sum of all our fears…”
“It is not the thing you fear that you must deal with, it is the mother of the thing you fear.” —David Whyte, The Heart Aroused
When we commit to leading with the soul, we commit to dealing with the fears keeping us from its call.
I have written before about my history of social anxiety in the context of waking up in the morning (which I’ve since worked through). Though I pass as “normal” (whatever that means) and mostly even confident and outgoing, occasionally the evidence will slip through. I have had panic attacks in the midst of friends; I’ve hidden in the bathroom when it was happening in the midst of strangers.
But 99% of the time, it’s more subtle than that. It’s an underlying layer of apprehension that goes into every social situation. It’s an awareness that I need to take special care to get myself “in a good place” (a word I put in quotation marks because of how often I use it) when I’m about to go into a meeting or a prolonged social event. I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing what I need and taking care of myself (and getting help from my partner). So good, in fact, most people would never know the work it often takes just to show up and be my curious, idealistic, enthusiastic self.
My friend Sara recently shared with me that she also struggles with social anxiety (she gave me permission to share) and that it’s been especially difficult during the pandemic. “I think being isolated has caused me to become more anxious, like how you feel when you haven’t called/emailed someone for so long that you feel anxious about the next interaction, and that anxiety compounds as you wait longer and longer without contact.”
I’m grateful to Sara for putting this feeling into words. For me, it’s especially true in how I’m feeling about social media, after having been mostly absent from it for several years.
It’s like “Are we okay? Are we still friends?” Except with everyone in the whole world.
David Whyte compares our journey through fear with the mythical hero Beowulf’s defeat of the diabolical swamp creature Grendel. He defeats Grendel and celebrates his victory, only to discover the next day that Grendel’s mother, a far more terrible creature, has emerged from the swamp.
“It is not the thing you fear that you must deal with, it is the mother of the thing you fear.”
I have decided it is better to be myself, to be embarrassed about it, to possibly cry in public, to possibly make others uncomfortable, than it is to hide. It is better, even, to make the commitment to being myself and showing up, even though I will go through seasons where that is possible and a source of growth for me, and seasons where I need to retreat and recover.
“However well we arrange for our self-protection beforehand, our preparations are only muttered incantations to ward off the evil eye. The solution itself lies down in the water.” —David Whyte, The Heart Aroused
The thing is, this isn’t new. I have been doing it all along—showing up, retreating, alternating seasons of growth with seasons of recovery. What’s new is that I have words for it.
Examining our narratives gives us the power of bringing not only understanding to our experience, but acceptance. It also gives us the courage to “go down in the water” and deal with the mother of all that we fear.
Recently, we updated andyet.com to share our perspective and what we’ve been making in the context of COVID-19 and the uprising we’re experiencing.
Our tagline now says “design, code, and education for people-first growth.”
I’m going to talk about what “people-first growth” means to us another time (again, I am conscious that I’ve written far too much already!), but I encourage you to think about this in the context of a quote by Rilke, and what I’ve shared with you about my own challenges:
“Winning does not tempt that one. This is how they grow: by being defeated, decisively by constantly greater beings.” —Rilke (edits mine, for gender-neutrality)
How brave we all are.
I’m excited and honored to continue this journey with you.