I’m becoming more convinced that a big mental crash often precedes significant breakthrough. Yesterday and today are living proof of this growing theory (and experience) I’m having lately. My crash also got me thinking about the positive influence communities play in our lives, as well as how we switch between different personality types according to our environment and emotional state.
Prompting these thoughts is the amazing weekend I’ve just spent at a festival/un-conference called The Happy Startup SummerCamp. One hundred and fifty people from around the world bonded by their desire to make a positive impact on the world through business. Together we spent three days exploring the possibilities of doing good, making a living and finding happiness. The vibe was soulful. We spent our days listening to incredible talks from speakers who generously shared their experiences with us, whilst wild swimming, chatting until the early hours in wood fired hot tubs and bathing in incredible music (see ‘links’ for details).
I knew a few people beforehand, but none of them well. Over 50% of the attendees had been at least twice before, so there was a certain bond — a sharing of past experiences, of achievements made and lost in the space between this annual event. I was not part of this tribe and as a result, I could not be lazy.
By that I mean mingling. Walking up to strangers, joining the conversation, putting myself out there. And as the weekend went on, it inevitably became easier. A few more faces to recognise in the crowd. A cheery morning welcome and recognition from the Welshman serving exceptional coffee. Less need to sit across the table from someone you’d never met and start from the beginning, hoping you’d get along, trusting you’d share the same values and if lucky, maybe the same interests, too.
This was the second time in two weeks I’d spent three days in the company of people I’d never met before. Groups of people who had a bond and were part of a community who knew each other and who didn’t know me. I’d booked both of these events to get myself back out there. They marked the end of something big for me — nine months spent recoving from a physically and mentally challenging knee injury and operation which has meant spending huge amounts of time on my own. Nine months of recovering and taking stock of all the lessons presented to me during this difficult time.
And part of the reason for writing this is that I think I may have overdone it. Overloaded my system a little. Taken on too much at once.
The first of these two events took place in Marrakech. Unusually for me, I’ve hardly travelled since my injury last December, needing to stay close to home so I could spend two hours, five days a week, either in the gym or with the physio, regaining my strength and praying I’d walk properly again. And just like my leg muscles, which despite all those hundreds of gym sessions, is still not back to it’s former condition, I realised too, that my mental state was not quite ready for the emotional onslaught of these two incredible, yet quite challenging, events.
I hadn’t appreciated this.
I hadn’t anticipated feeling emotionally fragile in the company of strangers. I was out of practice, fragile and in need of a little help to get me through the moments of inevitable rejection as well as connection. Yet throughout this time I was frequently reminded that belonging to a community of like-minded people, is an incredibly wonderful thing. The deep conversations, the sharing of dreams, passions and failures.
I’m not sure exactly how to describe it, but as a result, yesterday I kind of crashed. It took me all day to figure out why this was, but I realised it was because I felt deeply lonely. I felt huge self-doubt. I felt unworthy. Unworthy because I was in awe of the speakers who had shared their stories and vision with us. Lonely because I wasn’t yet a part of these strong, ethical communities.
And so in my hour of need I turned to a friend. Someone I speak to almost every day about life, fears, dreams and business. I’m not sure what volume of people constitutes a community, but between my friend and I, we form a community of two. And yesterday that was all I needed. So when I tried explaning it to her how I felt, she said she understood and told me something wonderful that helped me put things into perspective
Happiness is a moment-by-moment occurrance.
There is great truth in these very simple words. At the heart of it all, we just want to be happy and often that happiness comes from connection — to people, to nature or to animals. Yet happiness is not something we can hold onto. One conversation bathes you in it, then something takes you away from it again. Happiness is not something we can save up for, like a nice watch or car, then sit back, relax and assume it’s going to be with us forever. We have it one moment and it’s gone the next.
I believe it’s the same when it comes to our personalities. Most of us think we are who we are. We think we take after our mum, or our dad and these messages are reinforced subconsciously throughout our lives. “Isn’t she like aunt Samantha, or isn’t he like his grandad”. Personality tests such as Myers Briggs that we get put through in the workplace reinforce these beliefs, too. So by the time we’re in our mid 30’s we think that’s it — that’s who we are and nothing can change us. We excuse our misdemenours and tell ourselves it’s because we are this (or indeed, that) type of person.
But I don’t believe that’s the case at all. I’m attending a workshop tomorrow on the Enneagram, a test that refers to nine different types of personality. In preparation for the event, we each have to complete a 40 minute test. Each question has two potential answers and you have to choose between them. Even just doing the test reinforced to me that we have multiple personalities which can change with the wind. At the weekend, slightly out of my comfort zone, I was more an introvert type. Yet I’m not always shy – far from it. On many ocassions I would class myself more in the extrovert personality camp. I’ve run a company. I’ve read many a poem at weddings in front of large crowds with no nerves whatsoever. I’ve given talks to organisations. Yesterday I was a pessimist. Yet the results of the ennegram showed that above all else, I am an optimist.
So which one am I?
Who can say. What I can say, with some conviction and from plenty of experience, is sometimes we need to go into the dark to emerge with a greater understanding of ourselves. We need to connect to disconnect. Questioning my role in each of these communities and my contribution in the world took me down a road of self-doubt and unworthiness. Yet in doing so, I’ve learned a great deal these past few days. It seems that sometimes we need to draw upon the pessimist in order for the optimist to appear. I believe that if we choose our emotional state, from moment to momet, day to day, rather then being the victim of them, then we learn a great deal in the process.
So today choose — who do you want to be? What do you want to experience? What will you learn?