Last week I wrapped a 3-day workshop at Airbus in Madrid with 46 talented senior leaders tasked with transitioning themselves and their teams into a new world of work.
It was a little surreal. Especially considering years ago, I felt a fear.
This fear that if you set out on your own path, risking everything that feels safe and knowable, illogically chasing a barely definable something pulling you, blindly following an indescribable thread — that thread will lead to no where.
You’ll crawl back, tail between your legs, wishing you never left. Or worse, there’ll be no where to crawl back to. You’ve abandoned it all. It’s gone. Nada mas.
Myriam, our client at Airbus, commented at the end of a workshop one day:
“You have a nice facilitation style, Matt. There’s a lot of wisdom in your young years.”
In a single breath, she gave grace to my last 7 years following this thread. It was the ultimate compliment. Part of me wanted to cry.
For long followers of this blog, you’ll know I didn’t set out to become a facilitator of workshops helping people and organizations transform into a new of work.
I thought I wanted to be a travel blogger.
Well, it was more complex than that. I didn’t know what I wanted to be.
So I started with an unrealized dream: travel long-term, with no set plans.
Then I just kept chasing whatever interested me next: starting a blog; writing; reading books; tinkering with filmmaking and photography; launching publishing projects; learning how to write for an audience; storytelling; giving talks; coming to London to run evening talks and workshops; launching career change and entrepreneurship programs; and eventually designing and delivering those programs.
Sadly, at first this did not pay the bills. Now it does.
But I had to start at what interested me before worrying about what would pay me. It’s the greatest gift I gave myself. Decreasing my living expenses for several years freed myself from needing to work for money while I chased things that didn’t immediately pay.
Because I spent so much time doing all the above – studying topics that interested me, joining and starting projects that compelled me, and chasing adventures that pulled me – I eventually developed a skillset that’s both fulfilling to me and valuable to others.
And years later, I would be asked to lead a 3 day intensive experience for leaders at Airbus in the wonderful city of Madrid.
It all reminds me of an Alan Watts’ talk I heard years ago What If Money Was No Object?:
“If you do really like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what it is. You can eventually become a master at it…and then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is. So don’t worry too much. Somebody’s interested in everything. Anything you can be interested in you’ll find others will.”
I’m starting to get it now. It’s not a thread to no where. It’s just a thread into a darkness we can’t see. The unknown. It can feel like we’re heading into a blackhole, a void from which nothing can escape. But if we stomach the long game, and the void, everything is waiting for you on the other side.
There’s a poem I came across years ago about following the thread. I wish I’d come across it earlier still. It might have helped me stomach the unknown with a little more confidence:
The Way It Is, William Stafford
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
I’m celebrating this moment now. But I imagine this isn’t where I’ll finish.
I’m still following the thread.