How I Changed My Mind & Changed My Life
Wow, it’s weird thinking back on this now, but it seems like a life time ago since that night my life took a 180 degree turn!
I still remember it so vividly and I’ll explain why in a minute…
I was walking home in the rain. After an evening that involved just a little too much red wine. I was working in the City of London for a high end re-insurance firm.
I’d been out with my friends. All high fliers. Sharp minds. Movers and shakers. They had almost adopted me as one of their own and we spent most nights “living it up” in swanky restaurants and private clubs.
But I wasn’t *really* one of them.
They were well educated, highly paid professionals – I had no education to speak of back then.
And I was just the PA to the Managing Director. The Everyday Pressure Of The Job, I remember how I felt as I walked. I wouldn’t call it depression, it was a kind of melancholy.
My head was getting wet and cold, but I felt like I needed it to clear the fog.
I told myself it was nothing to worry about. Just the pressure of the job. I wasn’t alone. Even though my colleagues were the ones with the huge salaries and the Oxford degrees, they still needed “a few drinks” to ease the pressure. Every night.
What happened next would change everything
Despite the rain, I put on my headphones. And I listened to a song that would spark an idea. An idea that would change my world.
The song that turned it all around for me was called “Warning” by LA band Incubus. It’s from their album Morning View.
Little did I know, as a lowly assistant, walking home on that cold, wet, slightly drunken night, that I would go on to collaborate with the singer of that band, Brandon Boyd. And he would send me a copy of his book with a personal message, thanking me for the fun opportunity!
The Idea That Made All The Difference
I’d like to share with you the words from Brandon’s song that changed me that night…
What’s so wrong with being happy?
She woke in the morning, she knew that her life had passed her by.
She called out a warning, don’t ever let life pass you by.
Hearing those words, over and over was a trigger for me. People think that change is a long slow process, but it isn’t.
NOT changing, is a long slow process. But when you make a new connection in your mind, change happens in an instant.
In that instant, I felt deep down that I could do better. That the path I had chosen, a path with the promise of riches, but little happiness was the wrong path for me.
I knew I needed to trust my intuition. I knew I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone. I knew, I needed to feel a little fear, but take some action anyway.
I knew, right then, that I was the only one who had the power to make a change in my life. And I was good enough to give myself that opportunity.
A month earlier I'd met a charismatic and brilliant musician Gethin Woolcock at a London gig, he invited me to visit him in Swansea and stay with his family. Visiting Geth was a brilliant experience, his family were so kind and generous. And I remember walking through a night club where he literally knew everyone in it, his mates were so warm and friendly. This was in stark contrast to the survival of the fittest hard edged London, I wanted to to live a life surrounded by fun, carefree, creative, interesting people, surfers, skaters, artists, musicians, innovative thinkers, and this place had it all, I had to make this happen.
Remembering this experience, I got home and wrote my resignation that very night. I handed it in the next day.
About a week later, a friend from the firm held a going away party for me.
Silk, Champagne and Crystal
I remember sitting on his silk covered couch, holding a glass of Champagne in a crystal flute and thinking about his carpet. He had a ridiculously expensive carpet. It was made from the woven belly fluff of albino dragons. Or something. So, his house rule was, you could only drink champagne. It was the only thing that wouldn’t stain the carpet in the event of a spillage. And we tended to drink a lot in his house. Looking at his carpet I felt a twinge of doubt. Was I leaving behind a lifestyle that maybe I could be a legitimate part of one day?
I wasn’t sure. It was like the white carpet was staring back at me. Challenging me – Is this what success is really all about, Champagne and carpets too expensive to walk upon?
Deep down, I didn’t think so. I was hoping not. But I was also praying I wasn’t throwing it all away.
The support (and envy) from my friends gave me hope. They seemed genuinely happy that I was heading off on a new adventure. And for a while, they recalled the adventures they had taken, in years gone by. Or planned to take, in years to come. But as my leaving party wore on, I noticed the old tribe seemed to close ranks. The conversations turned to work. To the firm. And I watched a house full of wealthy, intelligent and apparently successful people get even more drunk than usual.
I felt alone and a little sad that evening. But the next day, I would be catching a train that would take me to a new life…
Sea, Surf and The Other Extreme
My train would arrive in Swansea. A small city in Wales. There was sea, surfers and art school. I had tasted the melancholy that can come with doing work with no soul. Work, for the sake of money.
So I had jumped on the pendulum and swung with it, with all my might, to the other extreme. I was going to University, this was pretty scary for someone who didn't finish school due to ill health. But I was going to live more true to the person I was and not give in to outside pressures.
This had been a lifelong dream, for reasons I may share in the future. And here I was. I started on a graphic design course, then jumped over to fine art. For nearly 4 years I lived with creativity and creative people in this low stress city by the sea.
I loved every minute of my time. Living as an almost starving artist. Of course there were grants and student loans. And I learned every trick in the art student book when it came to living on the cheap. The work was pure indulgence. Like many others, my art would be my therapy. I was totally free.
Oblivious to the world going on outside University.
How Subvert Magazine was born
One piece of paper: Published.
I started Subvert on a single piece of paper and it had a single mission: To keep the dreams and ambitions of my creative friends alive.
You see, within weeks of finishing our degree’s, I saw dozens of my friends abandon their creative dreams to work minimum wage jobs.
No one could blame them. The grants were gone, the loans spent and the rent had to be paid.
But it was almost as if, the last 4 years had been a dream. And now they, we, were facing the real world.
I couldn’t stand by and watch it happen
Subvert became a mission:-
To Subvert the voices that said “you can’t do that”, “that’s not realistic”, “it’s time to get back to the real world”. “you’re not good enough”.
Some of those voices came from outside. Some from within.
I had a cause and I took it to the streets. I collaborated with artists, film makers, photographers, writers, designers and entrepreneurs.
I brought people together for creative mash-ups. I interviewed people who were making a good living from their creativity. And I interviewed creative employers to find out what they were looking for when they interviewed.
I’d never done anything like this. It scared me. And it MADE me.
I’d never done any of this before, but as a mature student, suddenly I had people looking to me for answers. Especially when it came to making money and persuading employers to take on a graduate.
The creativity, fun and happiness had been plentiful, but money was in short supply.
But in my old world, everyone was wealthy. Making money had always seemed easy for them. It was creativity and happiness that they were struggling to find.
I’d swung from the extremes of one world to another.
Now, It was time for me to bridge those two worlds
So, I stepped up to the plate. I made the hard phone calls. I knocked on the doors of strangers. I did everything I could to find out what it took to make money in the creative world, one of the toughest markets there is.
People told me what I was doing was amazing, but I ignored them at first
I was too busy. Subvert seemed to take on a rhythm of its own. It would take many different forms. And I would collaborate with many different people. Live events. Paper magazines. Behind the scenes opportunities at festivals and concerts. Tutorials with successful bands in their private recording studios, like Tim Burgess from The Charlatans, a band whose posters used to adorn my bedroom walls.
Of course, the collaboration I did with Brandon Boyd, the musician who had helped triggered it all, was a personal highlight.
But so was hanging out with Duff McKagan of Guns and Roses/Velvet Revolver fame. Duff totally turned his crazy, drug fueled and unhappy rock and roll lifestyle around. Now, as well as a successful musician, he’s an accomplished martial artist and writes a Financial column! And he told me all about it in an in depth interview.
Another great moment for me, was being asked to “extra” in a film by one of my other heroes and mentors, Geoff Thompson.
Geoff is an amazing man who went from being a factory floor sweeper and notorious door man, to becoming a BAFTA award winning filmmaker and inspiring leader.
I’m not recalling these things to boast. In fact, most of these things are private achievements that wouldn’t impress other people. We all have our own personal heroes that mean a lot to us, but not necessarily anyone else. I share them because, sometimes, I really can’t believe some of the amazing places I’ve been and cool people I’ve met.
One thing I’ve never revealed
We started this story with my time in London as an office assistant. That’s where I made a decision to try something new and it changed my fortunes. But of course my story didn’t really *start* there.
When I left school at 15, suffering from glandular fever and with no qualifications whatsoever, I worked as a cleaner! But that definitely *is* a story for another time. I don’t think I’ve ever revealed that publicly before! And I should really get back to the point of this post :)…
Life has been a roller coaster ride
Life has not always been plain sailing. Around 2014 my relationship of seven years ended, I was living outside of Manchester, and I packed my bags and moved to Bristol to stay temporarily with my parents. My Mum was in remission and in good spirits, but within a month it all come crashing down.
Mum's cancer had returned with a vengeance and she went down hill fast. She wanted me to care for her at home as she hated hospitals. I didn't realise quite how horrendous this ordeal would be, watching my Mum this lady who was so kind and generous always thinking of others, lose her sight, unable to feed herself, lose control over her muscles, unable to stand. Then even though her blood still flowed through her body, one day she just wasn't there anymore, there was a blankness behind her eyes. When she finally passed, I was not only heart broken, I was totally numb. I would sit in the garden just staring at the clouds for days.
I had to pick up the pieces and try to find myself again, I was lost deep in a thick fog.
Art saved me again!
The first step was sculpture classes run by a brilliant teacher Sophie Howard. http://sophiehoward.co.uk Sophie reignited my spark for art, she was very hands on and encouraged me to push myself.
After this course I went on to do an advanced course in jewellery where I met another inspiring teacher Melanie Pratt. Melanie helped me produce a ring that was more sculpture than jewellery. And through conversations with Melanie I realised I had to go even further out of my comfort zone and do an MA in Fine Art. The idea terrified me, I'd not thought about art in a long time, and it had been 10 years since my BA. But I remembered something Goldie said to me in an interview, "What scares me most is standing still". I knew I had to embark on the MA and open myself up to new experiences.
If creating jewellery had sparked my interest in sculpture then doing the MA totally set alight to it, quite literally one of the works I created was a box that I burnt with a blow torch and then filled it with lights for an exhibition at Walcot Chapel. The MA challenged me in all sorts of ways, and I was lucky to have some really inspiring tutors, people who have left a deep imprint on my life.
Course Leader Andrea Medjesi Jones - https://www.andreamedjesi-jones.com/
Senior Lecturer Robert Luzar - https://www.robertluzar.com/
Mariele Neudecker - https://www.marieleneudecker.co.uk/
Dexter Dalwood - http://www.dexterdalwood.com/
Maria Lalic - https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/maria-lalic-2639
These wonderful lecturers provoked me, they encourage critical analysis, they set me on a path of in depth research and introspection. Dexter made me face some deeply personal issues that were holding me back, he shook the foundations of my limited thinking, made me realise I deserved to be on the course and I had to start acting like it. Maria Lalic's attention to every minute detail got me to raise my game and my standards.
I left the course realising this wasn't the end of something rather the beginning and I was equipped with some hefty tools and knowledge.
Now was the time to get a studio and dive into my practice.
In addition to having some amazing adventures, I’ve also managed to master what I think of as a balanced lifestyle
What I've discovered over the years is it's not about working harder, it's about working smarter, you have to find that thing that drives you, where you think you can add value, and keep believing in it, even through the tough times, nothing substantial ever happens over night.
For me it's teaching, passing on my knowledge and experience by asking students the right questions so they can come up with their own answers, supporting them to find the path which is right for them, and encouraging them to overcome any challenges or barriers, by getting them to have faith in themselves.
I get to do work I truly LOVE. It’s creative, fun, challenging. I get to have real adventures with people I’ve admired for years.
I have real freedom. I get to take part in some really fun creative projects and residencies through my art practice. I'm part of an artistic group called IN:CH that operates out of Bath Artist Studios, we meet every three weeks to critically discuss our practices.
I go to my studio 3 or 4 times a week and I feel so lucky and privileged to do that, in an art studio full of great supportive people, with such a variety of skills and experience, it's a lively environment where something crazy is always happening.
Of course it’s not really luck at all
The more time I’ve spent around successful people, the more I’ve learned about making your own luck. The more I learned to think about money and freedom the way that wealthy people do. Making money and still having *fun* is the one that people really struggle with.
It’s important to make that distinction. That’s why I only ever interview and work with people who are living their dreams. Making money, increasing their freedom and doing what they love.
As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather be earning less a year with low overheads, and having a ton of freedom and FUN, than earning millions doing something I despise.
So here’s what I’m coming to, here’s what people are asking me for
Although I “made my bones” in the creative world, for years it’s entrepreneurial types who have been sneaking in the door and emailing – “I’m not a creative but I love your stuff…”
I’m cool with that. My former partner was from the marketing world and I think his business thinking was a big influence on me, whilst a little of my creativity i’m sure rubbed off on him.
It’s not about *looking* wealthy. It’s not about a designer carpet and a flashier car. Although there is nothing wrong with those things, they aren’t as important to your happiness as having a rich *life*. Free from the stress of “survival”. Full of freedom and excitement!
So, I think the time has come for me to dive back into doing more inspiring interviews with successful people who have what we all aspire to have, doing work that they love and being able to financially support themselves doing it.
So watch this space a brand new interview is on the way...