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That time when I realised that it was a no brainer

I read a great quote recently by a human called Glennon Doyle; “I will not stay, not ever again – in a room, or conversation, or relationship, or institution, that requires me to abandon myself.”

This caused me to reflect again on this notion of abandonment, because that’s exactly the right word for what so many of us do to ourselves. We live a life of separateness, living from the mental energy in our minds but not from our bodies, living for other people but not for ourselves. Why do we do that? My theory is that it is our misplaced survival instinct that kicks in when we are children, our overwhelming drive to stay ‘safe’ that clips and rearranges our perspective of the world and our sense of self within it.

If we get lucky as an adult, perhaps we get inspired to start the journey back to who we really are. The funny thing with this kind of journey though, is there is no beginning and there is definitely no end, but instead a delicious dance of discovery, learning and unlearning the things that we have picked up along the way; the good, the bad, the ugly.

When do we leave?

When I look back over my life, I can see that this survival instinct kicked in for me super early on, when little Penfold decided that to be ‘safe’, it was better not to be with herself and instead, look for the clues of who she should be in the eyes of others. To shrink rather than to expand.

She burst into the world in 1980, full of sass and independence. She insisted on feeding herself as soon as she could hold a spoon. She was giddy, playful and inquisitive. She was free. She loved fearlessly. Then she noticed the world around her and the adults within it. She watched how they worked and how they did things, and made a firm calculation on who she thought she needed to be to thrive.

Sometimes there can be big traumatic things we experience as children that shape us, but for a lot of us, it isn’t really about one big event; it is the insidious impact of the societal conditions we have all collectively created.

The notion of safety

A big part of the work that we all need to do to be better humans (read here: the deep aching need for anti racism work), comes down to our ability to unlearn the way we have been conditioned to react to the world around us and the people within it.

When you are a little person, your brain starts to look around you and create blueprints for the world and what you need to do to stay ‘safe’ in situations. That might mean not being so loud, so bold and so vibrant. This process is what clips us into the people we are today.

However much I may have clipped and trimmed little Penfold to keep her ‘safe’, my experience doesn’t even slightly compare to a Black person’s lived experience and the way that you may have clipped yourselves to live and stay ‘safe’ in and amongst whiteness.

How do we evolve?

The process of unlearning and the ability to call out the old patterns and methods we have used to stay ‘safe’ is therefore key for all of us to support our collective evolution. This stuff is insidious, so to really make headway with it you have to become hyper-alert to the reactions in the body that tell you that you feel under threat in some way. Anxiety provides a whole spectrum of signs for you to feel but you have to learn how to connect into feeling them.

We often live from those reactions, and think that layer of mental energy is who we really are. When in reality, that is just a thin layer. If you are able to learn how, you can develop the tools to drop more deeply into connection with who you really are, which is something far grander (thank you Sara Williams).

When reactions come up in the body, if you have become able to feel them you create the opportunity to make a choice. You can choose to stay small and safe in that moment, or you can choose to make an expansive choice of evolution. When faced with those moments, it is important to come back to you: Where am I right now? What am I bringing to the situation? What is my most expansive step forward?

If it isn’t enough for you to want to set yourself free and get back to your essence, then do it for the human beings you walk alongside, whether proximate or not. This work doesn’t just make you a better person in terms of your ability to call out your own biases and protect the experience of others, it also means that you ultimately get to walk closer to your truest self; the deeply calm fabulous being that sits at the very seat of your consciousness.

Appetite for distraction

Distraction is the thing that keeps us in the suspended animation on this stuff, this is how we can spend years and years, almost as if asleep and certainly not evolving. The brain is a master at creating new distractions and finding new things to obsess over. Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying that the brain doesn’t add serious value overall, but we have to weaponise it in a peaceful way to truly evolve.

When I look back over my 40 years, I can track a myriad of different distraction techniques that kept me in suspended animation and living a kind of half life where I sometimes wasn’t evolving. I have lived vicariously via the television in my 20s, I have lived in a blur of alcohol in my teens, I have lived a life of screen obsession in my 30s. Those are just the headlines, there are a million tiny distractions packed into each of those decades. Even a tool for connection like meditation can be pounced upon by the brain to do the reverse and give you a platform to check out, as I have recently learnt the hard way.

Get connected

The key to my continued awakening is connection. By learning how to meditate (and stay connected) and getting comfortable with just being me in my stillness, and learning what that feels like. In connection, you can live in your essence and from a place of truth, you can call out the nonsense from your brain and choose a better path, a path that supports you and the world around you to flourish.

The struggle is real, but I guess the questions you have to ask yourselves are: Do you want to stay living in separation or do you want to evolve? Do you want to stay small or do you want to grow into every inch of the magnificent being you can be? Do you want to support the evolution of yourself so that you can support the evolution of our societies?

For me, that’s a no brainer.

That time when I really learnt about development

We have been lucky enough to start working with two brilliant organisations at Shazam recently; My Kinda Future and Your Life, who both work to help inspire young people in their career choices.

Earlier this month we hosted a workshop for two schools from across London to give the students a chance to hear from some of our team about their roles, and also to have the chance to work on building their own apps.

Two of our brilliant engineering team took part in this workshop; Atena Saadati and Silviu Lipovan, and it is actually Silviu who inspired this specific post. He gave the students the top 5 Developer tips he’d give to anyone seeking a career in software development.

As I listened to his talk, I realised his tips are applicable for all areas of life, so I thought I would share them with all of you. Here goes:

Number 1. The one question you should be asking all of the time is: “How does this work?”

Ask questions of everything. Everything. Break things down and build them up again. Then work out how everything fits together. 

A Developer’s brain should be instinctively curious, because the very nature of the work you will do will be to figure things out and work out how to solve problems. Creativity is at the heart of most development work in its purest form. 

But why limit this curiosity to Software Developers only? Should we not all be looking at the world in this way, with our eyes wide open, as ‘Developers’ of whatever we are choosing to develop?

Let’s celebrate and engage that further, and keep asking questions when things puzzle us. One of the worst things we can do is to be afraid to ask questions when we don’t understand something. Asking questions is beautiful and you should never be afraid of doing so, people won’t think less of you – normally the opposite.

Let us also apply this more liberally, and use it as a tool for introspection. How do we work? What is going on inside us? How do we all fit together? Knowledge is power. The more we learn, whatever the subject matter, the greater we will ultimately be. 

Number 2. There is ALWAYS a way to implement a feature.

Where there is a will there is a way. Our teams thrive on having problems posed to them and having to solve them. This is true of people working at all levels. Some of the coolest new features you have seen us launch in the past few months are as likely to have come from one of our brilliant interns as from a more experienced member of our team. The new iMessage integration is a prime example of this.

So let’s look at this more broadly from a life standpoint also. The truth is: anything is possible. Change is always available to us all at any time. We just have to choose it. So whatever the thing is that you think you need to ‘implement’ next on your very own ‘product road map’, it’s all to play for.

Start small and make constant iterations. I change a ton of little things all of the time; tiny things that are hardly noticeable. It’s only when I look back at the six months behind me, that I realise that those little changes have become big ones.

So my advice would be to keep it simple. Don’t try to do too many things at once.  The bigger you make things, the harder they seem to be able to achieve and the less likely you will be to tackle them.

Number 3. Always choose being safe to being fast; don’t jump in; think things through.

This is a huge lesson for all of us. Take the time to stop, sit and breathe. Give yourself the space to think things through. So often we completely miss this part, and forget to give ourselves the space for reflection.

Developers know all too well the cost of acting in haste, much as it can be tempting. The fact is though, if you go with the first thing you think of, often you are missing out on considering a ton of other options; ones you might not have thought about.

This is where collaboration is also huge. Whether personal or professional, there are many people out there who may have approached a similar scenario. In development work, often we are looking at things that haven’t been done before, but that doesn’t make other people’s opinions any less valid. It’s always worth consulting with others, and seeing what they might have chosen to do, before making a call about what is right for you in the scenario you are facing.

Number 4. Problems and errors are actually opportunities.

Whilst it can often feel like the opposite, it’s worthwhile re-training your brain to see problems as opportunities. Take a moment to look back on the most challenging times of your life. It’s pretty safe to say you will have learnt something through living through the experience. In most cases my bet is that you came out stronger.

In development terms problems and errors offer the opportunity for creative thinking. A chance to learn what not to do in future. But also a chance to push yourself, and the technologies you are using, to try to do things in a cleverer way.

When applying this rule to life, it becomes my favourite of all (and one I’ve written about many times).

Newsflash: no one is perfect. We are a collection of creatures trying things out and seeing what works for us. That’s all. Trying. So if we get things a little wrong along the way, it’s really no real hardship. I’ve worked hard to re-frame my challenges as opportunities for learning. Of course, I still have that moment of horror when a challenge hits, but I quickly move past that into an okay, let’s minimise impact and deal with this as cleanly as possible.

What’s your own reaction to challenge right now?

Number 5. Tests are your best friends.

Silviu is of course talking about development work here, testing the software we have created to see if it works. In an environment like ours, you have to be prepared to have your work tested all the time and you need to be able to detach yourself from the results, rather than getting defensive. 

It’s an incredibly natural human reaction to get defensive when challenged, and I’m not suggesting that feeling ever really goes away. But with awareness of those kinds of reactions, we are able to call them out when they occur, and hopefully choose a slightly different response. 

Testing is a means of working out if something works. We shouldn’t be afraid of that. We should be spending our lives testing things out. The key is to embrace something wholeheartedly when it works though, but walk away when it doesn’t. This is a skill I am getting much better at, haha. 

So you see; Silviu’s tips really were spot on. It pays for all of us to start thinking a little more like a Developer; whatever the ‘product’ or ‘feature’ is that we are trying to develop.