It’s not always easy to talk about money. Many people find it excruciating. Recently, I made a film for a financial services company, in which I talked to young people about their own feelings about this awkward subject.
In most cases, there was blankness, and a general sense of unease – until we moved towards thinking how they would like things to be.
I asked them to look forward to a time in the future, and to describe how it will be. Perhaps even draw something. (More than one drew some kind of Caribbean island.) And then to tell me how much the thing they wish for might cost, and what they will need to do to get hold of the necessary funds by the time they say they want it.
You probably know already how scary it feels to make a commitment, in conversation with somebody else, to do something splendid. Well, these people could tell you, because they dared to say to me just what they hope to have, and to be. And they said it on camera. (I’ll share the film, if and when it becomes publicly available.)
Most importantly, I asked them at the end to reflect on the process. We had spent about 20 minutes talking about something that many of them, by their own admission, go out of their way to avoid talking – or even thinking – about. And yet by the end they were glowing. How to account for this? Again and again, they said that it was helpful to be pushed into doing this thing they didn’t want to do.
We spent two full days filming. I talked to a lot of people. Everyone was different, but looking back over the experience as a whole, I have to say it was one of the most vivid examples I expect ever to see of people experiencing resistance, facing it head on, and finding that everything looks much rosier on the other side.
What gets in your way? What stops you from doing what you really want to do? For too many people, it’s money.
I did some work with The School of Life, in partnership with the credit experts Experian. Our research showed that 42% of people who wish to try something new, to live a more fulfilled life, blamed their failure to get started on money, or the lack of it. Roughly the same number of people said they would be happier if they had better control of their finances.
For most of my life I might have said the same, and occasionally – when cashflow is tight – I still feel that way. But working as a coach with executives, entrepreneurs and creative people alike has helped me to see that the problem doesn’t usually lie in the money itself, but in our attitude towards it.
For much of the time, we are fearful, and don’t dare to look at the situation we are in. We’re too afraid of what we might discover. So we carry on in denial, blaming external circumstances, in a generalised way, for whatever bothers us.
My work with Experian started with the company’s decision to make individual credit scores freely available to anybody, for life. The more I thought about it, the more I came to see this score as a perfect metaphor for The Thing We Really Don’t Want To Look At.
In fact I realised that I myself was holding back from looking up my score. Despite working with Experian on this project, I held off for weeks before actually getting round to it, only looking it up hours before I turned up at a public event at the top of the Gherkin in the City of London, with Experian staff and a group of talented bloggers, some of them personal finance wizards.
Sitting at my desk that morning, I felt my shoulders go up during the two minutes or so that it took to provide the necessary information online. I felt my jaw clench. And I paused for a moment before pressing “submit”.
As it happens, I am very happy with what I discovered. My rating puts me in the green zone on that Experian dial at the top of this page. But it’s not the score itself that caused my shoulders and jaw to relax. It’s the fact that I looked it up at all. Because as soon as I had done that, I felt that I was back in control.
North London Collegiate School recently came top of the national exam tables (again). The girls here are very bright, and much is expected of them. I came to talk, at the opening of the new school year, to Years 11, 12 and 13 about How To Change The World: What can one person do?
I started by asking: if you had the chance, would you change the world? There was long silence then a few voices called out yes. I asked for a show of hands. Pretty well everybody put their hands up. I said, keep your hand up if you know how you would like to change the world.
About four people out of 350 or so kept their hands up. One or two started raising their hands, but then lowered them.
I then ran through some of the ideas and stories in my book How To Change The World. And after about 40 minutes, I asked if there were any questions. There were several. I particularly liked being asked what my own mission or purpose is (by somebody who seemed a little confused by the variety of things I have done).
The last question, from one of the Year 11 girls, was: “What about failure? What do you do about that?”
Great question, I said. And I told a story about how I was filmed falling on my face in Mexico, in front of some very famous people, and how I was lucky enough to move from seeing that as a terrible, embarrassing failure – how I was able to use it. (You can see the film here.)
I said, failure always hurts at the time, but often it turns out not to have been failure after all, just a step towards the outcome you want.
In scientific method, I said, we can see that very clearly. Marie Curie boiled up all kinds of things to find radium. If she boiled up an old carpet and found no radium, was that failure? Or was it just an experiment that helped her to move on?
It may not have been the perfect answer, but it was the best I could come up with at the time. Perhaps writing about it here will enable me to find a better one next time.
Are you looking for an adventure? Earlier this year, I decided to apply to myself some of the things I tell others, when I’m coaching – about daring to do what we want to do.
This film shows highlights from the terrifyingly rope walk at Area 47 in Solden, Austria. I like to think that what I went through – from initial excitement, through watching others give up, and skateboarding across the void, feeling deep gratitude on finishing in one piece, and so on – can be found in any adventure we embark on, metaphorically anyway, whether it’s a physical adventure like this one, or a creative project, or “just” something internal.
If you want help getting started, just let me know.
NB. Excuse the shaky camerawork in places: it was strapped to my wrist.
Oh happy day! I recently took a lot of my Department Store For The Mind plates to Belfast to test them for The Big Lunch, with a group of 50 people – to see how the plates work in practice. To see how they help to jump-start meaningful and enjoyable conversations.
Now the said Department Store is offering a 30% discount to anybody who wishes to buy all three of the products I designed – the plates, the mugs and the tea cloth.
“If you are totally out of touch with how you feel, and what you need, it’s very easy to just cruise along, being one version of you. But it’s kind of exhausting. And after a while you hit 40 or 50 and you feel very lonely, and you think, shit, I haven’t really cultivated deep connections with anyone.”
In this conversation about conversation, the coach, performer and author Jamie Catto talks about what it means to be real with each other, instead of always faking, and about the price we pay if we refuse to do that.
He talks about how this affects us at work, and in our private lives too.
It’s not a short film, but it’s not that long either, and I’m extremely pleased to have been able to make it. I think you will be glad to have watched.
In this conversation about conversation, the writer and performer David Bramwell remembers speaking with somebody rightly regarded as a world expert on the art of conversation – and being gravely disappointed.
Hearing David tell this story, and laughing with him about it, I was reminded of a time when too I badly let myself down in conversation – exploding angrily at somebody – as I explain in the video, along with what happened next.
This is one of the things I love about conversations about conversation: we hear each other’s stories, and recognise ourselves in them. I hope you might recognise something too.
Silly me. I thought I had quickly got over feeling sad about the referendum result, but of course I haven’t.
My parents just sent me this photo of a very old school T-shirt, which I didn’t know they had kept. I wore it when I was six, after we moved to Brussels and I went to the European School there.
The school offered were separate classes for each language group, but we mixed in the playground and on Fridays we were thrown together for lessons, on a variety of topics, in French. I remember making good friends, in those lessons, with a German girl who, like me, was mad keen on roller skating.
Coming back to England, aged nine, I often wondered if I had missed out on something while we were away, but on the plus side I spoke decent French (with a Belgian accent) and allowed people to think, because of my unusual forename, that I actually was French or Belgian.
At any rate, without necessarily putting it into these words I felt deeply European, and although I know that we will be OK, it we put our minds to it, I feel a little sad that I won’t be able to call myself an EU citizen any more.
Looking about me, at the glum faces on London transport today, I wonder how many others are going through something similar.
Perhaps even Boris Johnson – he was a few years above me, at the same European School, and must have worn the same T-shirt.
In this spontaneous interview, fellow coach Nikki Armytage (@NikkiAmytage) tells me about a conversation in which she honestly shared her feelings – not something she has always been able to do – and the wonderful effect that had. Thanks Nikki!