The future is already here, it's just...

On time, abundance, and discerning porosity

(NB I originally posted this on Medium in March 2023, but it feels like it fits better here)

Some reflections on six months of freelance life

“Time is always a member of the team”, said Ellie wisely at the end of one of the Catalyst steering group meetings last week. That perfect droplet of wisdom has stuck with me since. So much that feels hard resolves itself with the passing of time, either by becoming easier, or by helping you realise it wasn’t necessary at all. Ripeness is key.

When I launched myself into freelance life six months ago I had grand plans to write fortnightly, to record my learning, to carve out the time to reflect. In a turn of events that will surprise no-one, that hasn’t happened. My grand plans been have been evaporated by the heat of busy-ness, insights floating away unrecorded, like steam from a cup of tea. Luckily, though, I have still been drinking that tea, and slowly digesting it.

Photo by Carli Jeen on Unsplash (my cups of tea are nowhere near this elegant)

Time is always a member of the team. And part of its role on my team is to remind me that there is a right time for everything: that maybe demanding that insights come fortnightly is unreasonable, but to trust that they will come.

I have learnt all sorts of things in this past six months: from time management to tech stacks. But the internet is full of this kind of advice (I’ve read most of it, I reckon!). What I’m really interested in is the sticky, human, messy stuff. And I realise that the past six months for me have been just as much about leaving a beloved organisation — Shared Assets, as about reinventing myself as an independent operator. Through that, there are three sticky topics, that, like a persistent wasp and a jar of honey, I keep coming back to.

Photo by Arwin Neil Baichoo on Unsplash. Sticky. but delicious.

an abundance mindset: easy to say, hard to have

We live in a world where people talk a lot about having an abundance mindset. And I think I have one! But it is hard to maintain: both in terms of trusting that I am doing good work, and in navigating when to say yes and no. I’ve worked as a consultant in small cash strapped organisations for years now, so some of this is very familiar: always feeling slightly on the back foot, always needing to have just a bit more work than is comfortable in the pipeline. The strange superstition of consultancy: always wondering where the next bit of work will come from, always worrying that if you say no to this thing, then nothing will ever come your way again.

I also wonder how much of this orientation to doubt and hesitancy and humility I infused into Shared Assets. I’m still a non-executive director, and at the last board meeting we were talking about how Shared Assets is now 10 years old, not a scrappy start up any more. It has power, and can start to act into that. I feel that one of the advantages of me leaving is it opens up more space for people to step into that power. But that is partly my challenge in this new phase of my life: to find and value my own power with integrity.

learning to build porosity

In my mid 20s I ended up inside a controlling relationship that ended with almost hilarious amounts of drama and left me with both a lot of debt and an enduring dislike of West Ham United. I remember coming out of that feeling that I had “lost my edges”, that my sense of who I was and what I would tolerate, or what was right, had been eroded. I’ve been keen to hold onto my boundaries ever since.

Photo by 筑瑄 (as nickname) on Unsplash

I’m lucky enough to be doing the Capra Course, (with some colleagues from Catalyst) and have been learning mind-bending things about the systems view of life and evolution. An insight that has really tickled my imagination is the insight that the membrane of a cell — its boundary — is a key part of what makes it alive. But that boundary is not fixed and immovable. It is porous, it lets in what it needs and lets out what it doesn’t. It discerns. I have a far stronger sense of my core self now than I did 20 years ago. And I’m coming to see that building my ability to be porous, to let the necessary insights in but keep unnecessary clutter out, is a key task for my next 20 years. Building my capacity for discerning porosity feels like something that might unlock the abundance mindset I’m finding it hard to glibly embody.

cultivating pockets of possibility

I’ve only just left the Shared Assets slack channels. I had been realised I had been using them like a very niche form of social media, lurking around the edges to keep up with what was happening, to be close to the quality of the conversation. I realise that what I had been missing was the feeling of being in a pocket of the kind of world I want to live in. At its best working inside Shared Assets feels a bit like being from the future, like being in a bubble of shared hope and possibility. It has taken me a couple of months to realise that I missed that terribly, not the work so much, but the vibes.

Another brain-tickle from the Capra Course is that according to the systems view of life, the ancestors of what are now our cells evolved inside tiny bubbles — vesicles — that had been formed within the primordial soup. Inside those bubbles, there were far more intense and complex interactions, happening more often, and as the bubbles became larger and more complex they often split into smaller ones. To cut a multi-millenia-long story short, complex life began to evolve.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

We are currently swimming in a systemic soup based on dominance, hierarchy and exclusion. There are many evolutionary bubbles where a new world of respect, regeneration and liberation is being cultivated in this soup, but depending on where you, are they can be hard to see. I’ve split off from the Shared Assets bubble, and I have an image of myself bobbing along, trying to find other bubbles and to help join them together. The work we are doing as the Catalyst steering group is definitely one of those evolutionary bubbles: a thoughtful, intense space full of ambition, care and laughter. I see flashes of those vibes at Digital Commons, and I am wondering how I can contribute to building more of these low ego, high intention spaces.

This loops back to one of the ideas I had about freelance life — that there is something, some kind of quality of work that you can only do when you are connecting, joining the dots between things rather than being purely associated with one organisational bubble.

Me and my teammate Time will be exploring all of these as we bob along over the next few months, seeking out those vibes. And, maybe, when the time is both right and ripe, I will write more about it!