The Conceit

Or, what happens when the chess piece becomes self-aware?

I felt great Saturday morning. For one thing, I had a full six hours of sleep (tongue firmly in cheek). But I woke up to a gorgeous day, wrote a couple of emails and headed over to CCF for what looked to be a super fun workout. It was a team workout where in teams of two we had two minutes on, two minutes off at a bunch of different stations: wall balls, prowler push, shuttle runs, pushups, kettlebell swings, and ledge jumps. My teammate and I started out on the prowler and let me tell you it was hilarious … he pushed it one direction then literally couldn’t get it moving the other direction for like 5 seconds! I busted up laughing and was still laughing when it was my turn to push it. I didn’t laugh long of course – first of all, that’s not possible with the prowler and second of all I had a similar problem on my return trip! And on this workout, unlike the infamous prowler madness of a couple weeks ago, we did something between prowler and ledge jumps. We did really well at the ledge jumps, but then again yeah, that is my big strength. I was also kind of amused because apparently I impressed him during pushups: he said something like I did it full out just like I was in a competition. Well, um, yes… that’s how I roll.

And hey guess what … you put the two most competitive people together and you wind up winning. Fun workout; not particularly challenging, but apparently that wasn’t the point. Cool to be out in the parking lot doing a workout though!

So my boss came by to pick me up at 10:30. First thing he does is thank me for making time on a Saturday and I’m thinking “Thanks, but we both know exactly how much I want to be here.” We drove in a somewhat inefficient manner to the house of an architect we have worked with over the years. He had an amazingly beautiful space in Oranjezicht. It was exactly what I would have expected of an architect’s house: very South African, very much a mixture of inside and outside, very traditional and very modern at the same time.

Now Cape Town is an incredibly small town … I know I have seen this guy somewhere before, but this didn’t seem the time or the place to explore it. Interesting though. I gave a too-lengthy introduction of myself (I was trying to give him some context for how to relate to me rather than just “yeah I’m here I’m doing this.”) and I was also put on the spot a bit to describe my role which is actually somewhat impossible without describing heart itself, and you try describing someone’s baby for the first time in front of them! Apparently I passed because my description was not corrected.

Then we spent about an hour talking through and trying to express our ideas around how this space we are likely to be developing should look. It’s not an easy thing, because it comes down to what is this space for, how will it be used, how do we want people to experience it and think of it. And again, I am reminded that when you put a bunch of smart people into a room it is stimulating in a huge number of ways. I am so excited to see what this guy comes up with; hopefully we will be able to coordinate schedules and get out for a tour this week because I am excited to see the space as well.

After we finished we had a little snack and I got teased just a bit for bringing my own food along with me (I had a big thing of biltong, nuts, and apples – this was my breakfast after the workout). Well, hey, we all do what we have to do for the things that are important to us.

Next up was my time to share the vision I had developed with the Henley team of what the future heart should look like; specifically around my part of the business. This was something I’ll never forget – sitting in De Waal Park, with a good answer to every question and a bunch of insights around what are some of the core things we are going to have to get right in order for this to work. Seeing the end game is what I need – when I have that I can figure out how to get there. I am not, however, good at coming up with the vision and this is why I was so darn pleased with myself that I got both the content right (for which I can thank the Henley team), and the story.

After that we talked about a number of other things and I also said a couple of things that I thought needed to be said (and one thing I didn’t mean to say but I’m glad came out). Following this meeting I was literally on Cloud Nine. At first I thought it was because I got approval from someone whose approval I really want, and yes that’s part of it, but the real reason I think is that now I know where I am going. But this is the other thing that is so cool about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts: for me, understanding how to make this all happen was easier than grasping the end game (I think, although it’s hard to say because figuring out what the end game is is a heck of a lot harder than just grasping it!); for my boss, the reverse was true. He got the vision but asked a few questions that really surprised me because I assumed the answers were obvious.

So I headed down to Kommetjie where one of the girls from the gym was throwing a birthday bash. It didn’t start until later in the afternoon but I availed myself of the invitation to come down earlier and chill, but of course I didn’t chill, I sat down and started drawing up slides that illustrate the story I told. I needed to get everything in my head out, while all the insights were still fresh. Boy I heard about it for that, and people kept distracting me with things like Jager bombs (SA version, Jager and Red Bull), and conversation. But the conversations of course morphed into my talking the ear off of everyone who would even pretend to be interested.

I feel a bit badly because I was going through a phase of very rapid self-growth and I needed to talk through certain things to reach certain insights, but this means that I was incredibly egocentric for that time period. I took a break in the middle and lay by the ocean then the flies annoyed me and I wanted to be very, very cold, so cold I couldn’t think, so I went into the water. Unfortunately I didn’t put 2 and 2 together and realize that I was going to be cold for a very, VERY long time! Ha.

So about Cape Town being a small town, the guy who had presented at our morning meeting the day before shows up at this party. I actually thought it was two days before and he reminded me that it was only the day before. This is the thing: so much happened in such a short period of time that it literally seemed to me like it was a few days prior. His presence was a stroke of divine luck (actually, not, but that is, I suppose one way of looking at it), because he and I had a lot to talk about. We still do. But the good news is I tested my drawings on him to explain the vision to someone who had zero context. It worked, but then again he’s also quite intelligent so not the real litmus test. He also nailed me by asking at one point if I had any brothers or sisters because he needed someone like me to make his vision actually happen. Apparently my strength must be THAT damn obvious for two wicked smart people to pick up on it within literally probably an hour of talking to me.

Anyway. This part of the conversation was useful because it led to some of the thinking that eventually led me to figure out what was so disturbing to me about all of this. Clearly something was bothering me or I wouldn’t keep wanting to talk about it, and now that I finally know what it is I feel so much better because now I can manage the risk. But this is why I need visionaries around me: he asked me why mentors need mentees which was just the question I needed to be asked at that point of the conversation. This is just an example, but what I miss sometimes unless someone else starts the conversation going this way are fundamental critiques or paradigm shifts: I let the box define me; I have to explicitly reject premises rather than naturally rejecting them.

So another example: the guys who run my gym have been telling me I need to rest more. So I knew they were right, but I didn’t know why … I feel fine, I’m not injured, my body is responding well, I need a stress relief (these are excuses in case that’s not obvious). So my natural inclination is to try and understand the reason behind things for me to commit, and since I didn’t understand this I chose to ignore it. But at the same time I knew it was true, so why shouldn’t actually matter all that much. So what do I do? I ask one of the guys who runs the gym and he gives me an answer that was the right answer for him, and is probably also true (it was about the body’s physical capability). Later I realized the real reason I need a break, which is that I am mentally tired, and I can NOT afford to get burned out of it. As the guy from Henley somehow picked up, for me, the mental and the physical are extremely intertwined at the moment. In fact they are almost the same thing, and if I stop progressing in one I know it will affect the other.

I was really quite tired so it wasn’t that difficult to persuade me to crash there rather than drive home in the dark. The drive is so gorgeous that doing it in the morning sounded like a fantastic idea. I actually wound up falling asleep while up late talking with the girls, then I woke up and caught a second wind. I really needed the sleep, especially as I had to meet a friend the next morning for yoga so I couldn’t really sleep in. But I was also really enjoying the company.

So the next morning the coffee I drank was, shall we say, very well-received. I was feeling so exhausted even after that I was fascinated by the guy at the petrol station who washed my windshield with more care and attention than I had ever seen someone wash a windshield. Insane. Why? I am not sure. Gave him a good tip, though, because he started my day off in an important way.

The yoga session was also apropos – the theme was focusing on eliminating our imagined weaknesses or something like that. Actually, the session itself was pretty much perfect. Somehow, talking in the courtyard after I came to a very key realization: I need to let go more. If you know me much at all, you know I’m a control freak and if you’re reading all this garbage it’s because you probably know me. But the metaphor I used was Michelangelo who said that he saw the sculpture instead each block of stone and all he had to do was release it. This implies an openness that I often do not have.

I explained a while back that I learned how to relax into the pain and put myself into the zone. But this is using the mind to do something physical. The same exact thing is true intellectually as well! I am always busy trying to figure shit out, but this means I am not open to just seeing the answer. If I can’t explain the rationale, I won’t necessarily accept the answer even when it’s right (like me needing to take some time off from gym). This is an interesting insight; I am going to have to see how to apply it. It’s a bit of a paradigm shift, so we shall see what happens. Of course as about four people have explained to me in the last week or so, none of it really matters anyway because whatever happens will happen and it’s outside of my control, influence, decision-making. But if that thought process is correct, I don’t want to go there. Ignorance is bliss.

Yeah so that was cool. I was also explaining to one of the instructors (who all have some of the inner peace I’ve seen in the Dalai Lama, by the way) that what’s happening to me just now is interesting and disturbing. I am gaining more and more insights into the world around me faster and faster, at the same time as I’m realizing just how damn complex what I am trying to do is. So basically I am changing, rapidly, into something else, and I have no idea where it’s going. I would be scared except that I’m not and actually it doesn’t really matter because it’s too late. Whatever is going to happen with me is going to happen so I may as well enjoy the ride.

In mid-afternoon I headed down to Muizenberg to check the street fest where my friends had a small stand selling native plants planted in found objects. My boss was saying just yesterday he looks for signs in life to tell him he’s on the right path. I had a couple of interesting signs in Muizenberg. First of all I met this woman who is utterly fascinating and who I suspect will be very important to me moving forward. I need someone to keep me honest. No, not honest … to keep me good. This is important and I’ll get back to it in a moment. But I also ran into the person I am trying to recruit for a key position, who hadn’t gotten back to me with his thoughts at the end of last week and I was worried because I assumed no news was bad news. I’m still not sure what will happen, but I did get a chance to do my bit to influence the situation. The third thing: I go to the CrossFit web site to try and find something in particular and what do I see? A picture of a box in California that says: “We Can Because We Think We Can.” If there is any summary of Thursday night’s conversation, this would be it.

So here’s the conceit: it’s not as simple as who-the-heck-do-I-think-I-am to be a) dreaming so big, b) believing that I can do it, and c) believing that I have no choice because the stakes are too high to fail. c) is an important point because I don’t want to over-emphasize it, first of all it’s a particularly bad conceit and secondly giving it too much importance puts too much emphasis on failure anyway. We’re not doing this because we don’t want to fail, we’re doing it because we want to succeed. I can only speak for myself, of course, but my own conceit is that I am in danger of doing what I’m doing for the wrong reasons. I’m doing what I’m doing both because I want to achieve it for myself and because I want to make a difference in the world. Rob Wrubel used to talk about changing the world back in the Ask Jeeves days. Peter Shrimpton talks about changing the world too: the difference is, he means it. Actually, the other difference is he can really do it!

This is what has been bothering me; that I wasn’t honest with myself about this. Now I know why it’s so important to keep my ego in check, because I need it for the confidence it brings, but if I don’t keep it in check it will destroy me. Asking about my weaknesses plays right into this because I want to know them so I can destroy them. I don’t, at the moment, know what to do about this other I guess than to keep doing stuff I’m really bad at! Maybe someday I’ll get overhead squats right. But in all seriousness, I do have an element of doubt and I need to figure out how to keep that without letting it affect the outcome.

The other thing is that I am dangerous. Well, I’m dangerous in a lot of ways; I didn’t get that nickname for no reason! But life is like a giant puzzle or multi-dimensional game of chess. I am starting to see the game around me, which is first of all amazing and secondly scary. But the more I see, the more other pieces I see (apparently I’m in the flow or some such thing!), and I can start to understand more and more how do accomplish what I want to accomplish. But this is very, very dangerous. What I need to do is watch the hell out and make sure that I am conscious about what I am doing, and why I am doing it. Unfortunately, this is going to be very hard for me!

The final insight I had, that relates to the above, is that we are not alone. We have people who will help us if we a) let them and b) ask them (in that order of importance, because there is no sense asking if you are not capable of listening). In the last couple of days I have met three people who I think are going to be very important to me in the future, for different reasons and in different ways. I guess only time will tell whether or not this “insight” I have into stuff that hasn’t happened yet will turn out to be true!

So I’ve had a very intense couple of days. I think this step function is done for now and thank goodness because I have a lot I need to do next week. Other than regretting being a terribly self-obsessed bore for the last few days (I do feel badly but this was something I had to do), the only thing I regret is drinking at the rate that I did, because I wish I remembered more of the conversations that I had. I guess the important stuff I remember, but shame… guess I’ll have to talk to these people some more!


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