Burned Man

P1210404

At the end of the summer I made my first pilgrimage to Burning Man. It had sat resolutely on my bucket list for a few years and finally it was happening.

The Burn has always appealed for a number of reasons. I love the values that emanate and encapsulate what it stands for – radical inclusion, self-sufficiency, expression, creativity, outrageousness, chaos, and counter-cultural rebelliousness, amongst others. It sticks two fingers up at mundane civility. It challenges adherence to stale norms. These, coupled with the extremity of its natural setting, make it one of the most adventurous, enticing events that exist. Something I just had to experience.

However, the reality was very different from the fantasy. Rather than enjoying the festival, I found myself despondent, lost and alone, exacerbated by the sensation that everyone around me seemed to be having the time of their lives.

Earlier this week back at home I went for a run over Clifton suspension bridge, only to be stopped by the police as someone had just jumped to their death. Whilst I was enjoying a deeply enriching autumnal evening, another person had ended their life. An extreme example, but a reminder that two people can experience the same moment in the same place in very, very different ways.

Burning Man was not all bad. In fact, I feel like it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my adult life. Months later, I’m still affected by what happened to me out there in the desert. I’m glad it was on my bucket list, as it taught me more than I could have imagined, in most unexpected ways.

This post is an attempt to capture some of that learning before – like the playa dust that I’m still shaking from luggage and clothing – it’s no longer perceptible.

But before I begin, a deep thank you to the friend who invited me to his camp and shared his tent with me. This post might sound unappreciative, or you might feel responsible for what happened to me. Don’t. My experience doesn’t reflect the extraordinary generosity and spectacle you and your team created. The responsibility is all mine. Secondly, to my friends who scooped me up at the end and, with oodles of love and warmth, nurtured me through the decompression. Thank you.

I made some interesting choices before the festival. I had a number of different offers to join camps, but none from people I know very well and so really, I was heading to this festival alone and, truth be told, I quite liked the idea. That should have been the first warning sign – I would never go to Glastonbury on my own!

Yet my life over the last decade, perhaps longer, has been one of the ‘lone wolf’. I have moved from country to country, business to business. I have transformed from someone who didn’t like to spend time alone, to someone who revels in it. My dependencies on people and life at home made traveling in my early years often painful and a discomfort. Yet I have become someone who can live on the other side of the world away from my family and friends and be happy, mostly. Before Burning Man I was proud of that transformation – I’d become self-sufficient. And in that independence, I felt powerful.

I believe that boarding school leaves a child detached long into adulthood, sometimes permanently. One learns to fend alone, away from family. During those years at school I never mastered the art – or perhaps never managed to feel comfortable in that aloneness, despite it being one of the things I was being unwittingly schooled in.

However, in later years I’d grown into it. The detachment became a useful armour. In San Francisco I’d lived in 10 different apartments and for a couple of years afterwards living out of a suitcase moving from country to country, working remotely and I loved it.

The entrepreneur’s way is one where you are forced to plough a lone furrow and I have done that on three continents. My independence has also become a defining feature of my love life – I have remained single for most of my adult years and, although it’s hard to understand what the alternatives might have been had I been more open, it’s felt right. Or at least no-one has convinced me otherwise… yet.

Others who’ve been to the armour-building world that is boarding school don’t seem to have taken such a radical approach to their independence. And whilst I have had moments of missing and wondering why I have shied away from opportunities to remedy this, I have been true to myself – even despite societal pressure and regularly attending events where dozens of my friends are all partnered up, without exception. It’s been a part of my growing. An analysis of my love life would be worth a separate post, or posts, but I digress.

This independent Tom is the person that ventured out to Burning Man – the man who’d learned to fend for himself. The powerful, independent being that had grown out of my lonely, bullied and troubled youth. (I don’t describe it this way to try to attract sympathy – after all, whose youth is not troubled?)

I felt ready to be able to dip in and out of the various parties, experiences and opportunities that the festival offered. I may be over-analysing but it was almost as if this was a chance to put that independence to the ultimate test… and I crumbled.

This selfie just about sums it up... :)

This selfie just about sums it up…

I’ve never really believed in Damascene moments, but this is as close as I’ve been to that, or a breakdown. Somehow the searing desert light shone a spotlight on many of the choices that I’d been making over the years and pierced deep into my hardened heart. I found myself in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been – the Temple at Burning Man – weeping. Anyone who’s been will attest to the extraordinary emotion that this remarkable place can induce. Yet, whilst others mourned for lost lovers, family and friends. I mourned the years without deep human connection in which I had slowly become protected against the world. It was all me, me, me – something again that the amour had hardened and encased.

The Temple at Burning Man

The Temple at Burning Man

In the desert, some combination of events led me to a place where my armour was removed and I, feeling naked without it, had the shit kicked out of me just when self-reliance was most needed.

I don’t really feel the need to go into much more detail regarding specific events. In fact, nothing particularly drastic happened. A clutch of moments. Wandering off into the uninhabited areas of wide expanse feeling deeply alone. Battling through dust storms and playa dust. Climbing statues and art installations. Riding art cars. ‘Sleeping’ (the use of inverted commas appropriate given I was 15 meters from a $160,000 sound system) for 24 hours solid to try to escape. Attempting to engage in conversations, but lacking in confidence so that, despite the radical inclusion, I couldn’t click and found myself regularly misconnecting. Heading off to a sunset party and finding the music, drinking and cavorting so predictable and so boring. I realized that over the years I had been to hundreds of bars and clubs pursuing cool, yet enjoyed very few. Alongside love, I’d like to write another post about the pursuit of cool and how unhappy it makes so many people.

Perhaps the overwhelming feeling was that, despite the fact Burning Man was new and many of the countries and adventures I’d been on were too, I was taking the same me on each of those journeys. Deep within the amour that once protected me, I had become less and less open to what was really happening, instead shielded by that disconnectedness. You can travel the world and meet extraordinary people, but if ones armour is too thick, you see and experience very little of it.

The realization that hit home was that life was about people, love, connection and being open. I know this already – I have read and acknowledged it a thousands times – but I have never really felt it like this before. Like many things, until you experience something emotively, knowledge remains conceptual.

Burning Man felt pivotal. I’m proud of the independent man that I’ve come to be. As a (sometimes too) sensitive, emotive, empathetic person – my independence had been hard won. But I hadn’t realized how resolute it had become, nor that the armour, that would have been far more valuable in my youth, had started doing much more harm than good.

It feels that Burning Man was the apex of that journey for independence. Now to turn back.

It will take time… little, gentle steps in a new direction. Personalities are like shipping tankers – they take a long time to turn around. Even in the last few months, I’ve slipped back into old ways. But… now I have new knowledge this breeds new power. I’ve noticed there’s strength in vulnerability and noticing the armour and that it is long past its sell-by-date, and trying to keep noticing it, is the first step.

Sadly, as people get older, I notice they often start to become less and less connected to people – the clichéd middle-aged man who over works and has few friends to confide in as they retreat into their family, work and responsibilities.

It seems I am swimming against the current, again… but so be it.

I’m ready to begin a return journey… to people, to connection and to vulnerability and back to Burning Man one day with a different agenda.

Coming back…

San Francisco Sleepathon… is coming!

Sleepathon in San Francisco

Majesty and Misery

A few months ago I was compelled to write an ‘open letter’ (http://bit.ly/1dkuwcA).

I suggested I’d organise a ‘sleepathon’ in San Francisco in aid of the homeless. The response has been amazing – if we can get just a few more people to sign up, it looks this event will happen in September!

If you’re bothered by the homeless problem in San Francisco and want to help, please share this letter and sign up here http://bit.ly/RAfwSV

Why a Sleepathon? San Francisco is one of the most extraordinary places in the world. The scope of opportunity, innovation, energy and entrepreneurship remains unparalleled.

Yet despite this and the wealth that has accumulated, the city disappoints if measured by the way it looks after its less fortunate. The American dream here is enjoyed by a few, sandwiched next to the American nightmare.

After writing the last letter, I’d expected little or no response, perhaps criticism. After all, who am I to suggest such an event? What good would it do? Shouldn’t we leave the problem to the State, or to those more experienced? Is it hypocritical for a bunch of privileged people to have a jolly one evening? So familiar are the problems on Market Street or in the Tenderloin that many people believe the scale of the issue is beyond tackling, or worse still, feel apathetic or no longer notice. Yet it makes me feel a bad Samaritan, impotently witnessing desperate scenes whilst ‘living the dream’.

Amazingly, my last letter struck a chord and responses flooded in, including interest from some very high profile residents willing to participate. Given that support, I’m willing to invest a few weeks of my time this year to try to make it happen.

I envisage a night in a safe space – a park, a hall or a public area where people stay for the whole night. A night of fun, with music, an auction, talks by those who understand the problems and a hackathon in which participants can brainstorm ideas that might help. Perhaps even a little bit of sleep if we’re lucky, alongside friends and supporters.

We might all be a bit tired the next day. Let that be a badge of honor, demonstrating a willingness to do something. At the very least, we will have learned a little and had some fun – at most we might raise some money and awareness.

Please sign up to join us here – http://bit.ly/RAfwSV – and please, please do forward this on. If people don’t sign up I’ll take that as a lack of desire to make this happen – no hard feelings, but in the spirit of entrepreneurship there’s no point dedicating a lot of effort if there’s little interest.

Please do get in touch if you’ve any thoughts or questions. I look forward, I hope, to spending a night with you in September.

Thanks,

Tom

www.twitter.com/brightgreen

Sleepout Crowd

A sleepout in the UK

 

Sleepathon

A few months ago I wrote this ‘open letter’. The response was amazing and I’d like to see if I can make this event happen in September in San Francisco – so I wanted to repost this here and then I’ll follow on with more details shortly.

If you’re interested in joining (or if you’re not in San Francisco, at least helping out) please a) sign up and b) send this on to friend, family and lovers in California. Thanks!

Dear Greg,

After reading your post last week, I need your help to organize a Sleepathon – (anyone can sign up here).

I am a homeless man, living in the Bay Area. But I’m also not that dissimilar from you – I am an entrepreneur with a new business, currently on 500 startups. Fortunately for me, my homelessness is a choice.

When I read your post last week, it deeply upset me. So this weekend, I went down to Market St this weekend to talk to a few people on your behalf.

tom1.jpeg

Sadly, this guy pictured can’t join one of your hackathons as his hands are in really bad condition, which is why he’s homeless as he can’t find work. He was also wearing a number of medical bracelets – he is a very sick man.

Despite having very little, he offered a flower as a sign of peace as well as a hug. He was dirty, as you rightly noted many of the people in the area would be. But in my mind a hug outweighs the inconvenience of a bit of dirt.

The people I spoke to seem to differ in opinion about the feeling that ‘it’s a privilege to be in that part of town’. They think the opposite, as this article indicates - they see it as a curse to be squeezed next to the rich.

In your open note, reported here you said:

“It’s a burden and a liability having them so close to us. Believe me, if they added the smallest iota of value I’d consider thinking different.”

Greg, they see it as disturbing having you so close to them… At least you get a comfortable bed at night, whereas they often have no-one to turn to and nowhere to go. It’s way worse for them because it’s far, far harder to look up at someone who has all the opportunities that life can offer from rock bottom, without opportunity or hope, than it is to look down and watch your step. Many of them are very sick, physically and mentally – you might want to read this article by Russell Brand who eloquently writes about the struggles with addiction here.

tom2.jpeg

Which leads me to my request for help. You organize hackathons – it’s time to do good by your position. You are clearly disturbed by the presence of so many homeless people. So, rather than chastise you for your remarks, I want to ask you to help them.

I too am disturbed by the number of homeless, desperate people in San Francisco. As an entrepreneur with the capacity and opportunity to help, I would like to do something about it.

I propose we organize a Sleepathon, building on your success organizing such events. Imagine a night where we encourage as many people as possible, the extraordinarily privileged tech entrepreneurs especially, to sleep out for the night and raise money for the homeless. Could we get Mark Zuckerberg, Ev Williams, Kevin Rose and others to join us to sleep out for just one night? If we got a thousand people to join us and asked their friends and colleague to sponsor them, imagine what we could do.

Perhaps we could find somewhere a little more comfortable than Market St for you, like Dolores Park? Have you noticed how cold it’s been the last few weeks? Some homeless people froze to death. These are people’s parents, children and siblings. Perhaps we can organize the event for the spring, when it’s a bit warmer too – giving us some time to get ready? Who knows, like my current ‘homeless’ situation, perhaps it could even be fun?

Let’s use the unfortunate nature of your recent publicity to raise awareness, money and show support for these poor souls who haven’t been caught by the same protective layers of society that helped you and me.

Are you with me? Sign up here to register interest.

Yours in anticipation,

Tom Savage

www.3sourcing.com/profile-tom

PS – PLEASE SHARE THIS letter if you want it to happen – I’ll organise it if there’s enough interest (even if you don’t get in touch, Greg!)

I’m Busy, You’re Unimportant

Stop the Glorification of Busy

 

“This week’s really busy”. “Sorry  I’m slammed at the moment”. “We’re manic”.”It’s crazy”.

I get about 100 emails every week with something that let’s me know that me that the sender is really very busy.

We’ve created a culture where it’s necessary, cool even, to exclaim how busy we are. The amount we have to do is proffered as a currency of importance. The busier we are, the more important we must be… The more we are needed because everyone just wants a piece of our delectable selves.

I try to avoid these descriptions. My weeks are sometimes quite full, but I hope never manic, busy or crazy. I try to book in time, if necessary, to enable space and spontaneity. Whenever I get too busy, all the work I do suffers. My ‘busiest’ weeks are rarely my most productive. I try to work like it’s the weekend if I can.

If Barak Obama asked to meet you this afternoon, you’d probably find time – as much as he wanted. If Warren Buffet wanted to call round, you’d clear your diary. If Natalie Portman decided she wanted to do an impromptu reading of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in my living room, booked events would magically vanish from my schedule. Hell, she could have all week.

So ‘busy’, ‘manic’ and all the other ways we describe ourselves are basically a way of telling someone they’re unimportant - it’s a passive aggressive way of telling someone to get lost.

The most successful people have full lives, but Warren Buffett isn’t ‘manic’, he has time to ‘read all day‘. I’m fairly confident that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs are/were rarely hectic.

I don’t want to hire manic, busy or crazy people. Whenever someone tells me they’re overly busy then my instant reaction is to wonder whether they’re much fun to be around, or whether I want to work with them. Sounds like a stressful, unbalanced culture they’re emanating. It suggests the work they’ll be doing won’t be deep, or carefully thought through.

It makes me think that perhaps they’re not very good, organised or successful enough to not be so busy, which would surely be preferable, given there are sunsets to be seen, kites to be flown, fields to be tromped through and songs to be learned…

Not Me

It is... most of the time

It is… most of the time

[Sorry, a little behind posting this...]

It’s New Year’s Day and I have a splitting headache. It’s a year to the day that I split up with my girlfriend. That wasn’t a good day. I had a headache then too.

Despite the similarities, a lot has changed this last year.

Indulge me for a moment, I’d like to do a swift year ‘in review’, if only to focus on something I’d like to bring into frame – something that’s not about me.

Last year my revelry induced my pain. This year, I remained stone cold sober on New Year’s Eve. Clearly my body, so unused to clarity on the dawn of a new year, decided to take matters into it’s own hands, and today I woke up with man flu.

A poor start to the year, but despite the surface snuffles and tiredness, I feel good within. I’m fresh back from San Francisco, where I’ve just spent two months on 500 Startups, a leading accelerator programme.

I’ve been living in a van and wrote this article about my experiences early on. I was asked to write another, which followed here.  The van is emblematic, a reminder to myself that I am alive, and adventure sits everywhere if we chose it.

The experience has been a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, something I tried to capture in this, my most recent article. One of my new friends Nicholas Holland, also explores the pressures in a great article here.

It’s been a tough year. I’m home, halfway through the accelerator feeling that ‘the score’ is 0-0. Perhaps 0-1 against us. I’m flying back in under a week for the second half, with all to play for.

Yet I feel good, despite the score. Why – because I can honestly say I’ve been giving life everything I’ve got. Whether for the first time, or at least for the first extended period, I feel ‘in flow’, dedicated to a single focus. I’ve not worked like this before, with a sole direction, and I’m loving it.

Two weeks ago I did a skydive with some of my accelerator batch. My dive wasn’t without drama. After an extraordinary few seconds in free fall, my instructor pulled our ripcord, only to shout ‘shit’ repetitively. Not the words you want to hear in that situation, I can assure you.

I looked up to see our parachute tangled and we continued to descent at considerable speed. After a nervous 10 or so seconds (a long time in that situation) he managed to pump some air into the canopy and we were out of trouble.

It somewhat embodies how I’ve felt these last few months. Exposing myself to life and its risks, with some hairy situations, but feeling exhilarated. I’m not sure if the parachute will open, but I’ve flung myself out there, all the same.

Something has changed within me, whether permanently or not I don’t know. For now, I’m embracing this change and the sense of power I feel at present.

Which leads me to the crux of this post – a resolution.

Toward the end of my stay in San Francisco, I read an article that incensed me and forced me to write back. As I’ve lived in the city, I’ve always been painfully aware of the number of homeless people that live there. It’s something that has made me want to take action, somehow.

The letter I wrote received thousands of views and I’ve had many people write to me to offer their support. My resolution is not just to try to organize this event, to try to raise awareness and money for the homeless of San Francisco, but speaks to a deeper mission this year.

I want to make this year about other people. I am painfully aware, as has been the case with this paragraph, that I start too many sentences with ‘I’. I (there I go again) feel that my life over the years has been very I-oriented. Whether with this blog, my business, social life, skills or time – I’d like to try making more things not about me.

I sense that 2014 is going to be an awesome year, in one way or other. There will be a lot of hard work and a lot of isolating moments, with myself and my partner pitted against the rest of the world as we try to grow our business.

This year, I’d like to make an effort to orientate my days, my work and my time around other people. Whether putting time into organizing this sleepathon, or to speaking to the customers of my business and focusing on solving their issues.

It could go horribly wrong at a time when perhaps a little self-centeredness is needed, but I sense the opposite. There’s a selfishness at the heart of this – I do hope that my business, my work and my relationships improve – but I want to practice abundance by giving back and giving away.

So 2014 for me is not about me. I’m not sure how that will manifest itself – I’ve the fragment of an idea, a sense that its something I want to explore and that it will lead to wonderful things.

For now, I hope you are superb.

 

Work Like it’s the Weekend

I've no idea who this is, but I like his attitude... and his painting

I’ve no idea who this is, but I like his setup… and his painting

Over the last month I’ve been living in a van in Silicon Valley, more on that here and here. I’ll post some adventures soon on Simpletom… but today I want to explore working like it’s the weekend.

I get my best work done at the weekends. Not that I want to be working at the weekends, mind. But weekend works comes with a calm that is enviable to my midweek self.

In Leonard Cheshire’s, (a hero of mine) biography, he mentioned that whenever he wrote a letter, even if he had a pile of them, he’d write each one as if it was the only one he needed to write. Although it meant the pile took longer, he was able to give himself to each letter, without the shackles of time constraining his focus and commitment to each. It meant he wrote fabulous letters.

At the weekends, I’m not subjected to the deafening tick-tock of the progress clock, which leaves me rushing from moment to moment, task to task and meeting to meeting. I’m not sure I finish anything, or am ever ‘in the moment’, during the week.

We should work like it’s the weekend everyday. At the weekend, there’s time make a cup of tea, stare out of the window, take 15 minutes off to play the guitar, write a Simpletom blog (the infrequent nature of my posting is perhaps indicative of the healthy lack of weekend work) and do meaningful stuff that ‘I don’t have time for’ in the week. We’d have time to think and put that thought, carefully and considerately into our work.

We would do more substantial, more committed, more thoughtful work, if we always worked like it was the weekend. Today, we’re so subjected to the immediacy of things that work has become frantic. The bygone days of long boozy lunches, trips by steamer, disconnectedness seem far, far away – yet some pretty epic work (and thought) was achieved. Most modern thought-leaders and doers seem to want more time to think and breathe. Why don’t we just give it to ourselves. Why does midweek work have such a different texture from weekend work, even though it’s the same thing. Why do we prescribe one pace for one and another for another?

If we worked like it was the weekends, perhaps we’d not get quite as much done, but I’m pretty confident we’d get what we needed to do done, with more meaning and quality – of life and work. And so for another cuppa…

It’s OK

Hmmm…

I am currently here, but I’m about to move back to San Francisco whilst wanting to settle here, where I’m trying to to buy a house.

Well done Simpletom… you’re managing, quite dedicatedly, to ignore all of your own advice.

Over the next few months I will immerse myself and my business in 500 Startups, a prestigious ‘accelerator’ programme for tech startups. So, I’m about to embark upon an extremely intense few months whilst also trying to remember this and this. It’s going to be a whirlwind where a certain amount of schizophrenia will inevitably occur. But as my wise sister often says, with perhaps one the simplest adages for repelling self-doubt:

“It’s OK”.

Edward De Bono in his book Simplicity suggests 10 rules for simplicity. The first is ‘you need to put a very high value on simplicity’. The second, ‘you must be determined to seek simplicity’. This is valuable advice for the simplicity-seeker. Simplicity is not easy, nor does life unfurl the way you want it to.

I could chastise myself for putting myself in this, another situation where the simplicity I seek will be harder to maintain. I could wind myself up with concern, or frustration. But, actually, it’s OK.

Last time I was in San Francisco, I had dinner with an old friend who’s now raised close to $20m for his tech venture. He was philosophical (unsurprisingly, given he has an All Souls Fellowship in Philosophy – the ‘hardest exam in the world’) about running a tech venture and whether it will succeed or fail, reminding me what a privilege it is to be in this position. In fact, a couple of the most dogged, determined entrepreneurs I know seemed to have softened slightly and become more at one with the idea that, whatever the outcome, it’s OK. I don’t want to get too ‘Cynical Valley’, before I’ve even started.

So, here I come. It’ll be OK.

Though regular readers will be pleased to know that I’m not going completely native. There’s still a bit of a tree hugger/determined-simple-seeker/adventurer at heart, given I’ve just rented one of these, which will be my home until Christmas. Car parks of Silicon Valley watch out.

I’ll try to keep you updated on my progress as a technological entrepreneur vagabond.

Let’s hope, for the sake of my new colleagues, I can find somewhere to shower each morning… or I’ll have to rebrand myself SimplePong.  But I scents that it’s going to be OK too (sorry).