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I Walk with a Stick

by Craig Dearden-Phillips 15/09/2016

Every August a Miracle occurs in my life.    

After about ten days away from the drum-beat of work, I go for a full day or two without work crossing my mind from the moment I wake to the second my mind hits oblivion sixteen hours later. 

The feelings that come with this are always deeply pleasant – a kind of somnolent, meditative calm combined with deep inner strength -  but one that isn’t being induced, at speed, by the Headspace guy at 0600hrs on a cold February morning with the dog at my feet and the family asleep upstairs. 

So why can’t life be like this all the time? 

This is a question I was forced to address, quite seriously, some years ago.  

Like a lot of people in the social enterprise world, I walk with a stick. Not a real one, of course. But if you could see inside me, you would see the mental equivalent of the guy with a stick: Moving? Yes. Quickly? Well yes, mostly. Steady on his feet? For the most part. 

...Until he tries to run a 10,000 metre steeplechase or copy Ed Balls on ‘Strictly’. Then things get tricky and he might fall over. Equally, he may be fine – you just never know.    

That’s me. And many others I suspect who sit in positions of responsibility. Not ‘ill’. Not even anxious or down most of the time. But walking with an invisible stick that, thankfully, others can’t see.

I call my stick ‘Fragility’. It’s a term I use to describe my own make-up, the raw ingredients in my DNA lovingly baked-in by Upbringing.

It’s probably fair to say that I have, over a lifetime, worked my way around my own Fragility in three main ways. 

Firstly, like the man with the stick, I have learned to avoid the Mortal Combat stuff that might cause me to fall over. I count, in this, national politics, top CEO positions and anything commercial that might leave me lying awake, night after night.   

If you have my make-up, however much you might know, intellectually, about how to do these jobs well, you know too that they might break you in half. 

Secondly, you learn to get good with a stick. Use a stick for long enough, practice with it regularly and you become pretty adept. So good, in fact, that the stick’s not really a problem 80 percent of the time. You are actively addressing the weaknesses. And on a good day, you might even pirouette on your stick, so skilled are you in its manipulation!  

The ways I  have refined my stick-act has been through daily meditation, exercise and Californian-style self-improvement.  

On the latter it is important to remember that even the weakest part of your psyche benefit from constant challenging use. To cover it in bandages and subject it to permanent rest only cements the fragility. Better to use it and improve it.

Thirdly, I have worked around my Fragility by admitting it. For a long time I denied it, despite the hits I was taking by not doing so. I took the long hours like a boxer being pummelled by Tyson Fury on the ropes: So – I spent a decade building a mid-sized charity from scratch to 250 people despite feeling like shit at least a third of the time.   

Followed that I started-over in a new business, Stepping Out. Before long I had 8 staff but no reliable commercial income to pay them all. Sleepless nights, all over again. Again, the life I chose was decided almost in defiance of my make-up.

This all changed just over three years ago. I decided to admit to myself – and to others – that I walk with a stick.  

This meant making some decisions about how I was going to live. On the plus side, there was to be less worry, more sleep, better ‘Quality of Life’. On the deficit side, I had to admit, for now, that there would be a less glorious personal narrative.    

All of this has worked out well so far. My business is still commercially successful - but with hardly any permanent staff to worry about.   

My 80 hours a week is now more like 50 or 60 at a push. In the hours that remain, I work hard on my weaknesses so that, one day, I might leave the stick at home now and then or, who knows, learn to walk without it.

I also dream, as I develop my stick-tricks, of a string of new businesses, both social and commercial that I will create, from the vegan, hipster café that, finally makes Bury St Edmunds cool (as well as quaint) to the specialist search firm that boosts migration between our three converging sectors (business, public and third).

Finally, I dream before its all over, of starting, growing or leading another brilliant social business, again with backers, again handing over when the time is right. 

A benign side-effect of choosing to walk with a stick has been richer relationships with my children than I used to enjoy.      

Life has, somehow, become richer and more interesting since I learned to accept my stick and live with it.

Which brings me back to where I started. The holidays. The bliss they give you. The light that, briefly shines, before the dull days wrap around us once again. 

That light is important because it can tell us things we need to know, or remind ourselves about. Like who we really are, what we want – and, in my case, how I am getting on, really.  

On those two wondrous days after a sunny summer holiday, I don’t feel like I carry a stick. I am reminded of a carefreeness that only comes with being very young or very old. 

Do I want that feeling to remain? Truly, the answer is ‘No’. Not because it isn’t wonderful, but because it’s not life-as-it-really-is.  

Which, for now, means, walking with a stick, hopefully with increased skill, as every year passes.

If, like me, you walk with a stick that is invisible to other people think about what life might be like if, like me, you turned it from a secret weakness into you a tool to guide you to better days.   

This might mean a new life. Or just your current one, done a bit different. Think about it.

Back to stepping out now