Free, To Be, C’est la Vie!

Where birds of a feather flock together & there’s plenty of fish in the sea…

Sky and Water I, by M.C. Escher (1938)
Sky and Water I, by M.C. Escher (1938)

FAQ: “Hello. So tell me, what do you do?”

Yes, people are programmed to exchange default salutations and label each other, even if most of us don’t really enjoy being pigeonholed. I prefer a different greeting that goes: “Hello, how do you do?” because it allows for a more genuine interest about one’s general wellbeing.

Eclectic is the classic adjective used when some folk have politely referred to my employment history. It’s accurate of course, since my professional interests are not confined to one specific path, and my experiences do not follow any dominant job trajectory. Typically, I encounter traditional careerists who insist on linear progress. Though I very much appreciate the comforts of steady stability, perhaps psychologically I was wired to be a bit more unconventional given my background.

My parents separated when I was five, and this early disruption resulted in constantly moving around, changing houses and schools. Such a roaming childhood upbringing was bound to shape my sense of place into something more mobile.

The development of my ethnic identity comprised of a mash-up too — born in Manila, I have Southeast Asian mestiza features, but thanks to a colonial history, I possess a Spanish name, and speak with a weird North Americanish accent. Relocating to London gave me British citizenship with a solid multi-cultural cultivation. It’s not that surprising that through nature and nurture I am very much a hybrid creature. If variety is the spice of life, I’m the all-things-nice option as per this Filipino dessert called halo-halo, which translates literally as ‘mix mix’.

A popular cold dessert which is a concoction of crushed ice, evaporated milk, and various ingredients

Unfortunately, I’ve previously been dismissed as ‘flighty’ by those who have strong uncompromising preferences for rigid and robotic systems. Yet a wandering quality is to be expected in curious cats with a growth-mindset approach to life. It’s still too common that certain types of people are disparaged for being a ‘jack of all trades’ when in truth the complete adage is:

“A jack of all trades is a master of none,
but oftentimes better than a master of one.”

Expertise is important, but being multi-disciplinary can also prove advantageous. In Emilie Wapnick’s Ted Talkshe champions the superpowers of being a multipotentialite as someone skilled in (1) idea synthesis, (2) rapid learning and (3) adaptability.

I have had to reframe and repackage ‘what I do’ in order to reinforce the choices that I made. I talk more about being a social engineer in a podcast interview (Episode 11 by Greater than 11%), and how we work is fast becoming the better framework as encouraged by the likes of Manual of Me.

There is another Filipino word that is significant. Hanap buhay translates into ‘search for life’. Much of being in the material world involves the necessity of an income, but living well is the ultimate greater work, and it is more than accumulation of job descriptions. The default office routine should neither determine who we are, nor limit what we are capable of.

In the event of some kind of after-life, I doubt I will be judged for the notches of a curriculum vitae timeline. I am therefore keen to have the right metrics in place whilst I am alive, to guarantee my heart will be lighter than a feather when death comes. What if we were less CV busy, and more flexy c’est la vie?

Ancient Egyptians believed you had to earn your way to enter your afterlife, by having your heart weighed.

Sceptics will roll their eyes at the ‘follow your heart’ advice, yet commercial brands have no qualms marketing emotions and inciting decisions based on feelings. Much has been written about designing a life one loves and budgets are spent on office layout makeovers. Businesses demand creativity and crave innovation, but it takes more than interior decoration to truly get staff ‘in the zone’.

During the nineteenth century, the “primary theatre of everyday life” in European cities were coffee houses. They were the urban spaces that nurtured cultural revolutions by creating the “third place” where people could be relieved from the strict obligations of home and work. It allowed for free thinking that became an icon for a modern consciousness. They were even referred to as penny universities because you pay for a cuppa and you get to meet great minds. No brainer that Starbucks is a beloved student hangout too.

In the first decades of the 20th century, the bars in a small district of Paris hosted some of the greatest artists, writers and intellects of the age
In the first decades of the 20th century, the bars in a small district of Paris hosted some of the greatest artists, writers and intellects of the age

The café is a hub of social interaction and conversation. For artists and writers, the café continues to have a significant role as a “labour exchange” venue, where cultural and economic exchanges happen. Today’s consumer citizens live in this constellation of informal and formal places of doing.

Thank goodness for all the freelancers who have pioneered independent ways to greener pastures. I broke away from the standard full-time situation in 2013, and free-ranging since has been a constant endeavour to find the right opportunities. This freestyle movement confirms what’s truly worthwhile is when you meet the right kind of people. Brands will beat the drum about the experiential, but the real immersive is in ‘having a life’ when we explore the intersections within multiple environments of the wider world. Cultivating connections often begin with that frequently asked invite to ‘have coffee’ — or cup of tea, and over lunch.

There’s a recent video about the workplace by a communications agency on ‘the connected space’. It is worth watching not because it is agreeable, but because the script is revealing, as it still promotes the 9–5 model. But a house is not automatically the home, and the church is not the steeple. The future of work is being reformed by preferences for a more rounded and healthier life styles. The architecture of a better working environment should therefore expand beyond the building of gilded cages.

Technology provides devices that allow mobility, yet though software for efficiency is available, attitudes about human labour is still anchored to the official building hardware. Political mantras of democratic societies will promote libertéégalitéfraternité but the economics don’t sufficiently adhere to such qualitative values. How can we evolve from just being transactional? Rather than hustling harder, how can working smarter to fit the life that we want?

A screenshot from R/GA’s documentary film about the past, present, and future of the office. [LOL.]
A screenshot from R/GA’s documentary film about the past, present, and future of the office. [LOL.]

I grew up reading Choose Your Own Adventure books, and I have applied this by following whatever pathways manifested through the years. Maybe having a spiritual leaning fostered a tendency to make leaps of faith when deciding next steps. What’s certain is that at some point, I decided to create a life that worked for me, rather than just adhering to a single track of working for boss goals. Choosing to have agency, is not the same as not wanting to work in agencies necessarily. However, institutions still need to judiciously incorporate more of the flexibility that is in demand. In this Earth Matrix, we are still trying to be more human than machine.

If birds are not meant to be caged, and fishes thrive best out of artificial aquariums, it is just as natural that humans have migratory inclinations. So much value is placed on experience. We learn best through exploration and being exposed to the wider world, whether travelling, browsing around, even just surfing the web.

The Aadambar Strivadi Quilt by Kate Just (2016)

The patchwork quilt of experiences I have stitched together may not be a popular best selling Pringle™ tartan, but I am very thankful for the unique collage I’ve got. What is rather amusing is that it now perfectly fits as a wonderful technicolour cloak of visibility for the Diversity & Inclusion tick box.

A desired future is one that has variety. Diversity is the mix, and inclusion is getting the mix to work well together. It is wonderful that collectives are flourishing; networks I’ve plugged into are LeapersAda’s ListFawnbrakersand Naked ApeTheir manifestos aim at ‘challenging the status quo’, ‘changing communities’ and ‘[supporting] anyone who wants to work differently’.

Maybe the world is still dominated by suits hellbent on being ‘So Money’, but some of us are no longer willing to sell our souls to the proverbial devil. My purpose as a human is not just to prove to others I’m a productive unit… it’s more than that right? The vocabulary towards raison d’être has been inundated by passion and purpose — but what about principles and practices?

A #FinTech superstar who happens to be a super friend is Dr Leda Glyptis, whose writing threads I recommend subscribing to. She adamantly clarifies:

“Diversity isn’t about the photo-op and a glossy prospectus showing off how diverse your workforce is. It’s about outcomes. And taking on-board the people who will help you keep your company changing along with the world.”

This should be applied to the idea of job venues. It’s not just about the office, or swinging the other way with remote WFHs. It’s more than the usual startup bingo of free food + beverage, game tables and fancy artsy wallpaper. How do we redefine workability by managing the necessities for flexible schedules? Where can we co-create and collaborate and enable colleagues to thrive? Why should we be forced to clock-in & clock-out the old way?

Remember the food groups of Go Grow Glow that was meant to give a balanced nutrition diet? I personally follow this Healthy Mind Platter prescribed by Dr Dan Siegel, which structures time into seven categories: focus, play, connecting, physical, inner, down, and sleep. A more wholistic life means having combinations to achieve victory conditions.

In Supermario World, the players are plumbers who don’t actually do any repairing of pipe fittings. We accept that their life story as characters is the completion of quests and levelling up. In my black and white world, I created the role of ‘social engineer’ to frame myself as a resourceful problem solver who seeks to optimise systems.

“You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose” — Dr Seuss
“You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose” — Dr Seuss

I’m a pawn just like other pawns. I’m no Princess Peach, but have my own brand of a fairytale. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person of short stature in possession of the names queen (Regina) and ‘eevilmidget’ must be in pursuit of royal trouble. If evil prevails because good men do nothing, maybe it’s also because *wicked* people are always up to something?

Predictably unpredictable, I am regularly involved in a variety of ‘schemes’ where I write, talk, sing, dance, and do many other things I supposedly can’t or shouldn’t. My toolkit means I am game for miscellaneous projects. I move where I can, as I wish or please.

I tend to see life as the all encompassing game. Collecting coins and paying for items is part of the narrative, but it is not my quintessential reason for participating. To go back to the eclectic method, eklektikos is Greek for “selective” — or literally “picking out”. I have curated my life by choosing the options I deemed best for me, guided by an innate sense of knowing what I value. Hence career candy has looked more like that favourite British bag of Pick ‘n Mix.

“This is the real secret of life– to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” — Alan Watts

I recognise that ‘all the world’s a stage’, and I’m just a student visiting different places where I learn/unlearn and practically apply knowledge. Choosing to disengage from finite unilateral constraints, I found myself enrolled in some sort of Multiversity where I have autonomy to attend several classes.

I like the freedom to pass with flying colours and love figurative tree branches. I neither want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond. I tweet, enjoy singing in choirs and swimming in beach waters. I try to be the best I can be.

“Hello. How do you do? I’ll have a mocha please.”

Author: Rina Atienza

 

Special mention to fellow Leapers Benjamin Carew of WeCoffee who encouraged me to write on the subject, Matthew Knight of Think Play Make, and a ‘Purple Simon’. Thank you kindly. “The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.” (Jim Carrey)

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