Friday, 26 April 2013

How far will drive and motivation take you?

Six years ago my line manager at school asked me to "skill-up and learn photoshop" or words to that effect. "OK..." I thought. Then being an arrogant and immature little schmuck I wanted to reply... "But I don't even want to learn Photoshop." Thankfully I had a bit of EQ and thought to rephrase this as "Can you put me on a course then?" Money was tight in those days, our department could just about afford a book. Thankfully there were online tutorials (PSD Tuts, Smashing Magazine etc).

In hindsight, this lady had a lot of foresight and she continues to make these forward-thinking decisions which pay off. She runs a successful, highly-skilled department which is always two steps ahead of the game. 

It turns out that the new and undesirable challenge was actually a blessing in disguise. One year later, I got a promotion based solely on my ability to do "a bit of photoshop and that" and for the following 4 years, our students were achieving way above their expected grades thanks to the lessons I'd learnt online, from my housemate (a pretty amazing graphic designer),  our wedding photographer and from my wife. Here's some of the students' work. They were all doing A-levels at the time, but the quality is not too far from industry-standard:


We can often shirk away from new challenges, it's never comfortable thinking about change. Perhaps it will be difficult, but it's generally worth the investment in time, energy and money. I think about a few of my friends who have developed so-called "ill skills" in order to pay the bills. I've already mentioned my housemate. Well here's the full story: at the age of 19, he didn't know what he wanted to do, he just knew he didn't want to be wasting his life. One day he decided he wanted to be a graphic designer but didn't know how. He figured he'd have to go to college and then his mate just asked him how much he wanted it? If he really wanted it, he should just go out and f***ing do it! Based on the clients he now works with, I'd say he's made a decent investment.

Example 3: My wife was making a new film 3 years ago and she knew that she would need to learn some new Special FX as her film involved complex pans, tilts and motion rigging. Rather than pay out top dollar and outsource it all to a production studio, she realised that it was important for her to understand these programs and scripts. It would be a good investment. So she met with a good friend who is a Flame and Nuke artist, he's worked with Aardman animations:

But my wife being someone who takes a belts and braces approach to learning, she decided to seek out lessons and support from another friend of ours. He worked on Quantum of Solace, Avatar 3D, Harry Potter, X-Men and The Dark Knight. In the end, I think it paid off. The finished film is stunning, as I believe all 10 readers of this blog will agree!

Here's a short preview of her finished film:

Example 4: Another friend of ours had a Philosophy degree and was sick of being unemployed or in jobs he hated (working in a bank, identifying terrorist bank accounts etc) , so he decided to learn to sew. Yeah that's right, just from scratch on his granny's old sewing machine. He started making clothes for friends. Now he has his own bespoke streetwear company which sells products out of Comme Des Garcons in Japan and France. He still works from his London workshop and he's made jackets for Usain Bolt, Ed Sheeran, 1D and Tinie Tempah to name but a few.

The following year is a new chapter for me in several walks of life. Professionally, I'll need to develop new skills in programming and computer science in order to teach my new subject. Whilst this is daunting, so was Photoshop and Final Cut Pro. I have to remind myself of where I came from with that.

This was my first "before and after edit" I ever did in Photoshop:

Just copy and pasting into seletions and a cheeky invert.

A few years on:

Now we're erasing boats and stuff
Whilst the months and year ahead are going to be tough as many of us embark on new journeys, I hope we have the will to embrace it and develop some ill skills. If we can pay the bills at the same time, then that would be an added bonus!

Special mention to the birthday girl. Wishing you all the best sis!

Yeah that's right, we were cute as kittens back then.

An afterthought: Most of our life's challenges would not have been possible without a certain support network. Whether personal or professional, I guess it's key to have good people around you. This is something we're not really taught at a young age. We just like to be friends with the cool kids. Looking back, where are all the "cool kids" now? The year ahead brings great personal challenges for me too, so I hope as a reader of this blog, my friends can also support me in this next chapter of life.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The gratitude attitude in action

For Easter, I returned to the UK. I've been wearing long johns (thermals) for the past 3 weeks; not the same pair of course! The cold in the first few days was torturous, but like most things I soon got used to it and was grateful for the many luxuries that the UK has to offer.

A fairly accurate representation

When we first arrived on Praslin, a good friend of ours said the most bizarre thing, "It is great here, but you have to get off the island (i.e. leave Seychelles) every few months. During one of your school holidays take the opportunity to go somewhere else." He reasoned that you had to do it to a) avoid cabin fever and b) to appreciate what we have here on Praslin. Leaving Seychelles has indeed been beneficial. Very few places can match Seychelles for the quality of their beaches and pace of life. Bird island is a great example:

Vallee de Mai is another great example:

Photo's by Niraj Sanghvi

I think I've taken these places for granted because they're so close. We drive through the Vallee de Mai every day, but having been away, I truly appreciate and miss those familiar sights, sounds and smells. It reminds me of the Gratitude Attitude in Prof. Richard Wiseman's book:

Present an individual with a constant sound, image or smell and something very peculiar happens. They slowly get more and more used to it and eventually it vanishes from their awareness. For example, if you walk into a room that smells of freshly baked bread, you quickly detect the rather pleasant aroma. However, stay in the room for a few minutes and the smell will appear to disappear. In fact, the only way to reawaken it is to walk out of the room and back in again. Exactly the same concept applies to many areas of our lives, including happiness. Everyone has something to be happy about. Perhaps they have a loving partner, good health, great kids, a satisfying job, close friends, interesting hobbies, caring parents, a roof over their heads, clean water to drink,  a signed Billy Joel album, or enough food to eat. However as time passes, they get used to what they have and, just like the smell of fresh bread, these wonderful assets vanish from their mind. As the old cliché goes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Psychologist Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough wondered what would happen to people’s happiness levels if they were asked to carry out the conceptual equivalent of leaving the bread-smelling room and coming back in again. The researchers wanted to discover the effect of reminding people of the good things that were constantly present in their lives. Three groups of people were asked to spend a few moments each week writing. The first group listed five things for which they were grateful, the second noted down five things that annoyed them and the final group  jotted down five events that had taken place during the previous week. Everyone scribbled away: the ‘gratitude’ group remarked on things from seeing the sunset on a summer’s day to the generosity of their friends; the ‘annoyed’ group listed taxes and their children arguing; the ‘events’ group detailed making breakfast and driving to work. The results were startling. Compared to those in either the ‘annoyed’ or  ‘events’ groups, those expressing gratitude ended up happier, much more optimistic about the future, physically healthier and even exercised significantly more.

Unlike the research group, I've never spent much time conceptually "leaving the room". I've seldom stepped back and said wow, these are the things I'm grateful for. Not just on Praslin, but life in general. Perhaps the amount of energy and time spent in the 'annoyed' group has not been useful at all.

Living on an island can indeed be frustrating at times, but there are many pro's: my skin is in better condition, I'm less tired, my swimming has improved and I'm surrounded by some very successful and talented people. There are pro's and con's of living anywhere. Mrs H and H.P were right "The grass is never greener, it's just different." London is great, so to is Praslin, Doncaster, Leamington Spa. There are challenges everywhere and life isn't "easy" for anyone- we've got to make the most of it.

It's on my shelf in Praslin if anyone wants to borrow it. Be warned though, I once lent it to a student who didn't like reading. She loved it so much, the book disappeared for 16 months. Apparently her mum started reading it too, she quit her job and re-invented her life. You've been warned.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

6 month reflection

I'm sat in my flat in London, having spent the past 6 months mainly on Praslin in Seychelles. It seems like a good time to reflect. These reflections will be quite random, but it will hopefully give you some insight as to how your life can change in 6 months.

Before returning to see my wife in the UK, a few people had warned me of sensory overload. Seychelles is still a country with relatively little in the form of mass-marketing. As a great deal of products are imported, there is not the (un-necessary) variety of products that we're spoilt with in Europe. My first few supermarket experiences back in the UK were not just overwhelming, but they actually managed to bring on headaches and feelings of nausea.

My wife asked me to pick up some Horlicks and Ovaltine whilst she checked out the juices in the next aisle. I stood at the hot drinks section of Morrisons for a good 3 minutes, completely perplexed. There were 3 kinds of Horlicks and 3 kinds of Ovaltine. 

This is not a picture of me, it's one I stole from 

My brain literally could not process the amount of choice being thrown at it. I wondered who on earth at Nestle thought that chocolate flavoured Horlicks was a good idea. Further research led me to discover that the person was certainly not Danish. The Danes apparently banned the sale of Horlicks, Ovaltine, Shreddies and Marmite 2 years ago! 

Interestingly, our brain quickly adapts to the variety of products or lack of them. I found that after living on Praslin for a while, I rarely complained about a lack of choice, I just buy what's on the shelf and if my mind and body are really craving something in particular, ISPC can usually provide a quick fix! Similarly, after being back for 2 weeks, I can now go around the giant supermarkets of London without getting a headache! My mind is possibly back to its London prime and capable of processing a ridiculous amount of visual stimuli again. As a consequence, I've returned to checking facebook on a daily basis, although I'm not yet active again on Twitter. 

Why is it that I don't use social networking that much in Seychelles? Because very little of the stuff on there directly affects me. Since returning, I've become engrossed by British politics and the news (much like the great majority of the British public). Why is this? Well because the crazy policies may directly affect my life in the near future. It's "somewhat close to home" and therefore interesting. For me, this is the reason why people are obsessed with gossip in Seychelles. Because very little of what is in the news (The Nation/Today in Seychelles, SBC) actually affects you. With a population of 6500 people, anything that happens to anyone on Praslin feels like it is "somewhat close to home". Someone's boat is sunk, someone moves house, someone changes jobs or sells their business. This news is infinitely more interesting than what is printed in the national newspapers and it can spread faster than Twitter! The reason why is because it is "somewhat close to home" much closer to home than what is in the national news. 

Perhaps this is not just typical of islands, but indeed any close-knit communities. Workplaces for example. Whilst I generally see gossip as quite negative and damaging, perhaps it is actually a positive sign of a healthy community. My wife and I rarely gossip about people living around us in London, that's because we don't actually know our neighbours or the local community. We live our own very separate lives. Is this a good thing or not? I don't think it's either, it's just a London thing. People have to get on with their own lives to survive here. You can't spend too much time nosey-ing around other people's business, you have to get things done and there are finite hours in the day to get them done. 

I guess that leads me to my final thoughts. Perhaps the laid-back island lifestyle of Praslin is more conducive to building a tight-knit local community where everyone knows everyone. And perhaps the rushed and action-packed nature of London means we are very unfamiliar with our neighbours and community. Both ways of living have different prices to pay. Living in a tight knit community, few secrets are kept and gossip travels fast. Living in a road full of strangers, there are times when the walk home can feel cold and awkward. Is there a happy medium to be found somewhere? Can Londoners learn from Praslinois and vice versa?