What to do when you hit a low…?

On his blog, full of thought provoking, question-inducing posts, Seth Godin talks about The Dip (click here to read more: Seth’s Blog: The Dip, revisited, plus audio bonus).

The Dip is the title of a book that Godin published a few years ago (one that I admittedly haven’t yet read), which is apparently about questions to ask oneself when one hits ‘the dip’… aka a low, a lull… or perhaps even self-defined failure. While many books promise to give you the answers to success, Godin instead asks you some questions. Sounds promising to me. This has immediately gone on my list of books to read.

Here’s a brief description of The Dip, in Godin’s own words:

Every new project (or job, or hobby, or company) starts out exciting and fun. Then it gets harder and less fun, until it hits a low point-really hard, and not much fun at all.

And then you find yourself asking if the goal is even worth the hassle. Maybe you’re in a Dip-a temporary setback that will get better if you keep pushing. But maybe it’s really a Cul-de-Sac, which will never get better, no matter how hard you try.

What really sets superstars apart from everyone else is the ability to escape dead ends quickly, while staying focused and motivated when it really counts.

This definition of the ‘dip’ is something that resonates with me. I moved to America 5 years ago in pursuit of my version of the American Dream. It has been a thrilling, exhilarating and amazing ride. I’ve done things and met people that I could only have dreamed about, and I continue to find America a fascinating and interesting place where I grow daily in a way that I never did at home.

At the same time, moving to a new country, adjusting to a new culture, making new friends, starting a new career, getting to 30 and much more has been a lot more challenging than I could ever have imagined. In fact, the readjustment (as well as some sense of loss) that comes with moving half way across the world is not something that I even thought about before I did it.

I’ve also seen beyond far the gloss and novelty of living in New York, and in America, and some of it really ain’t pretty. It has been a challenge not only to my sense of self, but has required me to rethink pretty much every value and cultural notion that I grew up with.

For a while, I was wondering if this was normal. Now I see that I’d just hit a dip. You see, it was all just simply fabulous fun for the first few years…then it became harder. Reality started to settle in. I met some really truly awful people, had some truly disturbing experiences. I began to ask myself some soul-searching questions – Is this where I want to raise children? Is this relentless hustle what I really want? Do I want to live in a massive country where I really don’t know that many people [relative to the people I grew up with and went to school with] and where things are so different? Do I even really like America? Doesn’t New York have any trees?! Why are there so many roaches and rats in this damn city? Was London really that bad after all? That sneaky devil then started to whisper in my ear… asking me the ultimate question: ‘maybe you should go back to England?’ 

I know for sure, and have actually always been sure, that going back to England is most certainly not an option – not in the foreseeable future anyway and not for as long as I have the legal right to remain in the US. Even if that pops up in my head for a moment, I say NO. That ain’t happening. But I can see why when one is in the middle of that low, the idea of returning to ‘safety’, to the familiar, seems oh so comforting.

In many ways, I see this as some kind of test. It’s the hero’s quest. You start out on your journey and at some point Life asks you whether or not you really have what it takes to keep on. Are you strong enough? Are you hungry enough? Do you want it bad enough? Are you going to be a winner? Or will you just fall over when it seems too hard? And trust me, at times, it has been really, really, really hard.

During my ‘dip’ I have realized a few things about myself. More than anything, it is a huge learning curve. I imagine it’s almost like a baby learning to walk: You keep getting up, you fall down, you get up, you fall down… and then one day, it just happens and you’ve got it.

Yet, I have come to realize that I love the challenge of it all. I like Life’s tests. I enjoy doing things that others say is impossible or that they doubt I can do. I even enjoy doing the things that I myself questioned could be done. The beauty of achieving is in the overcoming. It’s a bit perverse, but it shows me what I’m made of.

What’s the goal? Self-actualization and the fulfillment of my destiny. To be the very best human being that I can be….and to express that in whatever way it requires expression, to its fullest. Unfortunately, that’s not available to me everywhere in the world. It isn’t in England – and that’s why I left. I believe, in fact I know, it is here in America. So, I will keep on pushing, pushing past the Dip and I will achieve what I came here to achieve. I’m not a quitter, and I’m not going to give up now. It ain’t over till it’s over.

So maybe I’ve answered the question that I asked in the title of this blog.. What to do when you hit a low? Stop. Regain your composure. And then… keep on pushing…

What will we show our grandchildren?

I remember the days when my parents would show me old photos of themselves in their heyday. It was cool to see mum in her 70s gear, complete with afro, and dad spinning tunes at some hot party. I loved seeing photos of my grandparents, in family photos, looking dapper in their Sunday Best.

The other day I had a thought… What will I show my grandchildren? I don’t print photos anymore. I don’t really know anyone who does. Instead, my photographic memories live on hard drives, in clouds, in my email inbox, on Google and on some social networks. It’s unlikely that I’ll be 70 years old, digging into my current mac (which will be long dead and buried, and probably considered an ancient relic), trying to find photos of my youth.

All of the photos taken on my various smartphones (which I often remind myself to transfer onto my computer) will be long gone and buried. Is there going to be some 2070 version of iphoto that will carry all of my photos from the past few years until the day I die? Perhaps, but I don’t think so… Already I’ve had to move photos from different places in order to make sure that I keep them. They’re important to me.

In the past you’d take your photos, get them processed and put them in an album or in a box, ready to be retrieved as and when needed. There’s something special about coming across a long-forgotten album that takes you back to an earlier age and times that you’d forgotten, holding it in your hands and almost touching that memory again.

I love the digital era, but the same thing that makes it great – that it is digital – is the same thing that makes it not so great. Digital is here today, gone tomorrow. Look at MySpace. It was the hot thing. Now, who really thinks about it?

What happens when all of those social networks and digital services start shutting down, or are sold off and merge with others and change their links. Where do your photos go then?

I have been asking the same thing about my work, my writing. I have lost work online due to hackers. I have had pieces that I put time into moved to new areas of other publications’ sites, and buried somewhere. When I started writing, the aim was to create a paper trail of my life, some way by which future generations could read my work and (hopefully) learn something. Even if I store everything on my computer, I’m not going to be using the same computer forever am I?

The beauty of the writers who were before the digital age is that you go and find their archives, archives that – unless destroyed – remain in physical perpetuity. Not so with digital.

It’s a very interesting time, because the digital era offers so much. Many museums and cultural institutions are going online with their archives now and I believe that much older culture can be brought to a wider audience online. I have been able to find my grandfather’s journalism from the 60s in Google News’ digital archives. However, it is physical archives that are being taken online and digitized, meaning that if a site should one day totally crash and all content is gone forever, the originals still remain.

I believe that in the next few years we will see a return to physical formats. I think that people will realize that they want physical, tangible evidence of their lives, physical objects to touch and hold onto; objects with texture and depth, not just digital footprints which can be scrubbed out as easily as water washes over sand. After a relentless sprint into the future, it may be that some of us will want to return in some ways to the things we liked about the past such as physical photographs. This is really about the preservation of one’s own history and legacy.

In recent years I have noticed a growing number of polaroid photo booths in some shops, restaurants and clubs and I’m always keen to jump in. It’s great to see that polaroid once it has been produced.

We may return to creating physical products first, then moving onto digital, rather than the other way around. This is bearing in mind that there are  actually young people growing up for whom a physical photograph is an alien concept – perhaps they will not feel the same way.

However, I’d certainly like to have physical photographs to show my grandchildren. Hmm…can anyone say Kodak?!