‘The Doormen’ — May 2022 Letter To The First Constant Students
Dear Constant Students,
Today I’m speaking to all members of the community, as well as anyone connected to this journey from afar. It’s been about a year since Liam and I began running workshops and then welcoming in our first members.
In that year I’ve learnt so much — I’ve made so many wonderful mistakes, had some enlightening failures and seem to have gained the world. But I’ve also been terribly frustrated and disappointed too!
Today I want to discuss just how important you in the community are in making this all work. As a reminder, The Constant Student is a community that connects (mainly young) thinkers and builders to work together to overcome the challenges that each of us face on an individual, community and societal level. We try to take people on a journey — it starts by connecting them to other open-minded young people, it continues by developing their mindset and self-awareness, and guides them through to developing and building their own projects, ideas and dreams out in the world.
It’s the road to developing Gillage — a fully in-real-life version of this.
Now before I remind you why you’re so important for this mission, I need to tell you about Gillian Lynne.
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The story of Gillian Lynne
I released a podcast episode this week unpacking the great Ken Robinson’s TED Talks and explaining why 99% of young people won’t reach their potential. In that I retold the story of Gillian Lynne.
Ken Robinson tells the story of this 7-year-old girl who had trouble focusing in class. She was sent to the doctor who ran a string of tests, and when he was done, he asked her to wait outside while he talked to her mother.
When they were done talking they walked outside to see Gillian dancing to music playing in the hall. The doctor turned to Gillian’s mother and said:
Gillian isn’t sick, Mrs. Lynne… she’s a dancer. Take her to dance school.
Gillian Lynne went on to become a millionaire and the choreographer of historic musicals like Cats and Phantom of the Opera. Lucky for her, ADHD hadn’t been invented yet — someone else might have medicated her out of her natural giftedness.
Every time I hear this story, I struggle to hold back tears. I think to myself, how many Gillian Lynne’s have we locked away, and prevented from realising themselves?
I fear that education propagates our culture, and that in this culture, most people are diverted away from realising the person they were born to be.
My ridiculously high standards for human beings — there is a Da Vinci in all of us.
I believe that there is Da Vinci-level creativity boarded up inside every single human being, and that our failure to unlock it is the root of all (or most) human suffering. This is the sort of dynamic that happens in the Gillian Lynne situation, for which she was a lucky survivor.
When I say everyone, I mean everyone — your maid, garbage man, parents, school friends — precisely all those people you think of as the exact opposite of creative. I hear everyone asking, ‘how can this be?’ and ‘what is creativity anyway?’
Well, I think of creativity as the ability to see and express new possibilities and solutions. For me creativity is tied to seeing clearly and thinking Without-The-Box instead of outside-the-box. When I say ‘Da Vinci-level creativity’, I don’t mean becoming big and famous like good old Leonardo.
Funnily enough, Da Vinci’s loyalty was to his curiosities and interests — he thought that the real wealth in life was wisdom, not money, and so he preferred to struggle a little financially in favour of being able to pursue what really mattered to him. Sometimes it was painting, but on other occasions it was measuring ratios in the human body or studying the tongue of a woodpecker.
As I observe the journeys of Constant Students and the literature across education, learning, philosophy, meaning and human behaviour, I’ve come to realise that curiosity, not IQ, is the engine of learning and human achievement.
The place of being a Doorman is committing to help others realise themselves.
Working on the Constant Student hasn’t always been a picnic. Here we find ourselves trying to guide, facilitate and accelerate people along their ‘Da Vinci journey’. Sounds rosy, but it’s mentally challenging because the earlier you are on your personal development journey, the more resistant you are to change.
Inner change accelerates and compounds on the journey of a Thousand Doors — it might take you ten years to build a reading habit, but then just a year from this point to quit an unsatisfying job. After this, it might take a week to decide to do something else unconventional, like agree to write a book. But, at the start, each step or new Door is effortful and takes a lot of time — for someone several Doors ahead, it can be very hard to be patient and understanding.
I call the work of facilitating this in others being ‘a Doorman’ — and that is our goal in The Constant Student — helping Gillian Lynne become Gillian Lynne and unlocking the Da Vinci in people.
That’s why, dear Constant Students, it is vital that we pursue our journeys with relentless passion and energy.
There are lawyers and there are lawyers. There are leaders and there are leaders.
In an interview on Graduate Theory, our dear friend and mentor Michael Gill discussed who he considered to be the three greatest lawyers of all time.
‘They might surprise you’ he said, ‘Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.’
Now ‘unrealistic Joe’ is here again to tell you that I think most online thought leaders, educators, gurus and leaders you listen to and are influenced by aim incredibly low — love me or hate me, it’s simply my opinion.
Most wisdom we’re presented with is aimed at helping us thrive in a career game for it’s own sake — as if the meaning of life was to climb as high as possible professionally or become the number one performer in a particular field or industry.
I don’t have a problem with that, but I do believe that when we truly unlock ourselves and the potential of our lives, the way we think, act and behave overshoots the traditional achievements you’re taught to value. If careerism is teaching you to climb to the top of Everest, real dreaming is like taking a rocket to space in comparison.
If I ask most people to name a successful lawyer, they might say ‘I don’t know, who defended OJ Simpson? Those guys must have been good.’ They wouldn’t usually think of the lawyers that made the world a whole lot better.
Still, someone has to defend OJ Simpson… but, if you can challenge Apartheid or liberate a country from oppression, you should probably do that instead. Only do what only you can do.
Remember this, dear Constant Students. There are lawyers and there are lawyers. There are waitresses and there are waitresses. There are entrepreneurs and there are entrepreneurs. There are leaders and there are leaders.
By this I mean, it matters less in the eyes of this community what you do as much as how you do it. If you really care about what you do and do it for the right reasons, you’ll make a bigger contribution and enjoy it more. Do the bare minimum or set out to revolutionise — anything inbetween is pretty much a waste of time.
The world is full of meaningful challenges to work on — the sad thing is that, due to our conditioning, most of us fail to take up these challenges because we get consumed by our own story.
I’m a bit unpopular in that I still challenge the best of us — most people settle for doing what’s acceptable in the eyes of most, instead of what’s meaningful in the eyes of history. I believe that the easiest way to be ‘successful’ is to change your corner of the world, and to do what only you can do — or, be searching for what that looks like for you.
Luke Smith is one of the most naturally curious people I know — my high school friend who, like so many of us, began his journey with a lot of reading into personal development literature. In the past couple of years, Luke has formed a formidable running habit and begun excelling in sales roles.
But something exciting happened in the last couple of months. He not only began to help me co-my podcast, but also launched his own podcast with another of our close high school friends, Dom Bullock, called With the Chiefs — which is all about the journey of being a runner.
As Luke goes on his journey, he begins to see more and more possibilities open up. Starting a podcast seemed like an impossible task a few months ago, but now he’s fallen in love with it and it is accelerating new ideas — in a very powerful way, it changes the way he looks at himself, because he never thought of himself as a creative person. He always had the itch to try things, but not necessarily the identity or view of himself to permit them.
Is this another Gillian Lynne moment?
What will be the consequences of Luke taking this path?
Why we need more Luke’s
My contention is that our culture, which is repeatedly propogated through our formal education systems, conditions us to think in the wrong way. It’s not what we’re learning that concerns me, but how we learn, and how we think as a result of that.
Yes, it would be great if children were taught emotional intelligence and how to code, but if we do that by having classes in the traditional format, with the same production-style stage-based system, we won’t change anything. Frighteningly little attention goes into how education and culture conditions us out of creativity and self-expression.
I’m noticing it takes a long time — up to ten years — for people to really begin growing out of these limited ways of thinking. And that’s only for people who are actively and consciously interested in improving their lives — which is not most people. What if we could change that?
At the start of The Constant Student journey, I would get so upset each time someone would say no to joining the community, because the loss felt so big. It felt like they were rejecting the first of a Thousand Doors that would see them one day become a Mandela, Gandhi, Da Vinci or Gillian Lynne — in their own way and part of the world.
As I write those words, a little voice in your head is saying ‘that could never be me, that could never be me!’ Good, you’re not an egomaniac like me! But just you watch and wait — these people do not drop fully-formed from the sky in crates — they are shaped as they make particular decisions on their journey. They become by going one Door at a time.
Luke has no idea whatsoever the events he has set in motion by taking a few ‘unusual’ Doors on his journey — by being brave and conquering his resistance to being more of himself. Each of you is in the same boat. When you conquer the resistance that holds you back, you are doing it for many others, totally unbeknownst to you.
There are changes happening in the community. There are many more specific findings I’m tempted to write about here but I must keep things as concise as possible.
For now you need to know that we are working on making a free and more accessible level to the community, to make it easier for people who are early on what can be a very long journey to join and begin immersing themselves in, well, all of you.
We are also doing marketing work with people who are already much further ahead on their journeys — not only to accelerate and amplify the incredible work they do, but also to develop our network of inspirational leaders, mentors, and like-minded entrepreneurs.
This will multiply the right kind of opportunities on offer for other people in the community, because all great leaders need young talent. This is usually the hardest thing to find, but it is something we have an abundance of! It’s also a win-win, because we want younger community members working on things that stretch their abilities, under people who have the right values, so they are continually molded into being more of themselves.
But why? Why do all of this?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last week — the more and more people I talk to, the more and more clear it becomes that we all want the same thing. We all want to open Doors for others.
Some of you might be interested in biology, others in the future of our financial systems, and others exercise physiologists. But underneath it all, we all seek meaning and fulfillment… for ourselves and others.
The Constant Student might be a place to learn things that you go away and implement in your everyday life. But I recommend something else — because this should and must be a place where you can contribute — where we are all on the same team, working toward a common goal bigger than any single one of us.
I think the risk is that a group of the world’s most caring people get caught up trying to solve their own puzzles, in a very fragmented and isolated way. I think the truth is that we are each one piece of a larger puzzle, and that it is only by coming together that we can complete the amazing picture.
If you choose this path, you help The Constant Student towards its mission by working on your inner journey as a first step. This is not selfish — the greatest investment you can make in the world is investing in yourself and going at your own pace.
Secondly it’s creating what you want to create — not because you have some genius career plan for yourself, but because you feel called to do it. Pursue these creative interests to your greatest ability, because no matter what it is, it activates a domino effect — rippling out from you, you inject more and more people with the calling to begin this journey themselves.
Thirdly, it’s answering the call to open Doors for others. The world is full of Gillian Lynne’s and Luke’s — people who won’t recognise their own giftedness, who won’t recognise the Doors… and if they can open those Doors, each one has the ability to change the lives of millions others.
So we get to the place of realising that the Constant Student will only work if it creates Doormen — and no person can be a Doorman if they are unable to forget themselves, and lose themselves in the service of others.
If there are ways you can contribute, directly or indirectly, reach out to me.
If you want to help more but don’t know how, reach out to me.
If you have questions, reach out to me.
If you want help with developing yourself, or creating something in the world, reach out to me.
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And remember! The best way to open a Thousand Doors for you is to concentrate on Opening Doors for others.