Cowsality, @Bard 2019
Cowsality, @Bard 2019

The village clung to the steep mountainside like a foolhardy mountaineer who suddenly realised he had climbed beyond his abilities and was now too overcome with vertigo to move either up or down. The houses were old, decayed and obviously unmaintained for many years. Smoke was rising from a few of the crumbling chimneys but most houses were just empty shells, offering shelter only to the few birds and rodents that could survive at these altitudes.

Tired from the long climb up from the valley he hoped to find shelter for the night in one of the occupied houses. Maybe there was a chance of a warm meal or a soft mattress. But just some warmth and protection against the piercing wind would be worth a lot.

Having reached the village square, he chose the very first house with smoke coming from its chimney. One could barely call it a house: it was a timber construction that leaned against the stone wall of the house behind it like an old man pausing for breath after a short walk up a steep flight of stairs. The house looked like he felt. Maybe the recognition between fellow sufferers would encourage some hospitality towards him?

He knocked on the door.

It took a while before he heard how a bolt was moved aside and someone laboriously pulled open the heavy, crooked wooden door just enough for a face to peer through. An old man looked at him curiously with eyes that were surprisingly clear and lively in that old and furrowed face.

“There you are.” the old man said, “That took you long enough.” “What do you mean?” he said, taken aback, “Were you expecting me? Or did you see me climb up from the valley?”

“No, none of that” the old man replied, “but I knew eventually someone like you would arrive and knock on my door. The very existence of this door in my house made that inevitable.” “Why?” he said, somewhat confused, “The existence of this door bears no relation to whether someone ends up knocking on it, does it? Why would this door make my knocking on it inevitable?” “Right!” the old man said happily, “Exactly! A normal door lets people enter and leave and that justifies its existence. But I have been sitting inside since this house was built up around me. I never go outside and none of the villagers would dream of coming in. And yet, here is this door. It’s obvious!” De old man made those last words sound like the triumphant conclusion of a convincingly won debate.

When he didn’t immediately reply, the old man started laughing. “Never mind, never mind. I don’t expect you to understand this straight away. After all, I have spent my whole life thinking about these things. Whereas you, if I judge you correctly, have barely begun to think.” The old man pulled the door further in now and invited him in with an exaggerated sweep of his arm. “Be welcome in my domain, long expected traveller.”

The old man’s smile was too friendly and inviting to resist. He followed the old man inside the dimly lit interior. There he saw a mattress and blanket against the stone wall and a low table with a lit candle and two tin plates on it. In a corner stood a wooden crate with a water pitcher, a couple of mugs and few chunks of bread. In a niche in the stone wall a wood fire was burning, with its smoke disappearing through a smoke hole in the roof. The rest of the room was bare and empty. A place to shelter against the winter storms. Nothing more.

The old man told him to sit by the table and offered him a piece of bread and a mug of luke-warm water. “Please enjoy.” de old man said, “My palace is your palace, my abundance is yours.” Too perplexed to respond he ate and drank what the old man had given him.

They sat in silence for a while.

Suddenly the old man got up and walked to the outside wall. That turned out to contain a small wooden panel that could be moved aside to reveal a narrow opening. It was just wide enough to reveal a bit of the street outside. “Come,” the old man said, “it is about to happen. You don’t want to miss this.” He stood up to stand next to the old man and peer through the narrow opening with him. “What’s going to happen then?” he asked, but the old man gestured for him to be silent and to keep watching.

And then it happened. Slowly a cow moved past their view. First there was the pink nose, then a large, dark eye, a nervously moving ear, a bit of a horn. Next came its back rolling past like a slow-moving wave. The display ended with the tail, with its dangling plume as a final punctuation mark disappearing from view. And then there was nothing again.

The old man looked at him triumphantly. “Now you have seen what I have been thinking about all these years. This is the mystery I was called to solve: the mystery of causality.”

Not understanding, He looked at the old man. “The mystery of what?” he asked.

“Of causality, dimwit. The beginning and ending of all things.” “But all I saw was a cow passing by.” he said “What does that have to do with causality?”

The old man’s grin was as wide as his face now. “All he saw was a cow passing by. A cow! That’s all. The Universe revealed itself to us, the beginning and ending of everything unfolded before our very eyes. And all he saw was a cow.” The old man looked at him as if this should have been enough of an explanation for him to show some understanding. When he didn’t respond, the old man shook his head. “Boo!” the old man shouted, so loudly he stepped back, startled, and knocked his head hard against a low hanging beam. “Boo! Boo! Boo!” The old man clearly enjoyed his reaction. When he touched his head to feel if he wasn’t bleeding the old man burst out laughing. “He had to split open his head to let in some understanding.” the old man laughed. “His eyes are closed, his ears are clogged, maybe the hole in his skull is letting in some light.”

Suddenly the old man composed himself and gestured for him to sit down. The old man joined him on the floor. “That’s enough fun for now,” the old man said, “these are serious matters. Now tell me exactly what you just saw, and I will explain it to you.”

He took some time to think. “I was watching the street. That opening in the wall is very narrow, so I couldn’t see much. Then a cow came along. Then all I could see was that bit of the street again. That’s all.”

“That’s all?” the old man shook his head in disbelief. “How easy it is for the unenlightened mind to under-appreciate the mystery of existence.” The old man paused for some time, deep in thought. Then he continued: “First there was the street. Then there was a cow. Then the street again. Great. You saw what was there. But what you didn’t see is what it’s really all about. Where did that cow come from?” The old man looked at him with a penetrating gaze. “Where has that cow gone to? What causes that cow to appear and disappear like that?”

The old man straightened his back to emphasise his words. “I have thought about this my whole life. I even had this house built around me so I could completely dedicate myself to this task without getting distracted. And finally, after endless observation and deep reflection, I can now reveal to you my answer. Because you found my door, you will be the first one to hear this from me. Listen … “ the old man paused to heighten the tension.

“… the answer to the mystery of existence is this: …” another pause “… the nose causes the tail!” Victoriously, the old man looked at him. “The nose causes the tail. That’s the secret.”

He looked at the old man with his mouth open. This couldn’t be true. This had to be a joke. He laughed nervously. “The nose causes the tail? Is that it? That’s the answer to everything? That’s what I climbed this mountain for? That’s what I bumped my head for against your stupid roof?” His laughter had turned into anger. “Old man, you’re out of your mind. ‘The nose causes the tail’ is an old koan, a Zen-buddhist riddle. It illustrates our tendency to explain things on the basis of our limited observations. When we forget that we only see a little piece of reality, we tend to over-generalise that small piece and read more into it than we should. We see the Universe in a grain of sand. We see a cow and think it explains creation. The nose doesn’t cause the tail. That’s nonsense. That nose simply comes first because a cow walks forwards not backwards. You are confusing correlation with causality, that’s all.”

He stopped to catch his breath and to see how the old man would react. Would he be upset by this little rant? Had he been too hard on the old man? The old man had apparently spent his whole life thinking about this answer. Should he have left him his dignity and simply agree with him?

He was a bit surprised to see the old man still grinning at him. “Are you done with your story?” the old man asked. “A koan, you say? A riddle about the limitations of our observations? If that is true, O wise one, explain to me this. You saw that cow pass by; first the nose, then the tail, then nothing at all. Where has that cow gone to then? Just look outside. Nothing there. Just an empty street. Can you explain that? The old man looked at him. “I don’t think so.”

“Of course I can explain that.” He said. “That cow just walked through the street on its way to a meadow somewhere outside the village. It’s probably grazing there now. Or it was on its way to a stable nearby. Simple. No mystery, no revelation, just an ordinary cow on its way from point A to point B.”

“Oh” the old man said, “simple, eh? That cow is just standing in a stable or grazing in a meadow. You are sure of that?”

He nodded.

The old man pulled open the door for him and said: “I never leave my house and yet have managed to unravel the mysteries of the Universe. You have been everywhere but appear to have seen nothing. Please go outside for me and see if you can find that cow. And then come back. We’ll talk further then.” The old man waited for him to step outside and then firmly shut the door behind him.

Once outside, he looked around. Where would that cow have gone to? The direction from which it had come was the same direction he had entered the village from. The cow then had passed the old man’s door into that dark, narrow alley. He took a few steps in that same direction. To his surprise he almost immediately ran into the same stone wall the old man’s house was leaning against. The alley ran straight into that wall, which also flanked both sides of the narrow street. A stone wall, without doors or windows, or any other openings of any sort. The ‘alley’ was not much more than a fairly shallow niche in a very high wall.

Where then had that cow gone to? There were not exits here. The niche itself was barely deep enough to contain the whole beast and yet he had seen with his own eyes how the animal had walked past and disappeared from sight. To be certain, he felt along all sides of the niche. Nothing. Heavy stones, impossible to move. No hidden trapdoors either. Now he really was confused. He turned around and knocked on the old man’s door.

The old man opened the door straight away, still with that grin on his wrinkled face. “Did you find the cow?” he asked, mockingly. “Was she grazing in that imaginary meadow of yours? Or resting in the stable of your fabricated reality? I hope you learn something from this, with your koans and buddhist riddles. The world reveals itself to those who can see it for what it is and can interpret what they see. That cow is both the mystery and the answer to everything. I will repeat this one more time, before sending you on your way: the nose causes the tail! And that’s all there is to say.”

The old man started to close the door and muttered “confusing correlation with causality, my nose!” And as his face disappeared behind the door as it slammed shut, the old man, too, vanished forever.

©Bard 2020

The bridge

The bridge

The road had long ago ceased to be a road. The higher he came in this mountain landscape, the less the road had been maintained. Tarmac had given way to cobblestones. In the end, all that remained of a reasonably level path with an occasional pothole filled with pieces of brick and gravel was a barely walkable gravel track. And now, several hours after he passed through an abandoned village, only vague traces of that track were visible beneath the grass and weeds growing everywhere.

And yet he walked on, convinced the path he was following would eventually lead him to his destination; wherever that might be.

After a last steep ascend he found himself in front of an old stone bridge across a narrow but deep canyon. Clearly no traffic had crossed this bridge for quite some time. The bridge was as overgrown as the path, as if the foliage spanned the gap on its own strength and was the only thing keeping the bridge from collapsing.

Hesitantly, he walked to the edge of the bridge. Looking down hundreds of meters below he saw a fast-flowing river forcing itself between massive boulders. The roaring of the water was faint but persistent. It sounded threatening, almost angry, as if the spirit of the river was annoyed at the rocks obstructing her progress.

Through the silvery haze rising from the chasm he could just make out the other side of the bridge. The path appeared to broaden there. The landscape looked more accessible, too; the cliffs less steep and the hillside green and undulating.

It was perfectly clear to him his destination lay on the other side of that bridge. There he would find the reward for his long and arduous climb of the past few days. All he had to do was cross that bridge. De rest would be easy. Filled with new hope and energy he stepped onto the bridge without further thought.

After a few paces the bridge started noticeably resonating with his footsteps. Every step he took worsened the vibrations until he felt the bridge shake with the rhythm of his walking. Worried, he began to increase his pace, which only made the shaking worse. The whole bridge was swaying now. Almost halfway, he started running. For one brief moment he thought he would make it but then the road rose up like a wave in front of him before disintegrating completely underneath his feet.

He fell. He had just enough time to think he should have been more careful. Then he hit the rocks. His lifeless body was dragged away by the river without leaving a trace.

After a last steep ascend he found himself in front of an old stone bridge across a narrow but deep canyon. Clearly no traffic had crossed this bridge for quite some time. The bridge was as overgrown as the path, as if the foliage spanned the gap on its own strength and was the only thing keeping the bridge from collapsing.

Hesitantly, he walked to the edge of the bridge. He had the strange feeling he had seen this before. He seemed to recognise the landscape on the other side. He felt there was something he should remember but couldn’t quite get clear.

He took a few more steps until he saw the decaying remains of what looked like a signpost or warning sign on the side of the road. He dragged it onto the road to get a better look. Nothing. If anything had been written on it, time and weather had completely erased any trace. He dropped the sign back on the road.

It was perfectly clear to him his destination lay on the other side of that bridge. There he would find the reward for his long and arduous climb of the past few days. But that bridge didn’t look very sturdy. And the weathered sign had spooked him. But he decided to push on. The other side was calling him. He stepped over the sign onto the bridge.

After a few paces the bridge started noticeably resonating with his footsteps. Worried, he began to increase his pace. The whole bridge was swaying now. Almost halfway, he started running. For one brief moment he thought he would make it but then the road rose up like a wave in front of him and fell apart underneath his feet.

He fell. He had just enough time to think he should have listened to his premonitions. Then he hit the rocks. His lifeless body was dragged away by the river without leaving a trace.

After a last steep ascend he found himself in front of an old stone bridge across a narrow but deep canyon. The bridge was as overgrown as the path, as if the foliage was the only thing that kept the bridge from collapsing.

Hesitantly, he walked to the edge of the bridge. Though he had never been in these mountains in his life, he was almost certain he had seen this place before. The landscape across the bridge looked very familiar as well. It made him feel restless and agitated, as if there was something he should be able to remember but couldn’t quite put his finger on.

He walked forward until he saw an old sign lying in te middle of the road. He wondered how who put it there and why. Unfortunately, the sign was devoid of any legible text. Without really knowing why, he picked up a piece of limestone from the ground and chalked a few words on the badly weathered wood. He read back what he had written and chuckled. He shouldn’t get carried away like that, he thought. Surely it wouldn’t be as bad as that? He carefully leaned the sign upright against a large boulder at the entrance to the bridge and looked across again.

It was perfectly clear to him his destination lay on the other side of that bridge. But the sign had rattled his confidence for a moment. Yet he decided to push on. He had come too far to turn back, so close to his destination.

After a few paces the bridge started noticeably resonating with his footsteps. Worried, he began to increase his pace until he was running at full speed by the time he was halfway across. For a moment he thought he would make it but then the road rose up like a wave in front of him and completely disappeared beneath his feet.

He fell. He had just enough time to reproach himself for not turning around after seeing the sign. He should have trusted his intuition. Then he hit the rocks. His lifeless body was dragged away by the river without leaving a trace.

After a last steep ascend he found himself in front of an old stone bridge across a narrow but deep canyon. He was almost certain he had seen this bridge before. The landscape on the other side of the canyon also looked very familiar. He felt nervous and scared. There was something urgent and important he felt he should remember but it refused to come into focus.

He took a few more steps and saw and old, weathered sign leaning against a boulder near the entrance of the bridge. It was clearly put there to be noticed. He wiped away the dust and dirt from the timber and saw that someone had chalked a few words there. With some difficulty he read: “Look out! Unstable bridge. Collapse imminent!” He wondered who had put the sign there and why. He looked across to the other side.

It was perfectly clear to him his destination lay on the other side of that bridge. But that bridge didn’t look very sturdy. And the words on the sign sounded ominous.

Hesitantly, he walked to the edge of the bridge. Looking down hundreds of meters below he saw a fast-flowing river forcing itself between massive boulders. The roaring of the water was faint but persistent. It sounded threatening, almost angry, as if the spirit of the river was annoyed at the rocks obstructing her progress. He could well imagine what it would be like to plunge down there and smash against those rocks. The water would drag away his lifeless body without leaving a trace.

He looked once more at the luring landscape on the other side of the bridge.

He then turned around and with a feeling of relief mixed with disappointment he started the long descend back into the valley, where he would search for another way to cross that river.

©Bard 2020

Lost in thoughts

Lost in thoughts
The lake - ©Bard 2012
The lake – ©Bard 2012

Lost in thoughts he had walked into a forest without noticing. When he finally looked up and around he didn’t see anything he recognised. A barely visible path wound between high trees and dense undergrowth. Patches of thick green moss under the highest trees were surrounded by stretches of high, dry grasses and strips of bare sandy ground. Even with the sun high up in the sky it was almost dark here. The heavy foliage blocked almost all the sunlight and the little light that reached the ground was washed through with a greenish, pastel-like haze.

Where was he? And how could he get out? The narrow path didn’t seem to go anywhere and he only saw forest as far as he could see in this dusky light.

Slightly worried he tried to get his bearings.

After having twice turned around 360º he thought he saw something shimmer in the distance. He looked again. Yes, it was clearly lighter there and he thought he could see the blueish glittering of water through the thick shrubs and high grasses.

The darkness of the forest was getting to him. He didn’t hesitate. He started running in the direction of the water he saw in the distance.

Because he could barely see the ground he walked on he couldn’t go very fast. He had to be careful with placing his feet: the path was full of irregularities, holes and tree roots you could easily trip on.

After running along for a while in this way, with his eyes mostly on the ground, he stopped for a moment to check his progress. It took him a moment to locate the light in the distance. To his surprise it seemed further away than before. It was still clearly visible, especially in contrast to the darkness around him. But the distance between him and the reflecting water had clearly increased. He must have veered off from the main path, into a direction away from the water instead of towards it.

He took a few deep breaths to calm himself. Panic is not going to help you, he told himself. And there’s no reason to panic. As long as you keep the water in sight it’s impossible to get lost.

Instead of running, he decided to walk while keeping his eyes fixed on the water and not on the ground. By carefully placing his feet and making sure he was standing on level ground before taking the next step he managed to slowly move forward.


After having taking a number of big strides this way he started to get the feeling that even though he was moving forward the water was receding from him. He took a few more steps and was certain now: he was again further away from the water than he had been before.

Again he walked forward. The water had by now almost disappeared from sight. Only the bright light on the horizon betrayed where the water would be. Afraid to lose sight of that light as well he started running again. Until he tripped over a tree root and fell flat on his back.

Slowly, he got back up again. He was completely surrounded by the half-darkness of the forest. There was no trace of the water or even the light on the horizon.

Panicking, he turned around and around, hoping to glimpse the light reflecting off the water somewhere.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, she stood there in front of him. A slender, stately

woman, dressed in light-green robes. She had long, black hair and dark-brown, almost black eyes. She held a staff in one hand and had her other hand raised in a ‘stop’ gesture. She had a slight smile around her lips but her voice was stern and commanding when she said: “That’s enough. Please show some dignity.”

His mouth had fallen open in amazement. He was still panting from his panic attack and he was dizzy from turning around and around. But when he heard her voice he felt himself jump to attention. Without a thought he straightened his back, closed his mouth and waited for her to speak again.

“Good. You know how to listen. Maybe you can still be saved.” There was that hint of a smile again. “But you will have to do exactly what I tell you to.” Speechless, too surprised to say anything at all, he nodded his understanding.

“Do you have any idea why you can’t reach the water?” she asked? He shook his head. She kept looking at him, apparently expecting an answer. “It seems like the water is running away from me,” he suggested, cautiously. “Every time I try to approach, the water seems to have moved further away.”

“Ah” the woman said, “you know how to observe. But your conclusion is typically male: when you encounter something you cannot explain something has to be wrong with the world. Have you considered, even for a moment, that maybe there’s something wrong with you, and not with the water?”

Bewildered, he looked at her. Something wrong with him? What did she mean? “Could the water be an optical illusion? Am I only imagining seeing water?” he proffered.

“No” she said, “that water is real. There’s nothing wrong with your eyes. But something’s wrong” – there was that smile again – “with the way you are looking at the world.”

He had no idea what she was talking about, so he kept his silence, hoping she would explain what she meant.

“Try to walk towards me. Maybe that will help you understand.” Hesitantly, he took a few steps forward. To his amazement the woman was further away from him than when he started walking. Yet she hadn’t moved at all. She held the same position in what seemed to be the exact same spot, yet the distance between them had visibly grown. What was going on?

“You still don’t understand, do you?” the woman said. “I thought you were smarter than that. Let’s try again. Walk away from me now, without turning around. Keep looking at me and take a few steps away from me.” He did as she said and saw how she appeared to come closer with every step backwards he took. He stopped when he was almost touching her and stared at her in confusion.

“Do you understand now?”

When he failed to answer she took half a step backwards and struck his head off his shoulders with her staff in one fluid motion. He felt his head tumble through the air to land on the soft mossy ground, while his body flopped helplessly forward. His body ended on hands and knees as his head rolled to a stop against a tree stump.

He had the eerie feeling he was in two places at once. He clearly felt the moss under his hands and the ground under his knees and feet. But he also felt the rough surface of the tree stump against his face and saw grass sway in front of his eyes. A tiny ant climbed up on one of the stalks, stopped at eye height and ran down again. He was too surprised to panic and too shocked to say anything.

“I’m sorry,” the woman said, “but sometimes a direct approach works best after all.” He couldn’t see her but heard her kneel down next to his head. “Now you need to keep your head together. Try to crawl slowly in the direction of my voice.”

Her voice was calm and reassuring and he felt his panic subside. He did as she told him and made a few tentative crawling motions. He felt his body move forward but his eyes didn’t register any motion. That was confusing enough to cause a wave of nausea to wash through him and almost make him fall over.

“Pretty hard to do, eh? When your body and your head are not working together? Try again, but this time keep your eyes closed. Looking is not going to help, feeling is. Concentrate on my voice and the feeling in your body. It may help to imagine you are in the dark, crawling towards me.”

He closed his eyes and did exactly as she told him. Now that his eyes and his body were no longer contradicting each other things were indeed a lot easier to manage. Without too much trouble he crawled in the direction of her voice. He felt his hands bump into his head and instinctively picked up his head and pushed it firmly back onto his neck. He felt his head and body fuse.

Cautiously he let go of his head. It remained firmly perched on his neck, as if it had never been disconnected. He slowly turned his head from side to side. That, too, worked fine. He sat himself firmly on the ground before opening his eyes. Everything looked normal. The forest, the sky, the trees, … and a few paces away the mysterious woman with her staff in hand.

“Well done.” she said, clearly happy with his performance. “Most men lose their head completely when this happens and get hopelessly lost. I have seen plenty of them disappear into the woods in total panic. Never to return. But I am glad you managed to pull yourself together. I think you have potential.” In his mind he saw hordes of headless men crawling through the forest until they died of exhaustion. That could have happened to him. He breathed a sigh of relief.

“Come” the woman said and held out her free hand, “get up and walk with me. I will take you to the water.” She helped hem to his feet and together they walked into the forest. After a few turns of the path he could see the light again and the reflections of the water. He half expected the water to disappear from sight again, so he was glad to see the water’s edge quickly approaching. After a short walk he stood next to the woman on a sandy beach bordering a small lake in the middle of the forest.

“Welcome to my lake”, the woman said. “From here you will be able to continue your journey. But before I let you go, have you understood what was going on?” She looked at him, her dark eyes firmly fixed on his.

He thought. Her question sounded like a test and he suspected she wouldn’t take kindly to him giving the wrong answer. He had no idea what she would do but he had witnessed what she was capable of with her staff. Better think this through, therefore. What had just happened? Suddenly it came to him. “I had my head put on the wrong way round.” He looked at her. “I was looking forwards but walking backwards.”

She smiled at him. “Exactly. Or you were walking forwards but looking backwards. I hope you will never forget this: if you cling to where you came from you will never get where you want to go to. Keep your eyes aligned to the direction you want to travel in. The road will then reveal itself.”

That sounded rather obvious. He nodded he had understood her; cautiously, of course, his head had just been on the ground next to his body so he didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.

With the woman he turned again to face the lake and admired the view of the rippling water and the sunlight playing with the small, wind-driven waves.

©Bard 2020

One fine day

One fine day
©Bard 2020

One fine day he decided he had had enough. For almost 40 years he had tried to live the way others expected him to. But however hard he tried to adjust, he never quite succeeded. It all remained a play. A play so well rehearsed he could almost at times forget he was just playing a role. But then something would happen, a meeting, a comment, a passage in a book or an unexpected vista during a walk or drive; there would always be something that brought him back to the sense of the unreality of who he was trying to be.

And now it had to end. He couldn’t find the power in himself to put the mask back on, re-find his place in the script and dutifully perform the next act of the play, as his part demanded. He had lost his will to pretend.

He didn’t even take the trouble of packing or taking anything with him. Exactly the way he had dressed that morning, in his t-shirt and jeans, he walked out of his house, knowing he would never return there.

He walked up to the end of the street. On the corner he turned and saw his house standing on the horizon like a miniature. Which gave him an idea: with one eye closed he stretched out his hand in the direction of the house. Very carefully he pinched the tiny building between finger and thumb and started to pull. With some wriggling and gentle tugging, like a dentists pulling a recalcitrant tooth, he managed to detach the house from its foundations. He shook off some dirt and sand and put the little gem in his pocket.

Happy and content he walked away. Now he would never be homeless – wherever he went.

©Bard 2020

Ghost of a once lush forest

The forest floor is covered in ankle-high layers of dead, brown leaves. It could easily be mistaken for an Autumn scene somewhere in Europe. Yet this is a rainforest in sub-tropical Australia, a country where the trees are always green and shed their bark, not their leaves.

Ghost of a once lush forest - ©Bard 2019
Ghost of a once lush forest – ©Bard 2019

There still is some green around, as the hardier plants and trees stubbornly hold on to the preciously little water they can still access. There are patches of colour even, from flowering trees and shrubs that feel they are dying and push out a last abundance of flowers in a last attempt to produce enough seeds to preserve the species for after the drought.

But most of the trees are bare. The once dense jungle is visibly thinning out. It is like the forest is slowly fading away and becoming transparent, like a ghost of its former impenetrable self. Where walls of green once blocked all views, dark outlines of trees in charcoal black and burnt-earth browns are no more than shadows between here and the now starkly visible horizon.

Is this what the death of an eco-system looks like? Is this how life fades away, one species at a time, until only the translucent outlines of that abundance remain? Will we all become pale, lifeless, shimmering ghosts, aimlessly wandering through a desert of dead and dying dreams, vainly grasping at the mirages of the lush and vibrant riches we failed to value when it was all still alive around us?

The Social Fabric

The social fabric is a magic fabric
Woven from our obligations
Our debts unpaid and favours owed
For the balance of the greater good

Woven from our hopes and dreams
Our vision of a better future
Our memories of a glorious past
And the stories shared between us

The social fabric is a fragile fabric
That can be torn and shredded
By selfishness and greed
By secrecy and scheming

Ripped apart, unraveled
By violence and power
By divisiveness and hate
And the politics of fear

The social fabric is a precious fabric
It protects us with its cover
And is all that stands between
Our kindness and indifference

Without this cloth to dress us
We would be naked in this world
And face the icy Universe
Each one of us alone

Bard – 2019

Making Your String of Pearls – Step 7

What Is Your Story – Chapter 14

Well-prepared and well-planned we are now ready to start the next leg of our journey. We shouldn’t expect everything to go exactly as planned; life seldom does. What we should do is regularly check our progress using the VIPs we defined for ourselves. This allows us to make adjustments as we go along. Staying on course while responding to the world evolving around us is a balancing act. Like walking a tight-rope, it requires considerable skill. A skill we will only get by actually walking that rope. We will fall off. Often at first, then less and less as we get better. As long we don’t see those falls as failures they are simply part of the learning process. We brush ourselves off, take a few deep breaths, and get back on that rope to try again.

Step 7: Making it Happen

As we walk our path we must stay alert to the obstacles and opportunities we encounter. There is truth in the old cliche that says that every obstacle is an opportunity. At the very least, every setback or challenge is an opportunity to reflect and learn. We often encounter resistance, push-backs and roadblocks at the beginning of a journey. Especially when that journey takes us far from the way we presented ourselves in the past. The more we deviate from what the world expects of us, the more the world will try to push us back. Back to where it’s comfortable – for the world. We should remember this when we encounter resistance and see it as a sign we are moving in the right direction. It shows that we are unmooring ourselves from the anchors that held us in place before.

However, we also need some discernment and judgment. Not all resistance and setbacks are signs of progress. Sometimes we are running into real, unforeseen obstacles. We may encounter difficulties we underestimated or did not see coming at all. Sometimes we may, in fact, have begun to veer off our ideal path. When our conscious mind fails to notice this our subconscious mind may be trying to signal us. It may be trying to tell us to pay attention and get back with the program. The way to find out what is actually happening is to observe with detachment what is really going on. What are the source and nature of the resistance we are running into? What is our own role in creating them? How much of a problem do they pose? What does our intuition say about the situation?

We can use our VIPs to estimate how serious the issues are we are facing. How much and what part of our desired progress is being blocked or slowed down here? Is that an essential part, or something we can postpone or move around? 

I had been negotiating with a potential government client for some time. Then, as frequently happens in Australia, the political landscape shifted. That caused ripples of change to reverberate throughout the circles of government. Departments heads were replaced. Whole departments had to be reshuffled. Decisions were put on hold and initiatives were cancelled while budgets were frozen. It seemed that a promising start to my existence as an independent consultant was being nipped in the bud.

After venting my frustration to some friends (I am only human) I did an exercise of detached observation. How important was this setback in my current journey of becoming a writer and public speaker? The work would have been interesting and the income always welcome. But the contract was not exactly crucial to the realisation of my ambitions. In fact, this delay could be a blessing in disguise.

Working with large government clients can be very demanding and time-consuming. Things tend to get complicated. A lot of time often gets taken up by the formal and organisational aspects of the work, rather than the work itself. What starts as a part-time assignment can easily become a full-time job.

My stated goal was to work just enough to have time to develop my writing and thinking. Maybe taking on a potentially large contract at this time would get in the way of me achieving that goal? Since the writing was my first priority, would it be a mistake to rush straight into contracted work?

After some introspection, meditation and consultation with my partner, things became clear. The delayed negotiations were not precious time lost, but precious time gained. It was giving me time to write and develop a clearer, stronger story to show to the world. That clearer story would give me a better position to resume the negotiations later. It would be easier for me to focus the contract on my core competence and the things I want to be known for. It would give me time to make sure the client was serious about their commitment to the changes they asked me to facilitate.

In the end, the setback caused by the change in government turned out to be a great opportunity for reflection and exploration. It gave me the chance to explore some of my fears, worries and doubts. It made me reconsider where I needed to put my energy and attention to live my story as I intended. And it helped me to refocus and get back with renewed energy to writing this book. Which was, after all, the number 1 priority on my list. 

Obstacles and resistance can be very helpful tools to help us refocus and realign our course. But what happens when we overcome all obstacles? When we successfully push through the resistance we encounter? When our VIPs show we are exactly on course, does that mean we are living our life’s purpose? Does that automatically mean we are getting closer to living our perfect story?

Not necessarily. There is another pitfall we could be walking into when things are going almost too well to be true. That’s the danger of localised optimisation.

Imagine a group of explorers looking for the highest mountain in a certain area. Their mission is to keep going until they can’t go any higher up. If they can see the entire area, this would be easy. They can plot a course to the highest peak and make their way there. With limited visibility – such as fog or darkness – the situation becomes more complicated. When they can only see a few meters ahead of them, their sense of progress is limited to their ability to keep going up. But this can mean they end up climbing the very first hill the come across and then getting stuck. Every step forward is taking them down. With the next peak out of sight, how can they know there are any higher peaks to climb?

It's high, but is it the highest? - ©Bard 2017
It’s high, but is it the highest? – ©Bard 2017

When things are going well on our journey, there is a risk we are getting stuck on a local hill. That is partially a problem of visibility. It’s hard to see into the future and the next hill to climb may not be easy to spot from where we are. But it is also a matter of comfort and uncertainty.

Having reached a peak gives us a sense of achievement. Our VIPs show we have made progress. We are visibly better off than before. We are closer to our goal. That sense of achievement brings a sense of comfort. We feel good about what we have accomplished. It feels good to be on target.

From that point of comfortable achievement, every move would seem a risk. We could be moving backwards, or away from where we want to be going? Why would risk it? Why would we trade this comfort for the uncertainty of another journey?

Even if we can see the contours of an even higher peak in the distance, uncertainty will hold us back. We are OK where we are now. That other peak may be higher but it will be hard work to get there. Before we can get to that next achievement we may have to give up some of what we have achieved already. We may feel uncertain about our ability to get to that next mountain altogether. Why would we risk losing the good things we have achieved for a goal we may never reach?

This combination of comfort and uncertainty can get us stuck. I am not saying there is anything wrong with finding a local optimum and staying there. That is everyone’s personal decision. I would be the last one to deny people the comfort of having reached a nice local peak from which to admire the view. But if we are committed to a journey of discovery and development, we must from time to time challenge ourselves. We must dare to look beyond our current view to see what we are not achieving and not learning by staying where we are.

Obstacles and setbacks can be great opportunities for reflection, exploration and learning. Times of achievement and easy progress can distract us from growth and development. The art of continuing our journey lies in keeping a detached perspective. Hardship and glory are both passing moments we should not get stuck on. We observe them, learn their lessons and then move on. There is always more to explore and more to learn. There is always a new story to discover, just beyond the horizon.

Making Your String of Pearls – Step 6

What Is Your Story – Chapter 13

The difference between wishful thinking and choosing a new direction for our future lies in having a plan of action. This doesn’t mean knowing everything that needs to happen. In a complex world and a constantly emerging and evolving future, we will never truly know everything. The best we can hope for is to have enough clarity about our direction and enough insight into our current situation to know which steps to take first. Every journey starts with a first step, followed by the next, and the next. Those few step are what we need to make happen, and then trust that the subsequent steps will be revealed to us as we progress on our journey.

Step 6: Making a plan of action

There are at least as many planning frameworks and tools as there are books on the topic of planning. Everyone should feel free to use whatever planning approach they feel comfortable with. However, not all planning is equal. Here are a few elements I think are particularly important when planning our personal journey.

Goals & Targets

The first step of planning is making sure we are clear about our goals and targets. That may sound obvious but does require some introspection. Unless we have put them down in concrete terms we often only have a vague outline of our goals, not their substance. Concrete terms are about the visible, tangible and intangible differences we expect to see when we arrive at our destination. The goals we are talking about here are personal development goals. Knowing what we expect to gain by achieving them is important to keep our motivation and inspiration for our journey. 

I have left the corporate world to write books and to develop myself as a public speaker and facilitator around topics I am passionate about. I need to generate enough income to maintain a reasonable standard of living. I want to keep the workload balanced between time spent performing in public and time writing so I can keep developing content. My work is meant to motivate and inspire people to take positive action in their own lives, so I need to reach enough people to feel I have any impact at all. Finally, I realise this is just another leg of my ongoing journey of discovery, so I do want to keep feeling I am still exploring, learning and growing as I go on.

To make this more concrete, I have summarised my goals and targets as follows:

    1. 2 – 4 public engagements per months for 6 months of the year, leaving the other 6 months for other things, including writing; 
    2. Enough income from these engagements to allow me to be highly selective in accepting work that I find relevant, intrinsically rewarding and fun to do;
    3. Continuous improvement of my presentation skills so I get more satisfaction having more impact while expending less energy;
    4. A growing impact so that more people are inspired to take positive action because the content I present;
    5. A deepening understanding of the topics I talk about;
    6. A continuing feeling of personal growth and ongoing progress on my personal journey of self-discovery and self-realisation.

Visible Indicators of Progress

Goals becomes guides when we can articulate them in terms of observable differences, so we can see we are moving in the right direction. They are often not objectively ‘measurable’ – intangible goals and targets seldom are. Still, for as much as possible, we should describe them in ways that help us notice when they occur or fail to occur when we expected them. We must have the differences we expect to achieve so clear in our minds we can regularly scan ourselves and our environment for any signs that those differences are actually occurring.

Since we are planning a journey, not a sudden leap to our destination, we should add a way of sensing ‘progress’ as well. Next to looking for signs that we have reached our goals, we want to define ways to determine we are getting closer to achieving them. We can call such signs “Visible Indicators of Progress” (VIPs). When articulated well, VIPs can be powerful tools to help keep us going on our journey, even when our goals and targets seem difficult to reach and far in the future.

We can use the following questions to add VIPs to our goals and targets:

    1. When the goal has been achieved, how can we observe the difference? What actually changes when we achieve this goal?
    2. When we approach the goal, how can we observe we are getting closer? What changes when I am on the right path, moving in the right direction?
    3. When the goal is receding, how can we observe we are drifting off course? What changes when we are moving in the wrong direction? 

Using the 3 questions outlined above, these are some of the VIPs I came up with for my goals:

    1. Public engagement
      – achieved: enough bookings for the coming year
      – approaching: a growing pipeline of prospects, invitations and requests
      – receding: no reaction on my attempts to generate interest
    2. Income
      – achieved: all our living expenses are covered, plus savings, emergencies and holidays
      – approaching: a growing pipeline of prospects, proposals and concrete sources of income
      – receding: nothing in the pipeline and no income for more than 6 months
    3. Improving my presentation skills
      – achieved: I get more energy out of presenting than I put in every time
      – approaching: I feel energised more often than I feel depleted
      – receding: I almost always feel more depleted than energised

At the moment I can honestly say goal 1 is slowly approaching, goal 2 is receding and for goal 3 I need to do more presentations to be certain, but so far, so good.

Choosing Our Actions

With our goals and VIPs defined, we now have a guiding framework to help us choose our future actions. We will have to gain and practice some new skills, increase doing certain activities and diminish or stop completely doing certain others. This is where our choices become the foundation for the future we have chosen to create.

When choosing our actions, NOT doing things may be one of the most difficult things to focus on. We live in a busy world. There are always more things to do than we can hope to complete. Much of this busy-ness stems from other people’s expectations of us. Our jobs, family, social circles all make demands for our time and attention. On top of that there is a constant overload of media (social or otherwise) clamouring for our limited attention.

This is where we need enough discipline to shun needless distractions and rigorously reduce the number of things we are trying to do and think about in any given time-frame. We need to understand the difference between urgent and important. We need to discern between what is requested and what is required. We need to choose between what is expected and what is expedient. Then we need the discipline to stick with those choices. 

The one activity I had to become much more disciplined in is writing. Publishing books is my chosen way to strengthen my reputation as an authority on the topics I want to be known for. Writing books is hard and time-consuming. There is also the issue of inspiration and the ‘mood’ one needs to be in to write. My past tendency used to be too procrastinate. I collected endless amounts of ‘supporting evidence’ – most of which I then did not use. I kept reading other people’s books for ‘inspiration’. And often I would stare at an empty screen for hours hoping that one golden idea would come to me.

To combat this kind of procrastination I set a daily goal for myself: I would write a minimum of two pages of text each day. I also made sure I blocked out several hours each day solely for the purpose of writing. And then I would sit down, turn of all distractions and simply write. What made this work was my conscious decision to just keep writing. Instead of trying to write perfect sentences and beautifully crafted arguments I often just typed out whatever thoughts occurred to me. Often I would imagine talking to someone and explaining something to them. Whatever I would say in such a conversation I would write down.

Making the time to sit and write - ©Bard 2018
Making the time to sit and write – ©Bard 2018

In the beginning, this was much harder than it sounds. I had to really focus to shut down my inner critics – those nagging internal voices that keep telling you nothing you write is good enough – and just plough on. The aim was to get my thoughts down on paper. Crafting them into coherent text and artful language would come later. Even when I felt I was not making any sense, I would just type on.

What this disciplined and stubborn way of writing taught me was that the art of writing really is the art of deleting. Much of what I initially wrote never made into any book or blog I would consider publishable. The truth is, however, that to be able to delete things, you have to have written them first. I discovered it is much easier to hone down a rambling and badly-written bloated piece of text to something passable than it is to get every sentence right the first time around.

It has also taught me that the process of writing is itself a process of exploration and discovery. It is another way of capturing and structuring my thoughts. It changes the way I think about things. It brings depth and coherence to ideas. It helps me connect separate ideas together. It exposes gaps in my thinking. Many of what I now think are my best ideas only formed because I ran into them while trying to make sense of something I had written days or weeks before. 

Setting Our Priorities

Choosing what to do and what not to do only really works when we have our priorities right. The world has an unlimited appetite for our efforts and attention, whereas we only have a limited amount of each to give. We need to give as much attention as we can to those activities that further our story. If we don’t, our journey will be cannibalised and diffused.

In practice, strict prioritisation means the following:

    • Never have more than 3 priorities. Period. If we have more than 3 priorities, they are not priorities but just a list.
    • Next to what we want to do (our priorities), we will have things we need to do (our socio-economic obligations). We need to schedule those in so they don’t obliterate our priorities. When we perform our obligations we need to aim for the acceptable minimum energy and quality. We don’t want to over-perform here and waste precious energy and brain-power. The rule of thumb here has to be: it only has to be good enough to get away with. Anything more is costing more than it should.
    • Keep some time free for the unexpected. Some urgent can come that cannot be ignored. An opportunity too good to pass over can suddenly present itself. If nothing claims that free time, use it to relax and have some social time with a loved one or some friends. Or really do nothing at all. Just switch off that all too busy brain and stare out of the window or go for an aimless but pleasant stroll outside. Next to doing what is important to us, doing nothing (in all its many forms) is one of the most important things we can do. 

This is what my current daily priorities look like:

    1. Write
    2. Network
    3. Read and think

On my list of obligations I have:

    1. Time with my wife
    2. House and garden maintenance
    3. Finances
    4. Family and friends

On my list of ‘to avoid as much as possible’ I have:

    1. Social media, except as part of my networking activities
    2. Long conversations with people about nothing
    3. Taking on contracts for work I’m not inspired by

And finally, for my downtime, I have a few relaxation-, recharging and resetting activities:

    1. Meditate
    2. Walk outside
    3. Make music
    4. Read fiction
    5. Watch a documentary
    6. Take a 20-minute power nap

I may not always manage to stick to this allocation of my time and attention, but overall it’s working really well for me. The very existence of this book – written in parallel with one other book and several blog posts – is proof to me that these are the right priorities, obligations, no-go zones and down-time items for me at this point. 

Taking the time to plan, setting goals, VIPs and priorities, and then creating structures to help us stick to the plan as much as possible is not always the most inspiring way to use our energy. But it pays off in the long run. And the long run is, after all, what we are in for on this personal journey.

The River will be a real book soon

I have just been told a publisher is interested in picking up The River for publication. Needless to say, I am very excited about that.

Once I know all the details and dates I will let you all know, but for now the publisher did ask me to remove The River from my blog, which is why you will no longer find it here.

I am thrilled, and a little bit nervous. But mostly happy.

Bard, March 2019

Making Your String of Pearls – Step 5

What Is Your Story – Chapter 12

Looking back at our shiny pearls of the past helps us understand the path we travelled to arrive at the present moment. They show us what we enjoyed and what kept us going. They show us what inspired us and what we value. Of everything we encountered on our journey, our shiny pearls are our best reminder that life was and is worth living. It is now, in this present moment, when we decide what steps to take next, that we can use their light to help us design a path that will bring us even more of what we cherish. We may not see the whole future ahead of us, but this very moment is a fork in the road. Which direction to take is our choice, and ours alone.

Looking for a path through the darkness - (c) Bard 2018
Looking for a path through the darkness – (c) Bard 2018

Step 5: Imagining and Testing Our Future Pearls

Now that we have collected and summarised the shining pearls from our past, it’s time to look to the future and ask ourselves what we imagine that future to look like. Our past pearls show us what kind of situations and actions are most conducive to getting us in that state of flow that indicates we are close to our core purpose and mission in life. Based on that insight, the question we must ask ourselves is: “How can we cause more of those moments to happen in the rest of our lives?” From how and when they happened in the past, can we see ways to increase their frequency and improve their quality? Does the past, next to revealing to us what we want to be doing more of in the future, also contain clues as to the things we must do, change, improve and focus on to increase our chances of living a more fulfilling life in the future?

Bear in mind that in most cases we are not simply looking at repeating what we did in the past. Sure, those moments may have been great, and the pearls shiny enough to fondly remember, but we are no longer the person we were then. We have experienced, learned and changed, most likely brought about by those very moments we so fondly remember, but also as a result of all the other things that happened in our lives. So much so that, should we try to merely recreate the same moments we so fondly remember from our past, they would most likely not give us the same satisfaction. Simple repetition seldom continues to delight, unless we are entirely on target, and do not change much at all. The shiny pearls of our future, then, should be imagined as developments from those of the past: variations that maintain their essence, but adjusted to the circumstances and details to suit who we have become and are growing into. 

One way to find our next shiny pearls is to use the ‘innovation trifecta’ that is part of the Design Thinking approach pioneered by IDEO in the early 2000s. We are, after all, designing our future narrative, so why not use a much-praised design approach to do so?

The innovation trifecta (below) poses three questions designers must ask to determine whether their idea is worth pursuing:

    1. Desirability: do people really want or need this?
    2. Feasibility: do we have the capabilities required to build this?
    3. Viability: is this idea sustainable over an extended period of time?
Design Trifecta: Do I want to? Can I do it? Can I sustain it?
Design Trifecta: Do I want to? Can I do it? Can I sustain it?

We can use similar questions to get more clarity about the narrative we are designing for the future.

    1. Desirability: How much do we want the path we are imagining? How close to our sense of purpose and fulfilment is it?
    2. Feasibility: Do we have what it takes to make this happen? Do we have the skills, means and circumstances in place to see how to create those next pearls?
    3. Viability: Will this path contain repeatable moments that can be expanded and deepened in the longer-term future, or would it be a one-off moment only?

All three questions are essential, and we may need a few iterations around the triangle before we feel we are settling on a type of future path we are excited about, think we know how to manifest and is part of our growth curve for the future. 


I love being on stage, talking to an interested and appreciative audience. I have enjoyed plenty of such pearls in the past, and I could be tempted to just look for more of the same. Instead, I quit my job. I decided to change my path so I could work on this book and see if I could make a living running my own business.

Why did I do that? My job would have guaranteed many more moments on stage. If I had just continued the path I was on, I would not have to worry about generating an income or attracting an audience. Why was I not content with just more of the good thing I had going?

The main reason is that I have changed since I started that job, almost ten years ago. I have learned many new things. I have honed old skills and acquired some new ones. I have thought long and hard about many of the issues my audience told me they were struggling with. I have read many, many books, talked to hundreds of people, and studied up on the latest findings and publications on history, sociology, psychology, behavioural economy, neuroscience and philosophy. It has changed my perception of what matters. From trying to bring people skills to IT professionals and help technology have a more positive effect on people, my focus has shifted to bringing a human focus to organisations and helping business have a more positive impact on society. My past experiences have brought me much joy and satisfaction, but – more importantly – they have shifted my perspective.

In other words, even I could keep repeating my past performances, talking about the same topics, and drawing the same kind of people, I would no longer enjoy it as much as I did before. That path has served its purpose – and done it well – but it is time for me to look for the next iteration of it; the next stage in my journey as a speaker and thinker.

The next pearls on this particular string will have to relate to topics that are closer to my heart than anything I have talked about before. I want my passion to help me push my talks and presentations out of the conventional safety zone. I want my audience to experience moments of surprise and discomfort. I want to them hear things that contradict and challenge ideas, concepts and knowledge they thought they understood already. If I do it right, my work should cause them to stop and rethink their current thinking. At the very least it should make them examine their ideas to decide for themselves if they want to be persuaded by my arguments to change them. 

The desirability question covers what we want our future pearls to look and feel like. The next step is to look at the feasibility of what we imagine those future pearls to be. Do we have what it takes to make them happen? Are they within our reach? 


I feel I can safely say I do have the foundations in place for this next leg of my journey. I have honed my presentation skills and deepened and broadened my content. For my next peals to shine, however, I must make sure I can be even more persuasive and thought-provoking. I must think even more in-depth about what I want to talk about. I must push even harder against the conventional wisdom I believe is holding us back. And I must find ways of presenting my material that drives home my messages more directly.

So there is still work to do before my next set of shiny pearls can materialise. However, having work to do is not a problem. What is important is that I am confident that that work is not beyond my capability to carry out. I know how to get there. I have the time and the discipline to work on this at least a few hours a day. I have enough ideas and outlines of stories to feel I am not blindly pushing forward.

I do realise there are some limits to the feasibility of what I am aiming for. I can’t completely break away from my current public persona. People have expectations about me and about what I will be talking about. I can’t suddenly start talking about International trade policies or the complexities of the financial system, for instance, never having done so before. I also can’t make complete U-turns on the positions I have publicly taken in the recent past without undermining my credibility. Where my opinions have changed, I will first have to take my audience on the same journey that led me to reconsider my position, so they understand why I changed my mind. From a feasibility perspective, the next stretch of pearls will have to be a continuation of my current public persona before I can gradually sharpen my positions and what I speak about.

Other limits have to do with reaching an audience on the scale my previous job made possible. I have left the corporate machine that kept bringing in people in large numbers. I will now have to find my own channels and connections. I will have to establish my own brand now I no longer carry the respectability and clout that came with my previous position. The good news is that the past years have helped to grow my network and my personal influence. So I don’t have to start from zero. It’s going to be reasonably modest, to begin with, but I am confident I can grow things from there. 

The feasibility question is mostly there to make sure we don’t overreach. Just because we deeply desire something doesn’t mean we are ready to make it happen straight away. We need this reality check, and we need to be honest with ourselves. However, we also need to keep believing. We may find we don’t have the knowledge, capabilities or capacity to go directly to where we want to go. That doesn’t mean we need to give up on our dreams. It just says we need to take a step back and first figure out how we can close that gap so we can get where we want to go at a later time. Acquiring the skills, collecting and preparing the tools we need and practising our moves before we make the next big step are all part of the same journey. As long as we see how we can move forward, we are not giving up on the dream.

The next question is about sustainability and repeatability. Will the next pearl be a one-off event or the start of a whole series? Will it be an item we can tick off on our bucket list, or will it be part of our continuing growth and development? 


This question may not be so easy to answer. It involves much guesswork about the future, about other people, about external factors we may not have much power over. It may not even be clear how relevant the concept of viability is to our quest to create our ideal future narrative. Viability is primarily a business concept. Businesses are supposed to aim for growth and longevity. A great trick that only works once is not something you would base a business on.

To make viability relevant to our personal narrative and the string of pearls we are constructing we need to redefine it slightly. We can make it more about whether we think the effort and time required will measure up against the duration and intensity of the satisfaction we expect to get out of those future pearls. In other words: will it all be worth striving for?

That is a very personal question. I find it hard to give any clear guidance or rules for it. We all have different desires and fears. What feels like the Holy Grail for some may ultimately fail to motivate someone else.

What matters here is our own feeling when we think about the pearls we plan on creating next.

Imagine those next pearls in their shiniest possible form. Everything works out exactly as planned and maybe even better than that. How does that make us feel? Does it give us a surge of energy; a deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction; a sense of achieving a significant milestone in our lives?

Now imagine the work we need to do to make those pearls happen. Think of the time and effort we estimate it will take us. The pearls will still be the same. But do we still feel that same energy and inspiration? Or does the prospect of all that hard work ahead of us diminish our sense of satisfaction and achievement?

There is no mathematical formula to objectively calculate the balance of costs and benefits of reaching our next perfect moments of flow. All we have is our intuition and our emotional system signalling to us. If we feel more inspired than cowed, we should go for it. If nagging doubts and a sense of dread diminish our enthusiasm, we must not ignore those signals. We must check first whether we are letting our fears and doubts hold us back unnecessarily, or that our emotional system is trying to warn us that the next pearls we envisioned are not actually worth going for.

If the balance of the viability questions turns out to be negative – more trouble than the reward is worth – all is not lost. We should be thankful that we discover it now before we have invested too much in moving forward. We should also remember that in matters of personal choice a ‘yes’ has to be an absolute yes. Anything less than that is at least cause to pause and reconsider. Ignoring nagging doubts, however small, is asking for trouble later.

If we are not convinced we have found the next version of our story, we return to step 4 of the process. We re-examine our collections of pearls and how we summarise their essence. We re-imagine what the next pearls could be, leaving out the paths we have just dismissed. We could find entirely new ideas for pearls we want to make happen. Alternatively, it can mean we modify how we imagine them. We could go for smaller steps that are easier and quicker to achieve. We could imagine ‘intermediate’ pearls that we don’t see as end-goals but as stepping stones to where we want to go later. Such intermediate pearls can be satisfying in their own right and inspire us to keep going while we are learning and practising the skills we need in the future. 

It may take a few iterations. We may experience some stops and starts. At some point, however, we will find the future pearls we deem desirable, feasible and viable. Now we need to take a few deep breaths and calm our minds. If we are sure we have found the right pearls, we calmly make the decision. These are the pearls we will focus on for the next months or years of our lives – for as long, in fact, as we think it will take us to achieve them, and for as long as we think we want them to happen.