Back before Lockdown, when I had a conventional Job, I was sat enjoying a cup of tea at my In-Laws house. The kids were playing nicely, and I was working through a packet of Finest Shortbread biscuits (standard 😊).
At the time I was a little unsettled at work. I was starting to get restless. (This has proven a consistent theme for me over the last ten years).
I just did not feel like I was doing what ‘I was supposed to do’.
Back in 2009 I had started working for myself as a Design Consultant and later that year I had taken the reigns at The Petersfield Karate Club. In 2011 my Son was born and by the middle of 2012 I was flagging.
I used to design food packaging for Major Brands and Supermarket chains, and at my peak I was in a karate suit 26 hours per week while working full time creatively. I also had the pressures of being a new Dad.
Something had to give!
In 2012 I went ‘Back-on-the-tools’ and worked as a Design Engineer for a local Engineering company. There was only one problem. After nine months I was promoted and then I was extremely busy ….. AGAIN!
This pattern has repeated itself a few times and by 2019 I decided that I needed to work-out what I REALLY wanted to do!
Whilst I dunked my next Short-bread my Father-In-Law (Colin) somehow identified my unsettled state and we slipped into one of our deep conversations. Colin explained that when his friends asked about his Son-In-Law (aka Me) he did not know how to explain ‘What I did’.
So he asked me…..
“Matt, what should I say you do?”
Initially I laughed. He clearly did not want to tell them I was a Sales Director (My role at the time) so I asked him why it was so important?
Colin hesitated and then said, “well…. They are interested, they want to know a little about you”.
Initially I joked and was deliberately obtuse. (I get a little frustrated that in society we tend to ask a person their profession, I think it is a way we benchmark our position with each other). So, I said ‘tell them I’m kind’.
Colin laughed. “No really, what should I say? …. Matt what DO you DO?”
I stopped and reflected. This was a great question to ponder. Perhaps I shouldn’t be defined by a job title. Perhaps I should be defined by MY WORK?
I smiled at my mother-in-law in my cheeky way that means ‘can I please have another cup of tea’ and then I turned to Colin and said……
‘tell them I am a creative problem solver!’
Colin laughed, then he paused, he smiled and then laughed again. ‘No seriously Matt, what shall I tell them?’
I repeated myself. Seriously Colin…. ‘I AM a creative problem solver’.
We then had a lovely discussion. Despite my job descriptions, roles, or status one aspect had always remained constant. I identify need, opportunities or problems that require a solution. Then I set to work on conceiving a plan and resolution.
In the past this may have been designing a drinks cup which provides insulation and doesn’t burn the hand of the consumer.
It could have been a toolset that an operator could change in one minute instead of four hours.
It may have been a piece of artwork to communicate a message.
I might have worked with a company to house live Turkeys in a humane and healthy manner.
I might help reboot a youngster’s confidence so that they can undermine a bully or tormenter and live life on their own terms.
Through the course of the discussion, I was suddenly comfortable with this premise.
‘I am Matt Powell and regardless of job title, I am a creative problem solver’.
Suddenly I felt a wave of realisation flow through me. It was like I had plugged in a loose cable and felt a power surge. In an unexpected moment I suddenly understood myself better and it felt very empowering …… (Thanks Colin).
The Japanese have a proverb which I first became aware of years ago. I am not sure when or how, but it has lived in my sub-conscious for at-least ten years.
He who chases two rabbits catches neither!
This proverb has plagued and tormented me. It has tugged at my thoughts and often made me question my efforts or direction.
I knew I was not doing a good enough job at my Karate Clubs. I was tired. I was not living up to my potential. I wanted to do better. My students deserved better. I just could not find the balance. I needed to work, but I have a family to support and Care for.
Crucially I also did not want to sell out!
I have never wanted to run a ‘McDojo’ that prioritises profit and numbers through the door. I did not see a way that I could teach professionally and pay the bills in an ethical way that fits with my Martial Arts philosophy.
So, I had struggled on. Trying my best …. Struggling… Working…… trying…..…. Chasing two rabbits catching neither!
Suddenly in this conversation with Colin I realised that I could reframe my ‘work’ and neatly bundle everything I do to suit. By formalising my profession as a ‘Creative problem solver’ I could direct my efforts in different ways and directions while ultimately striving for a single goal.
I now had one Rabbit to chase.
My Karate problem was initially easy.
‘How do I teach professionally and ethically while prioritising the craft over profit?’
I decided to ditch any previous pre-conceived ideas I had on what a professional ‘Sensei’ is and chose to redefine the role based on my own attributes.
In doing so I have relied a great deal on my creative spirit and training. I have also reflected a lot on my design experience and realised that I am most effective when working iteratively. i.e., I do not wait until the solution is perfect before release. Instead, I put my work ‘out-there’ and rapidly seek to update, tweak, and improve.
When I was studying A’Level Graphic Design I was fascinated by the work of Ralph McQuarrie and other concept artists on the Star Wars franchise. I had a number of text-books on their methods and creative principles. (Perhaps it was no surprise that I chuckled to myself yesterday when I realised my latest Poster work for the club resembled a Star Wars poster in style and delivery). I have seriously rebooted my illustration skills over the last twelve months.
This week we were finally able to start teaching over 18’s in our dojos again.
On Wednesday night my Petersfield club returned to its home at Petersfield School. I arrived early and a few of my Teenage students met me there to prepare the dojo and set up.
Previously I would have had to rush from work after maybe leaving the house at 5am and make the best possible of the time available and the depleted energy levels I had at my disposal.
With my new focus however, things were very-different. I have been tirelessly producing online content to keep students engaged, aware and excited about our clubs. I had spent the day messaging members to remind them of timings and protocols. When I arrived at the dojo I had layout plans, new cones and equipment as well as modern technology to employ. These offer new ways of teaching I that discovered whilst working on Zoom.
The consequence was that we had good numbers turn up to train and the atmosphere was electric.
It was clear to me how much my members had missed each other!
In that moment I felt extremely proud. Not that I was teaching or even what I was teaching. But quite simply that my decisions and effort had in some way made this happen. My focus on my karate ‘work’ over the last 18 months has allowed me to put in the effort.
We have all had a mountain of problems to navigate throughout the COVID pandemic. It has hit some much harder than others and we all need to be aware of that. But, as Lockdown measures ease, I sincerely feel like we are at the beginning of a new chapter.
So, in a deliberately sentimental way I urge you all to chase your dreams. If you are conflicted or frustrated and simply want a fresh start. Go for it. Put the work in and don’t fear failure or mistakes. Your Job Title does not define you. Your attributes do!
I am not exclusively a Designer, Sales Director, Tool Engineer or Karate Instructor.
I am no longer chasing two rabbits!
I am a creative problem solver …… just trying my best!