Losing faith in the cutting edge of technology and finding myself instead
Thanks for this fascinating post. I'm hoping you'll tell us what happened on your return.
I've always felt a tug between the world of commerce and the world of the mind. While being present in both worlds was never incompatible, while I was working full time, the world of commerce dominated. Now it's the mind that dominates, although I maintain a presence in commerce.
I love the way you describe the painter's appearance as almost a visitation. I've encountered a few people like that. In those moments, they felt *sent* to deliver an important reminder of my soul purpose (that was currently being ignored). I think of them as walk-ons to my life. It hasn't happened many times, but your essay has me revisiting them and reliving that feeling. Who knows? Maybe some of our encounters here on Substack are providing similar nudges. For me, it was a physical and mental health crisis that propelled me to quit my fine job at a high-end architecture firm. That launched me into (among other modalities) breathwork, where I heard that my body is the key to my becoming. Good thing, because it's been my companion for years of wandering.
You keep pulling back the curtain on yet another facet of the lives you've lived. Reading this was like watching a black and white movie that turns technicolor halfway through.
I want to comment on the line that called out to me most from your essay. It was so provocative that I have the desire to explore it. I hope that's ok to do here, and I'm taking that leap because I'd like to participate in this "real man" conversation, and I believe this one line particularly holds a key to transitioning from Pinocchio boy to real man.
The line was this. "I sit and I stare, not so much at anything as away from myself."
An incredibly simple observation of a very profound moment that I myself recognize in your telling of it, but never thought to notice this way. That staring seems indicative of a state change, when we recognize we have lost our vision, and the staring is the first step of surrendering to a transformation of context that we can sense needs and wants to occur. We have to stop being fixated on the false identity we have fashioned for ourselves, thus the need to look away from ourselves, and allow our eyes that blurry softness of focus that is required to allow true purpose to re-enter our view. I have stared this way myself. I recognize this moment. It's a feeling of being lost and unmoored, but it has to be embraced, like being willing to go off-line and let the servers crash so the re-coding can be done. It was after this line that all the color returned to your view, which was so beautifully done in your article.
As for your question, the most recent thing that made me realize I had forgotten a part of myself was the Write of Passage course.
As we all launched in to writing our articles and started to publish, I became very aware of how focused I was with getting people to read what I wrote. The tension and anxiety I felt around this need for incoming attention made me realize how long I had been living from this context, attempting to GET attention, and I realized the part of myself I had forgotten was the joy of giving my attention freely and generously to others.
That insight opened the door to what has been the equivalent of leaving a black and white existence behind and walking into a wonderland of relationship, a deep appreciation of the talents and goodness and brilliance of others, as I see in you, and my desire to celebrate others.
Particularly, I celebrate that you now continue to offer your writing up as fuel for this specific conversation about being real men. I want to support that conversation, and you. So here is a little log I'm throwing on the life-giving bonfire that you've started are tending on our behalf. Thank you Latham.
Every essay feels like I’m wandering through an old mansion filled with different kinds of rooms... opening the door to each one to figure out the puzzle of what makes this house a home. I know that feeling of a hallow yearning to be filled by something that just is NOT currently present. It isn’t necessarily courage that drives us to book that flight, but desperation. I hope we get to read more about the Tolkien quest you took home with you!
Had a similar experience once. I used to spend a lot of time in Costa Rica with one of our portfolio companies. Took a trip out of the city of San Jose to Uvita in the southwest part of the country one weekend. Rugged, isolated jungle terrain. Stayed at a small resort that was owned by a couple from Chicago who had just moved there full time. They showed me a part of the world that took my breath away. Changed my perspective on work and life.
I love the picture of the Tolkien bench, and that this major paradigm shift happened for you near it. Tolkien very literally saved my life at least once. That’s a story I’m not ready to tell yet, because parts of it don’t belong to me. But nevertheless.
Enjoyed this, Latham. Especially the juxtaposition between that historically blank zone -- the pure efficiency of commerce -- and the site rich with historical meaning, which really is the deepest kind of meaning.
I see this kind of thing on LinkedIn a lot now. People grind away at job searches for months -- hundreds of applications, sometimes for naught. Why should finding work be so damn difficult, when the reward is typically trading your labor (and creativity) for a company's bottom line? And the kind of cruel efficiency that your old boss valued can also be self-inflicted by content creators who feel they must post every day, straight through the weekend, to stay relevant. We can internalize the tireless OCD of capitalism.
Writing doesn't work like that. Regularity helps with keeping in touch with the material and with the rhythms of language. But you can't just crank out quality writing incessantly. Ideas need time to season.
I'm still hoping to grow my coaching practice to the point where I can be busy enough to feel purposeful, but not so busy that my job owns me. It's harder than it should be to find that balance.
Latham once again you’ve touched something raw and subliminal for most of us. A real man can carry these opposite energies stoically for many years or decades without having the opportunity to touch them in a meaningful way. Such a blessing that you were literally dumbstruck at that moment in the park.
Thanks for sharing.
Stream of consciousness reaction here: Wow! Quantum computing. How much if his life have I yet to discover? Einstein? Tolkien! Wraith. Hutzpah!
Processing. And again, will be thinking on this till next week's essay.
What a great essay! I am exploring similar questions over on Unprofessoring--what parts of ourselves do we silence for our jobs and our identities? And what’s it like to listen again. Seems that Oxford is a great source of epiphanies in this regard!
Fascinating how you switched from Einstein to the painter in the park. One second I found myself pausing on that black board, marveling and struggling to make basic sense of it, and then I'm immersed in the poetic descriptions of the painter. Each of those are the perfect symbol for opposite states of mind, and to have them woven into a single arc-- and to watch you process it unfold-- was beautiful.
Loved this peek into your past but also such a pivotal moment that is so small yet so huge at the same time. You do a great job capturing both the magnitude of the project and also how unsatisfying that can still end up being. I love beautiful moments like the one you had with the painter at the bench. Sometimes everything aligns for a reason.
This was so beautiful Latham. Superb storytelling. It’s so exciting to see you continue to evolve as a writer and I’m so here for it. Team Latham.
In terms of a forgotten half, I felt mine more through rejection than revelation. Corporations discarding me without concern. I remember the precise feeling (not sure how) but by the final rejection after a slew of 7-8 I poured my heart into, I felt like a kicked dog. That’s the best way I could put it.
And so I realized the misalignment. It was blatant. And through that discovered that I’m not accessing some essential part of myself and all the rejection was a result of me trying to be someone I’m not.
Thank you for this beautiful piece :)
Oh man. I feel ya here Latham. I was tortured for most of the time that I ran a business by the conflict that I felt, first unconsciously, and then very consciously, with what I was doing (not that it was all that bad per se, I just didn't like it, in some ways).
I had many similar moments. One was when I found myself in my hotel room preparing to give the opening address at one of my own conferences, and instead of reviewing my notes or just feeling excited or whatever, I was crying. I didn't even want to go downstairs, let alone get up on stage and talk to people about the same stuff I'd been talking about for not-even-that-many-years already (there were many more to come, before I eventually sold the business). I felt so alone. I remain grateful to the girlfriend that picked up the phone when I called, and, with a huge heart, jumped on a plane to fly down the coast and join me there that evening. She anchored me, made me feel connected to some part of life that mattered, and brought beauty and life into the room. Similar, in an archetypal sense, to the muse or "pagan deity" that you encountered.
So many women have saved me. Bless them all.
There are several strings in this entanglement that tie me to you. So I’m going to take a risk and ask a confirming question: do you often have the quote from chariots of fire in your mind? “I am an Englishman first and last. I am an Oxford man first and last, and I bitterly resent you suggesting otherwise“. I don’t know if that’s accurate but it’s how I remember it.
Thank you for the story. I have been to this place. Not necessarily the same geography or context, but I do know the power of emergence. And the surprising, almost inconvenient kind is the best.