How to navigate and survive when you don’t know the way.

The Gardener and garden.

Don’t let go of your friends. They save you.

It’s OK not to know where you are going.

All you can do in the absence of direction is to focus on what you do.

If you don’t know what you do, don’t worry.

Just keep doing.

For more than three whole years through 2014, 2015 and 2016 I didn’t know where I was going. It was tough. I’m sharing this to empathise with and maybe encourage any of you who also might feel you are going through a not knowing or a difficult life phase.

I knew where I had come from and it seemed to me that I’d started off well considering. I’d survived early family bereavement that led to me leaving both school and home by the time I was 16, then survived and prospered through my 20’s after arriving in London with just the bag I carried with me and not knowing a single soul here.

I’d somehow become an equity trader at 17 and experienced the first proper stock market crash in 1987 and then a few years later managed to get myself hired by some of the earliest Internet companies. I’d created some of the very first social media campaigns and been partly responsible for the first online shopping mall in the UK. I’d worked on the first major UK recruitment site and conceptualised and helped set up one of the first big online poker sites.

I’d worked on some of the earliest social gaming / media experiments and knew many people in then the UK ecosystem and then in 1996 had founded an early B2B hosting and SaaS company, before the acronym SaaS had even been coined.

Way back in 2000 just after the first .com crash we raised £500K on a £20 Million valuation and I’d led the company through to 2007.

Then everything went wrong. I bet it all on red and it came up black.

I now had a shrinking business with rising costs and newly developed too-early-to-market services and boom, we suffered the financial crash of 2008 and a change in government. Both events took blind aim straight at me and the business, fired broadsides and shattered my vulnerable ship’s hull. My world literally sank.

It took me more than two years under seemingly constant shellfire to row all the staff, customers and suppliers to safety in lifeboats, and finally I became free to walk away with nothing.

What a run. 1996–2011. All the work, all the creating, all the income. Gone. Back to square one and now in a different world.

I took a break to lick my wounds and heal. I literally stomped off down the garden.

I retrained as a garden designer (really). Tech was over for me. You could keep it. Many of my friends jokingly know me as The Gardener so it seemed to fit. The picture above? Yes that’s me in the garden thinking. That’s why.

I never completed the garden design course. I nearly did but every time I was supposed to be drawing new patio designs or planning which plants to put where I started thinking about new technologies or reading papers on AI or re-reading Snow Crash. Anything to sabotage my garden work. So I came back.

If like me you have had a big setback and literally had to start again you’ll know how it feels. It’s crushing. We need to learn new ways of thinking to cope with it. It takes time. If you have had to re-start or are in the midst of a big life change then maybe these tips that got me through might help you.

Don’t let go of your friends. They save you.

It’s OK not to know where you are going.

All you can do in the absence of direction is to focus on what you do.

If you don’t know what you do, don’t worry.

Just keep doing.

I knew I wasn’t finished. I was though very disappointed in myself for what I saw as monumental failure on my part. The pain was real. My friends saved me by telling me often that I had done great. I had achieved amazing things. More than they had. I should be proud they said. The words sounded hollow but you know, in the end I learned to see that they are right and that we have to.

Define ourselves by what we do now, not by what we did before.

So I did. I started again. I knew I had to get back aboard the technology train. The train had moved so many stops on from where we were when I was in my 20’s and started that company that I knew I would never catch up unless I re-learnt everything as if it were new.

So I got a job working for a software / applications development company. I reckoned that if I could get myself into a business development position building apps and software for commercial requirements then I’d learn what was needed, what was hot and also meet plenty of people working with leading edge tech and ideas.

I didn’t know where I was going. I just focused on doing.

Every now and again I’d come across an idea for a new company or a new project and I’d see if I could get traction to back me, or I’d try and start it myself. When that didn’t work I’d get another job back at business development for software development or service creation.

I didn’t know where I was going but what I was doing was re-learning my sales and marketing skills, re-learning positioning and becoming relevant in the ecosystem again. There were low points and false starts but most importantly I was building a new network on top of my old one. Almost everyone I knew from back in the day had moved on.

I had to build anew. So I did.

Every day though felt like the wrong way. Every company I worked for I wanted to transform. Every problem I saw I wanted to solve. But once most people hire you as an employee they usually just want you to do that. These extra efforts sometimes ended up with me being fired. It was tough but I dug deep and tried to remember.

Don’t let go of your friends. They save you.

It’s OK not to know where you are going.

All you can do in the absence of direction is to focus on what you do.

If you don’t know what you do, don’t worry.

Just keep doing.

And if you do this over and over in the end your doing creates its own reward. The repeating of action, the repeating and incrementally improving your skills and approach over and over creates it’s own momentum.

I’ve now co founded Psyphr with an amazing co founder. We are working hard together and will change the way developers and companies secure their data in applications completely. Psyphr has the potential to improve everybody’s lives without most of them even knowing about it. It’s positive, it’s uplifting and it’s significant.

I know where I am going now. I now get up each day with determination and without self doubt.

But I didn’t know I was coming here for three whole years. The paradox and lesson to me if there is one is that however hard I found being lost I managed to hang on to the belief that if I just keep doing in the end the destination would make itself clear.

All of the doing has enabled this situation. Every contact, every technology article or blog I’ve followed or read, every follow, every event, every conversation, all my years of working experience has added up and without them I wouldn’t now be in the best position to grow and make Psyphr the success that it will be. I can bring all of that to this now.

I hope that this snapshot of my story might help you if you are coming back from setback or feel like you don’t know where you are headed. If you can just try and remember.

Don’t let go of your friends. They save you.

It’s OK not to know where you are going.

All you can do in the absence of direction is to focus on what you do.

If you don’t know what you do, don’t worry.

Just keep doing.

Things can work out much better than you could imagine when you were looking from back there.

Consumer with opinions. Gardener, technologist, horologist, bee keeper, burner. Just occasionally I write some things down.

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