What’s your story?

Last updated on: Published by: Leila Johnston 0

If we have learned anything over the last couple of years, it’s that the world can be a very chaotic place. The secondary lesson is this:

Everything we think about our life is a story.

Your life — and I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you — didn’t happen. It’s not the truth. At best, it’s a take; a perspective; a cautionary lesson; a thin digestable slice of the intolerable MegaTruth. We have such a limited view of the world, and we string these glimpses together to come up with theories about the sorts of people we are, the kinds of things that tend to happen to us, and various causes and effects that may or may not represent what’s really going on. Consciously or otherwise, we carry around ‘hot takes’ about ourselves, based on the tiny bits of the world that we have access to.

Sounds disappointing, but this is in fact the beauty of it. We’re all at it — all of us! Everyone’s presentation of themselves is a story. We’re all storytellers, all day long. Your life did happen after all (fake out! sorry), and it was better than reality, it was a story.

In the unlikely event it helps, why not think of it as a big, messy game of Dungeons & Dragons? We haul our characters out of the chthonic quagmire and take our ideas out for a spin under the still utterly unfathomable cosmos. Like finding faces in clouds, we make life’s tumult coherent through our theories, and gain power among our peers by sharing the most compelling ones. There’s no getting around it — as we consider our attitude to situations, our responses, what we wear, how we talk… we are all our own storytellers. It seems like it must be important to know what sort of storytellers we are.

Branding has ruined everything

The branding industry has hijacked the idea of story horribly, but when you start to see storytelling less as childlike fairytales and more as the basic sense-making at the core of good communication, it feels slightly less egregious. But here at Sarah & Leila we’re different (because everything’s changed) and we think there’s a new approach to branding. Rather than jumping to ‘tell stories’ about your product or service, we’d like to invite you to start with your own story.

I don’t mean origin stories. You’re not a Batman. But the real stuff: what are all the things you think are key to understanding you, and in what order should we present them? What are you going to stop saying about yourself? Which storylines have more life in them, and which ‘characters’ are you happy to kill off? Which qualities or principles are the heroes of your story, and how do they show up in your branding?

The value of surprise

Last updated on: Published by: Leila Johnston 0
There are good surprises and bad surprises.

Last year, we all experienced a surprise we didn’t want, that flaming dog turd through the letterbox of humanity that needs no introduction. But what followed was not much better: a series of stay-at-home and stay-away-from-one-another orders that worked effectively at removing that one unpredictable aspect from our lives, but took all the good surprises away, too. The baby was gone, along with the bathwater. Farewell, random encounters with strangers in the park! So long, friends dropping into our home (or even inbox) with interesting updates! I’ll never forget you, spontaneous trips to big cities for a bit of window shopping. Where did all the ideas triggers go? Serendipitous chats at events? So useful, and so pre-pandemic. These days, if you want to be surprised, you’ll have to schedule it into a Zoom call.

For quite some time now, every day has started to feel a lot like the one before, and our relationship with time has taken a hit. Without punctuation and variety, we’ve lost our usual ways of measuring passing time, and without a secure ground to form plans on, we don’t know how to think about the future.

But there is still a future, and maybe all this has made us a bit more aware of what was always true – we don’t have a good steer on it. We’re a little more vulnerable, maybe a bit more medieval (in a good way). With magic on the march, ‘futurism’ is surely over. The shiny WIRED cover stars already feel dated; Elon and Jeff are straightforward jokes now, just silly ‘Space Trumps’. The idea we can, on our own, control anything significant is eye-wateringly hilarious. We now have proof that humanity’s fate is not in the hands of those who shout loudest and it’s kind of a relief to let go of some of our individualistic madness. We can be open to openings.

We’re different because everything’s changed, as you might have heard. While Sarah and I think a lot about what exactly has changed, we’ve been thinking about how to manage things that are suddenly not changing, too. We’ve discovered that it’s possible to grasp unpredictability – if not with energy, then with sanguine fascination. And when things aren’t changing in ways we expect them to, we can draw on our creativity to effect some sort of agency. Throughout January, we created a newsletter delivering cheering ideas and creative prompts every day, called January Lights. People seemed to enjoy this and we wanted to keep the spirit of it going in some way after January was over, so we started talking about producing a card deck of similar prompts.

Well, one thing led to another, and we are now selling our Creativity Tarot – a deck of creative suggestions that also works as a traditional tarot, a magic 8 ball type answering device, and an endless source of inspiration.

The Creativity Tarot is a pack of cards inspired by Jungian archetypes, branding archetypes, modern life – and of course traditional tarot decks. We hit on the idea after noticing that a lot of people (including us) have been feeling pretty stuck during the long, uncertain pandemic period. It’s harder to make decisions, harder to motivate ourselves and harder to trust our instincts when everything we thought we knew has been turned upside down.

But our instincts and intuition are still an excellent, and under-valued, starting point for decision-making. However you choose to use them, these cards supply intriguing answers to open-ended questions.

And if that sounds a bit too ‘woo’ for you, each card has a specific, enjoyable, quick challenge written on it. So if deep readings aren’t for you, just draw a card from the deck and commit to the task. Our easy, uplifting challenges are designed to help you connect with that inner child and get up to some mischief. We promise that after building a blanket fort, making a funny meal or writing a furious argument against the existence of a popular season, you’ll feel a whole lot better than you did before.

We want to put a bit of everyday magic – the good kind of surprise – back into people’s lives. We can’t promise you control over the future, but we can give you some tools to access your subconscious, let go of expectation, and hopefully surprise yourself.

A cure for burnout

Last updated on: Published by: Sarah Dobbs 0

I’m tired. You’re tired. We’re all tired, and we’ve been tired for months now.

Even before the pandemic, life sometimes felt like an unending slog, a constant treadmill of tasks that needed to be accomplished with no way of stepping off. We’ve got deadlines to meet, bills to pay, laundry to do. Somehow, even the supposedly relaxing stuff started to feel like a to-do list, as unread books and unwatched TV shows piled up endlessly. The restrictions of the last year or so have only made things feel worse, as we rattle around inside our homes, unable to see friends and family, all hope of holidays vanishing into the abyss. Exhausting, right?

It’s tempting to think that the answer to all this tiredness is to stop doing things. But I’ve got a radical suggestion that I think might work better: let’s do more.

Not more of the stuff we hate, to be clear. Instead, we need to find ways to do more of the things that light us up. What are you really good at? Is there something you love doing, but never quite find enough time to fit in? Maybe it’s writing, maybe it’s teaching, maybe it’s cooking, maybe it’s making art. Whatever it is, do more of it. Carve out space in your life to give yourself a new project – a secret one, if you have to. Because that’s the thing that’s going to make things seem manageable again.

A few years ago, I was working in a job I hated. I had a long commute, and miserable days, and I just wanted to lie on the floor and refuse to do it. At the end of a work day, I just wanted to go home and vegetate. But when I found something fun to do with my evenings, even if it meant staying out later and getting less sleep, I felt less exhausted.

It’s a control thing, I think. We’re not talking about revenge procrastination here, by the way. (That’s the thing where people stay up later, not really doing anything but watching TV or scrolling the internet, because they need to push back against the ennui of the wake-work-sleep cycle.) That’s unproductive, and feels bad, and ultimately doesn’t even let you wrest back any control. No, I’m suggesting you do more of the thing that excites you.

For me, lately, that’s been working with Leila on a new product we’re planning to launch as part of our general mission to put some magic back in the world. (Sign up to register your interest here). In the past, I’ve launched a magazine around my day job, or created podcasts on my weekends. Technically, it’s more “work”, and most of it has had to be done during what could otherwise just be downtime. But when you’re doing something that puts that fire in your belly, tiredness doesn’t come into it.

I think we’ve all probably got some reserves of energy left. It’s just that we’re too bored and stressed to access it when all we’ve got going on is the same old work, with the same old people, in the same old walls we’ve barely been allowed to leave for a year. That tedium sets in when we’ve got nothing fun to do, and so we fill our time with things that just make us feel miserable. Give yourself permission to do something different. Enthusiasm is fuel – joy is fuel. Do more of what you love.

Just do one

Last updated on: Published by: Leila Johnston 0

What do you really want to do? That thing that you bottle up and suppress because you know it would be such a good idea, but the thought of it feels so overwhelming – what is it? Maybe you want to start something up. Or read more books. Maybe you wish you could be a bit healthier? Or just dearly want to stop feeling a certain way about a situation, person or personality trait?

This sense of looming overwhelm is one of the big things preventing us doing things we want to do, or don’t want to do right now but know will be beneficial in the longer term. It’s not even actual overwhelm, is it? It’s the anticipation of overwhelm – “If I start on this, it’ll soon be too much”.

We can’t really claim to have invented this, as it’s the sort of wisdom your gran might have passed down, but it bears reframing for the modern world. And maybe someone needs to hear it right now, and maybe that person is you. So here it is. Whatever it is you think you can’t do…

Just do it once

You don’t need to make going for a run every day your goal, but you can do one and take it from there. Then at least you’ve done it once! You don’t have to transform yourself into a different type of person overnight, like in that Kafka story. But doing things once gives you a trial and error research project; you can narrow down your hopes and dreams, and work out what to focus on, over time.

Make it about doing, not feeling

There’s something about taking action which is key to all this, too. For example, if a situation keeps bringing out a negative or obstructive emotion in you, why not try behaving like someone who isn’t bothered? For a moment, let yourself forget about what you’re feeling, and focus instead on what you’re doing. Let’s face it, this isn’t easy! Negative feelings are absolutely convincing – we’re programmed to listen to them and believe them, and we may never be able to see through their wicked illusions! The key is not to try. Make this a behaviour war to be fought on behavioural grounds. Bad feelings want you to think you need them, and that they can help you logic some sense out of things. We may never be able to put them aside forever, but remember: we don’t have to commit to giving up feeling angry or upset or self-defeating forever. What have we got to lose by trying to behave like someone who doesn’t feel those things in these situations, just once?

Having a reference point

We are explorers, as we go through this life. The more things we try, the more potential we have to understand others and subsequently make the world a better place. And when we’ve done something once, we have evidence for ourselves that it can be done. We can look back and say, hey – I didn’t think there could ever be a different outcome in this situation, but there was that one time I successfully surprised myself and jumped out of the plane (proverbially or actually!) If you did it once, you can do it again.

So… what are you going to try today?