4.4 Losing My Spirit As My World Crashes
I spent so many years so full of what I was capable of that I never stopped to look at what was going on underneath. I never stopped and looked at the people around me to see what was happening to them.
There have always been consequences to the actions I have taken. Often they were exciting and powerful but in the end the consequences of my successful life as a designer and businessman belied what had happened over the years. The trick, I have found, is to see the consequences in light of what went before. They can be blamed on good luck or bad luck, but for me that misses the point. The consequences are the release of karma often built up over many years. In my case what happened was not something I foresaw, even though I had had plenty of signs along the way.
I am now at the point in my story where it all comes crashing down and I find myself wondering what happened and questioning where I should go next. From my viewpoint now, around 15years later, I can see that what happened was an essential point in my journey to freedom. It was part of the journey of discovery that my life has been. Through it my life completely changed—for the better. But I am jumping ahead.
I have no desire to dwell on the details of what happened, rather I am going to outline the shifts that happened in my life and what caused them. In future episodes I will go into where this led me and how it became the culmination of my lifelong seeking.
The consequences were both professional, financial and personal. They were linked together but they also wreaked their individual havoc in my life. The personal disasters hurt the most and are the ones that are only beginning to heal now. I have moved beyond them but they did end a period of over half my life. That is difficult to get beyond.
Professionally everything I worked for crashed around me. I held my head high in terms of design reputation, although even that started to dim as younger designers leap-frogged over my ideas with newer, younger approaches. There is always a time when, as you age, your work gets tired, the way round this is to have young, exciting designers working for you. This is something I was not able to achieve as the firms I led crashed financially.
Two firms that I headed went bankrupt in succession. The second grew out of the first and was destined to be a ‘Phoenix’ that would show what I could achieve. I do not believe that the first failure was my fault, but I was in charge when it happened. In fact I brought it on by flagging financial matters up to the bank that was financing us. That action meant that they pulled their finance and one of the best known lighting design companies quickly failed. This was devastating to me personally, to the staff and a shock to the world of lighting design. I had a reputation, so the failure did not go unnoticed.
Out of that failure I started another company with some partners who provided finance. We took over the office, the staff and the projects, so everything was lined up to leave the financial disaster of the old company behind. This worked for a few years but eventually costs grew and income did not grow alongside them. Some bad clients devastated the finances and we decided to close the company down. I then went out on my own as a solo designer to work on some existing projects. This was never going to last long-term and was a bridge to me leaving the profession completely.
Why did the firms fail? I flagged up the answers in the previous episode. The major reason was that I tried to control everything and thought that I could do it all. I insisted on running the finances, even to the point of doing the book-keeping. I was unhappy with how it was being done and knew I could do it better. Of course I could, and I did. But that was not my role and was not what I should have been doing.
I talked, last week, about how I hid away in running the business. Amazingly I hid away from what I was good at, being a top-flight designer. I was scared of my success and avoided destroying it by not looking at it too closely. I lost my hunger; my hunger to do better and make more money. I had the talent and the necessary skills and yet I preferred to be an accountant.
This is an issue deep in my psyche because, if you can remember back to the earlier part of the story, this is what I ran away screaming from, after I left school. I went into the theatre to avoid this. Somehow I never lost the burning desire to prove that I could do it. Of course all I proved was that I could not.
Next in line is the financial disaster that this brought on me. In both companies, as failure loomed, money disappeared. I do not mean it was stolen, it was just not there to pay salaries. It was hard to go into the design office at the end of a month and tell the staff that they were not going to be paid—yet. What was even harder was to be unable to pay myself, or my fellow directors, even when the money came in to fund the designers. This kept happening over an extended period of time and pushed my personal finances into chaos. I had a supportive bank who, nevertheless, stopped me paying money out whenever the income ceased. This was particularly hard with a mortgage, credit cards, household bills and a wife and family to support.
There were times when I had no idea how I was going to get through it—but I did. I avoided personal bankruptcy and managed to keep going and get back into order with my bank. I even paid off some of the company debts from the original failure. In the end I kept my head high, felt I had been honourable in all that I did.
This was the start of a fallow period, financially, which was hard to accept after all the years of work. I was approaching the end of my career with not a lot to show for it. Eventually I came to realise that this did not matter, in fact it was the least important aspect of my life.
The worst part of all the was that it precipitated the complete destruction of my personal life, or so it seemed at the time. All of this was not the cause, but it was the catalyst which changed things. What is difficult for me to accept, though, is that the desire to hide away in my business life also applied to my personal life. I was not able to fully face up to what was going on until it was too late, until I had to get out.
My marriage failed after over thirty years and I left home. I left with very little, no money, no pride, no satisfaction. I chose to start again and seek a new life. The story of what happened in my marriage is not relevant to this story. All that is relevant is how I created it over the years and how it resulted in a transformation in my life.
I spent so many years so full of what I was capable of that I never stopped to look at what was going on underneath. I never stopped and looked at the people around me to see what was happening to them. I wanted to be in charge and control all aspects of my life. But this tended to destroy those around me. Even when I realised what was going on I found it difficult to accept it. I blamed others and sought to seek a way out of the mess myself. I was the one person capable of resolve problems, I was Superman.
While I deride myself, I realise that what happened was as inevitable as the deaths at the end of a Shakespearian tragedy. Neither Hamlet, Lear nor Othello could prevent the inevitability of what happened. The world around them guided them towards to it, but, even more important, they created it in everything they did.
The difference with me was that I eventually jumped off the roundabout, or was I pushed? I moved on and created a new life which is still evolving into the life I have always wanted to lead. The story will now move on from chaos and disaster to a freer life that I chose to flow with. This is the part of the story that I am most looking forward to talking about.