Creative Negativity and “In Solvency”

Creative Negativity and “In Solvency”

Is there worse to come?

The above is an article from today’s Eastern Daily Press, from one of Norwich’s leading insolvency firms, and warns that 2017 is likely to see a rise in insolvencies across the East of England.

I used to work in insolvency – albeit as a lowly admin – and I’ve heard, first hand, on the end of a phone I sincerely wished I hadn’t had to pick up, the pain and rage of people who take the impact of the punch to the gut that is a business going under.  Newsflash: those people are rarely the business owners. In most cases, they seem to dust themselves off and move on fairly quickly. Donald Trump isn’t an exception. He got his eventual success, in the form of becoming President of the USA. Most business owners who declare insolvency will go on to achieve success with another venture. Not all of them, of course, but enough to make you sigh and roll your eyes, wondering whether they’ve actually learned their lessons at all. Wondering if they are aware there were lessons to be learned.

The people who suffer most are those who had the least to do with the business failing. The shop floor staff. The admin crew. The cleaners. The people who had to hear me tell them they’d get £800 redundancy, after years – decades, in one case – of turning up day in, day out.

Those people, their pain, their rage, were the reason I wasn’t sorry to leave insolvency. The managers at the company I worked for (not McTear Williams Wood) made it clear that “those people” didn’t matter. We were there to help the directors and company owners get back on their feet.

But, of course, there will be business owners who are devastated by entering insolvency. People who’d poured their heart and soul, their hopes and dreams, and no small amount of time and money, into a goal, only to see it snatched away from them.

I’ve never gone into insolvency, but I’ve had to close a business, and cancel an event, because I literally didn’t have the money to continue. Both times, the loss triggered a bout of clinical depression. Both times, in the run up and the immediate aftermath, I felt suicidal.  I can well believe there are others, who do end up declaring insolvency, who feel likewise.

This is for all of them, all of you.

I now work in the sphere of creative negativity, which seems oxymoronic in the context of business insolvency. What possible roses could there be behind those thorns? And how can you be creative about insolvency, unless it takes the form of “creative accounting“, which is somewhat frowned upon?

Let’s break the word “insolvency” up, to start with.

“In” – belonging to, within, inside, bordered by, etc. A five year old child knows what “in” means.  So: we are in a position of being bordered by, for the sake of argument.

“Solvency” – the ability to pay one’s just and lawful debts. (The “just and lawful” is important. Remember it.)

So, when we face insolvency, which sounds like a failure, the first creative thinking we can apply is to break up the word, so that, instead of being “unable to meet just and lawful debts”, we are, in fact “bordered by the ability to pay (our) just and lawful debts.”

That puts a new spin on it. We are able to pay our just and lawful debts firstly by identifying which, in fact, are just and lawful – and which are the result of people taking advantage of us.

When I was preparing insolvency cases, the number of times overcharging on the part of suppliers or landlords, or inappropriately charged fees by banks, would only come to light at the point of insolvency was depressing. Businesses seem to love taking advantage of one another, viewing it as some sort of harmless game. (Of course, when the person you’ve been overcharging for goods you supply to them goes bust, odds are your business won’t be far behind… The game doesn’t seem quite so harmless now, does it?) Those were the debts that the insolvency firm refused to honour – they may have been lawful, but they were not deemed just.

There are many ways of “paying for” things, beyond the obvious, financial method. I’m sure we’ve all been told, at one time or another, that “you’ll pay for that” – it usually involved some sort of physical violence.

But we also “pay attention” – and that’s the ability to pay our just and lawful debts that insolvency gives us.

When you declare insolvency, you begin the final stages of running a business. You may be able to keep things ticking over, usually with the help of the insolvency firm who’re representing you, but you can’t do much else. Your main focus, perhaps for the first time, is your debts. You have been given the unique ability to genuinely pay attention to the ways in which you spend money.

We live, as a nation and society, in an era where credit is seen as an automatic and inalienable right. It is considered odd if someone doesn’t have a credit card, or at the very least an overdraft. Almost everyone has used “payday lenders”, some on a regular basis. We have store cards, catalogue payment plans. We see nothing wrong in asking our friends to lend us a tenner every now and then, and even less wrong in asking our families to lend us money to pursue our dreams.  Even the Jobcentre will offer “crisis loans“, to people who will never have money of their own to repay them. Businesses run in constant debt to their employees – when you work for someone else, you are paid in arrears, for time you have already given. This becomes manifestly true when you are paid hourly, which often results in people working through illness, because they can’t afford the loss of pay that would result in taking a day off.

Because credit – and therefore debt – is seen as part of the normal functioning of a stable society, we never really think about the debts we’re accruing. We don’t pay attention to the ways in which we spend money. Not until a crisis hits, and forces us to pay attention.

This – the point of paying attention to our debts – is where creative negativity comes in.

Look at your debts.

Pick up two felt tips – one green, one red.

Look at your debts again.

With the red felt tip, mark every debt you had been paying without really thinking about it. Maybe it had been paid by direct debit, or you simply tossed it onto some admin’s desk with a brief “Give them a call and pay that off, would you?” Maybe you even paid them yourself, cheerily greeting whoever answered the phone, not a moment’s pause as you rattled off payment details.  In terms of personal debt – because personal insolvency is a fact – perhaps you even smiled while you were paying that debt, remembering the pleasure the goods the debt had bought you gave you.

With the green felt tip, mark the debts you were actively aware of paying. The ones, perhaps, that weren’t always easy to pay.  The debts you invariably paid late – or had your admin team make excuses for your not paying. The debts you paid with debt – paying them off on a credit card, for instance.

Now look at the debts you’ve marked in red. What do they represent? What did that credit buy you? Write it all down, every last detail of it.

Do the same with the debts marked in green.

Do you see any patterns?

In my personal life, before my self-employment began to stabilise, it was fairly common for me to pay my water rates late. Not by much – a week at most, ten days, once.  The bills I paid without thinking were mobile phone top ups, the monthly direct debits for the internet, and for my pension.

The pattern? I didn’t think about things I’d chosen to have, and that fulfilled intellectual and emotional “necessities” – communication, and security. Those things were so important to me that of course I would pay for them promptly.

Having clean water readily accessible, however… (I justify this to myself by pointing out that, at the time, and still, my toilet is blocked and my boiler broken: things aren’t financially stable enough, without credit cards or loans, which are outside my ability to procure, to attend to these things. I have water, but it’s not hot water.)

When you don’t have a lot of money, you end up thinking about every debt. But there are some you resent paying, and others you don’t. Everyone moans about the price of bread: no one complains at the cost of champagne.

What patterns have you identified? The debts you pay without too much thought or pain, that you pay on time, are the things that are important to you.

Knowing what those things are will tell you what you need to focus on in your next business venture, your next job.

For me, the important things, the areas of my focus, are communication, and security.

I communicate by writing, in ideas and words.  As to security? When I look at the things I’m regularly paid for, I realise I’m being paid for providing others with the security of reliable, high-quality results. I’m offering the security of a new way of looking at personal and business problems, and, with that, the security of knowing you can get through them.

When you’re facing insolvency, you’re bordered by the ability to pay attention to your just and lawful debts. To take a look at them through the lens of creative negativity, and see the patterns that are creating the tapestry of your life. The threads of endings, and of beginnings.

What’s your focus? And what are you doing, what are you going to do, to follow it?

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Flowers From Burn Out

Apologies for the drought of posts recently – though I think the title of this post hints at the reason for that.

Living with a mental health condition is challenging. Sod that – it’s downright hard. Challenges are usually enjoyable, on some level, while you’re engaging with them, and provide you with the warm glow of achievement at the end.

Mental health issues in flare are hell while you’re going through them, and just leave you exhausted.

But burn out – whether thanks to pre-existing mental health issues or out of the blue – is kind of like a wildfire. It’s a shock when it happens, you worry about the damage it’s going to do…and then, when it’s over, and you’re looking at what’s left, you realise that, one day, there’s going to be new growth on that patch of land where, before, the old ground level growth was strangling everything. You see the layers of ash, and realise that the charcoal is going to provide valuable nutrients to the soil.

For me, the burn out came about as a combination of living with mental health issues, and thinking I had to be “normal” in every way – including putting my ambitions, self-employment wise, aside to get a full-time, “normal” job – any job, as long as it paid.

I couldn’t do that, it turned out. I can’t fake passion for something. I don’t really grasp social skills well enough to manage interviews. My self-esteem has been too brutalised for too long to be much good at selling Me,Inc. At the same time, I have no intention of “not doing anything” – I need activity, I need to feel that I’m being productive, I need a focus.

But my life, up to today, for the past few weeks, at the very least, has been nothing but dust and ashes.

Now, though, the green shoots are coming through – the green shoots of being awarded paid writing work, by people who don’t know me. The green shoots of having ideas for ways to expand Negative Is Also A Charge, and reach new, diverse audiences, who maybe wouldn’t respond to writing, and have no need for a public speaker.

I won’t “just forget about” traditional jobs – but I will focus on identifying and applying for those I’m actually interested in, that I could talk about with passion, and do with full commitment and attention, rather than with half a mind on when I could legitimately have my next cup of coffee.

And I also have a meeting scheduled on the 3rd September to discuss another, completely different, business concept, that I’ll need financing to bring to reality – a new vision for recruitment, where people, rather than positions, are what’s promoted, where the onus is on employers to make the effort and state their case, to prove their worth. Those looking to pursue self -employment will have access to mentors, retired professionals from a variety of sectors.

The UK welfare system for the unemployed and disabled needs to change, drastically – it needs to be understood that, rightly so, employers aren’t interested in someone who’s only applied for the job “because the Job Centre said I had to”. They want, and deserve, people who are genuinely passionate about what they do, whether that’s helping create a clean, welcoming environment, selling double glazing, serving fast food, or managing a FTSE 100 company. People looking for work need, and deserve, a job that utilises their existing skills, and helps them develop new ones – not one that has them doing “make work” eight hours a day, 5 days a week.

Our society deserves a workforce that is passionate, and engaged – thinking about how they can add value, not how they can slope off a few minutes early. All societies deserve this. When you have a passionate, engaged workforce, doing jobs that suit them, challenge them, and genuinely appreciate them, you have a stronger economy, because customers and clients have a better experience, and are therefore likely to spend more money.

I don’t just want to live in, and benefit from, such a society – I want to be part of building it.

 

Is Negativity REALLY Business?

The short answer is – “Yes.”

Over at LinkedIn, one of the most popular accounts is Liz Ryan’s. Liz is a career and lifestyle coach, and her single, core piece of advice for getting the job you want is to write a “pain letter” (or, more likely these days, email.)  This isn’t about your pain – how hard it is being unemployed, how little you get on welfare, all the things your friends are enjoying that you can’t afford – it’s about the company’s pain, and how you, with your skills, knowledge, and experience, can take that pain away.

You know the company is in pain because they’ve spent hundreds of pounds (sorry, I’m British – it’s pounds in my world!) placing the advert that attracted your attention.

You know they’re in pain because management are taking time out of their very busy schedules to deal with interviews, which nobody really likes. (I’ve spoken to enough people who’ve been honest about how they feel around leading an interview, and have interviewed people myself, on two occasions so far – believe me, paperwork, awkward phone calls – they’re all much more desirable than trying to ask the right questions of someone who could end up being a very expensive mistake.

You know they’re in pain because they’re hiring. Hiring is a risk, and most established companies are risk-averse.

So, you look in, round and through the job ad, the person specification, the job description. You “backwards engineer” creative negativity to discover the “negative” that caused them to advertise the position.

And then you get creative, and tell them all about their pain, and how you can make that pain go away.

It may not always work – life is like that, sometimes – but it’ll get you noticed over the 101 other applications that are thinly veiled cries for help.

Negative Charge

The day before Good Friday, Thursday, March 24th 2016, I closed the door on the business my wife and I had been running for the last time.

We’d failed. We hadn’t been able to make it work.

Since then,  I’ve “not been doing anything” – or, as I see it, I’ve been doing everything – everything that  needs to be done to restore my equilibrium, my sense of self, so that, whatever I choose to do next at the very least won’t fail because I’m still in the same mindset I was when I left a business I loved, and had done everything in my power to avoid losing.

I have a set of cards by Eckhart Tolle, with “inspirational quotes” on each. The card I pulled just now, at random, reads

“Whenever you notice that some form of negativity has arisen within you, look on it not as a failure, but as a helpful signal that is telling you ‘wake up. Get out of your mind. Be present.’ ”

It often takes a “failure” of some kind to wake us up to what we were doing wrong – it takes the negative charge of the emotional exhaustion that comes in the wake of a loss, any kind of loss, to reveal the core emotions, energy, and strength that will lead us, eventually, to success. That’s why it’s so important to take that time – however long you need – after a loss, of whatever scale, to just be, to let the wheels of your mind spin, recover your self – the strengths, energy, and emotions that will bring you success, and to identify the sphere in which you will succeed.