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A modern take on an ancient wisdom

I grew up surrounded by the ancients. With a father who was a classicist, my bedtime stories were the myths, legends and histories of the ancient civilisations of Asia Minor and the Mediterranean world. Dad’s biggest influence was classical Greece and as such I knew the names of all the gods in the Greek pantheon before I could list the seven dwarves. The most enduring legacy of this early classics overdose, other than a good ear for metre and a love of traditional storytelling, were two Delphic aphorisms “know thyself” (γνωθι σαυτον) and “nothing in excess” (μη δ’εν ἀγαν).

Both sayings have long been part of the code of simple mantras I strive to live by, along with “do as you would be done by” and “patience is a virtue“. In recent years though, I have realised that self-knowledge is much easier to achieve than restraint but that both are needed for contentment and serenity.

Nothing to excess

Although I have known restraint where worldly goods and “deadly sins” are concerned, my working patterns most definitely did not adhere to this ancient aphorism, and inevitably this excess took its toll. As a result, some time out to rest and take stock was most definitely called for and this year I finally allowed myself that time. I am now back at my desk but with the insight of the past years and months I consider those two old sayings more actively than ever.

Thanks to my sabbatical interlude and a return to work in a slightly different guise than before, I am working out what I like about my previous incarnation, what works for me now and what kind of toiler I am. Although working part-time has helped me embrace “nothing in excess” in my official working life, as I have numerous other projects on the go, I am having to work out where my energy levels begin and end, and set my own boundaries accordingly. Needless to say, this is a challenge for a life-long workaholic and perfectionist! As such I am, however, also used to seeking out the resources and guides I need to help me push through such challenges.

My “guides” have come in unexpected forms. One has been embracing my creative instincts, which had lain dormant for far too long. The other are the simple wisdoms of a gentleman blogger.

Important Work and Little and Often

Although it has been brewing for some time, this year I most definitely overtly reconnected with my right brain and the main manifestation has been my writing. For many decades I have loved writing and have written intermittently but finally, after years of dismissing it nonchalantly as something I occasionally do, I have realised that the only way I shall find balance in my professional life is by admitting that I both need to write and that I am a writer.

With this change of mindset I now view my writing as “Important Work” – just as important, if not more so than my income-paying job. In turn, this realisation allows me to justify investing time and energy in my writing that I would previously have devoted to my “day job” – or in my case my “day, night and weekend job”.

The term “Important Work” is one for which I have the mild-voiced blogger Michael Nobbs to thank. As an artist who is carving out a career despite suffering from ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Michael knows a thing or two about the ancient aphorism “nothing in excess”. He believes in doing “little and often” and being kind to yourself (as well as in the power of a cup of tea – the absolute proof of a sound mind in my book!).

I first came across Michael’s blog Sustainably Creative late last year when my body was creaking and I was close to admitting that my “frivolous writing” was as important to me as my sensible day job. In the face of all too frequent 16-hour days, his philosophy of twenty minutes of Important Work was a manageable way for me to meet my needs without feeling indulgent.

Much has changed since those days but now, when I struggle with low energy levels or my joints ache, I still set my alarm for twenty minutes – even at work. Or I ignore the corporate urge to respond to emails on six different projects within seconds of receiving them and instead, switch off my email and focus on one thing. And, I even, occasionally, hear myself saying “no”.

The simple gentle wisdoms that Michael Nobbs expounds on his blog Sustainably Creative and more recently in his e-book Getting Your Important Work Done have been a helpful touchstone when redeveloping my formal working habits, but they have also borne fruit in my own creative efforts.

In small steps I have been laying the building blocks for my own creative ventures. My business plans may not have moved along quite as quickly as I would have liked and the launches may have slipped a few weeks but by embracing this modern take on the ancient Greek aphorism, I am enjoying the process of laying the ground works for my own creative ventures and, unsurprisingly, am more contented.

Michael’s secrets: a one-thing-to-do list and a cup of tea

* All images have been reproduced from Michael Nobbs’ gently paced blog Sustainably Creative. If you, like me, prefer to read a book rather than keeping up with a blog, his E-book Getting Your Important Work Done is a collection of essays that sum up his kind attitude to doing what we can with the energy we have.

  • Helen (Dixon Hill Girl) September 27, 2011, 9:28 pm

    Meg, your blog is an absolute delight! So much here resonates with me. I think we have a lot in common! Delighted you found your way to my blog this evening… 🙂

  • Carter (across the pond) October 15, 2011, 11:48 am

    Mrs M, You’re an inspiration. On a tip from a friend, I had begun sampling your blog and suddenly found that an hour had passed. A calm hour, as your writing caught me up and made me forget the work-worries jockeying for my attention. Sublime writing, Mrs M-keep it up. As for the inspiration you’ve offered, I once wrote things other than dry reports synthesizing data, and I have been toying with the idea of an evening class in drawing or graphic design. No promises, here, but thank you, especially for this post on making more room for the creative impulse. Cheers.

    • Meg and Gosia October 15, 2011, 9:26 pm

      Carter, I am so glad you are enjoying the blog. I started writing this blog as a release from my own work-worries but once a crack in the dam had opened, my creative spirit broke free from drafting “dry” contracts morning, noon and night. Good luck with making more time for your graphic side.


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