Do The Thing, Have The Power

 Extreme close-up of me, wondering how I got there. In a van, obviously. 

Extreme close-up of me, wondering how I got there. In a van, obviously. 

The old lady answered the door on her knees, and there was a strong smell of urine coming from her apartment. I handed over her delivery, which was mainly booze, and looked away when her dressing gown fell open, revealing bruises and sores. Behind her rubbish was piled up everywhere. I didn’t know what to do.

When I got back to the van I made an anonymous call to social services. They already knew about her but, they said, there wasn’t anything they could do unless the old lady accepted their help.

This was a pretty average day.

On the early shift I would get up at 3.30am and head out in my van to deliver groceries all over the South of England. I’d visit top floor flats next to the sea, I’d visit farms in the countryside, and offices in the towns. I’d take my van up into London, and travel along the coast to park homes, some of which felt like graveyards for the living.

At times I’d find myself in the middle of a domestic argument. At other times I’d find myself dropping off shopping in the kitchen of a mansion. I might deliver to the Lord and Lady of the manor, or I might take shopping to foreign students who’d turned their shabby flats into little pieces of home. I’d deliver to artists who had filled their homes with paintings and sculptures. I’d deliver to busy mums and dads trying to maintain some semblance of an organised life with three children tearing around, and old men and women, alone and lonely in near inaccessible care homes. Country lanes, busy motorways, caravans, campsites, offices and workshops. Up before dawn, home long after dark. Every day somewhere new. Every day wondering how I got there.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being a delivery driver. Some of the smartest people I ever met were delivery drivers. At the depot before and after my shift we’d all take ten minutes to chat about what we’d seen the day before. Some drivers were medical students topping up their income while they studied. Others were former company directors, who couldn't find any other work after whatever contract they had been working on had come to an end and hadn’t been renewed. Most, like me, just needed the money.

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One night a driver returned with an owl stuck to the roof of his van. Another night a cat appeared, having hidden among the shopping and now a long way from home. Every night another story to tell.

Each day at 3.30am I’d set out on the road, wondering who would complain because their shopping was nearly late, because I wouldn’t offer to unpack it for them, because they were angry and they needed someone to vent at. Because they made assumptions about people based on the job they did.

How did I get here? I hadn’t planned it, and I certainly never thought this was where I’d end up. I’d worked hard my whole life, I’d done everything I thought I was supposed to do, and this was the result.

My hands were hard and rough from carrying the shopping to customers’ doors. My knees were busted from stepping up and down from the van. My self-confidence in tatters having been eroded over the years, and my self-doubt was at an all-time high. I’d lost my mojo. My power was gone.

“Don’t you enjoy life?”

It was a rare Friday night off, and I was in the pub lamenting my sorry state of being. And this question took me by surprise.  It left me speechless. The idea that life was something to enjoy seemed paradoxical, like one of those Buddhist rhetorical questions. Those koans like, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”

I didn’t know how to answer a question like that without putting a total downer on the evening. But in my head I knew the answer was “no”.

Life is not something you are supposed to enjoy.

Life is about keeping your head down, working hard, doing what’s expected and not rocking the boat. And I’d worked hard. Really hard. I’d always done what I thought I was supposed to do. I’d followed everyone’s advice, and did what I was told. And while everyone around me enjoyed the rewards they had worked so hard to earn – the spoils of their labour – I was tired of waiting for mine. I'd slogged my guts out – and here I was still waiting for my turn at the good stuff. Deep down I knew it wasn’t coming.

I had done what everyone told me to do. I’d assumed the role that had been assigned to me, and I thought I was doing what I was meant to do. Yet my results told a different story and I couldn’t understand it.

I’d gone from the highs of being a published author and magazine editor in Manhattan, with a view of the Chrysler Building out of my office window, to these current lows of getting up at 3.30am to deliver groceries to people living at the top of social housing blocks in run down seaside towns. I was at rock bottom. Life was so unfair. Where was the stuff I was surely entitled to?

I’d tried everything I could think of to dig myself out of my rut. I’d tried every method under the sun to market my services as a photographer, but nobody wanted to hire me. My LinkedIn profile was finely polished but nobody cared. My CV was immaculately tailored to every role that I applied for, but nobody wanted to know. And I was exhausted.

Clearly life was too complicated for me. Despite all my experiences, all my skills and education, there was obviously something that I had failed to grasp. But I had no idea what it was. 

The guy with the nice car down the street – he knew what the secret was, and I resented him for it. My friend with the photos from her fancy holiday – she knew what it was, and I resented her for it. Everyone who had something I didn’t was someone who had, in some way, stolen from me. And I was bitter, slighted, and angry at the Universe for passing me over.

On those rare Friday nights when I wasn’t driving a van around the South of England delivering groceries, I would be in the pub, looking unhappily into my pint, complaining about how unfair everything was. I had become ‘that guy’ – the one who always brings everyone down. The one that nobody wants to hang around with because they’re a drain. I was draining everyone around me, and I was drained. Completely. All the colour had gone.

There had to be a way out of this rut, out of this depressed, unhappy existence. With all the jobs I’d done to support myself while I struggled for success, all the places I’d been to, all the adventures I’d had, there must be something that I’d learned along the way that could help me find a way out.

Days went by. Weeks. Every day I would drive around the South of England delivering groceries in the countryside, in the city, to the wealthy and the poor. I saw behind closed doors into all walks of life.

And then something began to dawn on me.

All this time I’d blamed the world for not giving me a chance, but here I was, experiencing the world in all its raw beauty, every day. I met people too frightened to leave their homes so they would instead have their shopping delivered to them. I saw people who thought they’d earned their right to look down on others. I met people so desperate for connection so they’d try and make me stay just to chat.

I met busy people, lazy people, rude people, and sad people. I met joyful, happy people, confused people, unfortunate people, lost people and disabled people. And I met some of the kindest, most generous people you could imagine. It was usually the poorest and most disadvantaged who would offer a glass of orange juice, or thrust a few coins into my hand as I was leaving. I met those with nothing, who still found something to give.

I visited homes where you couldn’t open the front door because of all the unopened junk mail behind it. I visited homes where you couldn’t drive the van up to the house because there were so many sports cars parked out front. I delivered to homes where you had to hold your breath because of the stench of cat piss and excrement.

I drove the van to campsites, to farms, to the nervous, to the famous. I delivered to sad little clifftop shacks in the pouring rain, I delivered to glorious mansions bathed in golden autumnal light, I delivered to the lonely, the angry, the unhappy, the wealthy, the kind, the beautiful, the interesting, and the ordinary. I delivered to people like you and people like me.

Life wasn’t passing me by. Here it was right in front of me. It was being neither kind nor cruel. It was just being. And while I had been waiting for it, it had also been waiting for me. It wasn’t passing me by, it was here all along, ready for me to reach out and choose it.

I met the world, and the world met me.

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WHEN THE STUDENT IS READY THE TEACHER WILL APPEAR

 I began to realise that while I’d been waiting for the world – that thing out there – to come up with the answers I was looking for, I’d got it all back to front. The world, that thing out there, IS the reward. But it can also be the punishment. It’s a matter of perspective.

What separates the homeless man who sleeps in the doorway of the multinational bank, from the CEO of who works on the top floor of that same building? What separates the man who lives in the mansion house and the drunk woman who answers the door on her hands and knees, unable or unwilling to look after herself? What separates the man delivering the groceries from the person who eats them?

Of course circumstances and safety nets and privilege play a role, but confidence, perspective, and the power of decision-making are much more powerful factors when it comes to shaping our lives. That, and the ability to recognise and let go of the things that are holding us back.

When we identify with negativity and our inability to do things, then our reality reflects that back to us. But when we become empowered to make decisions, to have faith in our abilities, and the strength to seek that which we need to move towards our goals, then we can only grow stronger.

In just a few months, my life changed radically. I went from being stuck in a rut, to falling in love with life, and life began to love me back. Now I see beauty everywhere, even on the rainiest days. Now I see how rich my life is and how wealthy I am in so many ways, and my literal reality and material wealth has grown to reflect it. I’ve won multiple awards for my creative work, including being mentioned among the world’s top fashion photographers. I’ve gained new qualifications, my confidence has grown, I’m more inspired and I’m braver with my ideas. I’m better off in every way, than I have ever been before.

I don’t drive a van anymore, but I look back at that time with fondness for what I’ve learned, what I’ve seen, and the people I’ve met. Towards the end of my time driving through the darkness to deliver groceries in the small hours or late at night, I began to make notes in a notebook. In my twenty minute breaks I would scribble things down. Eventually these thoughts took on a structure, and I started writing them into my smartphone.

Before long the words and sentences that I would tap into my phone became the chapters of a book. Inspired by the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, I titled it ‘Do The Thing, Have The Power.’ Using my experiences from all the different lives I’ve lived and experiences I’ve had, I’ve created a roadmap for getting out of our heads, finding our power, and shaping our reality. It is a blueprint for loving ourselves, taking ownership of our lives, and building a life that we love.

I want to share what I’ve learned with as many people as possible, and it would be an honour if you could read it. The electronic version costs less than a large latte, and if you’re undecided, you can download the first three chapters completely free from here. And if you want to hear more about my story, I’ve recorded a special, short podcast to tell you a little bit more about where I’m coming from.

I want to share my story and the things I’ve learned in this book. We all have a story and an opportunity to learn, every moment of every day. We have a light that needs to shine, but we spend so much time and energy hiding in the shadows.

When we stop making excuses, stop being driven by fear, and when we start to believe in ourselves, life is waiting to meet us.

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