Craft Your Unforgettable Bio

This post is the last in a series of seven discussing authenticity and professionalism in an age of a collapsing overburdened economic system reliant on bad, perpetual debt. All the featured photographs have been of brick and stone; images that speak of building materials, construction and masonry. The reason? Because it is time to deconstruct the traditional production and consumption models and reconstruct a new postmodern, debt-free world invigorated with new hope and passion.

The chances of introducing some head-spinning ways of a new debt-free economy significantly improve when you place people’s stories within the economic context of justice. If you can craft a new story, using all the existential lessons of human history and talk to the next generation in a winning way that doesn’t disqualify your experience, everything will come together.

Every court of human compassion must hear the case of discrimination and the gory details of the way of oppression and the self-interest of the financially powerfully. But the ‘prophet’ of such a message, ought to pray and not lose heart because seeking justice requires continual and wearisome adversarial work that will be troublesome. To avenge speedily demands that injustice screams out not through human hatred or bitterness, but a cry of passion. The anxiety caused by debt is huge.

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In my novel ‘Never, Never, Debt!’ I try to capitalise on my unique voice and style to create an unforgettable story. The work is a fictional journey of a bankrupt chef and a morally failed investment banker, raising the question: Who is the most bankrupt? The manager who won’t whistle-blow on immoral business practices or the chef forced into bankruptcy by her husband? The formation of the answers comes from within their conversations. In other words, the imaginations of a new post-capitalist economy founded and built with the bricks and stones of community, solidarity, justice, gift, service and subsidiarity.

The Dog Secret

The concept of Jubilee originated around 3,500 years ago and was believably a cancelation of all debts every forty-ninth year; which means that on over seventy occasions since, it has almost never indeed happened. What is clear is that the principle of Sabbath was a close parallel: a day of work stoppage; and a weekly withdrawal from the anxiety system defined by production and consumption.

From ancient history, we learn about the cruel oppression of the Israelites by the Egyptians. It began with enslavement and then harsh treatment. The slaves, initially expected to produce a quota of bricks with straw delivered by Egyptian labour, were supposed to make the same number by gathering the raw materials themselves. When this failed, Pharaoh ordered the annihilation of the Hebrew race by killing all the Israelite boy babies at birth. The story eventually moves on, and one of those baby boys, prevented from a premature death by the protection of Pharaoh’s own daughter (oh the irony), leads an uprising against the Egyptian oppression and initiates the concepts of Sabbath and Jubilee as antidotes to the cry and sorrows of their previous taskmasters.

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As I learned, during my enforced ‘Sabbatical’ – a year away from all economic activity in bankruptcy – there are significant benefits to rest and recuperation. Personally, I was able to retreat deep into my shell and think through every aspect of what transpired before taking any action. I was able to content myself by dotting all the I’s and crossing the T’s: a strength that is highly valuable, but also a weakness as it tends to drag out making any decisions.

Apart from re-engaging with writing, I spent endless hours breaking up the monotony of life, walking our dog, named Chester. Now, I never use to be a doggie kind of person: never possessed one as a child; frightened that shedding of a dog’s coat would exasperate childhood asthma, and duty bound to the discipline of regular exercise; I was adamant that my family would not own one. However, my wife, sensing that I, and another family member, were close to nervous breakdowns insisted that we acquired a hypoallergenic cross-breed known as a Westiepoo (Westland Highland Terrier and Poodle) to help us in our distress. Chester became a godsend. His teddy-bear looking face and soft, wheat brown complexion opened up many a conversation, enabling me to introduce myself to a new community (or tribe) of dog lovers.

What I am not saying is that I love every dog or every breed or come to that, every dog-owner, but the walks and the dog, made me begin to love life again. Chester made me share life with others, becoming more relatable, interesting and fun. New friends emerged who saw the real me – not a cheesy “company brand” persona. In other words, I became more human again. Thus the subtle difference between having a dog and not enabled me to share life with a more relaxed and optimistic outlook: less distressed and anxious to produce bricks, and more keen to create shapes, memories and ideas out of stone.

My conversations with dog-folk, who I previously ignored, retaught me what’s okay and what’s not okay to share in day-to-day life, especially the details of how to explain financial vulnerability in a way that doesn’t hurt. I also began to share some of my idiosyncrasies in a blog and via Twitter in a nom-de-plus capacity. All-in-all, the dog, became a source of renewed happiness and guilty pleasure rather than representative of a fear and failure.

Why People Believe You, or Don’t

While your past is a great source of untapped power to you, what makes people believe in you as opposed to thinking about you comes down to the narrative you tell. Rightly or wrongly people categorise and label you to separate themselves from the totality of your experience. Thus, our stories have to move beyond the point of filling the bookshelf and be on the table ready for enjoyable reading and continuity of well-being. In other words, for any visionary or innovator, it is essential to cross the chasm of disbelief to belief, connect doubt with hope, and to risk taking the faith of leap into a new world.

Every remarkable story feeds on faith and truth. Look at Galileo. He lived at the boundary of medieval and modern worlds and became convinced of some ideas that were, in his time, considered unorthodox, odd & crazy, i.e. the belief that the sun revolved around the earth, not the other way around. He couldn’t explain his new ideas in rigorous observation of numerical codes and mathematical laws thus; he took to explain his concept in the form of dialogues which made room for digression and deviation from perceived truth.

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So what is the widely held belief you and I need to confront in our current stories?

It is my opinion that one of the beliefs we must defy is that perpetual borrowing (in any of its forms) is the pathway to economic success and happiness. Only when the majority of the population can locate themselves inside a story of insupportable debt will they belong and participate in a narrative of genuine debt-relief. It is why the ‘Jubilee’ movement struggled to make a greater impact in the millennium. Voices were resonating from churches, trade unions, even rock stars, but they weren’t believed in sufficiently to become the new reality and usher in a financial moratorium for third world countries.

Granted, what is happening in countries like Greece is now accepted as fact. But what is the average UK or even Western citizen doing about the issue of over-borrowing? How are the EU and other major nations committing to solving the ongoing crisis of crippling debts?

While journalists can write papers and politicians prevaricate about growth versus austerity, most of us have yet to encounter a dramatic and direct consequence of living through the tragedy of debt. Self-interest in the UK economy continues to trump collective action. The insupportable debt of many of our citizens, national institutions, and governments continues to be hidden away in bank vaults and electronic files. And the truth is our collective guilt is not yet frightened enough into action. Instead, we find ourselves fearful, pessimistic, and impotent.

A new story approach is necessary for those of us who live in ‘negative capital’ and the ‘modern slavery’ of unreconciled monetary burdens. We have become accustomed to debt, but it is not normal. Greece and many other nations are useful external validators to many of us about the world’s debt crisis. However, for the vast majority, the Greek people are a trivial example of recklessness spending beyond means. But, was the myth of the Greek story to keep up with the Joneses in the rest of the world or part of a bigger narrative that pervades all our world, namely economic growth defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of wealth is a supreme value in a material world?

Until a new financial ethos, monetary authority, and an economic pathway is created using unexpected combinations of stories of justice, truth, and reconciliation, few of us are free from the false notion that perpetual indebtedness is good. The fact is a poverty of generosity has swept our world and our ongoing fad for conspicuous consumption, and inability to redeem the financial system through debt-write-off, inhibits us not helps us.

To change our debt-ridden world requires an attitudinal change. It demands a spiritual act: an act of repentance, where those who live under constant financial threat become equal pecuniary citizens (not economic outcasts) with those who dwell securely and comfortably in their substantial funds. Those with wealth need to prepare to serve the wider community by writing off debt. They need to gift part of their wealth and income to develop a more sustainable economy for the benefit of all, including their happiness. And, I do not mean through the tax system (our governments need debt cancellation as much as our institutions and individuals), but by a new economic conscientiousness that encourages forgetfulness and fosters a generous Jubilee.

I’ll explore some more of this with you in my next post: “The Dog Secret.”

The 1-Sentence Bio

“They can’t have it both ways,” “so many of them are having a hard time letting go,” and “it’s like their security blanket.” These are the recently revealed words of former US President Bill Clinton to Tony Blair discussing the psyche of Sinn Fein members during the Northern Ireland peace process. Not only did Irish Republicans want a guarantee for their security and safety, but they also needed a meaning to their lives in the new Ireland. In other words,  it’s all very well telling a new story, but where do you begin?  It’s the toughest part of a new thing: the beginning.

My hero, Brian McLaren puts it another way. In the Huffington Post talking exclusively about his book, We Make The Road by Walking, he writes: “many of us have walked the road of our tradition to where it currently ends, and we’ve come to believe that the road isn’t finished yet. We seek neither a denial of the past nor an enslavement to the past. Instead, we seek to faithfully extend the road of Christian tradition from the past, through the present, and into the future. So we make the road by walking … and our quest continues.”

To make that first step on any new path, you need a start. As Clinton also commented, “you are asking them (the Sinn Fein audience) to put a little white bread sandwich in a lunchbox and go off to work in the factory. It’ll be hard for them.” But making the sandwich must be done. Although a prawn and mayonnaise one scattered with dill and served in a crisp granary loaf might sound marginally more attractive.  Do you get my point?  

In my new world of writing and protesting about debt and economic injustice, the starting point has been the creation of both a personal mission statement and a set of 1-sentence bios. It’s not incongruous to have both. One sets out your principal aims and objectives while the other makes for a useful soundbite so that an audience can decide whether you’re worth listening to or not.

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In my case, the personal statement is: “my mission is to order, teach & inspire to see liberty, providence, and fortitude for debtors, discontented and distressed.”

But this is expressed differently on my Facebook bio as something far less obnoxious and boringly earnest:

“Inspirer, writer, liberator; Jonah & the Whale is my story; knows some of the best chefs in the UK.”

or, indeed even my Twitter profile as:

“Freelancer | Writer & Storyteller | Inspiring decency, forthrightness & honesty | Insupportable Debt | Dog-walker, Leeds fan, know some of the best chefs in the UK.”

There’s no sense waffling, nor bragging in your bio. Your audience will pay no attention. But engage your audience with a free hand: assured; talented; and encouraged. Your one-liner has to be an offer of an amazing gift, so do not hold back.  And it can be different according to the platform/media.

Whatever audience you attract, the next step is to inquire as to who within that conversation is of greatest worth to your story and listen to their opinions. Your greatest value to them is probably not what you think it is! Then, move on to another group within your audience and greet it. If they accept your innovation, engage them, if not move on. Remember, not all of your audience will be harmless, so be wise.  

Eventually, your innovation or story will get noticed, and opposition arise. Don’t worry about it. Your response to friend or foe will come naturally to you. And in any event, a little vulnerability is a good thing: it reminds people you’re not so different from them.

One other thought for now: when you write your bio be clear whether you are writing it in the first or third person. The tension in the first person is between your unique perspective and what is happening in the outside world. The balance in the third person is what your audience sees in the outside world and what is going on from your perspective. I’m just saying, it affects others perception of you.

 

How to Answer, “What Do You Do?”

When I first saw the future direction of my life post-bankruptcy, I was in fact captured by the brilliance of another man’s stories. My hero was a somebody else. That man was a prominent Christian pastor, Brian D McLaren. McLaren, a former US college English teacher, is an author, activist, public speaker and leading figure in the emerging church movement, who uses fictional characters to describe theological progress through philosophical novels and dialogue. During my enforced sabbatical, I spent a considerable time listening to, copying out, researching and studying his stories, which blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction to form principled arguments.

Disembarking from McLaren’s journey to develop my own body of work has not been easy. People consistently ask me the question, “What do you do, or even, what do you want to do now that you are free from bankruptcy?”

Without pigeon-holing myself as an apparent failure in the dog-eat-dog world of business, and the arena of hospitality equipment sales, articulating my new story has, at first, meant passing away the old, renewing myself with the present and walking the new road with its ongoing risks and uncertainties.

My answer to this question often remains provocative, mischievous, and unclear, reflecting a new belief that clarity (perspicuity) is sometimes overrated, and that shock, obscurity, playfulness, and intrigue (carefully articulated) often stimulate more thought than clarity. You see my new story has to be easy enough for others to understand, and yet interesting enough to make me a trusted guide for others.

And so, to envision a new story, a more beautiful story, there has been a need for me to firstly, dwell on my past experiences to make relevant my current context and goals. Secondly, to wipe the slate clean from past pain and suffering by naming the crossroads that clarify my unique niche and position. And finally, to define my area of newness and innovation instead of endlessly justifying and defending what I do. Thus, if someone today asks me “What is it I do?” I only say, “I write and protest – and my words and actions are trustworthy and true.” That’s the simple part; the intrigue is the next bit … I write and protest about debt and indebtedness.

I don’t claim that I am the only authority on debt, but I’d like to imagine a new kind of finance, where those who are victorious will be the indebted and, the cowardly and immoral, who practice loose lending at usurious interests rates will be consigned to the world’s garbage bin. In other words a revolutionary, counter-cultural movement, proclaiming a ceaseless rebellion against money, and a breaking down of the injustice of consumerism.

To recap then: your character in business needs to trump your credentials, you need to hone your unique backstory to give you confidence as to who you are and then explain what it is that you do without putting yourself in a box. The next step is your 1-Sentence Bio.

Find Your Inner Superhero

I was born and raised in the Hampshire overspill town of Basingstoke where my father worked as a self-employed Dental Technician. As a young man of seventeen, I left school, went into banking (expecting to become a Bank Manager) and soon discovered that I wasn’t to be considered ‘management’ material, and so I left there and joined a Community Church before leaving for Bible College in Vancouver, Canada. Now I was more highly favoured than any of my siblings, possibly because I was the firstborn son, possibly because I was quiet and amenable; and my Dad (very kind and generous man that he is) financed my theological adventures. However, after returning from Canada, I entered a dead-end job as a production scheduler within a printing company followed by a period of travel, reservation sales, and unemployment. Eventually, I joined a research company where I settled down into the type of work I enjoyed, leading me to take a role into self-employment and, subsequently, running my own business that morphed several times from copywriting to research to import and distribution and sales, training and the culinary world of fine dining. Quite a discombobulated career!

Now there are significant times in your life where you look back and reflect on your life, your character, and your credentials. One such time was last summer when I took a day retreat to create space and nurture a personal vocation and calling. The day included sessions on where I have been, where am I going, ‘beginning with the end in mind’ and creating a personal mission statement and with whom should I go? During the day, I was asked to imagine my funeral, and what I would like people to eulogise about me that was true and what I wanted them to say, including family, friends, colleagues, the marginalised and God. Now that is pretty challenging especially when you are asked to write your epitaph.

So why was this day important to me? Well, firstly it enabled me to sharpen my unique story and dip into my history. Thus by defining my origins, I discovered key moments that gave me assurance to who I am and what it is I do best. And secondly, and, more importantly, consider the inner superhero that is helping overcome the adversity of bankruptcy, despite its severe harshness to establish a legitimate authority as someone who can be trusted and believed in when I speak about indebtedness and its effects on human life, society and economic justice. The day also revealed how my past choices (even my mistakes) make me more authentic and relatable.

Now, I hear you saying, what’s this got to do with me? In fact, what’s this got to do with my business, employment, work or whatever? Well, two answers. The first is a kind of spiritual one. I believe that nothing happens without a plan revealing itself, and the best way to move forward is to serve that plan by foretelling it and speaking into being. And secondly, more visionary: when we grow in confidence about our story, it becomes infectious, and the effects of the story manifest itself upon others. The more your vision attracts others, the more you make the right relationships and luck. You align with your gifts, intensities, and disposition. You position yourself for maturity and acceptance. That’s what I am doing with this story, positioning myself for new opportunities and growth by sharing my bio and hopefully it will resonate with you? And by doing so, I’ll encourage you to find your inner superhero so that you too can be truly authentic and, at the same time, remain true to your values. 

Why Character Trumps Credentials

You know there is much in the world to whine about: economic underperformance, poverty, modern slavery, austerity and neoliberalism for starters. On a philosophical level, why is it that some people live in fear and dread of the bank while others are a law to themselves, keen on self-promotion, piling up stolen goods and making wealthy by extortionate profit and unjust margins? And why, for example, on an emotional level, is there such anger, wretchedness, gloating, scarcity, misery and anxiety within the world? Apparently, if any of us knew the answers to these questions, we wouldn’t be asking them. And yet, these are not just only questions for today, but questions from the past and, no doubt, questions for future generations too.

Over the past two years, I have been asking such deep, meaningful, and even tormented questions, time and time again. As, you might imagine, trying to pull oneself out of a state of self-pity, discontent, distress and debt is no fun. The journey my family and I have been on are a long-suffering, fractious and disjointed group of stories. And, right now, it is no easier as I try to regain meaningful employment and new sources of income. I could quickly, and still do reflect on why, after many years of earnest endeavour and sacrifice a competitor ruined my business, Culinary Innovations Ltd. when I was achieving so much progress. And why, another competitor was so keen to copy my business model and indeed my copyright text, and then buy my stock below market value when vulnerable. Until now I have kept my silence.  However, my intent is no longer to put up with the contempt of companies, indeed governments, and influencers of all persuasions, who are quick to take advantage of self-interest without taking consideration of their moral and social consciences. My reply is just beginning. And today, I make it to the starting gun and cross over the line for the next chapter in my life’s sojourn.

But before I continue however I want to put my hope that living as an ex-bankrupt can be positive, fulfilling, and joyful. That I can rejoice in whatever circumstances I have to face and will continue to face. This blog then is the story of my daily struggle to climb back the ladders of economic justice and competence with such virtues that I once lacked: prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice and as much humility as I can muster.

You see, I have learned a crucial lesson in life, especially economic life. When you see vulnerable people, organisations and countries fall in on themselves (like they do), I am better prepared to handle their personal stories, business challenges, and political ventures and can hold conversations that invoke constructive change. Thus, my sad story is not one I wish to hide. Far from it. It’s the opposite. It’s one I want to present courageously to others as a challenge to business morality, financial integrity, and government providence. To whistleblow on those who exploit power, position, and money. And to tell a story about ethical, economic systems and the moral imperative to see why the process of business and the journey within an economy, not always the end-result, matter and motivate people. In other words to understand that character trumps credentials and yours and my stories are much more than a resume or an ‘About Us’ page.

And so over the coming days, I hope to post my story of renewed confidence and revival so that you the reader, can come to know the entirely authentic me. And in return, I can layout my recommendations for a new kind of finance in an age that blurs the lines of professionalism, ethics, and conduct.