Fierce and original in our work

hand reaching towards the sun in a jungle
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a wonderful quote with my friend Kai over a bathroom conversation:

“Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.” (Gustave Flaubert, French author in the late 1800s)

Kai is working on his first startup. By now he’s probably slightly more than half a year into building Bakti (what it was called then) and now Project We Forgot.

He and his team are using technology to build a community for care givers, starting with those who look after people with dementia.

Kai is someone whom I respect, for his intelligence and humility, but also for his discipline. Muscled and stocky, Kai is the kind of guy whom you immediately think has everything in his life under control, but not in the “life is easy on him” sort of way. More of a “he’s figured something out that we haven’t” sort of story.

This is why I decided to share the quote with him at the spur of the moment, in the toilet. To me, he embodied the quote more than I did. And I thought that if there was a chance he hadn’t heard the quote before, I should be the one to tell him and see if he gets a kick out of it.

I think he liked it.

This is a quote I return to time and again, especially when I feel demoralised or stressed at work, or doing poorly in other areas of my life.

It reminds me that wherever I am, in whatever crappy place filled with unhelpful thoughts at that moment, I can always choose to put it all down, turn around and go home to recuperate.

More importantly, it reminds me that going home to tidy things up–so that they are more well-ordered–is actually the best way forward most of the time. Going back to basics hardly ever goes wrong.

To be fierce and original in your work, you first have to be steady and well-ordered in your life.

Your life here refers to anything that is vital to functioning as a human being. To me, to be steady and well-ordered in life is to be in state where our relationships are healthy, our body is strong, and our mind is free of unnecessary burden.

If it isn’t obvious yet – this state requires us to constantly be scrubbing the gunk that accumulates on the ship of our life. Depending on what your favourite tools are, this could involve daily meditation, keeping a morning journal, muay thai, a holiday, walking, and/or a well-timed dessert.

The problem, at least for me, is that I often default to neglecting my body and mind in the pursuit of progress. Alas, the key to progress is fierce and original work, and the key to that is to be steady and well-ordered.


Also published on Medium.