Getting to the Why

We got to December really quickly. Shouldn’t it have been, like, Thursday, March 386th instead of Christmas Day? 2020 was the Groundhog Day none of us could have predicted. I had days when I had no idea what I did, but thought perhaps maybe I did the same thing as I did the day before, but then again, maybe I didn’t; I couldn’t remember. It was a fog.

Like many people during this time, I reflected on my experience over the last 12 months a lot. 2020 is hard to describe (aside, that is, from being a total dumpster fire). What was that exactly? What did we just go through? What happened? It is ironic: 2020 was the year of hindsight because the opportunity for reflection it provided was second to none. For me, this was the year of unlearning and relearning, closing chapters and starting new ones. It was painful but I chose to do what felt right over what was easy. It stung but that didn’t mean it was the wrong choice.

And now 2020 has ended, and here I am, eight months into a new business, aged 40-almost-41, wading through a pandemic that seems to be close to an end. The Orange Cheeto-in-Chief on the other side of the Atlantic has also mercifully gone (last year wasn’t the only long year, people). The United Kingdom, my second home, left the European Union for… I’m not sure what… and we headed into 2021 with weary eyes and hopeful hearts, desperate for something other than the four walls of our homes — if we were lucky to keep them — and the opportunity to hug those from whom we’ve been isolated now for almost a year.

One of the ideas that permeated much of my thinking last year is the Why behind the reasons people do the things they do, both professionally and personally. It’s something I now spend a great deal of time with my clients dissecting these days. If we are able to articulate why we do what we do, we are suddenly able to take agency and become the drivers of our own companies, and more importantly, our own existences. Simon Sinek’s Start With Why is an excellent book about this very thing. I won’t go into detail here because a simple Google will tell you the basics of what you need to know, but suffice to say that being able to stand up and say “this is why I exist” is maybe the most freeing thing I’ve discovered last year. It gave me purpose.

2020 gave me the opportunity to embrace my inner nerd: I could finally admit openly to myself that I really loved strategy and business. I find business theory and organisational behaviour psychology entirely fascinating. I read business books for fun and listen to podcasts on leadership, marketing, strategy and find it all riveting. Before last year, I used to do all of the above, but kept it on the DL, as if it was an embarrassing and guilty pleasure. Often in the creative industries, business and strategy are considered lame byproducts of a rigid and stale corporate world. Yet last year, I realised it was the opposite. Business can be a vivid and dynamic opportunity to create something that is both meaningful and commercial. And it is 100% creative.

Over 15 years ago when I started out in my career, I was always drawn to creative people and industries. Even my Master’s degree is in History of Art instead of Fine Art. Or as my therapist once noted, I chose to study what other people created, instead of creating my own. When I tried to do roles that were creative by their very definition, I always saddled into the role of business manager, willingly I might add. Up until recently, I thought I always aligned myself with makers and creators because I so desperately wanted to be a “creative” myself — an artist, a designer, a chef — but I clearly wasn’t, so the next best thing was to be the practical one alongside them. At least I could bask in their creative glow whilst I tinkered about with my spreadsheets and figured out how to shorten the number of aged debtors.

Then 2020 hit and everything went into a tailspin. My life went from regular travel between home in Amsterdam to my office in London to rarely leaving my apartment at all. Constant comms with my business partners morphed into a telling silence. While the whole world bolted itself indoors, I too shut down, unsure of anything and everything, yet knowing whatever it was it wasn’t this. I quit my job, feeling broken, hurt and frustrated. For my birthday I gifted myself a six-week consultation with a business coach to work out what the hell I actually wanted to do with my life. I was lost, and I needed someone objective to help me get back on track, whatever that track was. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made (shout out to Tom Pinchard!).

Tom helped me define my values and get reacquainted with my professional worth. He helped me hone what I love to do whilst letting me grieve what I had lost. And he showed me what life could look like coming out the other side of all this metaphorical garbage I was sifting through. He helped me define a vision for myself. One day, I just said it out loud: “If I could help creative entrepreneurs be strategic about their business every day, I would do it.” Right then, it was as if a light went on, and I was able to finally see that my own creativity had always been there, humming away behind the scenes, in the creative businesses I sought to work. I looked back at my whole life and saw it was there all along. I wasn’t attracted to working with creative people because of them and their artistic ingenue. Rather, I loved building businesses for them. I was attracted to the work itself. I cook, I paint, and I build creative businesses. Those are my mediums.

I love figuring out the solutions to difficult problems. I love digging into a designer’s story, so they can find the words to tell it themselves. Helping a small company grow into a team that collaborates, supports each other and works towards common goals is undeniably rewarding. Messing about with spreadsheets and helping a maker with their financial planning is not just number crunching. It’s showing them how they can think bigger, wider and longer than just what’s in front of them. Such things may sound dull from the outside, but when I’m working with creative people what I’m really doing is creating a platform from which they can succeed.

It is my professional mission to help creative businesses thrive and grow. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think growth necessarily means literal growth in terms of staff. It could mean reputational growth, or financial growth, or even cultural growth. It is first and foremost about what a thriving, healthy business looks like for that particular business.

All this is my Why. Armed with this purpose is why I decided to launch Cloudfields. By offering consulting, coaching and workshops whose sole purpose is creating strategy, financial health and operational effectiveness for the industries the world needs the most, especially after the shitshow that was 2020. It felt like the longest year, but it’s a year that changed my life. I rediscovered my creative self and it’s a gift for which I shall eternally be grateful.

Post by Lindsay Faller