Can We Change The World From Our Attics?
Or do we need to get out and experience life to truly impact it
When I finished work today about 5pm I underwent my daily commute from the attic, down two flights of stairs to the sitting room, where I watched the end of the movie Sing with my wife and a couple of the kids. Which was a pretty nice way to transition from working to home-life, as oppose to an hour-long train journey on a cold Thursday in February.
However — the last song in Sing was really great, one I hadn’t heard before and I googled some of the lyrics to find out what it was. Turns out it’s called “Golden Slumbers”, sang in the movie by Jennifer Hudson, but originally was a Beatles song, one I hadn’t heard before. Throughout the rest of the day I listened to it on Spotify — the original version sang by Paul McCartney, and the Sing version — and a thought popped into my head as I was driving down to the village this evening to get some milk:
Would Paul McCartney have written that song if he had been working remotely in an attic for the last two years?
That trip down to the village, one I’ve made many times over the last couple of years, was pretty much as exciting as life has been recently. Like a lot of people, I’ve stayed at home during the pandemic, and my world has been dramatically reduced in size and scope. I’m lucky enough to have a job which has been going great during lockdown and I’ve been achieving and exceeding goals, with no obvious impact on projects. Last week I had a work call with colleagues in San Diego, Boston, Brazil and Singapore, which I thought was pretty cool!
However — that Beatles song, so good that 53 years later a guy in Ireland heard it for the first time and loved it— made me think. Do I really know what’s great, and what’s just good?
Do we need experience more of life to impact it?
I’m writing this post sitting on a beanbag in one of my kid’s rooms, in a small village where I’ve spent almost all of the last two years. Would the post be any different if I’d been outside of Ireland over those years, and seen more of the world? What if I’d met more people, tried speaking more languages, gotten lost in more cities or had dinner with colleagues in other countries? I have spent a summer living in the University of Toronto, and another in a really rundown hostel in Hollywood, LA. I’ve been in jungles in Thailand, camping in Switzerland, and got married in Italy — but not anytime recently!
Is the lack of a wider scope of experiences impacting my ability to do truly great work, to see problems first hand and dream up of big solutions? It’s something I’m beginning to wonder about — is the evidence that working remotely isn’t impacting work performance in a lot of companies, and has so many benefits like flexibility and more time with our families, made us forget that there’s a big world out there that we should experience and learn from?
In the year before Covid, I participated in an auto-manufacturer’s hackathon in Lisbon, Portugal, meeting entrepreneurs from all over Europe, along with playing first-hand with some cool new in-car technology. Is experiences like that needed to see beyond what we’re currently doing and help us achieve bigger, more ambitious things? Or am I wrong, and all we need is a computer, a decent internet connection, and to have an open and curious mind?
We should try not lose what we had before
From my limited knowledge of Golden Slumbers, obtained from Google today so I may be completely wrong, it’s partly about nostalgia over childhood being over, and not being able to go back.
It’s made me wonder if we don’t get back out in the world, will we struggle to get back to doing amazing things, and changing the world as we once thought we would.
Nostalgia is of course dangerous — it can cause us to spend too much time in the past when we should be focusing on the present and thinking about the future. There’s a balance however, of trying to understand what bits of pre-Covid work and life that we should leave behind, and which we should try not to lose.
Maybe I just want to stop looking at the four walls of my attic, and have another trip to Lisbon or Boston, but maybe it’s more important than that.
Maybe we do need to go back, to leave the attics and home-offices in the garden sheds and re-join the world, to really impact and change it.
Any thoughts or comments, please let me know below, I’d love to hear what other folks are thinking.