Matt Marshall

9 Posts with Tag growth (All tags)

Hero's Journey: Call to Adventure, or Road of Trials?

I'm a bit of a poetic shithead when it comes to thinking about my life, challenges, and achievements. I listen a lot to Elliott Hulse and try my best to see my life as a long journey and development process. Constantly striving to become the next "better version of myself".

Through Elliott I was introduced to the work of Joseph Campbell; the mythologist most famed for his work around the Hero's Journey, which I've since lapped up. For those unfamiliar, it goes something like this:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. - The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Cambell

Viewing my life through this framework on both macro and micro scales has been of huge emotional benefit to me. It encourages reflection, forcing me to take account of everything going on in order to make sense of it and make some estimation of where I think (and where I feel) I am in a cycle of the journey. The journey is divided into 17 distinct parts, across 3 Acts:

  1. Act I - Departure
    • The Call to Adventure
    • Refusal of the Call
    • Supernatural Aid
    • Crossing the Threshold
    • Belly of the Whale
  2. Act II - Initiation
    • The Road of Trials
    • The Meeting with the Goddess
    • Woman as Temptress
    • Atonement with the Father
    • Apotheosis
    • The Ultimate Boon
  3. Act III - Return
    • Refusal of the Return
    • The Magic Flight
    • Rescue from Without
    • The Crossing of the Return Threshold
    • Master of Two Worlds
    • Freedom to Live

I heartily recommend reading through The Hero with a Thousand Faces if you want to read thoroughly about this. For now, however, there's a pretty good summary here, and I always liked how Elliott discusses the framework.

Anyway. To the point.

I'm currently at a turning point in my life, and am trying to figure out if something I'm experiencing is a new Call to Adventure, or a trial on the Road of Trials. I've been living with my flatmate for over 5 years now. I arrived at this situation through a very explicit call to adventure, where prior to starting University he messaged me off-hand on social media with "Fancy moving in together in my dad's flat in Newcastle?". That kick-started the adventure of my undergraduate degree: I received mentorship and talismans from allies, I was tested both academic prowess and personal qualities, I met with a goddess, and I ultimately transformed through my experiences at undergraduate and was tested at the end.

Living with my flatmate has been a mixed bag. I must first acknowledge that without him and the opportunities that this flat offered, I would be a lot worse off. Seriously. 100%. Forever indebted. He's been on his own journey and trials during our time here, culminating in his own equilibrium. Recently, though, I've had a distinct urge to just get out of the flat and my day-to-day experience of it has become increasingly frustrating. I live in an area densely populated by students, who are increasingly noisy. My flatmate and I have opposing schedules and interests; I wake up early to train, and he's knocking about during the night. These things cause frustration, yes, but why do they justify my feelings of irritation?

Important to remember is that my landlord is my flatmate's father. Which is how this whole thing has been possible. We paid discounted rent as students, and my rent increased this last year. My flatmate's didn't. I also remember speaking to his bandmate and learning that he didn't actually pay any rent. These sound bad, but I think that I understand the reasons for it, related to my flatmate's own Road of Trials. I get that; I'd be a pretty bad Communist if I thought that he didn't deserve the safety net. That it's privilege inherited from his bourgeoisie father is a cognitive dissonance I have to reconcile at a later date.

It's not so much the economics that bother me, so much as the politics of space. I strive to have as little impact on the communal space as possible, through both cleaning up after myself like a normal person, but also my hobbies aren't particularly imposing: I wake up at 0500 to train in the backyard, and I read books, and I wear headphones, etc. My problem arises from what I perceive to be a lack of courtesy and respect flowing the opposite way: his dishes pile slowly grows and absorbs all useful items; he smokes weed and the stench of it flows into my window, preventing me from sleeping (in summer I can't sleep with the window closed, it's too hot); he plays the drums; he'll sleep in until the last moment and then rush into the shower, not checking that people need the bathroom to finish off morning routines they'd otherwise be delayed on; and he never cleans.

All of this has resulted in this urge, experienced largely these last two years, to just. Get. Out. Why haven't I? I can't tell whether being on the receiving end of these behaviours / events / experiences is part of my Road of Trials, and I'm to grow and learn to be less pissy and more tolerant as a result. Or is it the beginning of a new Call to Adventure? By remaining here am I refusing the call, and growing more bitter as a result? It's scary out there. That's the point. I see my comrades with their own spaces, or a shared equilibrium with their house mates. My partner and I want to consider getting our own space, as we feel a bit suffocated (she lives with her parents and visits here). I think part of it is fear. I'm afraid that I'll be stuck paying lots of rent to a shitty landlord, unable to get out. I'm afraid that after my PhD I will be poor, and homeless. Surely that means it's a call? My flatmate has been away for a fortnight, returning today. I've really enjoyed his absence. My colleagues at the lab describe being able to afford their own flats slightly further afield in Gatehead without sweating it. I think that they're all signs.

But what if they're not?

development reflection growth josephcampbell herosjourney

Journalling 005 - Reflections on Career Path

You get two in rapid succession this time, since I cheated on the last one and spent the bulk of the dedicated time ahead of the scheduled journalling hour. This prompt is to reflect on career and to write a timeline of it. I'm going to keep this one short to start with, and then maybe add more in later since I've been ranting about how the power of the Internet is that we're free from static paper-emulation and that content can be dynamic etc. Time to put my money where my mouth is I suppose.

My labour in the sphere of what you'd probably call 'career' has, by-and-large, been concentrated in the academic sphere to date, but it's worth reflecting on how I got here.

2002 - 2008 (Middle and High School)

The reason I've went this far back is that I have very distinct memories imagining various careers and lifestyles for myself at this age. Now, 6 years is a long time and where I grew up in Northumberland we still operated on a three-tier school system. So not only does this time period consist of over half a decade at formative years, but it also covers two different schools and the growth involved with moving to a new one.

Early on in Middle School (aged 10 and 11) I was primarily interested in Mathematics. I'm not sure why, now. I remember, though, that by the time I had hit aged 12 this had shifted significantly towards English. My favourite subjects quickly became English, History, and Science. In fact, actually - Maths became my least favourite subject aside from PE and it's more patriarchal cousin Games (sports). I was known for a being a tubby in the Middle school years. It was during this time that I got drafted into the school Christmas Play, this time taking the form of a Pantomime version of the Nativity story called "A Lad in a Manger" and I fell in love with acting. I kept this up for a while, and enjoyed performing in the play the year after this. That being my final year at the school, I didn't know if I was going to continue. At this time I very much wanted to embark on a career in acting, on the stage as opposed to in films. I dreamed about it regularly.

My final two years at the Middle School also saw me develop a very sincere love of creative writing, and I spent a lot of time devising stories and plot lines with some writing friends. At this point, I was always more excited at the macro-scale world-building than the gritty wordsmithing. In my final year (aged 13) I became Head Boy as well. This didn't really lead to anything except a bit of an inflated ego going into High School, which was sharp sorted out.

I began High School with much the same enthusiasms I did when I left Middle School, and did well across the board in all subjects. I did exceptionally well in the subjects I was passionate about. The British School system, whilst fundamentally broken was basically built for people like me. I did well at exams, and in classrooms. At home, my parents were from working class family backgrounds, and they'd used their drive and limited class-mobility to provide us with a slightly better environment than they'd had. Namely, a supportive one for doing well at school.

During High School I began to care more about my writing than I did about acting. I did join a local theatre group (BATS) to continue with that passion, but I co-founded a Creative Writing group with peers and support from a teacher and this formed the basis for what I wanted to do for a career. I would run home from school, and sit in front of the family computer for hours and hours; writing out various chapters of my envisioned fantasy epic. Being a published author drove me, and the thing I wanted to do most for a career in the whole world. The other thing that I got into, was HTML. Whenever I wasn't writing terrible fiction, I was writing terrible HTML pages. You can read about how bad I was here. I didn't particularly envision a career in web development, however, and I needed a back-up plan if the world didn't recognise my literary genius… At this age, I hadn't yet begun to question my parents' fallibility; and my passion for the Sciences lead my father to get excited and convince me that I wanted to be a Pharmacist. His reasoning was "Pharmacists get paid a lot of money, and they don't get the blame as much as Doctors do as they just dispense the drugs" Obviously I can't just blame him, but I took that logic to heart; why wouldn't I? My parents obviously knew best, they had jobs, and I was good at the sciences (very good). This caused me a lot of pain later on.

My GCSEs came and went. I sailed through them on my ability to revise a bare minimum, and do well at exams. I came out with some sterling grades (especially in Chemistry and English), and made my way to the 6th form sign-up day at the school.

2008 - 2011 (6th Form College)

Between receiving my GCSEs and signing up for A-levels, I scored a job working for the local Domino's pizza franchise. This provided a little pocket money, the knowledge that I didn't want to make pizza for my career, and (as I would learn later on) - the ability to undergo severe physical discomfort by gritting my teeth to earn under minimum wage due to my age.

When I began 6th form college, I took what I was good at and (thought) that I enjoyed. This happened to be Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and English Literature. I still had the mentality of a successful GCSE student, though, and didn't put in any effort beyond getting myself some stationary. That in combination with my new proper girlfriend (ooh) and my job at Domino's, meant that my college work didn't really take priority - after all I managed to do well at GCSE without effort! I got way more into computing at this point, and had begun to be using Linux as my main OS since about April 2008 at the end of my GCSEs. At home instead of homework, I'd be reading wikis on file permission systems, and playing around with "penetration testing" software.

I got smacked around the head with my first exam results - essentially Ds and Es in everything except for English Lit (B) and Chemistry (U). This was the first time in my life I'd ever failed at anything 'academic' and the experience promptly forced me into my first ever genuinely reflective period. I realised two things. First - that I hated the idea of being a pharmacist, and studying chemistry and physics; wanting instead to work with computers (although at the time I didn't think I'd study at degree level). The second, that people re-sat Year 12 at 6th form all the time and I wouldn't be alone if I did this. So I went to the college heads and told them what I wanted, they agreed to let me resit the year.

So resit it I did, and I was a changed Marshall. I re-sat the year with a Double Award in ICT (giving me two A-levels at the end), I-Media (a meaningless course I basically took to fill the timetable and because it complimented ICT), and Science in Society (scratched my itch in science mostly). Armed with the knowledge of how to balance priorities now, I managed to sail through the ICT tasks, and did pretty well in SiS. I-Media bowed before my years of experimenting with Open Source media software and file formats; Audacity, GIMP, OGG, etc. I worked hard, bonded with new friends, and basically had a lot of fun in my two years of 6th form. I even developed a work ethic, staying behind in Computer Clusters on non-Pizza days to finish sections of reports.

I began to tire of the endless slog that seemed to be school, though, and was put off of the idea of university initially. I won't pretend that the idea of debt scared me - I never even really thought about it. I was tired of taking work home with me and not being paid. I looked into apprenticeships in being a 'tecchie', the support for organisations and schools. Luckily, a friend who was ahead of me in 6th form had been through that system and served as a warning of what could happen - there were very few jobs in it, as tecchies often buried themselves in until ready to quit and it was a recession. Positions rarely opened up, and rarely in towns like Cramlington.

As my grades were pretty solid, and I began experimenting with more computing things like Python scripting, I took the idea of attending university seriously. After a quick discussion with a few peers, and teachers, I decided to give the whole thing a shot and applied to a bunch of local universities; with the idea of having Newcastle as the dream (good credentials) and Teeside as the back-up (living away from home). I didn't know what I wanted to do for a career at this point - only that it involved technology, and that I wanted to put off the decision for a few years. It was off to uni then!

2011 - 2014 (Undergraduate Degree)

I managed to score an offer from Newcastle University and consigned myself to spending 3 years of being that student who lived with their parents, and who got the bus every morning. I have to admit, it put a bit of a downer on the whole experience. That I'd just broken up with my then-girlfriend (pretty messily too) didn't really help matters. My saviour came in the form of my current flatmate, I, who was moving into a flat ran by his landlord father and was in search of a flatmate. I ran some quick maths, quit my job at Domino's and moved in.

Actually, quitting didn't really happen. I handed in my notice and worked it. I then ran into an old manager I'd had, who was opening up a new store in the centre of Newcastle. I hesitantly agreed to work for him. Turned out to be a good decision, and I managed to have the money for an actual social life during the first few years of my degree.

In terms of a career, I envisioned a post-degree career in the Royal Navy. I'm honestly not sure where I came up with the notion. None of my family were particularly militaristic. The idea pretty much arrived in my head fully formed. It made sense both financially (security was more important than luxury to me) and in terms of lifestyle. I'm a creature of ritual and routine, and I liked the idea of long stretches of working with breaks in them. I got as far as signing up, and undergoing the medical, physical, and aptitude tests (passing them), before I met a person who changed my life entirely. I've said enough about this event tbh, and risk trying to make it out to be something that it wasn't. What this meeting did for me though, was open my eyes to feminism and the influences of patriarchy. This lead very much down a road to where I am now. The effect this had on career plans was a bit prospect-killing. I didn't want to serve a nation that the workers didn't own, and especially one ran by a Tory government and a decrepit monarchy.

In the 3rd year of my undergraduate, I realised that I needed to delay for another year in order to ensure that I had time to think about stuff and potentially get a foot in the door somewhere. I transferred from the BSc to the MComp, which would give me a funded Master's degree and a year to think about things.

In my 3rd year I also found myself really enjoying the Interaction Design and HCI modules. Coincidentally, the lecturer for the second semester module told us about a Centre for Doctoral Training that they'd managed to get funded - giving people the opportunity to apply for PhDs in the area. I looked at it. I liked it and, after speaking with the lecturer and the Prof who was head of the lab, I applied. I somehow managed to get through the interview process (I genuinely think it was because I was technical and they needed technical folks for the inter-disciplinary model) and I was in! I transferred back to the BSc and collected my certificate from a desk in the Uni office.

2014 - 2017 (Present at time of writing)

I started the MRes with anticipation and excitement, as it looked like I was going to be having a chance to develop full fledged projects using my technical expertise. The MRes year itself was incredibly challenging, and changed me in a lot of ways. I was introduced to a vast quantity of different and deep worldviews. My conceptualisation of Satanism was challenged. My understanding of feminism deepened. When I began the MRes I was a whiny fledgling; and the challenge forced me into a very serious period of reflection that lead to me seeking a greater understanding of strength, and the hero's journey that I found myself on.

This is the journey that I still find myself on today. Very much entrenched in the Road of Trials. I came into the MRes not particularly knowing what I wanted from a career other than "build cool stuff and help people". That mantra stays with me today, although I think the way that I envision it playing out has changed. My PhD thus far has only involved building stuff at the very recent stages of it (Feb '17). My work with charities, specifically a charity, has lead me to question my desire for an academic career. The whole process of applying to be an RA seems to be pretty straightforward, but there is very little security in that role and acquiring a permanent position (ie Lecturer) seems to be a tooth and claw process. Don't get me wrong, I'm not naive about positions in or as a charity -- getting funding for those seems to be equally as tough. Both domains talk about 'impact' a lot. Both offer opportunities to do the things I want to do - build cool stuff, and help people. Both involve taking less money than working in the private or government sector. Neither provide particular job/funding security. The Third Sector does seem to offer a reprieve from the self-centred, career-driven, realm of academia. There are those in the sector that try to climb ladders, and end up as CEOs etc; but it seems to be the expectation that in academia you climb over each other to grab at lectureships handed down. Survival in the Third Sector doesn't seem to depend on climbing ladders made of your peers' potential, but treading water.

Both gloomy images. Let's see what happens.

reflection growth journalling challenge career school

Journalling 014 -- Nostalgia

Content alert. This started as a rant, and not a particularly thought out one. I think there's a perceivable shift in tone when I realise that my frustration may be rooted (at least partially) in privilege. I hope it's ok, now. It needs work.

I'm seriously sick of nostalgia. Yeah, I get it, nostalgia is cute and warm and it reminds you of when you were a child. It's kinda about that that I want to rant about. Nostalgia is why reboots and sequels to 80s and 90s franchises make bajillion moneys at the box office, and as a result of this Hollywood producers see them as safe bets and, after a few more years of this; we'll have an entire generation of producers who've never seen an original idea. Yes there are exceptions, but the trend is there.

Nostalgia is the basis for the entire fucking raison d'être of the Conservative movement. Look at this shit:

Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes retaining traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization. By some definitions, Conservatives have variously sought to preserve institutions including religion, monarchy, parliamentary government, property rights and the social hierarchy, emphasizing stability and continuity, while the more extreme elements called reactionaries oppose Modernism and seek a return to "the way things were".[1][2]

Look at that crockpot of bodily humour. Traditional social conditions. Fucking nostalgia. Right there, fucking everything up. EU Referendum? Nostalgia for the 'good old days' of the British Empire, imperial measurements, and polio. Fuck it.

On an individual level, my generation has coined the term adulting to define their surprise at being able to function at a basic level in society. Yes, I get it; society sucks atm. Really, and I feel genuinely bad for people who feel uncomfortable in their adulthood, who've been failed by the systems in place that should provide them with that security as a member of society. My partner is obsessed with growing older, and how it's terrible. Part of that is the Capitalist-Patriarchy telling (and selling) her that she as a woman has an expiration date on her value. Part of it is a nostalgia for being a 12 year old cuddled up with cartoons (I know because I've asked why she's always hating being an adult). I honestly don't get it. When I inquired further, both her and her sister said that they hate the stress of being an adult and fending for themselves. The diehard socialist in me agrees that yes; you shouldn't have to worry about that, as we should all be chipping in to institutions that worry for us. I get it.

I'm quite privileged. I don't have to worry about a large number of social conditions faced by various intersections of the population. I try my best to be an ally in training, but I stumble at times. What I'm trying to say is that growing up, and out of childhood is not a bad thing. And I'm sorry for anyone who's had their adulthood suck for various reasons.

I was going to write this next paragraph as a "you". Then I realised I have absolutely no right to dictate the experiences of others. For me, this is my answer to those who ask why I'm rarely nostalgic for the past; why I'm never trying to recapture my childhood.

I've never been so stressed, but I've never had so many important things to keep me occupied. I've never been so worried about money, but I've never had money of my own to do things with. I've never been so concerned about eating right and exercising, but I've never before taken pride in the body that I inhabit and been so aware of the effects of what I do with it. I've never stressed out about living with a mucky flatmate, but until then I'd never operated entirely by myself. I've never worried about what I'm going to do after my PhD, but I've never before had qualifications to my name that can let me make choices. I've never before worried about finding time for my hobbies, but I've never had so many interesting things that I want to do! I've never had my heart broken before, but I'd never loved another human being so deeply before. I've never had to explicitly make time to catch up with friends, but I never had such a diverse cast of friends all around the world before.

I've never been so exhausted all the time, but I've never been so driven. That's why I'm not nostalgic for the past.

nostalgia rant reflection growth privilege journalling adulthood

Equinox planting

It's Autumn soon, (on the 22nd September). It's incredibly stereotypical to love this time of year, but I do. Maybe that's something inherent in humanity, maybe something about the temperatures, or the foliage or the fact that we're getting more sleep as the darkness encroaches on our schedule makes us feel a bit more alive.

Maybe it's more societal. The summer harvest is in, the big growing season is over and now we sit back and relax for a few weeks before the weather begins and makes everything just a tad more strenuous. Maybe, due to our agricultural heritage, we've made the school and academic years begin in Autumn (to let the kids help with the harvest). Maybe it's because coffee shops great and small, both the lumbering giant franchises and the sickening quaint local stores, have convinced the population that they need their seasonal fix of pumpkin spice or whatever it is. Maybe it's that everyone is kind of tired of forcing their recreation backlog into the summer, when they're supposed to be active, and now have the excuse as the nights draw in to just lump themselves in their caves with loved ones.

Whatever it is, I don't care. I love the autumn. I've always associated it with new growth, which is weird because what follows is the winter and everything is dormant. The habits I start to form in this season, the seeds I plant now, always yield the most in the years to come. It was autumn that I convinced myself to try out strength training (and look where that got me), it was conversations in the autumn that lead me to picking up Marx, and Federici, and start engaging with philosophy.

Already I can feel stirrings in my body as I desire to enter a new period of growth and change. I'm not sure where it'll lead me, what seeds I'll plant. I'll scatter as many as possible and see what grows.

growth equinox autumn harvest weather

Dying Light

It's always a bittersweet time of year for me. I adore the autumn, and the crisp cool air that's supposed to come with it. The change in seasons is especially obvious to me when I do my morning's training routine. I watch the light fade away little-by-little each morning until I'm training in complete darkness, and this generally only changes in the Spring when the light returns and the world is reborn.

The upside to this is that I get to train underneath, and subsequently watch, the stars. Those tiny pinpricks of light flaring billions of kilometres away, that have fascinated humanity for countless aeons. I fall into the same trap. There's often times where I pause what I'm doing mid-rep in order to stare at them for a bit. There's something about having my muscles and sinews aflame, staving off the cold, that makes me want to stare quite literally into space.

I like how these same stars have borne witness to the greatest events and saddest catastrophes of my species. I like how they are indifferent, and by their nature shine upon me the same as they did all of history's greatest heroes and villains. I like how they've witnessed the rebirth of humanity over and over again, how new generations enter as the old leave, how political systems change and revitalise or condemn their adherents. I like how there's a moment, at the end of every set, where I push myself forward just a little bit further and I feel something inside of me shift, and grow stronger.

I like how every day, similiar to my species before me and after me, I am reborn underneath those stars. Happy Equinox.

training calisthenics growth equinox rebirth stars

Going to Ground

I blather on about Strength Training a lot, because it means a lot to me. In the past, Training has been a way for me to go to ground, so to speak. It serves as a space that is mine, a ritual space that offers emotional decompression from both sides of the 'yin/yang' spectrum: if I've got some pent-up aggression or frustration, the act of moving around and grunting and brutalising myself is very cathartic; whilst simultaneously it's a nurturing act of self-care, and an activity that is fundamentally much more constructive than similar outlets I've had in the past (e.g. clubbing). As well as this, I've went through the majority of my life knowing I'm not particularly attractive, and training helps me feel good about my body by allowing me to glimpse the physical feats that it's capable of (even if I remain convinced I look like shit :-/).

But what happens when the place you go to ground is itself a source of frustration for you? Something I've been avoiding confronting since around May is that, actually, my training is stagnant or perhaps going backwards. I lopped a round or so off of the work sets in my circuit to account for being tired one week, and those haven't reappeared in ages. Similarly, I've seen my form deteriorate on my two favourite exercises; ones where I was incredibly close to finally approaching the progression standard for the movements.

There are many reasons that could be to blame. I could simply be tired, due to poor sleep hygiene and stress in work or what remains of my romantic life. I could be bored with the routine I've created myself; a system that once represented growth and playfulness and freedom now may symbolise the stagnation. It's supposed to be ever growing with me, yet every attempt I've made to stimulate it or shake it up has failed. I don't think I've been pushing myself too hard; my routine was objectively more intensive before and I was performing a lot better than I am now.

I guess my next approach should be to 'go to ground' for my ground. Go back to the source, what pushed me to train the way I do? 'Coach' recommends revisiting the 'good behaviour' routine once in a while; saying that it offers even intermediate and advance trainers some room to grow.

Either that or I go full warrior-monk, suspend my PhD, and don't show my face until I've nailed one-arm pull-ups… :-P

training growth emotions the feels stagnation