This journey into the weird and wonderful world of magic and hypnosis started, for me, with ‘subliminal persuasion’.
Once upon a time, I believed I was destined to be a writer. I felt the words I wrote were like music and that, while I sometimes hit the right note, I was yet to figure out how to compose a symphony. I was the words on the paper – I couldn’t express myself any other way.
Screenwriting seemed the best route for utilising my imagination in the grown-up world, but my stories seemed derivative – pointless. I would simply obsess over a scene, a moment; play it again and again. I wanted my characters and interactions to be surprising and contrary, but I was advised this was inconsistent, out-of-character, bad writing.
Professionally, I became a writer of content: ‘The Lipstick Years’ as a beauty journalist; and ‘The Lawnmower Years’ in trade public relations.
Then I passed 30 and wondered: what good are all these pretend Oscars when, in reality, I’m churning out press releases for single-ply roofing products and still living with my mother?
And so I sat down and wrote what was the first (but I hope not the last!) letter that changed the course of my life…
I applied for a job well outside my comfort zone – and found myself, 12 months, four confusing ‘chats’ and zero conscious decisions later, sobbing on a plane bound for Oslo, Norway, where ‘The Leadership Years’ began.
I joined a company that works with global leaders and general rabble-rousers to change the way we lead; ourselves, each other and organisations. I’m sure this sounds like corporate bullshit to a few of you, but I’ve seen real progress these past five years, and so I do believe what I – and my comrades – do is purposeful and impactful.
It was (and still is) a company that hires for behaviours, rather than skills. But I was naïve and didn’t know this. I’d never worked in the corporate world or an ambiguous ecosystem. Back in mid 2013, our office was a big, collaborative mess of 30 people from different countries and backgrounds, all with ‘Save The World’ complexes. Work was Wonderland. I was Alice. Each day I fell further down the rabbit hole.
I’d been hired “for what I didn’t know” and so – to cut a long story short – I became a writer who barely wrote. Anything I did write, from a scrappy internal plan to a meaty publication, was subject to the most scrutiny and criticism my words ever received.
My then boss was relentlessly details oriented. A single word could trigger days, weeks, of intellectual and philosophical debate. The precise definition, and strategic and appropriate deployment, of the word ‘project’ was a major endeavour, for instance. Recurring stock text would be approved one day and subject to extensive rewrites the next – repeat, repeat. I became attuned to the few words/phrases she’d contributed. I remember editing reams of text and deleting two words… Then realising they were her words. I knew that, while she’d unlikely remember what was missing, the document would nevertheless get a thumbs down. ‘Writing’ instead became sifting for her gold nuggets in the otherwise murky waters of collaborative, unconfident, confused writing attempts by many like me.
It was, literally, maddening. I became unable to write. I lost my identity – as A Writer. It was a difficult time.
I suppose my relationship with words and meaning changed. I was – unusually, I’d suggest – surrounded by, immersed in, positive ‘subliminal persuasion’. I didn’t own a TV during my stint in Oslo and the words we’re used to seeing during the course of daily urban life – on billboards, in buildings, on newsstands, via signs, in graffiti – were mostly meaningless due to my lack of Norwegian. I read books when I could, dallied on Facebook weekly and – in an ill-conceived experiment that surely contributed to my descent into madness – scrolled The Daily Mail site hourly. Meanwhile, I was editing and creating ‘save the world’ content, and surrounded by inspiring quotes and messaging – posters, workshop materials, passages in reports. ‘Content’ I’d previously paid no mind to was now under the microscope – and, importantly, and unbeknownst to me, infecting my mind.
I’m fond of the following quote for making sense of three moments that made little impact at the time, but which formed part of a mental ‘domino affect’ that changed my life – and changed my mind.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung.
Moment One: A month or so in, a man we call ‘Uncle’ paraded through the office with a 10ft-long workshop poster that read: ‘WHAT IF EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW WAS WRONG?’. Suffice to say the delivery of this message was rather surreal and thus memorable!
Moment Two: A hero quote chosen for an event, which I repeatedly had to insert into documents, materials and creative briefs, preyed on my mind: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”. And what was A Writer in identity crisis to make of that?!
Moment Three: My boss had a whiteboard covered with ever-changing notes, paper and ephemera. A long-term pin was a brightly coloured workshop prompt card printed with the words: ‘WHAT IF..?’. This moment is my Magic Moment – it led to the development of My Probably Mad Theory Of Subliminal Persuasion (Which Has No Scientific Basis And No Proven Results, But Which Might Be Important To The Future Of Humanity, FYI).
This board was located behind my desk and it bothered me.
One day, on the literal brink of a manic-psychotic breakdown, I was so bothered by its presence I took a photo of it to text to a friend as proof of my unbearable work conditions.
Two years later, I was dealing with a difficult situation at work. For reasons unclear, I was scrolling through old iPhone photos automatically stored to the Cloud. I came across the ‘What if..?’ photo. I hadn’t thought about it since taking it.
Now, the content on that board, and the ordering of it, changed all the time. But – to my astonishment – the part of the board I’d snapped formed a message; a message that now made perfect sense to me, and which helped me solve the situation I was struggling with.
What if? It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.
[Gollum voice] “We wants it! We needs it!”
[Yoda voice] “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
The ‘strategy’ was the upside-down name of a colleague (blacked out). I solved the problem by simply turning it on its head.
I believe we’re absorbing and processing so much more than we can comprehend. And in a capitalist world, saturated in messaging to keep us consuming and conforming, in shrinking eco chambers, manipulated by increasingly sophisticated algorithms, surely are minds are hungry for morsels of authentic, altruistic messages of inspiration and meaning?
So. My Magic Moment was old me receiving a piece of wisdom she was not yet ready for, but which she’d buried as treasure for future me to dig up just when needed. I appreciate it seems an unspectacular, mundane coincidence to many, but I’m still electrified when I look at that photo. In it, I see nothing but possibilities for burying treasure in the text, content and materials I touch in my work and my personal life – for any curious Alices who are inclined to look more closely than most; to wonder, to adventure, to change. I see the symphony I’m destined to write – fragmented, abstract, hidden, ongoing; a puzzle written across time and space, for someone else to read, perhaps, or perhaps not… But that is the stuff of real magic, is it not?
I used to feel so stuck in negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours. But now, whenever I notice some innocuous message I’m supposed to subconsciously absorb and act on – say, Starbucks bidding me to ‘Have a delicious day!’ (aka ‘BUY A CROISSANT, SLAVE’) – I’m thankful for the free inspiration (and mostly don’t buy pastry). Instead I just have myself a fucking delicious day, knowing that my mind is a miracle – it will always find mental nourishment in even the most starved of circumstances.