Magnificence and mailboxes

Wheatsheaf - There's a Whale

This is the story of Jonah. Not the reluctant prophet who took a time-out in a whale, but a man named after him by a mother who should have known better.

Like his Biblical namesake, Jonah had a calling. Not to preach, but to create something. If you asked him about it, at twenty-three the conversation would have gone something like this:

“What are you making, Jonah?”
“Oh, I’m working on mumblemublemutter.”
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
“You know, just a rhubarbrhubarbrhubarb.”
“Alright, it’s a decorative mailbox! Okay!?!”

Young and self-conscious, Jonah gave in to embarassment and stopped making his mailboxes. He became an electrician instead, which is a job that’s much easier to explain at parties. He married Marie-Claire, joined the local football team, and was content most of the time.

But Jonah was haunted by mailboxes. In his dreams he invented mailboxes shaped like Kodiac bears, mailboxes that brought the mail to the front door in a model train, mailboxes that played carillons when parcels arrived.

Through his twenties, Jonah tried with some success to suppress the dreams and live his unconscious life in as ordinary and normal a way as his conscious life. It was easier when the kids arrived; the never-ending activity kept him busy.

On his thirtieth birthday, Jonah surprised everyone…

…including himself, by getting a tattoo. It wasn’t the idea that was shocking – tattoos not being terribly rare amongst electricians – but what it said.

When asked to explain why he’d gotten this quote by James Lowell on his arm, Jonah could only say, “I dunno. I just liked it.”

The quote?

Not failure, but low aim, is crime.

But still, Jonah was an average bloke with an average life… if you didn’t count the dreams of mailboxes.

Everything was ordinary for a long time, but Jonah got pretty damn twitchy in his late thirties. He started sleeping badly and drinking one too many beers on the couch at night. He fought with Marie-Claire and yelled at the kids. One day the younger, Harry, said: “I don’t want to be around you, Dad. You’re mean.”

Jonah started crying and couldn’t stop for a very long time.

He started going to a therapist, on the quiet for fear that the other guys would find out. She was nice enough but didn’t help, so he tried another one.

Three sessions in, Brian asked, “Do you remember your dreams? And why did you look so ashamed when I asked you that?”

Soon the therapy sessions stopped being about feeling his feelings, and started being about mailboxes.

Brian asked, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if you followed this dream and started making mailboxes again?”
“And what’s the worst thing that could happen if you don’t follow that dream?”
“Which is scarier?”
“The nothing.”
“Yeah, I thought so.”

Jonah quit the footy team and started locking himself in the garage.

Six weekends later, he sheepishly asked his family to come out and have a look at something.

It was a tree, three foot high and strangely familiar, with a treehouse at the top where mail went in. Marie-Claire’s forehead creased and then she shouted, “It’s one of the trees of Lothlórien! From Lord of the Rings! Oh Jonah, it’s beautiful!”

His grin went from embarassed to excited. “You like it? I mean, I made it for you.”

Marie-Claire and the kids looked shocked, from Jonah to the tree and back. “You made this, darling? Really? I know you said you used to make a few mailboxes when you were younger. But this is… amazing! You made it from scratch?”

“Yeah. I was thinking I’d make a few more, if that’s cool.”

Three years later, Jonah quit his job to make mailboxes full time. For reasons he never consciously understood, his first professional design was a whale.

The moral of the story

Magnificence is fucking scary.

I don’t think it’s rare because few people have the talent to create it, I believe it’s rare because so few people have the guts to go for it.

It’s up to you to decide whether the persistent discomfort of selling yourself short is more or less uncomfortable than the soul vertigo of reaching for greatness.

Which do you choose?


If you’ve chosen to strive for magnificence (and you’d prefer not to take as long about it as Jonah), then Goddamn Radiant is for you.

Creative Commons License photo credit: artwork_rebel

The path through The Palace of Marvels

Hohenschwangau Castle - Bavaria

Henry built a house of wonders.

Feeling exotic, he named it Le palais merveilleux, which translates to The Palace of Marvels. Then, realising that most people in his city couldn’t pronounce merveilleux, he called it both names.

(It’s pronounced mer-vey-eugh, if you were wondering.)

How marvellous was the Palace of Marvels?

Well, once he invited Flinn Bordin, the current holder of the Most Blasé Man Alive title, to tour the palace. By room three Flinn’s eyebrows has escaped his control and gave him an unquestionable look of surprise. By room seven, a smile had definitely started in the corners of his mouth. By room eleven, Flinn was sobbing like a baby and grinning like a fool. He lost the title and stayed to work as a ticket seller.

For of course Henry sold tickets. He had built the Palace of Marvels with a bag of fairy gold he’d found in a disused well, but even fairy gold runs out eventually in the face of that much ambition. Henry’s plan was to sell enough tickets to finance his acquisition trips, to expand the house, and to buy P.T. Barnum’s top hat.

He sold some tickets, mostly to the friends and family of people who had visited before, but to achieve his goal he needed to increase his ticket sales from a trickle to a flood.

To attract these new visitors, Henry built up his front yard. He added a formal Japanese garden. He built a three-storey-tall thrill slide. He constructed a sorbet fountain. He added steam-powered mechanical elephants who played God Save the Queen. “Ah-ha,” he said, “All of these wonderful attractions will be sure to increase my ticket sales!”

A month later he had to admit that they had not. He climbed to the top of the Prisoner’s Turret with a spyglass and tried to figure out why.

He watched as new people crowded through his front gate. They oohed and aahed at the elephants, dipped their spoons in the sorbet fountain, refreshed their wa in the Garden of Tranquillity, screamed like dervishes coming down the slide, wandered around to count the monkeys – did I mention the monkeys? – and eat a little more sorbet… and then they looked at their watches, rubbed their feet, and left.

Henry twirled his moustache thoughtfully for an hour, and then he went to the bulldozer shed.

His new visitors arrived the next morning to find a new addition to the front yard: a path. The path led past the steam-powered mechanical elephants who played God Save the Queen, through the Garden of Tranquillity, past the sorbet fountain, up to the thrill slide. And when people descended, screaming like dervishes, to the bottom of the thrill slide, they found themselves at the door of the Palace of Marvels, which bore a sign:

Many more wonders inside!
See the delights which destroyed the composure of The Most Blasé Man Alive!

And delighted, calmed, tingling with sorbet, thrilled and hoping for more monkeys – a hope soon to be amply rewarded – the crowds lined up to buy tickets. They lined up in such numbers that Henry soon started making plans to acquire P.T. Barnum’s entire wardrobe.

All was wonder in the Palace of Marvels. As it should be.

The moral of the story

Physical businesses generally have a clear path to the money, whether it’s the Pay Here sign over the cashier, or the Exit Through the Gift Shop. They work for business owners – of course – and for the customers.

Businesses win because they get paid. Customers win because they don’t have to spend their precious mental energy and attention deciphering where to go next.

You’ve seen this done badly, especially in dimly-lit stock clearance stores. Remember how tiring and frustrating they are? Life is too short to spend stumbling around looking daft, attempting to find what you want, find the cashier, and find the exit.

Far too many websites are like this.

In the jumble of Free! Downloadable! Thingie! and Sign up for the newsletter and Please Like This on Facebook and Teleclass Next Tuesday, most people behave like they’re in the front yard of the Palace of Marvels: they wander, admire, and then leave.

No-one wins here.

For both of your sakes, you need a path.

Your people can leave the path and wander as they want to, of course! But give them an intelligent default on one path that will guide them from “Never heard of you before” to “You wonderful creatures, here’s my money”.

You’ll both be ever-so-glad you did.


Creative Commons License photo credit: joiseyshowaa

The best lesson Marilyn Manson can possibly teach you.

Mr T.

As Kim typed, she chanted softly under her breath. “MarilynMansonMarilynMansonMarilynManson,” like a benediction, muttered as she wrote an article she’d been putting off for thirty-eight years.

But this is too early. Let’s go back twenty-two years.

Kim on the athletic team

Kim was on the running team in high school, and she was a demon on the hurdles. One day the coach pulled her aside with a fatherly arm around the shoulders and said, “We really need to do something about your stride, Kim.”

“What’s wrong with it, coach?”

“It’s just… have you seen a video of your running? You’re… uh… wasting a lot of motion.” He sat her down in front of the TV and pressed Play.

Now Kim had watched herself run before, checking her foot placement and her spine and all sorts of technical things. But this time she unfocused her eyes and watched the overall picture.

And Kim realised she ran like a flailing buffoon. She ran like the Athletic Department of the Ministry of Silly Walks. She ran like a box full of herons falling down a flight of stairs.

“Oh. My. GOD.” The coach nodded sympathetically.

They spent six months on adjusting her stride to something less awkward-looking, but it never looked one bit less foolish. Eventually, Kim quit the team.

And now we’re back at Kim today, invoking the name of Marilyn Manson over and over.

Wait, it’s still too soon. Go back ten years.

Kim and the PowerPoint

After school and university and three months in Europe, Kim went to work in the HR department of a large mining company.

Most of her work was ordinary operational work: hirings-firings-and-paperwork stuff. But Kim kept working to bring improvements to the way the business managed its employees.

One day Kim read a book about the Results-Only Work Environment and knew that it could revolutionise her office. She put together a PowerPoint presentation introducing the idea of giving the staff fixed deliverables instead of fixed hours, and the massive advantages it would create in morale, office costs, flexibility, productivity and reputation.

She booked an hour with her manager, Steve, in the small boardroom. She went through the entire presentation to his encouraging face and then asked for his thoughts.

Steve said, “Well firstly, I’m really impressed with your initiative in putting this together, Kim. Great job. (Pause.) But I don’t think that this has any chance of flying with the senior managers. You know how stuck in their ways they are, and this is just… too revolutionary for them.”

Disappointed, Kim returned to her desk and thought hard. She could go over Steve and take this to the senior managers herself if she wanted, and Steve wouldn’t mind. But she would have to have the same talk with a number of high-ups that she only saw twice a year at the stockholder’s meeting and try to convince them to completely change how the office ran.

She would have to make a fool of herself. She could imagine the polite coughs, the hidden Blackberry-checking, and worst of all, the look on their faces as the lights came back up…

The PowerPoint was archived and never seen again.

And now we’re back to the chanting.

Actually, let’s go back just a few days first.

Kim and Marilyn Manson

Kim nicknamed her daughter Christine “Firecracker”. Christine is smart, wicked, opinionated and aggressively confident, seventeen years old in body but a thousand years old in wisdom of the serpent.

Kim made the foolish mistake of daydreaming aloud about the idea of starting her own consulting firm some day when Christine was nearby. “Jeez Mum, are you going to wait until the retirement home to give it a try? Just bung up a website, print some business cards and get started!”

Cue the slow-down-woah-there-Nellie face and the patient ah-my-daughter-you’re still-so-young tone. “I can’t do that, sweetie. I have no experience and no clients.”

“No experience? Mum, you’ve been doing this job for longer than I’ve been alive!”

“Well, yes, but that was for companies. I can’t just stride out there and say, “Okay, pay me money now!”, you know.”

“Mum, do you know Marilyn Manson?”

Kim shook her head at this complete non sequitur. “I know the rubbish music you play too loudly and that somewhat offensive poster I’m letting you keep on sufferance, yes.”

Christine rolled her eyes. “Seriously Mum, you are not too old to like it, you were like twenty-five or something when his first hit came out. Anyway. So you know how he wears makeup and sings about, you know, stuff not many people sing about and is generally pretty weird?”

Weird is definitely how I’d describe it. And I’m not old, I just have taste.”

The perfect adolescent eyeroll. “Any. Way. Right, so he started as an ordinary kid in a band in high school, right? But he still wore the freaky makeup and he still made songs about murder and stuff, but the band had like no fans and they were just playing at parties and things.”

“I’m waiting for your point.”

“Don’t be dense, Mum! It’s easy to be Marilyn Manson when there are ten thousand fans screaming your name and grooving on your weirdness. It’s really, really hard to be Marilyn Manson when there are nineteen people in the crowd and one of them is calling you a wanker.

But you can’t get to the good bit unless you suck it up and put up with that crappy first bit, where you’re doing your thing and no-one likes it. You gotta stand up and be, like totally cool on the outside even if you’re totally embarassed on the inside. So you can rock it out later.”

“How did I raise such a wise child?”

“I dunno. Alien implantation?”

Three days later, Kim was writing an article for her new website. And to muffle all the voices that lovingly wanted to save her from making a fool of herself, the voices that told her to tone it down, the voices that advised playing it safe, she spoke the words.


Are you lacking a preternaturally wise child? Then Goddamn Radiant is a good stand-in.

Creative Commons License photo credit: spacedustdesign

The Curse of Possibility (and why first-year fairies shouldn’t grant wishes)

Magic Wand
Jaden was cursed.

It wasn’t his fault; a wish from his fairy godmother had gone dreadfully awry. She was still a first-year apprentice, woefully undertrained, and she’d waved her wand nonchalantly and said something that would have made any competent fairy godmother slap her in the tiara.

She’d said, “Let Jaden be capable of anything!”

Well, you know how that works out.

Jaden grew into a man of many talents and interests and passions and careers; he’d proven handy at everything from deep-sea diving to chartered accountancy. (The only things he hadn’t tried were the French Foreign Legion and ant farming.)

He enjoyed most of the work he’d tried, which is easy to do when you’re very good at it. But he still felt unfulfilled.

It was a subtle thing, and took some time for Jaden to notice. But even though he was good at the work, it still felt like something important was missing.

One day, a lawyer from the Fairy Godmother Co-operative (Eastern Sector) arrived with a sparkly briefcase and a wand of paperwork.

She said, “Okay, sorry about the delay, but there was a rain of frog princes I had to process first. I understand you received a VYJ-56D, a fairy godmother wish with unforseen side-effects?”

“Uh, yes. I’m capable of anything.”

The legal fairy gave forth a long flat whistle. “Wow, that’s a kick in the teeth. Nasty. Good job on not becoming a serial killer or anything, kid.”

Jaden went pale. “I never even thought of that!”

“Yeah well, it happens. Oh-kay, let’s get this sorted out. Now, due to regulations we can’t just undo the wish, so we’ll have to add in a FGO-23I, a Supplemental Repair Wish.”

“Oh, right. So how do you fix this? What kind of wish is it?”

“Easy-peasy, son. We’ll just wish for you to know what your best work is.”

“Umm… what?”

“Look, you can do almost anything, right? Work with anyone, do a good job anywhere, get results… there is no limit on what you can accomplish.”

Jaden blushed. “Yep.”

“So the limiting factor isn’t possibility. You need a filter for greatness.”

“Oooh. That sounds good. How does that work?”

“Well, instead of focusing on work you could do, you’ll be paying attention to the work you should do. You’re able to do a lot of things, but there are still some things you shine at. ”

“Are there?”

“Yeah, the Philosophical and Philological Practitioners (Eastern) Unit did a lecture on this last week. They were really sure: everyone has some talents that are more powerful. Your baseline is higher than most, but you still have skills that have more potential and power than others. And the more you focus your time on those ones, the happier you’ll be.”

“Wow. Awesome. Sign me up!”


The wand waved, and a new understanding of his greatest work flooded in. Finally, Jaden knew which specific talents were his greatest ones.

The Curse of Possibility had been removed.

(And that apprentice was fired. But she’d messed with a lot of people before Internal Fairy Affairs caught up with her.)

Have you been cursed by your potential and can’t figure out what your greatest work is? I’m your Goddamn Radiant fairy godmother!