*Almost* Coming Out of Hermitude… Sharpening My Axe


I’m almost coming out of hermitude…

For the last few years I’ve been sharpening my axe until it glints with my reflection.

Sharpening and sharpening each day, until it is keen-edged,  ready to chop down the barriers and suffocating vines that hold people back from fully developing into the beauty, strength, and capabilities that are their birthright.*

I will start putting my ideas back into the world soon. When I’m ready, and when my idea are developed enough to be useful to others.

For the mean time, bear with me… and send me a word of encouragement if you have one to spare.

Kind wishes

Pascale x


(*If that blocked and suffocated person sounds like you or somebody you know, stick around. Good stuff is coming.)

[image from: https://www.kentofinglewood.com/products/axe-sharpening]

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If You Only Knew How Clever You Are … Looking at You is Like Staring into the Sun.

“If you only knew how clever you are!” I said to my daughter, as she lamented her inability to pass her times-tables weekly test.

If you only knew, that the difference of intelligence between the smartest, most precocious Year 6 kid in your school, or even the smartest teacher in your school, and the “least capable”, least advanced, “slowest” learner in the nursery class… if you only knew that that whole difference between them, is like just one drop of water in an ocean.

One small drop in the vast, unfathomed ocean of the basic innate intelligence we are all born with as human beings.

I would even say, the difference between the biggest dunderhead that ever lived, and Einstein or Marie Curie or Bach, these imposing genius figures of history, is really only a tiny fraction of an enormous whole, like a grain of sand compared to a whole planet, when compared to the innate intelligence the dunderhead character possesses.


No matter how incredibly idiotic and slow-witted you think you are, or you believe somebody else to be, you, or that person, are millions of times more intelligent than the most intelligent robot that has yet been built by the most brilliant minds working in robotics.

Seriously. Without a shadow of a doubt. Not even close.

I’ll go further and say that even Harry, our pet hamster, is many millions of times more intelligent than any robot ever made. And I have no idea what goes on in his mind – I am just looking at what his body and his instincts allow him to do so effortlessly, and without having been taught.

So, don’t put yourself down. And please, don’t worry that your “relative” lack of agility in learning, or ability to retain information, when you compare yourself to other people in your class, is going to mean that you can’t really achieve very much.

Really, I can’t emphasise enough how untrue it is.

I know, we hear this so much at school, and from well-meaning adults (present company included, I do apologise) who wish us to apply ourselves in the pursuit of exam success.

You are – as we all are – just my virtue of being a living mammal, let alone a social mammal, a primate, a human, a Homo Sapiens Sapiens in the 21st Century – you are an absolutely incredible achievement of nature. You are an absolutely astonishingly intelligent living being – and you would still be so, even if you had never learnt to speak, or walk, or play games or music, let alone all the facts and methods and interactive skills you have  already learnt at school and elsewhere.

As the great pedagogic genius Dr Shin’ichi Suzuki often exclaimed with delight to his bemused friends, “All Japanese children speak Japanese, isn’t that just amazing?”

Yes, it is. The fact that some other person speaks two, or three, or even eleven languages, does not in any way diminish the absolutely remarkable*, mind-blowing achievement of your having learnt one language – the language we are communicating with right now. (*It did take an absolute genius to bother to remark upon it. That’s the nature of genius.)

We do not notice the vast part of our intelligence. The relative sizes of recognised vs unrecognised intelligence are not so much like the tip of the iceberg being 10% of the whole; more like thinking the Earth and its atmosphere are all there is to Space, compared to the immensely vast expanse of the universe we watch in the night sky. Your intelligence – our intelligence – is enormously broad, deep and complex.

We can take no credit for it, of course. And there’s not even much sense in being grateful for it… it just is what it is. But let’s not diminish what it is.

Because really, that’s the true lack of intelligence – when we compare two children in the same school class, for example, and declare one to be “bright” and the other “dull”. This, to me, is the real lack of intelligence we confront today – this comparing of brilliant beings that diminishes us all. So where exactly are we going wrong with it, in my opinion?

It is as if we were to compare the brightness of a distant star with our Sun, and declare, based on our (correct) observation that the light of our Sun outshines all the other stars during the daytime, that the Sun “is brighter” than that other star. Some stars have luminosities of 100,000 times that of the sun. A star’s “apparent brightness”, however, depends on distance. We can easily see, can’t we, that we are making the wrong inference because of our particular perspective – we are so close to the Sun, relatively, that we cannot judge its brightness correctly.

And so too, when I look at a child, any “average” child, or any person in fact, I feel like I am looking into the Sun. I look at them and I feel their immensely powerful intelligence just pouring out of them.

When I look at you, yes YOU, I feel your radiating intelligence – you burn fiercely, in ways that are immeasurable.

So don’t you DARE call yourself, or anyone else, unintelligent. Even a person – it may be you, it may be me – who experiences very profound learning difficulties compared to some other people, somebody who really struggles with various disorders or unusual challenges, somebody who at first glance may appear to be severely disabled, unable perhaps to do some things that we consider fairly basic, like seeing, hearing, having sufficient control of their limbs to be able to write with a pencil or catch a ball, or being able to communicate with verbal speech. Such a person, whom we might be inclined to pity or to write off – such a person is no less than a deeply, impressively, intelligent human being. Did you know, for example, that some blind people have taught themselves to echo-locate? Or that some people who don’t use verbal speech invent alternative languages using other means than the lips and tongue? Never, ever, write a person off as incapable, just because their methods are surprising, invisible or unintelligible to you.

So, be as intelligent as you really are, in this way: STOP COMPARING.

Stop comparing yourself to others. Stop comparing others to you. Stop being inordinately impressed by over-achieving historical figures, or by those who succeed within the narrow, artificial parameters of the standardised academic system. Stop believing that it matters whether a person got an A* or an F on their maths GCSE, or passed Grade 8 violin at age 7.

Remember, these variations are but drops in a vast ocean of potential. They mean NOTHING.

Why is this so important, in my view? Because we are wasting our most valuable resource, and we are destroying our most beautiful resource, when we make people feel less capable than they really are because we keep telling them – and telling ourselves – “oh, they are not as clever as that other person, they probably can’t achieve much,” or we say to ourselves, just below our consciousness, “I am not as smart as that other person, so I probably can’t contribute very much.”


Contribute. Let your light develop and shine. Bring your whole amazing, mind-blowing intelligence to the table. Try to recognise it. Find out more about it. Your mind and your body together form a truly amazing living organism. You are perfectly adapted to your environment, to life on planet Earth, and you are able to adapt further as circumstances change. That is why I say you are intelligent, no matter what grades you got at school.

When you don’t believe in yourself, and you tell yourself not to bother, it is like you are telling the North Star not to bother shining anymore because the Sun is so much brighter than it. That is idiotic. You are too close to judge. You have no distance, no perspective. Any distant star may well be small and relatively dull, but it may have its own planets teeming with intelligent life around it.

Did you know that the atoms in your body have passed through several stars? Or that several billion of them were in all likelihood part of the body-mind that made up Shakespeare – and by extension, similarly with every other “genius” you might have read about? So don’t tell me you are in any way able to judge how intelligent you are. You have no idea. I have no idea either – I just know it’s colossal. It dwarfs the tiny differences between individual persons. It’s not the same ballpark. It’s not even the same city… it’s not even the same galaxy.

Your intelligence is VAST.

So stop underestimating yourself. Don’t set artificial limits on what you think you can contribute.

Now, if you don’t want to contribute, that’s a different thing. I can’t help you there. And I probably don’t want you in my vicinity – although I do know that people can change for the better, and often do. I can’t help you if you don’t want to contribute to the common good in some way – that’s your choice. But if you want to contribute, I can help you to believe in yourself, and to unlock and develop your latent capabilities.

You don’t even have to believe me. Just try to suspend your disbelief, temporarily. If you’ve read this far, you’ve already started rewiring your brain in the right direction.

I certainly don’t want you to follow me. I’m not a leader, a role model or a good example. I’m just a person who was lucky to have people believing in me around me in my life, and plentiful opportunities for self-development. I know what that can do for a person, and I wish to share it with others.

I’m just a person who looks into your eyes and sees the Sun.

I know that you are amazing. Stellar. Oceanic. (If this level of praise makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t worry, it doesn’t actually make you special. I have always seen people this way, even as a child, from my earliest memories. Remember, I think a hamster is incredibly clever too. And don’t even get me started on trees.)

If this is all I can offer to the world, so be it. I give it gladly.  

Shine on, contribute, and be kind.  Px

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Advice to my Kids

Advice to my kids:
1. Don’t believe what anyone says about who or what you are. Including yourself.
2. Learn to observe when it’s happening – the gold stars, the “good girl”s, the “you always liked…”, the “buy our product to appear more successful, lovable, welcome”.
3. Understand that even if well-intentioned, these are manipulations. The person desires a response. Understand that what they are saying says far more about them and their desires, than about you.
4. In this way you will be freeing yourself from the clutches of advertising, the power of devious or neurotic people, and the inner pain of self-judgement.
5. One exception: mummy knows you and knows what’s best for you! ;D

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Take Your Time (a London Fields morning poem)

Take your time
Hang time up in the air
Like a jacket

Sit under a tree looking up
Observe the spaces between the leaves and branches
Observe the slices of silence between the sounds
Pay attention
Listen for the energy you bring into this scene

Feel your feet where they touch the ground
And any other part of your body that is resting on something, your arm on your thigh perhaps
Your head, balanced on your neck, or hanging forward from your shoulders
Like canvas on a frame

Observe the velocities of people, and clouds, the gathering mist
How leaves shake with distinct rhythms on a chestnut or 
A poplar
The Zitterpappel shivers

A single golden hair from my daughter’s soft head
Hanging on the edge of the shoulder of my shrug
Reminds me of the excitement of small children
As sunshine sieves through leaves
Cold air descending

Come and sit with me, under this tree
Imagine this fertile void
Create an empty space
Take your time

Hang time up in the air
Like a jacket

[a London Fields morning poem, Thurs 19th June 2014]

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I Came Back to Write This Note for You

It’s been about four and a half years since I ventured down the rabbit hole. Haven’t quite reached the bottom yet, but starting to get a sense of the spaces I’m moving through. There’s a loosening, an unfolding. One day perhaps I’ll emerge with some kind of a map of the warren.

Deepest thanks to the many people who don’t know that they’ve helped me grope my way through this darkness. Reading about and listening to their/your experiences has been like coming across an arrow or a friendly note scribbled on the tunnel wall: 
“Hello stranger. Funny place you’re in right now. Well I’ve been here too, and I found a way out. Your way out may not be the same way as mine; getting out may not even be the answer. But know that I was here and I got out, and that’s what matters, and I came back to write this note for those yet to pass through here. 
“If it helps, when it’s so dark you can’t even see the walls or whether the floor drops away to nothing right in front of you, remember that you are not the only one here. Although you cannot see their faces or hear their breathing, these tunnels are full of people searching for light and rest and life, just like you are. And in these tunnels are also people who’ve come back in to help guide others out, as they once were guided by a quiet stranger who asked for no thanks.”

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Fortune Wraps Us Together

Fortune Wraps Us Together

London, Monday 30th September 2013, lunchtime.


In Fortune Street Park,

The young city men

Exchange firm handshakes

Between the helter-skelter (sky blue) of the playground

(Grandma in a wheelchair, blue jeans)

And a spiral staircase that’s the heart

Of the school behind them.


Perhaps they haven’t noticed it, the school for children with

“Special Educational Needs” or

Physical disabilities

– Otherness –

Different physical characters

The spiral staircase is where the “special” and

“Non-special” children of the school

Come together to eat – compañere –

To break bread together.


Between sky blue helter-skelter and a spiral staircase,

Between green trees, under blue sky,

In blue suits and blue jeans,

Here in London.

Lunch, in Fortune Street Park.

We unwrap sandwiches, we munch

Wraps folded in waxed paper,

We break bread together, we share fortunes

– At least we live them wrapped together.


Wrap, fold, spiral, helter-skelter, young, old,

Green, blue, son, father.

Fortune brings us here,

Fortune wraps us together.


Pascale Scheurer


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How To Build a Startup.

1. Put down your pen, fold up your laptop, and think.

2. Think, read. Walk through the city, somewhere new. Think, build, test. Share, talk, tweak, test again. Share again.

3. Repeat until something starts pulling itself out of possibility and into reality. Hold the reins, now gently, now tight. As the thing pulls, let it pull.

4. When the pull builds to a force, when the force disturbs the air around it and attracts others, when others start running over and offering help, when children chase after it clapping and laughing, that’s the time to let it go, lay the logs in front of it and roll it down the hill, chase after it too, shouting as you go.


Stage 2 can take a very long time, even while you’re iterating fast, lean-style. It feels like endless failure, like being punched in the face a thousand times. It’s incredibly lonely. Sharing is hard, when most of what you’re sharing is not good enough, yet. But share you must, as sharing is nurture for the idea and for yourself. Holding on at Stage 3 is incredibly hard too, after all that time waiting. But it’s important to wait, to hold, to let the thing fill out, take its true shape and build its own momentum.

Let it pull itself out of possibility and into reality.

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Building a Brave New World

Award-winning writer Arundhati Roy’s most famous quotation is also one of the most beautiful and powerful statements of our time:

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

I like to pair it with one from another of my heroes, Buckminster Fuller:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Is it a coincidence that both trained as architects?  Coincidence or not, it makes perfect sense.  Whilst young and naïve, future architects look at the world around them, and the way people interact with each other and with artefacts in physical space, and say to themselves: “Another world is possible.  I will build it.”

More than that, the profession – the vocation – of architecture demands collaboration and holistic thinking.  It demands that we remain artists – creative, curious, challenging – whilst using existing technologies, engineering, science, economics and politics, as our tools.  “I will build it” becomes “I will help build it, we will build it together”.

Here at Intelligent Futures, we are architects and engineers.  We are unashamedly – perhaps naïvely or even arrogantly – committed to building a brave new world.  One which we hope will owe more to Arundhati Roy’s vision than Aldous Huxley’s.  Huxley warned us of techno-dystopia, as George Orwell did in Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Both, I am sure, did so in order to help us focus on building a different new world.  Perhaps not a techno-utopia, but something better than we have now, or than we will have if we fling up our hands and proclaim the search for progress futile.

If we wish to have a less dystopian future, we must build it together.  When we see the people working around us in innovation projects – as showcased on our website and at our events – we can hear the new world breathing.

Posted at http://www.IntelligentFutures.co.uk, 15th May 2013

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Reflection – Sat May 11th 2013 … 4.19am (Sun)


What:     Working on research for cool tools for SNA, biz ideas



Why do I not want to stop?

   Because I haven’t got there yet?

Where am I going?

   I don’t know but I haven’t got there yet

Will I know when I get there


Will I be able to sleep when I get there

   NNo, I will be too excited

Oh. No sleep till Brooklyn then


Remind me why I am doing this?

   What makes you think I know why?

Well here I am, doing it, it must have started somewhere

   Are you lost?

Am I lost?


How would I know?

   A bird is singing outside

Does there have to be a why?

   Are you happy?


   Is this work making you happier?

Yes. I think so.


Or maybe unhappier. I can’t remember.


I wish you were here.


Maybe I’m trying to build a bridge back to you.

   Back? Or forward?


   Away or towards?

Or maybe I’m drawing a picture of a door out, on the wall


Anaïs Nin on love and uncertainty, Richard Feynman on love of uncertainty.  The embrace of uncertainty.  The embrace of fear.  To stand and wait and do neither.  Neither reject, nor embrace, nor even entertain.  To set aside the question.  All questions.  To be, here, now, whatever and wherever that is. Wherever you are.  Wherever *you* are.  To be, not to build.  To build a different thing.  To build two different, small, charming, wayward things.  We’re building a different life together.  Just, I didn’t want a different life, I liked the old one, the one I had.  This one … it doesn’t feel right.  It doesn’t feel like it has space for me in it.  I feel pushed to the wall.  I turn round and draw the outline of a door on the wall.



I don’t know how to not be sad about it.


And here comes the dawn.

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Shine On You Crazy Diamonds – Why Social Entrepreneurs Burn Out, and How to Avoid It

For this article I am using my NOVA method for structure – Needs, Opportunities, Values, Actions – and I will assume the reader knows what a social entrepreneur is, and what it means to burn out.


N for Needs


The world needs social entrepreneurs who don’t burn out.


All around the world people face acute problems, and need AAA solutions (affordable, accessible & appropriate).  These problems need social enterprise – innovative solutions from pioneering minds tackling the big issues. Social entrepreneurs are focused on long-term impact, with a broad view of stakeholders, shared value, speed and scale. 


We need them, but there are not many of them around. This is because in addition to core professional skills, it takes a lot of insight and hands-on experience to build up sufficient contextual and relational knowledge. Adaptation and sensitivity are core requirements, which are rare skills when combined with a go-getting, competitive entrepreneurial spirit. Add to that the limited financial rewards and high risk profile. So we just don’t have that many people who can set up and lead these projects, and we can’t afford to lose them to burnout.


Time is another factor. It takes time and effort to get any project off the ground, especially with limited resources. Failure is not an option in the same way as with sugar-water startups – lives and livelihoods are impacted, the people involved have lower resources for resilience, so a greater degree of caution and risk management is needed. This makes for a slower flow, and adds a burden of responsibility to the project leader to stay in the game for a long time. Like authors and filmmakers, most social entrepreneurs deliver only a few good projects in their lifetime. So they need to become – and remain – as effective as possible.


Why is burnout a common issue for social entrepreneurs? Because they are passionate, committed, driven by complex inner needs (which may be conflicting or painful) and often highly sensitive. What makes a person see suffering in the world, feel empathy and commit themselves to help, also makes them vulnerable. Yes, compassion can make people strong and there are ways to build this inner strength, but it takes time. That 15-minute meditation to calm the spirit and settle the mind before bedtime, may make all the difference between endurance and burnout. It’s easy to prioritise the firefighting when things are tough. And things are often tough. The nature of the work is that it’s risky and uncharted. They’re jumping out of planes building parachutes on the way down, same as all entrepreneurs – but here there are lives at stake.




Many social entrepreneurs get used to throwing themselves body and soul into a campaign whilst at college – working crazy hours, 100% focused, with no other responsibilities. Once this becomes the baseline method for success, it is hard to reprioritize without feeling extremely guilty.


If later they choose to have children, they may wish to keep up the same level of commitment to the cause. It can feel even more imperative to do so. Those little eyes look up and penetrate the soul, and they ask themselves ever more fervently “Am I doing enough for you?”  They feel ever more acutely the pain of compassion for the mother cradling her baby in the makeshift hospital of a distant refugee camp. The urgent drum of climate change beats faster in their chest.


O for Opportunities

Tools to avoid burnout:

  1. Look at examples, talk to others – learn from others’ mistakes.
  2. Become realistic about how long projects take, and the s-curve of success.
  3. Take a step back / long view, reprioritize, play work-life balance bingo.
  4. Reflect – regularly. Learn how to do this.
  5. Monitor your time carefully and learn from it.
  6. Build your resilience, your networks, get a calming accountabilibuddy.
  7. Try to understand your motivations and patterns – not necessarily to change them but to become aware – try to see burnout coming.
  8. Rest – meditation, holidays, screen-breaks, aimless walks, a slow lunch.
  9. Occupy yourself – fluffy handcuffs, force yourself into corners, hack yourself, force-delegate.

10. Befriend yourself – give yourself a break from judgement at times, always give yourself a way out, embrace your massive ego (yep, you do).


V for Values

  1. Define them. Refine them. Try to be precise.
  2. Prioritise them.
  3. Whilst trying to help others, be kind to yourself too. Gentle. Generous.
  4. You need to enjoy your work to do it well – not everything, but generally.
  5. Communicate them to build a team around the project.


A for Actions

  1. It starts with 15 minutes. Just 15 minutes of reflection. Why you’re doing your project, how you got started, where you’re at now. Are you ticking along nicely, or getting close to burnout? You know the answer intuitively. If you ever say to yourself “I can’t spend 15 minutes on this today”, massive warning bells should be going off.
  2. Track your time for 24 hours. Note it down – everything you do, every 15 minutes. It takes time and it feels like a waste of time and it’s difficult. Accept you won’t want to do it. The reasons you busy yourself to the point of burnout are the same reasons you’ll be terrified to stop, breathe, think. Start with one day. Build up a good picture over two weeks. Don’t worry about gaps. The bald truth will emerge quite quickly. It will surprise you, even though you are currently convinced you know perfectly well what you do all day. This is the essential first step to holding yourself accountable for where you spend your precious time. Do it.
  3. Corner yourself. This is vitally important – your project can’t survive your burnout and what got you here won’t get you there. Make this your priority, over and above the daily firefighting. Reward yourself, or fine yourself – whatever works for you. Dedicate the next month to it, a minimum of 15 minutes a day. Two weeks to observe then two weeks to plan.
  4. Plan your exit. Imagine your project without you in the centre. Imagine yourself in a future project, having left this one humming along nicely. Think about yourself and your activities as if you were another employee or team member – in the third person.
  5. Get a mentor. Get a ruthless truth-teller to kick your ass. I’m very willing to offer the service, for an extortionate fee.


“The world needs you to write this post,” said a follower on twitter, when I first mooted the idea. Yes, the world needs social entrepreneurs. Effective, brilliant, resilient social entrepreneurs. Perhaps not ‘happy’ ones – happiness is overrated – but not suffering, crushed, ragged or bitter.


Don’t burn out.  Look after yourselves, and look out for each other.


Shine on, you crazy diamonds.


Pascale Scheurer, London, 25th April 2013.


Thank you to those who “unlocked” this post – i.e. saw the title on Twitter, clicked and asked me to write the article. 

If you are unclear what I mean or would welcome more specific guidance, just ask.

Equally if you know of useful relevant online resources, please let me know.

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