Morgwn Rimel is the Director of The School of Life: a London-based organization that teaches you everything school doesn’t—which is to say, everything important. Offering programs such as How to Get a Job You Love and How to Choose a Partner, The School of Life focuses on how to live wisely and well. These are Morgwn’s insights into what that means, and the lessons she’s learned in figuring it out for herself.
“While life must be lived and learned, our view at The School of Life is that we can guide people through it in a constructive way. Traditional self-help often has a one-size-fits-all band-aid approach, offering a quick hit of inspiration that leaves you hanging. It’s badly packaged and considered a bit pseudo-spiritual or pseudo-scientific. The difference with what we do at the school is that we’re drawing from enduring ideas and insights that are often thousands of years old. There’s a real rigor and depth to the material we’re referencing in terms of cultural content—we think about the wisdom, not just the latest fad. Our skill is in translating things that can feel quite academic or esoteric in a way that’s relevant to modern lifestyles.
There’s a lot of inspirational material out there, but there’s a difference between being inspired and changing habits.
Personally, I’ve found that little things accumulating over time lead to more focused behavior. I know if I try to make a massive change—like deciding I’m going to get up at 6:30 every day and eat perfectly and follow a ton of rules—by day two I will fail, because my goal was too big and unrealistic. Smaller goals allow you to build on what you accomplish. They give you a sense of progress which allows you to take on more ambitious tasks.
There have been about 80,000 people who have come through the school since its launch, and I’ve definitely gotten a feel for what people struggle with the most. This broadly concerns questions about love and work: having stable and fulfilling relationships is a huge part of finding happiness, and the other part is what you do with your time. The school opened in 2008, right around the financial crisis in London. It was interesting to see the reappraising of what was truly important to people. It became less about material culture and success in the eyes of others, and more about, ‘What can I do to nurture my relationships?’ Or, ‘I don’t want to be working crazy hours in a job I don’t love anymore.’ We talk a lot about owning your choices. It takes courage to go down a path that differs from what you’ve always done, and fear is a common obstacle. Personally, fear is the one thing that has held me back.
It’s like that quote from the movie Dune: ‘Fear is the mind-killer.’
It truly is. It shuts down all the possibilities in your life. But if you can have a healthier relationship with it, fear can become a motivating factor. People talk about stress as a negative, but it can actually be a major positive. It can get you off your butt and doing something. It’s a bit like skydiving: you’re looking out of the plane thinking, this is the most terrifying and the most exciting thing ever. There’s a really fine line between which direction you go in. Fear is often less immediate and visceral in day-to-day life, but underpins a lot of things for people. It can be a gentle fear that manifests as self-doubt or a niggling anxiety. We need a lot of support in reframing that and learning how to rewrite the script we have about ourselves. We also need to recognize the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion. Something I’ve learned is that self-compassion is always available to you.
Everyone deserves compassion, including yourself, regardless of whether you’ve succeeded or failed.
We need to focus less on evaluating our self-worth based on what we’ve achieved and more on extending unconditional love and care. It’s far more important to cultivate that kind of relationship with yourself, as opposed to constantly measuring your value based on external factors.
Those external measures have become a lot more visible in society. Everything being documented and shared and liked—it definitely feeds the esteem machine. On the one hand, social media opens up your world, and on the other hand it makes things visible which previously you would have only imagined. Previously you might have thought, my life is great, because you had nothing to compare it to. But now your Instagram or Facebook feed is showing you all of the amazing things you’re not doing. You’re either creating a version of yourself that looks good enough to share, or you’re feeling inferior for not keeping up, or you’re taking this quasi-political ‘Well, I’m not participating in that at all!’ stance, which is equally unhelpful. You need to be able to see all of that for what it is and step back from it, and find a deeper sense of who you are. You could say that relates to knowing your values, but I think people dress up what values actually are. They can be big and abstract and can lose their meaning in that way.
Values sound nice but there’s something a bit grittier to the reality of them.
I think they’re a question of greater self-awareness, being real about who you are and what that means, and having courage to be honest with other people about that. I think you should be engaged with that process throughout the course of your life, constantly reflecting and evolving.”
As told to Amy Woodside, September 2015