I love what I do but came to it by chance and wasted a lot of time on things that ultimately I didn’t want. I have lived a thousand lifetimes in my head as an actor, writer, scuba diving instructor, hotel magnate, pilot, croupier, sailor, army hero and humanitarian saviour. I have even made significant steps towards these ends but somehow ended up teaching people how to use databases.
As they say, if you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there but with time getting shorter and more people relying on me I want to make sure I know where I am going even if I don’t know how to get there. Much of the wonky road I took was because I didn’t have a realistic vision of:
- What I wanted,
- What I had, or
- What could stop me
What I want – Journey’s End
Starting with the end in mind is a great idea but I have often been too specific in what I want rather than why I want it. I wanted to be a scuba diving instructor in a tropical location. As I started to train and become involved in the daily work of a scuba instructor I found that what I really wanted was to travel to exotic locations and visit surreal environments. It turned out that becoming a scuba instructor was the wrong strategy for me to do that.
At the time I felt like I had failed as a scuba instructor rather than discontinued an expensive, inefficient strategy for living in an exciting, tropical location with time to explore surreal environments. I achieved that goal by moving to Sydney with a company I was already working with and scuba diving for fun rather than work.
Simon Sinek talks about the importance of starting with ‘why’ which makes you think in a different way to starting with ‘what’ and is much more inspiring when you explain it to people. He uses the golden circle to illustrate it:
Starting with ‘what’:
I will become a scuba diving instructor (what) by studying with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (how) because I love exploring surreal environments in exotic locations it just blows my mind which makes me happy (why).
Starting with ‘why’:
I like having my mind blown (why) by visiting surreal environments in exotic locations (how) I want to become a scuba instructor (what).
My focus is different ways of having my mind blown rather than different ways I can become a scuba instructor which feels like a better priority.
What I have – If I was going there I wouldn’t start from here
Even if you know where you want to go there is plenty that can stop you particularly a natural human belief in unworthiness or powerlessness. Robert Fritz calls this structural conflict which everybody feels but it also drives creative tension pulling you towards your vision the two forces act like two elastic bands pulling you in different directions:
For me recognising it is natural to feel impostor syndrome or powerless against impossible odds helps me through the tough times of self doubt.
What can stop me
When wrestling with self doubt and unworthiness you should use the power of the creative tension pulling you towards your goal however I have often used these misguided strategies that Fritz outlines instead:
1. The Titanic approach – full speed ahead and fxxk the icebergs
This strategy is using the force of your will to achieve things regardless of the consequences. I have wanted to move back to the UK for a couple of years and started the process just before COVID hit. When it did I didn’t let it dissuade me, when I got no replies from job applications I carried on and my wife gave up an excellent job.
We burned through a large chunk of our savings, my kids had behavioural issues as we moved them through several schools and my wife’s sleep and sanity have been severely tested by the stress of the move. Was it worth it for a somewhat arbitrary goal that I wanted to be back in the UK within the next 5 years to be closer to the rest of my ageing family?
I knew it would be hard but thought a little short term pain was worth it for a long term gain. My belief in the goal blinded me from discussing the impact on my family with an open mind. It is really tempting for me to say that the ends justified the means but that belittles the struggle of my family, if in a year’s time I have still achieved my goal but I am divorced and my kids hate me then the goal, the self confidence and the why means nothing.
2. Animal farm approach – all animals are equal but some are more equal than others
Like George Orwell’s pigs in Animal Farm this strategy is about eroding the dream so it is easier to achieve or has already been achieved but not acknowledging that is what you have done. In many ways this is bringing the goal to you rather than reaching the goal.
3. Conflict manipulation
Instead of reaching the goal you are pulling away from the fear of failure. This can be effective for a while but the best that can happen is that you don’t fail rather than succeeding. Not failing is ok but not very inspiring.
In the past, I have overestimated what can be achieved in the short run and underestimated what is possible in the long run by using creative tension to pull me to my goal. I have either catapulted myself at my goal regardless of the consequences, pulled the goal closer to my current reality or pushed hard away from a negative that I didn’t want to happen. Hopefully this reflection will help me move closer to where I want to be in a more direct if not faster way.
Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action | TED Talk
The Fifth Discipline – Peter Senge
The path of least resistance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trhkNnigc3o