Does everybody else do things the hard way too?

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:

  1. What I wanted,
  2. What I had, or
  3. 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:

Golden Circle Simon Sinek
https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

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:

Peter Senge – the Fifth Discipline

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.

Conclusion

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.

References

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

How I started my third career after redundancy

Three months ago, I got made redundant. I decided to start my third career after looking at lots of job sites where the job titles are getting much more imaginative:

  • Canva has a head of vibe
  • WordPress has happiness engineers
  • And Atlassian need someone to manage their Brainery (a craft education platform)

I feel I have led a sheltered life having never worked for a company with a ‘wellness modality facilitator’ and my experience as a ‘ying and yang deficiency class trainer’ is nil (real adverts). After reading some blogs about career changing, a self-proclaimed ‘people scientist’ advised that:

“The best way to predict the future is to create it”

Which makes sense even if it is easier said than done. It got me thinking about first principles; looking at things from that perspective, much of what I strived for in previous careers satisfied my wants and not my needs.

In my twenties I had 15 jobs in 8 years, started my own, successful company and lived in 3 different countries. In my thirties I moved to the other side of the world, got a wife, mortgage, 2 kids, ran 2 marathons and lost a fortune in stocks and shares during the global financial crisis. This is the meta data of my life and represents the things I have done that I value.

I read a great quote about happiness:

“Happiness is not having what you want but wanting what you have”

All humans have basic needs, the psychologist Abraham Maslow in his theory of motivation identifies 3 main types of need:

  1. Basic needs – Eg food, water, shelter, safety
  2. Psychological needs – Eg relationships, respect, self-esteem
  3. Self-actualisation needs – Eg reaching for my full potential

Motivation increases as our basic needs start being met, then, as our psychological needs are met we have capacity to reach our full potential. Conversely if we have all our basic and psychological needs met but we are not striving to reach our full potential then motivation decreases.

Motivation, grit or whatever you want to call it is what drives successful lives (not necessarily careers). There is a lot of talk of pivoting and career changing which I don’t think is the right way to think about it. I am not really pivoting; I am continuing to satisfy my human needs but have changed the method for doing that.

Going forward the relentless pursuit of my needs is going to be the driving force in my life. It sounds very selfish but until you learn to help yourself you cannot help anyone else. I will not be using salary or how much other people have as benchmarks for my life anymore. These are the 3 areas I will focus on:

1. Basic needs

How much do I need each month to cover, housing, food, water, health and education for my family and I?

I now know how long my redundancy payout will last; how will I pay these costs going forward?

How many clients, jobs or side hustles will it take to create that income?

Once I start earning, I need to put 10% of everything aside as savings for retirement or crises (as per the ancient wisdom of “The Richest Man in Babylon”), everything above that can be spent on my other two needs:

2. Strong relationships

My relationships with family, friends and mentors are vital to me and something that I have really neglected in my previous 2 careers.

The Gottman Institute has done extensive research on relationships. Their research revealed a “magic ratio” of 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.

Whilst counting interactions with your nearest and dearest seems a little weird I am mindful that the ratio is much higher than I thought, and I know I was not achieving it even without counting. I am now showing intentional appreciation for things that I have previously taken for granted. There are lots of good ideas here on the Gottman Institute blog to extend this further:      

The research is aimed at marriages, but we can all be more positive with everybody we deal with. I am also extending my mentorship network by actively seeking out people that can help me and who I can help.

3. Reaching my full potential

Before redundancy I was doing a lot of work that was easy to do and paid well but was not developing me in anyway. My motivation was down, and in some ways, it was lucky I got made redundant because if it had carried on, I would have started doing bad work – perhaps I was already.

For my third career I am trying to reach my full potential, be someone that my kids can be proud of. In the past things that have stretched me and that can be measured fall into these categories:

  1. Creating something new – how many new things did you create today or this month?
  2. Helping someone – how many people did you help today?
  3. Learning something – how many relevant things did you learn today?
  4. Pushing physical limits – is your 10k run time improving?

My first career ended with the Global Financial Crisis. What annoys me most about losing two thirds of my wealth is not that I was given bad advice or that capitalism is broken or the stupidity of the investment bankers.

I regret putting so much money into boring investments, that even if they had been successful would only satisfied part of my human needs as defined above. If I had taken everybody I love away for an expenses paid holiday for a year and then learned how to fly helicopters, I would be in a much better position than I am now. Instead I worked hard and saw my money disappear for no return.

My second career ended with COVID. I was a face to face trainer, by honing that skill I neglected others like eLearning that have since become more relevant.

My third career starts with the knowledge that ‘black swans’ like the GFC and COVID are inevitable but they do pass, life has thus far has always prevailed. The trick is coming out the other side of a crisis with something meaningful.