Things can change if you want them to, at any age. Life changes every single moment, and so can you.
Last week I received three emails with the exact same subject line – “Turning My Life Around” – from three differentcoaching/course students. This synchronicity certainly caught my attention. Each of these student’s emails went into detail about their life situation and danced around the same fundamental theme and question:
“I don’t know what I want to do with my future, but I want to be successful… So what should I do?”
Obviously a sweeping, open-ended question like this is difficult to answer. But here’s my attempt to answer it for all of us – a short list of five timeless principles and strategies Angel and I live by – a list worth working on regardless of your age or what you decide to do with the rest of your life:
1. Focus a little less on the future, and a little more on the present.
Yes, it’s healthy to plan for the future, but not at the full expense of today. The truth is no matter how smart you are or how hard you try, you can’t accurately figure out the future. Even people who have a systematic plan (steps to be a doctor, steps to be a successful entrepreneur, etc.) don’t actually know what will happen down the road. And if they have any certainty at all, they’re a bit naive.
Life rarely goes as planned. For every person that succeeds in doing exactly what they set out to do in the exact time frame they set out to do it in, there are dozens of others who start strong and get derailed. And if this happens to you, it isn’t a bad thing. New obstacles and opportunities may come along to shift your perspective, to strengthen your resolve, or to change your direction for the better. The destination you fall in love with someday may not even exist today. For example, just a few short years ago the esteemed career paths of working at Google, Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist.
One of the best ways to begin with all of this, I think, is to build something small in your free time. Most people fritter their free time away on things that don’t matter, like TV, video games, social media, etc. A year of that and you have absolutely zero to show for it. But if you painted every day, or practiced your web design skills, or wrote on a blog, or updated and perfected a video channel on YouTube, or started building a side business/passion project, or spent more time networking with the right people… at the end of a year you’ll have built something. And you’ll have some great life experiences too – experiences you can point to and say, “I built that, and I learned this,” which, sadly, most people can’t do.
Also, it’s important to mention that although it may seem easier for younger people to do these things, it’s 100% possible for all of us to take small steps in the right direction, day in and day out, for the rest of our lives.
2. Focus more on the journey.
The most prolific and beneficial experience is not in achieving something you want, but in seeking it. It’s the journey towards an endless horizon that matters – goals that move forward with you as you chase them. It’s all about the pursuit and what you learn along the way – the “moving.”
The most important reason for moving from one place to another is to see what’s in between. In between is where passions are realized, love is found, strength is gained, and memories are made. You can’t get any of that without firsthand living.
In other words, the right journey is the destination. (Read The War of Art.)
3. Do hard things.
If you want to stunt your growth and feel stuck in the same place forever, make excuses. If, on the other hand, you want to stop feeling trapped, do things that make you uncomfortable – things you aren’t very good at. There’s no excuse for remaining stuck. There’s no excuse for making the same exact mistakes over and over again. Life is too short. You’ve got to stretch your boundaries and break free.
One of the most important skills you can develop in life is being OK with some level of discomfort. Because the best things are often hard to come by, and if you shy away from difficulty and discomfort, you’ll miss out on them.
Mastering a new skill is hard. Building a business is hard. Writing a book is hard. A marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Staying in shape is hard. All are amazing and worth every bit of effort you can muster.
How do you get good at this? Purposefully do things today that are uncomfortable, and start in small doses. Try exercising for ten minutes, even if it’s hard, and repeat this practice every day for a month before increasing your exercise duration by even the slightest margin. Try journaling or meditating every day for ten minutes. When you find yourself avoiding discomfort or procrastinating, push yourself just a little bit more, but don’t do more than ten minutes. It’s all about starting small and building a daily ritual that gradually strengthens your mind and body, and allows you to do (larger) hard things effortlessly in the long run.
4. Embrace uncertainty.
A related skill to “doing hard things” is thriving in uncertainty. Starting a business, for example, is a remarkable thing to do, but if you’re scared of uncertainty you’ll skip it. You can’t possibly know exactly how things will turn out, and so if you need to know how things will turn out, you’ll avoid life-changing opportunities, projects, career moves, relationships, etc.
But if you can be OK with not knowing, you’ll open yourself up to an endless pool of possibilities. But of course they won’t come easy…
Sometimes you will not be able to see where you are going; every step will seem uncertain. But know that as long as you follow your intuition and take baby steps, your soul’s inner GPS will guide you home. You will find that you will be the right person, at the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing on point. Trust your instincts. Relax. You know what to do. Living is about learning as you go.
And remember, living is risky business. Every decision, every interaction, every step, every time you get out of bed in the morning, you take a small risk. To truly live is to know you’re getting up and taking that risk, and to trust yourself to take it. To not get out of bed, clutching to illusions of safety, is to die slowly without ever having truly lived.
If you simply ignore your feelings and let uncertainty win, you will never know anything for sure, and in many ways this unknowing will be worse than finding out your hunch was wrong. Because if you were wrong, you could make adjustments and carry on with your life without ever looking back and wondering what might have been.
Bottom line: When you get good at handling discomfort and uncertainty, you can do all kinds of remarkable things that seem impossible now: travel the world and live frugally while blogging about it, write a book, start a small profitable business, relocate to a new city, learn to play a musical instrument, take a job with a startup you admire, travel to “bucket list locations” with your family, and much more. All of these ideas can be achieved in a relatively short time, but you have to be OK with discomfort and uncertainty, and you have to start sooner rather than later.
5. Build and nurture quality relationships.
There are right people and wrong people for you. There are fake people and then there are those who are true friends and sincere companions on the path. There are people who take the heart out of you, and those who put it back. You have a choice of who to spend time with. True friends (personal or professional) have an honest heart and will go out of their way to help you when you need it most. Stick with the people who never let you down and keep their promises. You can’t fake that.
Truthfully, if your time and energy is misspent on the wrong relationships (personal or professional), or on too many activities that force you to neglect your good relationships, you can end up in a tedious cycle of fleeting friendships, superficial romances that are as thrilling as they are meaningless, and a general sense of wondering why you always seem to be running in place, chasing affection and admiration.
How do you build healthy, lasting personal and professional relationships? How do you find friends that lift you higher? How do you meet a significant other that belongs at your family reunions?
As this topic relates to professional success… Talk to lots of people every day, even if it feels uncomfortable. Bosses. Colleagues. Employees. Professors. Classmates. Social club members. Neighbors. Friends. Friends of friends. Everyone! Why? Networking…
I have worked for three employers since I graduated from college (I left all three employers by choice and on good terms, and eventually started my own business), but I only interviewed with the first employer. The other two employers offered me jobs, before I even had a formal interview, based strictly on the recommendation of a hiring manager (someone I had networked with over the years). When employers look to fill a position the first thing they often do is ask the people they trust if they know someone who would do well in the position.
If you start building your network today, you’ll be set in the years ahead. Over time, you’ll continue talking to new people you meet through your current network and your network’s reach and the associated opportunities will continue to snowball for the duration of your life.
Again, this may seem easier for young people, but it’s possible for all of us. It just takes effort.
The underlying key is to be trustworthy in your relationships. When someone gives someone an employment/business opportunity, the biggest fear is that this person is not trustworthy – that they’ll slack off and try to cheat the system. Someone who has established a positive reputation over the years will likely be more trusted, and more likely to be recommended. Learn to be trustworthy by being honest, admitting mistakes and fixing them, and generally going above and beyond the call of duty in your personal and professional relationships whenever you’re able.
If you adhere to this, you’ll build a good reputation and people will appreciate and endorse you, which is the best way to get a job, a business investor, or another good friend.
If you follow the principles discussed above, you’ll be remarkable. You’ll be way, way ahead of most other people (even though you’re not competing with them). And opportunities will gradually come your way: job opportunities, a chance to build something special with someone, an idea for a business that you can build yourself, a new skill to learn and grow from, etc.
Of course, you can put all this off and take an easier, familiar path that keeps you hiking in circles…
Or you can start down a new path today, turn your life around, and see what the rest of it has to offer you.