The secret to success

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Just show up. And keep showing up.

To the interview, the family gathering, the party, the networking event, the reunion… even when you feel like you’ve messed up, that people are judging you, that they will laugh, that you’ll feel awkward. Because people will surprise you, and at the end of the day showing up and giving it your all is all that matters.

Steve Jobs said: Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

That’s it. Just be there. Show up.

Do your best. Everyone else is winging it too. That’s okay.

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Does anyone have the answer?

keeplookingupI went to a careers workshop last weekend. It was a cheap informal event so I thought it might be a good chance to confirm my current career plans – and it did. My problem right now? Taking action.

Eight others were at the workshop, and most of them were close to twice my age yet are still struggling with finding purpose and meaning in their work. This worries me. Chatting to them they’d had varied career paths, and the lady leading the workshop had been an occupational therapist before moving into careers (and yoga). I love hearing people’s stories. Especially when they don’t make much logical sense and involve a bit of experimentation and risk-taking. They’re the best kinds of stories and the sort I’m trying to write for myself. But one story stood out to me. It’s a story I don’t want for myself.

Meet Tess. Aged 40ish. After leaving uni she temped, volunteered, travelled, trained as a teacher, realised this wasn’t for her, worked in a book shop, and now works as a teaching and library assistant in a school. She tells me she lies on application forms because her work experience is too bitty, and I’m guessing she missed lots out while speaking to me. She wants to travel and write alongside her day job but isn’t sure how to fund this. Money is a big issue for her.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this – Tess knows what she likes and just needs to work out the practicalities of making it happen. So why do I desperately not want a similar story in 20 years’ time? I don’t want a lack of money to prevent me from following my dreams and finding my meaning and purpose.

Let me introduce you to Kate, who I met a few months ago. In her 30s. After uni she did lots of temporary jobs, spent a year in Australia, taught English for a bit, and generally has a pretty chaotic CV like Tess. Kate is doing what she wants to be doing – experimenting. She’s created a website and is currently doing an illustration course. She knows she’s lucky. Her dad was an entrepreneur and she’s always had money – she currently rents out properties for an income.

There are two key differences that I can see between these stories. Kate doesn’t have to worry about money, Tess does, yet also, and I think more importantly, Kate isn’t ashamed of her rambling career path, whereas Tess seems to be less proud of her path. Is it about the money? I hope not. Anyone can save up and keep an eye on their spending, and Kate agrees we can live on much less income than we think we need.

smileworldI think it’s really all about the attitude. When Kate told me her life story she went into great detail, trying not to miss anything out, talking about where she’d worked and who she’d met along the way. The voluntary work she’s done and wants to do more of, the classes she goes to in the evenings. She isn’t ashamed of her lack of a career path. Tess on the other hand skimmed through what she sees as the most important things she’s done, brushing over everything else and seemingly viewing her unconventional path with much less pride and much more negativity.

Maybe there is no answer in the search for success. Maybe you just have to enjoy the journey.

Failure (and when to quit)

Quitting isn’t always failing. There are times when it really is the right and best thing to do. Working out whether the choice to quit is a logically or authentically good or bad one is the difficult part.

Scott Dinsmore, founder of Live Your Legend, created the Should I Quit My Job quiz. It’s great to get you thinking about your work and what it is (or isn’t) doing for you. My result was 105/130, but of course I knew it would be high, I’ve already quit.

Last week I went to watch a day of TEDx talks on the topic of failure. I learnt how government drug policies fail young people, how war is a failure of humanity caused by leaders who aren’t prepared to fail themselves, how universities are failing to teach medical students the importance of openly talking about their failures, how we’re failing by valuing protection over connection in our relationships.

Success-consists-ofBut I also learnt how we should embrace failure, share failure, open ourselves to the world of rejection, practice failing, and that failure is a sign that we’ve surpassed ourselves, that it’s just a process we go through to get to where we want to be, that we should just learn to fail a bit better next time around.

We’re taught that making mistakes is bad, that we should never make poor decisions, that we must always strive to get things right. Except that’s not teaching us resilience. That’s not teaching us how to learn and move forward. You’ve got to build failure into your plans, because it’s going to happen. You show up and you make your own choices, but you can’t control anything else, failure is just experience.

So I want to leave you with a little technique for accepting failure and moving on, something to help us fail fast and learn quick: The Failure Bow: Matt Smith at TEDx

Location, location, location

perfect-officeLocation has been a pretty big issue for me since finishing uni.

I loved my university town, not too big, not too small, close to the countryside and the sea, everything within walking distance and easy to travel anywhere by train. I’d have happily stayed had I felt in a position to. But with no job and huge uncertainty about the future, it seemed like madness to start renting there and force myself to find a part time job. I wanted the time and space to find the right job. Though I’ve since learnt there really is no ‘right’ job.

I moved back in with my mum. I don’t dislike my home town, it’s by the sea, it’s familiar and it wasn’t a bad place to be, just it’s a little too small, a little too close to the big city, and there’s no longer much there for me other than my family. I moved out once I had some money coming in and this was definitely a good choice – despite initially feeling little connection to my current city, as I get to know it and meet a few people it’s actually seeming like quite a nice place to be, at least for the time being.

I don’t feel quite ready to settle somewhere yet. I haven’t done the travelling/exploring thing, and I’d quite like to. Maybe then I could decide where I’d like to call home.

Rebecca’s post at Working Self really hit a chord with me, and then shortly after I came across Katie’s post at Ask the Young Professional offering similar advice. Both say the same thing: if you have just one true thing to hold on to, make it happen. If you know where you want to live, live there. And I think this applies to things other than location too.

If there’s something you find you keep coming back to, a dream that just won’t go away, no matter how hard you try to find an alternative to following it, then maybe that’s your one true thing to hold on to. Maybe that’s the thing you need to make happen. And it could just be that once you’ve made it happen everything else begins to fall into place too.

The best day of your life

The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own, no apologies, no excuses, no one to lean on, rely on, or blame. The gift is yours – it is an amazing journey – and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. – Bob Moawad

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Coping with uncertainty

I wrote this blog a good few weeks ago now, but it’s sat in drafts until I’ve plucked up the courage to post it. Here goes.

So I said I was going to keep this impersonal until I was sorted. I’m not quite – actually I’m nowhere near – sorted but thought I’d share anyway, after all, it’s likely to be a long journey and this blog’s meant to be about me sharing my experiences, however uncomfortable they might be at times. And things are pretty uncomfortable right now.

I did resign from my job, 4ish weeks ago now. And I finished yesterday. I’m excited about the possibilities and opportunities, accepting of the fact I may well have to take an ‘it pays the bills’ job for a while, but also just a little bit terrified that I won’t be able to maintain my wavering levels of positivity. I still haven’t decided whether it was a ‘bad’ or ‘good’ choice, I have ups and downs, but that’s irrelevant now.

I left, two months earlier than planned, for a number of reasons:

  1. Waiting for another job first (the ‘sensible’ thing to do) would mean continuing to feel completely inauthentic, and even dishonest – I felt so much relief in simply telling my boss that I don’t want to be there and it’s not for me.
  2. I had a very honest conversation with my boss, which highlighted how misaligned the opportunities for growth at the company are with how I want to grow professionally and personally.
  3. While some people could say I made a rash and very much emotionally driven choice (I wouldn’t argue with you on the emotion front, but I do know it was from an authentic place), I want to be the person who takes risks, the person who is proactive and makes things happen.

I really struggled with this decision after I’d first made it. While some people lose their jobs, are made redundant, and face difficult circumstances that are completely out of their hands, I actively made this choice. This was all down to me – there’s nowhere to hide.

And in that moment I had a choice to make. To depair, to cry, to beg to keep my job after all, to grab the first menial job I could get my hands on, to explain my decision to others warily and with doubt. Or to embrace that choice. To share it with enthusiasm and happiness, to remain calm in the knowledge I have enough savings to give me time to work this out, to keep smiling, keep meeting people, to stay positive.

If I could go back to that day I spoke to my boss, would I change the conversation? Would I hold back? Would I let logic and expectation and ‘sensible’ hold me back? Or would I hold on to my authenticity, my self-respect and faith that I can make this work?

So what can I share from this experience? Well here’s how I’ve stayed positive despite overwhelming uncertainty:

  • Great quotes and inspirational TED talks. My personal favourite is Steve Jobs’ commencement speech, and I continue to read some of these quotes every single day. But a new quote I’m particularly fond of is: Above all, be true to yourself, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it. – Hardy D Jackson.
  • Music. I never used to listen to music at work. An office culture of headphones and skype/email conversations with colleagues is my idea of hell, but knowing I was leaving I gave up trying to fight it. For my last weeks of repetitive routine tasks, I used music as a distraction and focus to get me through. And it did a pretty good job.
  • Meeting people. During this period of uncertainty there have been times when I’ve felt like I couldn’t face anyone for fear of disapproval. But instead of sitting at home in despair (as I might well have done in similar situations in the past), I’ve dragged myself out. I’ve spent time with friends, family, complete strangers, recent acquaintances. And I’ve been open and enthusiastic with as many of these as I feel I can. I’ve found that most of the time, if you speak with enthusiasm and conviction, that’s exactly what people around you will reflect back. How great is that?

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Staying focussed

And now another little book review…

The quest for fulfilling work

fulfillingworkbook(How to find fulfilling work, by Roman Krznaric)

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labour and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both. – François-René de Chateaubriand, French writer

Love this quote. This is exactly what I’m aiming for in life.

I appreciate it’s a pretty hefty goal, but one that I think’s worth working towards.

This might not be a life changing book, but there are some good little lessons in it. The conclusion talks about growing a vocation, rather than finding one. Roman says that the three key factors for fulfilling work are:

  1. Meaning – to be fulfilling your work has to have meaning for you, you have to believe in what you’re doing every day
  2. Flow – that state where you’re so engrossed in your work that time just flies by. It’s never going to feel that easy all day every day, but a bit of flow during parts of your work is definitely important
  3. Freedom – no-one wants to feel boxed in by rules and routine, there’s got to be some flexibility

Roman goes on to say that the way to find a career that fulfills the above three factors is to carry out:

  • Branching projects – like writing a blog alongside your day job, freelancing on the side or starting a small scale business that you run evenings and weekends
  • Conversational research – a personal favourite technique (if you ever meet me you can guarantee I’ll be asking for your full career history and the pros and cons of every job you’ve ever had!)
  • Radical sabbatical – I particularly like this last one, but it is difficult to put into action for most people. Going part time while carrying out work experience/ shadowing/ informational interviews/ voluntary work could be the most plausible path

There are great fulfilling jobs out there, it just takes a bit of experimentation to find them.