The secret to success

inaction-breeds-doubt

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.

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.

A year today

I’ve now been writing this blog for exactly one year. And a lot has changed.

paperlink-made-with-love-anniversaryOne year ago I hadn’t long graduated, I had one unpaid internship, some odd bits of work experience and a little freelance writing work under my belt. I’d done some useful and interesting voluntary stuff at uni, but it was a struggle to get onto the right career ladder (in fact you could say I gave up on working out and waiting for the right career ladder in the end).  Now here I am, another unpaid internship, waitressing work, a few other bits and pieces and one cruddy proper job later and I can’t say I’m overly happy with my progress on the job/CV front.

On the vision front, however, I’ve done much better. One year ago I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I’d put two and two together and made five, ending up in completely the wrong work for me, but three months of career coaching, a lot of informational interviewing and a ton of research later, I’m actually pretty sure I’ve worked out what really matters to me.

The hard part is going to be turning this vision into reality.

On a more personal level there have also been some big changes – friends and family moving away, moving back home and then out again to a new city, challenging my own ideals and assumptions. I’ve got a lot more work to do figuring things out but I’ve proven I can handle difficulties and I know I’ve got some good people around me. I’ve learnt how to cope with uncertainty and uncomfortable situations, how to motivate and encourage myself, and the importance of just showing up (a topic I plan to cover in another post soon).

Has it been a good year? Sadly I’m hesitant to say yes. Have there been some good moments? Of course! Is next year going to be better? I’ve a pretty good feeling it might be.

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.

Being vulnerable is hard

I recently read Daring Greatly, and it’s central message is so powerful: We all need to learn to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, and actually properly, openly talk about things. Effective and open communication is so important and something I value really highly. I’ve been in my job 6 months and still haven’t had any kind of progress meeting with my boss, who barely gives me any feedback on my work. No wonder I’m so disengaged and spend close to half my time surfing the web (this is definitely not something I’m proud of).

daringgreatlyDare to enter the arena

(Daring greatly, by Brené Brown)

There’s so much great stuff in this book so I’m just going to pick out a few of the many points that really stood out to me. Essentially it’s a study of shame and vulnerability, and well worth a read.

Vulnerability hangovers – oh how I can relate to these! When you have a really honest and open conversation with someone, then sometime later completely regret opening up. “What was I thinking?” “What will they think of me?” “I can’t ever take that back!”

The contradiction – As Brené says, we love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us. “Vulnerability is courage in you but inadequacy in me. I’m drawn to your vulnerability but repelled by mine.

Defining shame – Guilt = I did something bad. Humiliation = I didn’t deserve that. Embarrassment = collective emotion that will pass. Shame = I am bad/ I am unworthy. Shame’s the one we have to watch.

Brené’s prayer before anything important:

Give me the courage to show up and let myself be seen.

I haven’t been very good at vulnerability in the past, but I want to change that. Being vulnerable isn’t easy. It’s really difficult and not at all comfortable. But it’s worth it.

You’re only lost when you run out of petrol

road-trip3-edit

I read that quote on my old university’s alumni Facebook page – a past student had added it to the end of a little piece of advice to this year’s graduates. As long as you have the hope and motivation – the petrol – to keep going, to keep searching, then you’re never truly lost, or at least not permanently lost.

I enjoy driving, and I’m not the sort of person who worries too much about planning a route before heading to a new destination. A quick look on Google Maps, memorise or scribble down the roads, then off I go with about 10 minutes added to the journey time just in case I should get lost (which of course is highly unlikely).

But, inevitably, I do get lost. First I continue to drive, I turn around, thinking I’ve missed a turning, or keep going hoping it must still be ahead. Then I finally give in, pull over and get out a map. Except now I’m watching the clock worried I’m going to be late, so it’s a glance, guesstimate of location and how to get back on track, then I’m off again, full speed ahead. But my hurry often means the journey takes longer than necessary, when I miss the turning again, get in the wrong lane at the lights, or realise I wasn’t quite where I thought I was…

Wow. The more I think about it the more this feels like a perfect analogy for my career (or lack of it).

It’s funny because right now what I want more than anything is to quit my job and never go back. And in order to do that I need to find a new job. Except despite my extreme desire to resign (which increases every day I go into work), somehow I’m not in a hurry to make a decision and grab hold of another job. I want to make sure my next choice is the right one for me – not me pretending to be sorted, me pretending I’ve found something different when it’s actually just a variation of what I currently do and dislike, but me knowing that I’ve thought about my next move, planned it and made sure that this time it’s different. This time I’m taking a very good look at the map.

lost.Because when you’re pulled over at the side of the road, you might still be in the wrong place, and not all that happy to be there, but it’s worth taking that extra time to make sure that when you head back on the road to take a different turning, you’re taking the right road – the one that’s going to get you to where you want to be, not another dead end.

And something else to remember: dreams are journeys, not destinations. As soon as you take one tiny little step towards a dream you’re already living it. You’re already no longer lost. I came across a great post about this by Paul Angone: The big lie about your dream.

So I may feel pretty lost right now, but I’ve definitely got the energy and motivation to get moving, and becoming un-lost could just be a matter of one or two tiny little steps in the right direction. It’s all about taking a good look at the map before getting started.

Without a plan

goalplanwishThey say that if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re unlikely to get there. That’s pretty much how I feel right now: lacking a plan.

Now I’m not saying  that I and all other 20-somethings need a detailed life plan to get anywhere. Not at all. But I do feel that I need at least an outline of a plan, because right now I’m a little bit stuck, and no matter how small the step, I’d like to feel like I’m moving in the right direction.

I can’t help but feel like I’m heading down the wrong path, but I’m struggling to see a different route. I want to do a u-turn; start afresh. Try something new and different. Take some risks.

But I am taking action and enlisting help, so there will be lots of planning ahead.

First new thing to try? Morning pages. That’s three pages of writing anything that comes into your head, first thing in the morning. (Great explanation of the potential benefits here: 5 reasons why you should start writing morning pages – right now!). 

This isn’t so much planning, more an attempt to clarify my thoughts so I’m able to make some kind of clear and authentic plan in the near future. It might be a long journey to create and shape a good path, but I want to be achieving goals, not just hoping for the best, and that isn’t going to happen without a plan.

The book I needed to read

So looking at my last two posts they’ve been pretty negative. Overly negative. My job situation could be a heck of a lot worse and my colleagues are nice enough really. I’m just frustrated at my current situation and feel so far away from where I want to be.

I first heard about Paul Angone’s book over at StuffGradsLike, then shortly after came across it again at Working Self. With these great reviews I thought it sounded like a pretty good read, but it exceeded my expectations.

I finished it in two sittings (would’ve got through it in one if it wasn’t so late and I wasn’t so tired when I started!). It was such a page turner and just felt so completely relevant to where I am in my life right now. Parts were genuinely funny, and others led to reflection and thinking about things in my own life. It just made me feel so much more positive, and much less alone.

secret#2101 secrets for your twenties

by Paul Angone of AllGroanUp

The great thing about this book is the balance between optimism and realism. Yes your twenties might be hard, and you’re not on your own in feeling like this, but that doesn’t mean you should settle for a mediocre life. You can follow your dreams, it just might not be within the time frame you’d like (secret #19 Our plans aren’t the problem. Our timeline is).

My personal favourite secret is #2 The possibility for greatness and embarrassment both exist in the same space. If you’re not willing to be embarrassed, you’re probably not willing to be great. I fear embarrassment, but I know it’s something that I have to overcome if I’m going to take risks and achieve anything great in my life.

There’s so much good advice packed into this book, yet it never feels like Paul is telling you what you should or shouldn’t be doing. If you’re in your twenties (or even if not!) and feeling a little lost and confused, do get hold of a copy. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Overcoming the greatest fear

I’ve just finished reading a book on appreciating life, written by a man facing death.

Death is scary. It means change, loss, finality, the unknown.

But the main point the author makes is that until you face and accept your own mortality, you can never fully live.

enjoyeverysandwichLife is an adventure; death is unknown

(Enjoy every sandwich, living each day as if it were your last – by Lee Lipsenthal)

Lee says that he got to a point in his life that any day would be a good day to die. He was happy, fulfilled and peaceful, despite having terminal cancer. He clearly embraced life and got past the fear of death.

Three things I take away from his story:

  • Gratitude is the ultimate expression of hope

When we start to recognise and appreciate things – even the little things in a life that doesn’t seem to be going to plan – we begin to look for more good things and think more positively, according to Lee. His advice? Every night write down 3 things that you are grateful for that happened that day – from a good meal to a great joke, or simply a smile from a stranger. After a few weeks you’ll find yourself actively looking for things during the day to write down later. I’m going to start doing this.

  • Not everyone values science over spirituality

Lee was both scientific – he studied medicine and worked as a doctor, and spiritual – he practiced meditation and was a great believer in things greater than those we understand. I feel that too often people refuse to believe that science and spiritually can exist in harmony. For me, science is the how, spiritually is the why. Science can never explain why, just as spiritually can’t explain how. It’s refreshing to hear from someone scientifically knowledgeable, yet open to so much more than the narrow scientific view of life.

  • The ‘one-self’ – the world is a bigger place

The chapter that refers to this immediately reminded me of a post by Raimy over at Creative Guru: If I’m not who I think I am then who the hell am I? Lee talks about how the body can’t define the self due to its constant changing, and due to the fact that we are more than our component parts. He describes an exercise where you repeat the following to yourself:

I have a body, but I am not my body

I have feelings, but I am not my feelings

I have desires, but I am not my desires

I have thoughts, but I am not my thoughts

I am the self, the centre of consciousness

I really struggle with this concept, but it fascinates me.

inspiration2The desire to change has to be greater than the fear of change to move forward. It’s pretty inspiring to read about someone who overcame what could be described as the greatest fear: the fear of death, the unknown.

It can be really difficult to see the bigger picture, to remember that feelings, desires and thoughts are fleeting, and to focus on the ‘one-self’, the bigger picture, but getting past fear opens up so many possibilities.

Which would you regret more?

what ifYou regret more the things you didn’t do than the things you did. No, really, you do.

It’s taken me a very long time to even begin to accept this.

Let me give you an example. When I was offered a paid internship that I was really unsure about taking, one of the first things I asked myself – and one of the first things many others asked me when discussing my dilemma – was which choice would I regret more?

Having worked, unpaid, for the company, I knew lots of the good things about them, but also lots of things I didn’t like so much. I’m very much drawn to variety and new things; I’m bad at commitment. And my expectations for a first job were too high.

I tried to picture myself in the role, and rightly or wrongly felt that I would regret taking on something which I felt so very little enthusiasm for. I knew the company was looking for someone to stay on after the internship and I didn’t want to take the position fully intending to leave after the three months and to be actively looking for other opportunities while in the role. I thought I would feel guilty. I thought that would be taking advantage. Except that’s what opportunities are there for – taking advantage of.

Yes, looking back my thinking didn’t make much sense. Even now I have to remind myself that companies don’t have feelings. You can start a job and quit in a month. It’s about you, not them. And you know what else, I might have changed my mind. I might even have grown to like it – first impressions can be wrong. But let’s keep this balanced, intuition can also be pretty accurate, it might not have worked out. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make here.

I turned it around in my head and asked myself – would I regret more taking something with so little conviction, or would I regret more not taking a risk to continue to look for something better. Of course this is rubbish – I could have worked and searched.

We regret more the things we don’t do than the things we do, because it’s the not knowing that drives us crazy, not making a mistake. We can deal with mistakes because we can learn lots from them. All we can learn from ‘what ifs’ is next time,  just give it a go.