I remember one day at the end of 2012 sitting in my office feeling useless and unhappy with my job. I wasn’t delivering the right value for my team, our clients and my other partners. I knew it was time for a change, but I didn’t know where to start. I was the CEO of my own company. Funny, isn’t it? As crazy as it sounds I decided to quit my stable, well-paid job and move on, a leap into the unknown. It took me almost a year to find my feet and another few to become confident in what I was doing.
I do not advise nor expect you to jump from a cliff and build a parachute on the way down. Start moving slowly but steadily. Here I briefly describe the process and tools you can use to go from where you are to where you feel at your best. It takes three steps and you, unlike me, don’t need to start by quitting your job.
PILLAR 1 – Understand yourself
If you want to go on an expedition you should know: why you your are going there, what is your inventory and where you are heading? Use these tools to get to know yourself better.
1. What skills do you have?
Start by listing all the things you are good at. What people admire you for? Ask your colleagues, friends and clients. Do not limit yourself to just your professional life. I believe there is no such thing as your professional and personal life. There is just one life and you, with your skills, play the main role.
2. What do you like doing?
Back in 2012 I sat down with my best friend in a cafe and drew a line on a napkin. On the left I listed all the things I loved doing and learning (eg. strategic sessions, meeting people, marketing, etc.) while on the right everything I disliked (eg. accounting, reading contracts, etc.). For me it was easier to start with eliminating the things I hated. Now I knew to build my new career only on all the things I enjoyed.
3. What are your strengths are natural patterns?
You can find your strengths by asking around and doing the above analysis. But there are powerful and affordable tools that can help you underline your behaviorial patterns and navigate your career choices. The first tests I would do are the Gallup Strengths Test and MBTI. Both are available online, cost less than $50 and take around 40 minutes each to accomplish. As a result you will get a description of your profile in comparison to others.
4. What is important to you?
Why can some people be late to a meeting and feel OK, while others feel frustrated or worried about every second of their schedule? It is a matter of values. Maybe for the first “accountability” is far behind “freedom” in their value set. If you have never thought about this make a small test. Find a list of values online or just write down those that come to your mind (eg. family, freedom, money, success, honesty) and rate them by comparing them in pairs. What is more important to me “family or freedom”, “family or money”, “family of honesty” etc.. Give one point to the one in the pair you favor. Test all the pairs and build a list of your top 5 values. It will help you to build your reasoning for the decisions you make in your career.
5. What do you want to achieve in life?
This has roots in your values. Don’t fall into a success trap. Ignore what is cool to be and have. Ask your heart and values about it. If family is your top priority then what you want to achieve can be “spend 5 hours a day with my family and live together in a big house”. You will set your goals accordingly eg. don‘t do a job that requires constant travelling.
6. Your one liner
When you have your inventory and your vision you are ready to describe it in a short sentence. You will use it to tell your story to others and to stay focused. You can have it as a reference point when saying “yes” or “no” to new projects. For example my sentence is: “Help others succeed in business and life”. Whenever I receive a new proposal I check if it maximizes my impact in the above.
PILLAR 2 – Build up your muscle
You understood where you are heading. Now it is time to maximize your strengths and get ready for the transition. What are the areas of growth that you should pay attention to regardless of your journey?
1. People in your life
Business depends on the quality of people. What else is there except for people and the ideas they share? Their fears and desires that become products. Their ideas that become matter. You are a mix of the five people you spend the most time with. So choose wisely. Furthermore, if you meet the same people every day — leave the office and go meet someone new. Talking to and understanding others has been an unrestrained source of inspiration to me. The more different from myself, the better. In my opinion true networking is: developing meaningful relationships with strangers by getting to know their true problems and helping them find a solution without expecting anything in return.
2. Learning everyday
What did you learn today? If nothing — buy a book, listen to a podcast or enrol on a course. My best practices are mimicking and stretching. Mimicking means learning the thinking patterns of outstanding individuals. The best ways, despite meeting them in person, are listening to podcasts and reading autobiographies. For meeting them in person you shall have to select quality events such as two12.io (where I met outstanding people and the above photo was taken). Stretching is learning a new skill from 0 to a level of decent understanding. Read more about that below.
3. Doing things
Practice eats theory for breakfast. Your own experience always wins over the experience of others. To understand the world and learn your own preferences you must experience. This is what I see as stretching ones understanding of the world. Do not overthink. Imaginary scenarios are not reality and it is impossible to predict the outcome without understanding the dynamics of a certain domain in practice. If you want to start a business. Start it today with minimum effort. Just come up with a name and get pre-orders. You will know something tomorrow. Act instead of planning for months and failing big.
4. Sparring partners
Do not walk alone. No matter how objective you are you see the world through your own glasses. Your identity, your emotional frameworks, your assumptions and beliefs can all be very limiting. I believe that partnering up with experts on self-development is an invaluable decision. I have worked with a shrink on my emotions, with a coach on achieving my goals and mentors on increasing my learning curve. I would never shine a light on the dark places of my soul where another person could by just asking a question. Great questions change the quality of life. Questions asked by others can bring to light truths and strengths we couldn’t otherwise access .
PILLAR 3 – Protect your energy levels
If you find your sweet spot you may become excited. It is good, but if not handled well it can become deadly. A friend told me recently how he convinced himself that 3 hours of sleep is enough for him and he ended up with a 7(!) week long fever. He was lucky to survive. Do not become an Icarus while following your dream.
1. Build a rhythm
It is amazing how much we can achieve in 2-3 years if we take very small steps every single day. We naturally tend to expect big wins in short periods of time, so we push ourselves to the limit. That can bring frustration and burnout. What works for me is doing the same small activity every single day. For example I follow a morning routine: meditate and do a few exercises right after waking up. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment early in the day and calibrates my mind and body for the things to come. You can get to know my daily schedule more by watching this video:
2. Healthy lifestyle
If you were to develop just one habit — it should be physical activity. According to “The Power of Habit” regular workout often becomes the tipping point of multiple positive changes in life in areas requiring discipline. What I maintain as part of my wellbeing model are: drinking 3 litres of water a day, consuming no sugar, sleeping eight hours and meditating daily.
3. Doing the right things
Don’t let your inbox and to-do list lead your life. Delegate all shallow work and focus on more creative tasks which are difficult to be done by others. The first thing I did to become more focused was turning off all the notifications on my smartphone. The second was to schedule an actual meeting with myself and to give it time and priority. Learn to ignore messages that you are not interested in and say “no” often to secure your priorities. And don’t sit in meetings unless they are well planned. Personally I prefer one on one meetings that are shorter than an hour and have a very clear goal.
Five years have passed since I fired myself. I have met thousands of people. Read hundreds of books. Experimented with a dozen business initiatives, most of which failed. But I managed to find a direction I am happy with, and by sticking to the pillars, I am more then certain that you will find yours.
But do not wait any longer. Your energy level, flexibility and risk taking abilities decrease with age. If you are not moving now, you will only ever end up where your are.