If you get really honest with yourself, can you actually imagine yourself being successful? And while we’re asking probing questions, can you clearly define what success actually means for you?
Steve Pavlina has started a series of posts on creating passive income, something I’m excited to read a lot more about. Before he gets into the practicalities of the what and the how, he wrote an excellent post about envisioning yourself at the endgame, at a point where you have the amount of passive income flowing in that changes your life. If you’ll imagine yourself at this point, what happens next?
It seems a simple enough question, but it is central to achieving success.
What form of success are you focused on currently? Landing a dream job? Leaving a horrible job to go it alone? Visiting ten countries in five years? Finishing a higher degree? Becoming financially independent? Making and celebrating a commitment with the love of your life?
Whatever your version of success is right now, the chances are that your focus in on wishing you had already achieved that success. Your day is probably filled with wistful “if only” moments. But have you ever stopped to think about what your life would look like once your vision of success has been achieved?
“Of course!” you say. But are you sure?
Let’s say that your goal, like mine, is for financial independence (i.e. never needing to work again). Once achieved, what would your life look like?
“I could do whatever I wanted, my days are free to call my own!”
While that’s true, that’s very vague. You need to be able to imagine yourself living that life. When you have a whole day of freedom in the here and now do you delight in it and use the day as an opportunity to explore those things that are most dear to you? Or do you squander the day, watching more television and checking Facebook more often than on a usual day?
If your tendency is to do the latter, then what makes you think that life would be any different when you had every day open to freedom and choice? If you can’t clearly imagine what life looks like after the attainment of your success, then it isn’t real. And if it isn’t real in your mind, then it will never be real in the here and now.
Mike, over at Lacking Ambition, is a wonderful example of how to not only achieve financial independence, but also how to clearly envision what life will be like when he’s achieved his goal (which he nearly has). His latest post gives many examples of how he will live his life and fill his days once financial independence has been achieved. It is full of motivations for why the working life could never fulfil him. What’s truly key here is that he currently incorporates many of these elements into his life now. Mike knows how he wants to live his life and what the essential elements are and he is not waiting for a future date to radically change the appearance of his life. In fact, once he has achieved financial independence, Mike will simply do more of what he loves to do now and be able to expand and deepen his interests.
If your current life doesn’t contain elements that you envision for after you’ve achieved the success, then it will continue to seem like a fantasy, and thus unachievable. If you don’t do these things now, even in some very small way, then what are the chances you’ll do them later? To achieve success you have to want it desperately, and if you are desperate enough then you will find a way to have a small piece of it now.
To achieve your success you need to be able to clearly imagine what it will look and feel like. You need to be able to sit down and map out a typical day or week for your future life. You need to imagine yourself existing in this reality as clearly as your mind can conjure up the events of the past week. With the images you must also be able to feel the associated emotions – the peace, the excitement, the energy.
Give it a try and while you’re doing so map out this next week and find ways to incorporate elements of your new life into the fabric of your current reality. Just choose a couple of elements and find 15 minutes or so for each of these throughout the week.
Instead of beginning with a plan of how to achieve the success you’re after, begin by imagining your life after you’ve achieved your goal. Start living this life in some small way now and the path to success will become clearer and easier to achieve.
April 30, 2012 2 Comments
This past weekend I attended the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne. It was a very significant experience for me and I am still collecting my thoughts about all I heard and experienced. This conference attracted many of the big names in Atheism including Richard Dawkins and A.C. Grayling. While I’ll likely compose a post about what I learned from each of the speakers later on, today I wanted to focus on something that the above two men were asked not at the conference, but on the Australian television program Q&A.
The Monday before the conference Q&A hosted a program with Richard Dawkins and Cardinal Pell asking a whole host of questions about religion and its place in society. At one point Richard Dawkins was asked by Cardinal Pell “Can science explain why we are here, rather than how we are here?” Cardinal Pell went on to say that it is science’s inability to answer the why that demonstrates why we need religion in our lives.
Richard Dawkins wasn’t going to let that one through! Instead he answered in true Dawkins style, that this sort of question isn’t even valid, necessary or worth asking. Dawkins intimated that this in fact was a silly question and science has more worthwhile questions to be answering.
I wasn’t entirely satisfied with this response. I have spent a great deal of my life wondering why and what for. It is only in recent years (which brought about the advent of this blog) that I have changed my perception on this question, realising that there is no inherent meaning to us being here, but rather an opportunity for each of us to find what makes our individual lives meaningful. What has naturally stemmed from this for me is that there is no longer a need for religion and that in fact religion focuses our attention in an entirely wrong direction (an after-life rather than this life). The more I realised that religion was not necessary, I also realised that all of it seemed totally ludicrous, and that the stories surrounding religion weren’t even very creative or very good stories.
As it turns out, the very next Monday, A.C. Grayling was on Q&A with some other panellists and he was asked by a member of the audience whether he agreed with Richard Dawkins’ position on asking the why questions. His response was like a breath of fresh air for me. This portion of the show went like this:
BEN PEAKE: My question is for AC Grayling. Last week on Q&A, Richard Dawkins said the question of “Why are we here?” is a silly question which doesn’t deserve consideration. Do you agree? If so, why do you believe that so many people find it important that that question has an answer?
AC GRAYLING: The problem with the question is that it is a question begging a question. If you think it is a valid question to ask, you have already made the assumption there is an answer external to what is the case about us, which is that as intelligent monkeys, we are essentially social animals, we live in communities with one another and we have a responsibility to think, to use the intelligence we have got and to make meaning, to make purpose in life. There isn’t an antecedent purpose which you can cite as the answer to that question “Why are we here?”. The fact is we are here, we have to get on with it, and make the best of it. And the way that we make the best of it is to make life meaningful. (Emphasis my own)
A.C. Grayling, a brilliant philosopher, was able to explain quite concisely, the problem we all seem to have with this question. We assume that there is an answer, because many of us want there to be an answer.
Let me explain it with this analogy, something that I have some experience with. Many people spend years talking to a psychologist, trying week in and week out to understand why one or both of their parents couldn’t love them. Sure, some weeks they complain about their partner, others their work colleagues or their problems with being close to their own children. In reality though, each week (just like each day) they carry around with them a question from their childhood – why did Dad leave, why was Mum always angry at me, why wasn’t I good enough, why was I not loved?
This question will never be answered, it can’t be answered because there is no answer. No matter how much someone might want to know the answer, none will come. The problem is with the question. Instead of wanting to know why, the time would be better spent implementing strategies to focus on the now and also might be better spent by understanding the reasons behind why one feels it is necessary to repeatedly ask this question of themselves over and over.
Accepting that we are complex enough to pose a question to which there is no objective answer is difficult. Furthermore, coming to terms with an answer that puts the responsibility of meaning on each of us individually is too burdensome for many of us. Relinquishing the comfort of religion when we realise that it no longer serves any purpose nor delivers any meaning is extremely confronting for many.
The meaning of life is not an absolute. This will take some time to come to grips with, but it is a worthwhile cause. Turn your focus instead to how you can make your own life personally meaningful and rejoice in the fact that this is how life really works. After all, do you really want some pre-determined purpose? Wouldn’t you prefer to choose what enlightens and enlivens you? I know I would and do.
April 19, 2012 1 Comment
I have always secretly dreamed that one day an individual would cross my path (or I theirs) and find my talents so unique and valuable that they offer to be my patron.
I know, I know, a terrific fantasy, and one not at all filled with much humility or indeed reality. But hey, as far as dreams go I used to think it was a pretty good one.
Yes, I longed to be the Leonardo da Vinci who finds his Lorenzo de Medici, and at the same time I know I’ve idealised the whole scenario. We know that Leonardo was a unique genius whose many interests led him in a variety of directions and without successful focus on any one area. We also know that many of his commissions for various patrons were left unfinished. In fact, instead of living a comfortable life, unworried about finances, he was often left with a month or two of savings. Much of his famous art, rather than being something that he was proud of and enjoyed producing, is more likely to be a commission he reluctantly accepted to allow him enough funds to pursue his other projects and to allow for food and lodging.
What I suppose I’m trying to impress upon you is that it seems very likely that even someone as amazing as Leonardo da Vinci had a job too. He had to find ways to employ his skills to earn his keep, even if he would have preferred having years of time stretched ahead of him to work on flight, optics and the mysteries of the human body. While his patrons certainly allowed him many freedoms in this regard, they weren’t entirely without their price. They wanted their share of his genius too and even his life was a balance between allowing his creativity and intelligence to follow their natural inclinations and submitting to the whims of his employers.
So I guess you could say I’ve started to rethink my desire for a patron and turn instead to designing my life in such a way that I am my own patron.
Even as such I will need to work and exchange my skills in part for some financial gains. Yet I seek a solution that allows for this on my own terms, as far as is feasible, and with a system of balance suitable to me.
You would all know by now that I’m not content with snatched moments for myself here and there. I am not content to live a life where the thoughts of the day revolve around work to the extent that my own unique thoughts have barely any energy left to communicate with me. I am not willing to give the best of myself to others in a way that asks me to compromise on what I have left for me.
As my own patron I understand the important balance between establishing finances that are sustainable and also freeing. The work that I do for myself must hold some intellectual stimulus but also be in the background of my greater goals and ambitions. I cannot let a situation arise where I spend more time trying to establish businesses or income streams than I do on the personal pursuits that are important to me. If I were to let this happen, then it would be the equivalent of working a full time job for someone else. I would have become a slave to the patron (even if the patron is me) rather than the patron being in the background supporting my pursuits.
I think many of us imagine that working for ourselves will be a wondrous endeavour filled with freedom. I think it all depends ultimately on why it is you want to work for yourself. If you imagine that it means having more freedom of time and choice then I think you may be deluded. If you think you will have more opportunity to pursue your greatest interests then I think you need to examine the reality more closely.
If what you seek is a lifestyle that will allow you to read, learn, experiment, grow, philosophise, experience, savour, inquire and detach, then you need to ensure that the necessities of life are automatically created in the background of your life, rather than in the foreground. Work as you need to and then set it aside as you pursue your real interests. Organise working so that it occupies less than 50% of your time – a 3 day working week with 4 days for personal pursuits would be a great place to start.
When it’s time to work do so with focus and ungrudgingly knowing that this work too is for you. When it is your time, turn with full focus, putting finances aside, and create and learn knowing confidently that your patron is in full support of your lifestyle.
Give yourself permission to be your own version of Leonardo da Vinci but without the insecurity or sense that you need to compromise yourself.
April 10, 2012 No Comments
Living a life with foggy or undefined values is like driving around in the depths of darkness. You can’t possibly know where you are heading or even where you want to go unless you have taken some real time out of your everyday busy existence to pause and ponder what is truly important to you.
I think when people hear the word “values” there is a tendency to stifle a huge yawn. It isn’t a very inspiring word and for me at least tends to conjure up memories of sitting in religious education at school talking about what morals and values were depicted in an equally uninspiring biblical story.
These are not the sorts of values to which I’m referring. Instead, think “guiding principles” or “life beacons”. What I’m talking about here are the essential elements in your life that make you who you are, and more importantly, guide you into being who you want to be.
Yet still, this may all seem a bit intangible and have that whiff of an impending activity involving brainstorming and butcher’s paper. In fact it’s the exact opposite of this. Your values aren’t determined by you coming up with something that sounds like it might be good. Rather, you already know what you need in your life, even if it has been buried under the layers of inauthenticity over the years.
If you feel bored, stressed, depressed, frustrated, angry or sad with any area of your life on a daily basis, then this is a clear sign that you are denying your own values and that you are suffocating under the weight of your own disappointment. You might already realise this to some extent, but feel powerless to know where to start in establishing any real change. The first step is to identify what values would occupy the life of your dreams.
As an example from my life at the moment, I can see very clearly where my situation is out of alignment with what I value most, and doing so is an important first step in changing the situation. I value freedom above almost anything else, and this includes the freedom to choose how to spend the hours of my day. For me this isn’t just a wish, this is a guiding principle in my life. Above all else I know I need to figure out a way to align my life with this value.
Another value that is imperative to my sense of self is meaningful engagement. There are many people out there who are just fine with doing a job five days a week, 48 weeks a year, that is neither meaningful nor engaging. This is certainly not me. I am finding that I feel physically ill at not being involved in activities that I feel are meaningfully engaging. As I’ve spent time over the last year brainstorming possible occupations for myself, almost everything I think of has been rejected after a day or two, and this is owing to this one value. For example, I’ve considered freelance writing as a possible career change, but the thought of spending time on assignments that I don’t feel are engaging or meaningful almost makes me shudder. Sure, some might think that adhering to a value like this severely limits my options and is a tad unrealistic, but I’m not out looking for something a bit better, or even something significantly better, I’m looking for the exact right fit. I’m looking for the extraordinary and the deeply fulfilling.
To give one more example, contribution is another value high on my agenda. This value has been integral to my decision making since I first contemplated university courses back in high school. When people were telling me I should become a lawyer or an engineer, I chose teaching because of the opportunities I saw in being able to contribute something to the lives of others. I have long been interested in shaping and contributing to young people in particular and I still am. Teaching mathematics is no longer the correct avenue to fulfil this value since it doesn’t align with my other values, but I will still carry this value of contribution with me into future decision-making.
If you don’t take the time to clearly and succinctly define what you value then you’ll be stuck where you are, possibly indefinitely. Once you identify your values they then serve as the cornerstones or beacons that guide you out of the mire of your current situation and into the brighter reality of tomorrow. If you don’t take the time to really get acquainted with what you need in your life, then you will have nowhere to shift your focus. Ultimately your focus will continue to be on your feelings of anger, depression and frustration, rather than on new feelings of excitement and curiosity at what is coming up next.
As you sit at work today, instead of watching the clock tick over or distracting yourself with yet another cute and goofy photo of a kitten, sneak a moment for yourself to identify your top five guiding beacons. Send them to yourself in an email, keep them on your phone, put them in your calendar and set a reminder for yourself to view them each day.
This is the beginning. This is how you will change your life. This is how your focus will begin to change and with it your external reality.
I would love for you to share even just one of your values with me and with those who stop by to read this post, so please take a moment to share in the comments below.
March 26, 2012 4 Comments
I have a little confession to make; I was wrong to start up at another teaching job this year. Although it is all part of my plan to accumulate savings rapidly in order to retire early, it is still a mistake.
It’s not the school, and it’s certainly not the students, who are a really delightful group of young women. It’s me. It’s who I’ve become. I’ve changed and unfortunately I’ve pushed this realisation aside while throwing myself once more into a situation where I don’t want to be. Realistically I’m stuck here until the end of the year. Sure, I could resign, but I feel I’ve made a commitment to these students and so will do my best to see the year out.
So how am I going to get through a year of feeling stuck between worlds? How can you get through another year if you’re feeling the same way?
Have an end in sight
Feeling stuck indefinitely is far too overwhelming to cope with long term and will almost certainly break you down. You need to have the ability to remind yourself of the impermanence of your situation, even as a means to temporarily cheer yourself up. The end of whatever has you stuck should be in the relatively near future, with three years as an absolute maximum. If what you’re stuck in is a terrible relationship, this should be three months not years.
Work knowing that this is the last time you’ll be doing this job
Going back to teaching maths in a high school setting has confirmed for me that this is the last time I’ll be doing this job. It no longer stimulates me like it once did, and it no longer holds fulfilling challenges. Yet knowing this is my last year brings a new freshness to the situation and allows me to shift my perspective when at work.
Each lesson sees me making the most of my students, enjoying the time I get to spend with them and getting to know them. Teaching offers the unique opportunity to forge many relationships and to perfect your communication skills with a range of different people and I’m going to make the most of it while it lasts.
Research, plan and research some more
Spend time in the evenings and weekends planning your next move. How long will you be able to last on what you will save during this time? How much can you save? Where can you reduce your expenditure?
At first you’ll need to really figure out who you are and what you value. Cal Newport has two great posts he wrote recently explaining that to make a career choice you first need to define what sort of lifestyle you are seeking and which elements you need to include in your life to feel you are living a remarkable life.
The first place to start might be with identifying what it is about your current situation that is making you feel so stuck. Essential elements that you need in your life are missing from your job and clearly defining these will help you determine what you need to look for.
Make time for yourself at work
Whether in your lunch break or a few stolen moments here and there at work, it is important that you create little islands of time for yourself. Maybe it’s to read a novel, or to read an interesting article or do a little more research on an idea you had this morning. Depending on how busy your day is this won’t always be possible, but try to take time to devote to you.
In doing so you will experience a moment of freedom in your day and you will take back a moment of control. This will contrast significantly with your usual feeling of being stifled and stuck and will act as an energiser.
Treat this period as a valuable Meantime
Transitioning from one period of your life to another doesn’t usually happen overnight. In fact, when life does change dramatically overnight this is usually to due to a tragedy, and so you should welcome and embrace a period of less rapid and more conscious shifting.
Yes you will wake up each day wishing that the new phase of your life had already started, but it won’t start without the necessary groundwork anyway. Think of it as a challenge. If you can set up the framework for your new life in the middle of a life that leaves you very little time for your own pursuits, then you must really want it. In a way, you will prove to yourself during this time that you mean business and that your goals are important to you.
In fact, on some days you’ll be glad to see that the deadline for the end of this life and the beginning of the new one is still so far off when you realise there is still so much to do. In a way I think it can be likened to the nine months of being pregnant. As a mother you are given nine precious months (in the best case scenario) to prepare for your new life. There are many times when pregnant women can’t wait for the baby just to be born already, sometimes because of the great discomfort or for feeling unwell, and other times due to the great excitement. Regardless, all women have to wait. I’m sure there are an equal number of times where mothers are glad for the time to adjust to the idea of this new role and to have the time to prepare mentally, emotionally, physically and practically.
Consider that you are currently in the gestational period of the new life that you are creating for yourself. You need this time to prepare yourself, both mentally and practically. Waking up overnight into your new life would more than likely fail miserably. A gradual change of which you have control over is far more likely to be successful.
Feeling stuck is simply a sign that you’re ready to move on and that you are overdue for a change. There’s no point sitting around wishing and waiting for your lotto numbers to come up. Instead you need to use this time to plan your escape. Don’t put all your focus on the ending though, the focus needs to be on the beginning of what happens next.
This is where I went wrong last time. I put my focus on what I didn’t want rather than on what I wanted and needed. This in turn ensured I had no firm plan for my next move. Without the correct clarity I’ve fallen back into what I know. So I’m setting myself the challenge of using this year to exit a life I don’t want and to enter a life that I do want and that I have successfully planned for.
February 26, 2012 3 Comments