Save yourself! No one else will…
Here’s how I saved myself from living the wrong life
I thought I had a pretty unconventional lifestyle as it was. I hadn’t followed the usual milestones through life after college. No partnering up, settling down, making a family, working my way up a career ladder learning the ropes.
I remained fiercely independent, quite nomadic, and I found myself thrust into a director-level position in my chosen profession really early on and almost by accident. Suddenly, there I was at the top of my field with decades and decades of hard graft stretching out in front of me until I retired.
I couldn’t imagine anything worse, but I couldn’t imagine anything different either.
Thus began my long and protracted (and, ahem, very early) midlife crisis. I knew there had to be a better way, but what was it?
I was in a tough job in a tough sector. I was working harder and harder because I wanted to make sure the system worked for the people I was in the job to serve- the people who lived in my community. Being a stubborn, driven completer-finisher, I just knew if I kept chipping away at it it would all come right in the end.
Then suddenly I realised that it really wouldn’t, and that I was wasting my life beating my head against the proverbial brick wall. I wasn’t making a difference at all. Not only was I getting a headache and a permanent rectangular brick-mark across my forehead, but I was so busy being determined to do the undoable my life was passing me by. I had to stop and look around. But I couldn’t even figure out what exactly was making me so unhappy. Was I in the wrong job? The wrong organisation? The wrong life??
Then I came across this quote by the magnificent Maya Angelou-
“The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind.”
And at that moment it all fell into place. A bulldozer had aimed right for that brick-mark on my forehead and had gone into high gear. This was serious. I was serious. I did not want to wake up at 60 or 65 desperate to retire having spent forty years knowing something was wrong all along but doing nothing about it.
I began to devise my grand plan to leave my career and start something, anything, as long as it meant a totally new way of approaching life and my relationship to work and purpose.
But I soon found there were two major obstacles to overcome before I could even devise a plan, much less put it into action. First of all, I couldn’t really pinpoint exactly what the cause of my negative relationship to my work was and I was worried I would move on to something else and repeat the problem. Secondly, I had a lot of ingrained thinking that seemed to leave no room for thinking big.
It didn’t happen overnight, but over the course of a few years I had a much better idea of what was making me unhappy and what sorts of things I might like to try next. In the past three years I quit that career, started a business, and have just finished writing my first book.
Here is what worked for me.
The tools that took me on my journey from public sector cog to author entrepreneur
I started to listen to lots of random podcasts and do lots of random reading, trying to see if any other topic or profession struck a chord with me. I was in such a blinkered state that I didn’t realise I didn’t have to replace like with like. At first I thought I just needed a new job.
All that exploring paid off; by sheer good fortune and a bit of diligence I came across several people and processes that seemed to make sense to me. Each one gave me a new perspective, or a practical tool, or valuable information for me to begin thinking differently about my working life and what I was doing with it.
I started with two tools to help me with each of the obstacles I had first identified:
- The first was a tool to help me learn my aptitudes, those inbuilt strengths and skills that come naturally to me. Understanding these at the very least let me know why I was so miserable doing certain things and jazzed up when I was doing others. It helped me better understand what sort of activity in a day job I might be best suited to. I realised those things I struggled with because they were actually difficult for me, when my innate cards were stacked against me, as opposed to those things I simply wasn’t trying hard enough on or putting enough work into. It helped me stop beating myself up about certain things. That had been exhausting.
- The second was a process to overcome the baggage of excuses that was holding me back from being able to change and grow and think differently. These are the things that we learn over a lifetime about how things are “supposed” to be, or that “you’re the smart one not the creative one”, or any manner of societal and familial brainwashing that happens to us all. Time to shake that off. Remember that Maya Angelou quote “The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind”? Well, the Hoffman Process motto is “…when you’re serious about change”. And boy oh boy, was I serious.
Now, these tools are not for everyone. Think about what you want to tackle, then ask around, read up, and otherwise explore what is out there and find something that resonates with you.
Doing this can interrupt the unproductive thinking, introduce new ways of looking at your life, and perhaps best of all, it can help take those blinkers off and shine a big, bright light into the blind spots you have in your own life.
When you find the right tool it is well worth the investment in yourself.
If I had not put those two tools to use, I wouldn’t have been open to the writers who then gave me ideas about just how differently a working life could look.
Learning more about myself opened my mind to the concepts I read about in books and blogs by Stever Robbins and Tim Ferriss.
- Stever Robbins’ did a TedX talk that, in a nutshell, describes designing a way to live your life as a journey rather than a destination. He describes a kind of “following your nose” plan, one that allows you to explore your interests and passions, encountering new people, places, and conversations as you go. This ensures a wide array of new experiences so that you can find those things that make you feel happy and purposeful but that can also earn you a living. That’s how I ended up at my first Startup Weekend and went on to establish a tech startup as a non-techie female over 40! The rest, as they say, is history… in the making.
- Tim Ferriss’ book The Four-Hour Work Week (unlike what its name implies) is not a gimmick about how to get by only working four hours a week. It gave me that profound new realisation that I did not have to replace like with like. I had been working a regular job, earning a regular paycheck. I didn’t know anything else other than being an employee working 9 to 5 (or rather, 8am to 10pm- tough job). Tim taught me the concept of lifestyle design. What?? It wasn’t just about finding the right job in the right field with nicer co-workers? You mean I can make my lifestyle however I want it to be and find ways to earn a living?? Yes, I can! In addition to my company I have just finished my first book which I plan to use for marketing the very useful skills I gained from my 20-year career. Cool!
So I am much happier and though I still have a lot of work to do I do feel like I am living a more “right life” and not the wrong one any more. It is more satisfying, I feel more in control of the type of experiences I have, and it actually feels like a “life”. It is still an early journey, and not without it risks. But I have learned to embrace that part of it as well.
These things worked for me. I don’t endorse them for anyone else, or say that these are the ones that you should try. I present them as examples of the variety of useful things or smart folks out there who might help you save yourself from the wrong life, too. Or maybe just make your current great life even better.
I write about how I became the founder of a tech startup as a non-techie, over-40 female with no entrepreneurial experience, and all I am learning along the way. You can see more here: https://medium.com/@eshassere If you think this might be helpful for others on their entrepreneurial journey, please recommend and share by clicking the heart.