Being busy: stop taking the easy way out

Differentiating Urgency & Importance

The frustrating reality of work is that most of what you do is a complete waste of time. Even entrepreneurs, who slog away putting in 14-hour days to their company, will inevitably waste the majority of their time.

This is because we tend to be terrible at prioritisation.

Something seemingly urgent will come up & we divert all of our resources to solve the problem, without stopping to think whether it is important in the first place. Or whether it’s even a problem at all.

The problem of conflating the urgent with the important is the greatest drain on productivity in the workplace.

In a corporate environment, the greater complexity of larger teams working together causes further damage to productivity.

There tends to be a lot of people all doing different things, with no clear idea of which direction they are meant to be going, all protecting their own little corner of the company, all trying to get ahead of each other.

A pervasive, manic busyness tends to seep into the culture, with everyone rushing around trying to push through some urgent, but unimportant, change to a product or frenetically working to get an irrelevant report completed.

It’s not inaccurate to say that most companies just about survive despite having a load of headless chickens charging about the place, revved up on caffeine & adrenaline.

As you can imagine, this is not conducive to the long-term interests of the business or the employees themselves.

 

Human Limitations

There is also a huge amount of evidence supporting the idea that our window for highly productive work is very much limited.

Companies tend to push their employees into working 8- to 12-hour days, but are you really productive during that time? How much productive, important work do you really think you get done?

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that humans have a limit of 3-4 hours a day of intensive, focused work before we burn out.

This is capped even lower if you aren’t sleeping 7-8 hours, eating well, exercising or resting properly outside of work hours.

How productive are you after only sleeping 3-4 hours? What about when you’re a bit hungover? Or you’re hungry?

For me personally, these factors are hugely impactful on my productivity. If I haven’t slept properly, the next day is going to be almost entirely a waste of time. Maybe I’ll get 1-2 good hours of work in if I have a strong coffee before starting. But usually, I may as well just take the day off & catch up on sleep.

One of the issues, however, is that some people are so used to living in a constantly, tired, semi-burnt out state that what they think is a good, highly productive day is usually nowhere near it.

They are so used to a constant feeling of tiredness & of a state of low-impact work that whenever they manage to squeeze in 20+ minutes of focused, immersive work, they see that as the maximum limit of human capability.

 

## Stop being busy
Start approaching your days differently.

If colleagues put demands on your time, push back. Question the importance of what they are asking you to do? Is it important? Or is it just urgent? Are they doing it just because their boss wants them to do? Or because they believe it has merit?

If you work for yourself, then focus on maximising the 3-4 hours you are productive. Break them up throughout the day, block it out as focus time in the mornings, cut out the faffing around that tends to clutter your day. Take the rest of the day off for learning, coffee with friends or others in your industry, or finally starting the language lessons you always wanted to do.

The hard part comes next, however.

Where before you had problems to solve & urgent issues to attend to, you will be left with a void.

You can no longer comfort yourself with the sense of purpose & progress that comes from always doing, from always working away at some problem.

When you limit your working hours, you suddenly find yourself with 12 hours a day that seems like a void.

The insulation of busyness is stripped away & you will find yourself asking hard questions. You will find yourself putting yourself through rigorous self-examination. You will start examining the direction & purpose of your business on a much deeper level. You will be able to entertain the creative, outlandish ideas you never had time or energy to think about.

You will strip away all the urgent, clutter of a busy life & finally be able to differentiate the urgent from the important, the low-impact from the high impact work.

Anxiety will come, inevitably. You will worry about whether you’re getting enough done. Whether you’re working on the right thing. Whether all the psychology is just bullshit.

But you must push through.

The gravity of this change will hit you. When you only have limited time to work, you approach things differently. You finally start asking the important questions.

Is this important? How can I estimate the impact of this task?
What will happen if it doesn’t get done?
How can I get it done as efficiently as possible?
Has someone done it before? Is there an easier way?

The work you do end up doing will be great work. Work with the fat stripped away, without the comfort of busyness & urgency clouding your judgement & allowing you to hide from the hard truths you must face.

 

 

 

Reading changes lives.

“Work hard at your job and you can make a living. Work hard on yourself and you can make a fortune.”

— Jim Rohn

 

Formal education wears most people into the ground. When they think education, reading, learning, they remember the monotonous grind of sitting in a classroom with 30 other kids forced to learn the historical implications of the Treaty of Versailles.

Their memories of education tend not to be good ones.

Even in university, choice of subject was really just an after-thought to choice of city, which depended on how good the nightlife was and/or which of their friends were also going there.

This means that, inevitably, this sense of apathy continues throughout higher education. Even those who find a genuine interest in their subject tend to get ground down by archaic teaching methods & the apathy of other students around them.

So when we get into the real world, we wash our hands of it.

Reading becomes synonymous with the back page of the paper you find on the Metro or a trashy ’50 Shades of Whatever’ that was on sale at the airport.

Anything more than this is considered above the call of duty. A burden only borne in a state of dire boredom or necessity, such as when the internet is out for a few days.

Yet one book can change your life.

“It completely changed my perspective on …”

“Oh my god, I never thought of it like that!”

“You’ve got to read this book. I’m super motivated to do … now”

 

Whether you can identify an example from your own life or you’ve heard a friend raving about a book, you know the power a book can have on you. Particularly one that comes at the right time.

Yet do we find ourselves avoiding reading precisely because of this? Is our apathy not so much a dislike of education, but rather a fear of the world that books may open up?

 

Dreaming is easy

Let’s say you’ve always had this dream to start your own business & travel the world. It’s easy when it’s just a dream. It’s a comforting thought that sits there somewhere in your mind. You call upon it now and again, when you’re having a particularly shit day. It’s a comforting thought, the idea of a hypothetical, idealised future sitting on a beach with control over your time & resources.

But you prefer to keep it as a dream, rather than a goal.

Yet what happens when you read something like The Four-Hour Work Week, which provides you with concrete steps towards a life like that?

Suddenly those dreams start to become goals. You start to see a path forming towards them. The first few steps become clear. After that they become hazy. Yet you hesitate. You don’t take that first step because you are afraid of the unknown, of where the path might take you.

You find any excuse to not plant your foot on that first step.

“The book is bullshit. It’s a marketing scam. It’s only for young, single high-achievers. It’s only for people working in tech. I don’t even like the author, so why would I listen to him?”

 

If only your creativity with making excuses could be transposed elsewhere in your life.

You will find a million excuses to not take that first step. Some of them will be valid, to some extent, but most of them won’t.

So you never pick the book up in the first place. You can see where it might lead, so you retreat into your shell.

 

Are you ready to take action?

Yet for those that pick up that book & turn over the first page, a world of infinite possibility opens up to them.

Those ideas you’ve always had floating around in your mind, still without form? There’s a book for that. Someone has thought about it a lot more than you have, researched it & written it out in an easily-digestible format.

Your thoughts become more developed, you discover new subjects you never even knew about, you turn dreams into concrete reality. All through reading.

Some books come at the perfect time.

When I closed my first business, I didn’t know what to do next, so I read Essentialism, which helped me focus on one clear goal & wade through the infinite possibilities available to me.

When I got fired this week, I started reading The Four Hour-Work Week, a blueprint for starting a business on your own terms.

When I started taking life – & myself – too seriously, I read The Ego is The Enemy.

A lot of the time these books just appear at the right time, or you are drawn to them without realising the nature of their content. It is, in a sense, as if some books know what the next step in your education on life should be.

 

Yet I know that there will still be voices of scepticism & excuses at the forefront of your mind as you read this. If you think that you are already smart or educated enough, then you are entirely wrong. If you think that it is only an intellectual hobby to read, then you are wrong. If you think that people who do not continuously educate themselves will be successful in the long-term, you are wrong.

Warren Buffett, the most successful investor of all time, spends most of his time voraciously reading.

Bill Gates takes a week every year for a private “Think Week”, designated for reading without distractions of his day-to-day role at Microsoft. He has done this for a number of years.

Many top leaders, such as Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, etc., also spend at least 5 hours a week designated for reading.

 

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none. Zero.”

— Charlie Munger, Self-made billionaire & Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner

 

Where to start

If you are feeling motivated to take action, then start now. Whatever problems you want to overcome in your life, there is a book for it.

Here is a brief list to start you off. Start with whichever draws your attention & read each book with a purpose, a clear desired outcome:

 

Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days by Chris Guillebeau

How to start a side business whilst in full-time work. I’m using some of the practices from here to launch a freelance business in the next two months.

 

Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

How to create a framework to govern your life & your business by one of the most successful investors & leaders ever.

 

The Dip” A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin

How to persevere through the inevitable dip, when you feel like progress is stalling. This has helped me persevere through language learning, programming & starting a business.

 

If This Is a Man and The Truce by Primo Levi

A look at the horrific reality of life in Nazi concentration camps & a look at the brutal nature of man by Primo Levi, an Italian Jew who survived the ordeal.

 

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

A look at how habits form, persist & control over half of your actions. I’ve bitten my nails all my life. I finally stopped after reading this book & understanding the psychology surrounding habits.

 

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

A refreshing response to a lot of self-help books out there. By not giving a fuck about what people think, you tend to do more of what you want to do & only worry about the important things in life, like being happy & helping others.

 

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

A great framework for dramatically increasing your productivity by looking at the psychology surrounding how we can optimise productivity. Be warned though, you’ll find it hard to accept your company’s work culture after the learnings from this.

 

Ego is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday

How to tame your ego & live a more care-free, happy life. Also, by seeing how your ego will inevitably lead you to disaster through real-life examples, you will avoid a lot of pain in future.

 

Sapiens by Yuval Noal Yahari

This book radically changed my entire framework of belief, just by re-examining human history with the most plausible approach I have read to date.

 

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss

How to finally do the things you’ve always wanted to do, whether it’s having the freedom to work remotely, start a new business, or earn enough to live a more free life. It opens up a whole world of opportunity & has radically changed the lives of many readers, whose stories are shared in the book.

 

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss

Does what it says in the tin. The best book for quickly finding lessons from the world’s best. A book I constantly refer back to for quotes, learnings & guidance in all aspects of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When actions don’t follow thought.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” — Gandhi

It’s presumptuous to think that everyone knows what they want; that they are able to clearly envision living – or attaining – a successful life.

However, the majority of people do at least all have a sense of what they want to do or achieve in life.

One of the greatest failings of Western society, however, is that very few people end up doing what they want to do in life. People know they can & should do something, but never do.

Is inconsistency in thought & action caused by fear? Is it a lack of self-reflection? Does it stem from a difficulty in measuring your progress? Or just something some people don’t really think about that much?

It is a travesty that many of us do not even know where to start when it comes to aligning our thoughts with our actions.

You end up in the same miserable relationship because you are too scared to admit to yourself – or your other half – that it’s not working.

You remain in the same dead-end job until retirement because you never end up making a start on that new business idea you had.

You crumble in the face of opposition when your principles come into conflict with someone else’s.

In essence, you waste vast swathes of your life umm-ing and ah-ing, left with a pile of ‘what ifs’ rather than of great memories & experiences.

 

But is this just a modern societal issue? Are we the first who seem to stand for nothing? Or whichever trend seems to grab our attention for a few fleeting moments?

When I think of holding firm to your thoughts & beliefs, I think of peoples like the Celts, exterminated by Caeser 2,000 years ago, who refused to bow to this external cultural threat.

I think of resistance to Nazi Occupation, Rosa Parks, the suffragettes. I think of the countless small, unnoticed acts of bravery that we will never even know about. In essence, I think of people that had beliefs, stated those beliefs as openly as they could & acted according to those beliefs.

Yet here we are, in the 21st Century, with most people unable to even stand up to one of our colleagues in case the boss finds out.

We seem to be afraid of everything, despite living in the safest period of human history.

We are afraid of ruining our career, of what our friends will think, of disappointing our parents, of not being able to afford that new car, of having a weak CV.

We are so afraid of trying something new & of the unknown that many people never even start. They remained trapped, in a protective cocoon of their own creation, happy to pursue mediocrity rather than ever challenging themselves.

 

Aligning thoughts with actions

I know first-hand the effect of confronting your fears. ::I hated my job::. I was unhappy because of my job. So I made changes. I started blogging, building a new business. ::Ended up getting fired before I handed in my resignation::.

And you know what? All those fears? All those scary unknown entities? They all fell away.

For the first time in four months, I was happy.

So I urge you: start breaking society’s rules. Build your defiance as you would build a habit.

What small thing can you take action upon today? What nagging thought keeps coming back, left unresolved, never going away?

Write it down. Confront your thoughts on paper. Tell someone, so that the thought exists & has form. Then act, so your actions may reflect that belief.

Repeat this &, over time, what you think, what you say, and what you are will always be in harmony.

 

 

How to turn being fired into opportunity.

Getting Fired

A few days ago, I found out I had been fired. I found out by email on a Saturday morning.

I had, ironically, been planning my own exit for a few months. My conclusion had been that this was not the place for me. I refused to be dictated to; I had become very apathetic of our start-up’s dubious – & somewhat deceptive – ‘mission’; I also realised that my nature is entrepreneurial & I needed to start my own endeavour again.

So being fired was not the end of the world, but it meant I had no control over the circumstances of my departure. It was involuntary. It was sudden.

I had planned for my departure quite meticulously, so had plans for freelancing in place & my long-term plan for building this blog outlined in detail.

However, there still comes the inevitable void. The fear of the unknown. The sense that things are out of your control. That maybe things won’t work out.

Your self-confidence evaporates for a few days, you feel betrayed, you panic. However well you plan, you will still feel ‘the fear’.

 

Finding opportunity in adversity

After a few tense days that I thought might lead to a legal dispute, my final ‘Contract Termination’ was signed.

I had two months paid leave, with a contractual obligation to complete some work for the company still.

This was the best outcome I could ever have asked for. My plan was to resign the same week & continue for two months further. I now get the desired outcome, my salary, without having to put in the dreaded work for these guys.

The only downside was that I couldn’t childishly boast that I had been ballsy enough to resign, as they beat me to it.

 

In this situation I find myself with two options: immediately jump into freelancing or learn German.

The only reason I would immediately start freelancing would be out of fear of the unknown. That, in January, my contract would be up, so I would need to look for work. However, it’s only November.

Whenever I feel that fear is my motive to do something, it’s usually the wrong thing to do.

What would be the hard thing? What would be unique? What would be a good story to look back on in this period of my life? What do I actually want to do more?

I want to speak German fluently. It’s hard. It’s unknown. It has no tangible ‘career’ benefits relevant for me, but it’s what I want to do.

Getting to C1 (advanced) in the next 7 weeks would be pretty impressive. That’s my goal.

Rather than plodding along in uninspiring, inefficient classes, with the emphasis on the teacher to impart knowledge, I want to test my own hypotheses.

I have self-taught Portuguese to fluency & know what works.

Hard work, focus & motivation are key.

So is immersion. Conversation, podcasts, films, books, articles. Anything German-related.

I will do what others would call impossible precisely because I need to prove them wrong.

Because, as soon as you set limits on yourself & start having ‘realistic’ expectations, that is the day you set your standards to mediocrity.

You call things impossible because they are hard. They are unknown. They are scary.

But you achieve one impossible thing & you start to question that definition.

 

 

 

 

 

Hate over a misunderstanding

There are situations where conflict stems from misunderstanding. A lot of situations, in fact. In my work life, tis got to boiling point yesterday.

Having been fired rather unceremoniously by email & seeing that my employment contract had been violated on two separate occasions over the last 2 months, my assumption was that there was a deliberate attempt to screw me over.

A cloud has been hanging over me these last few days as a result. I thought these actions were malicious. It seemed there was a real concerted attempt to ‘make an example’ to the rest of the team, to make the firing as harsh (and illegal) as possible. Yet this is unfair.

The reasons were legitimate: a clear lack of motivation & low quality of work. Those I have no issue with. They are symptoms of my decision to head towards the exit a few months earlier (whilst carrying on at work a few months to plan my next move). I didn’t buy into the vision, hated our boss & became deeply unhappy with my work. This started to show through a little too visibly in my work.

A few days later, after a meeting with my boss, the contract violations were not known to him & are currently being resolved. I trust he was being honest.

But why, then, did I jump to the conclusion that the company had deliberately violated my contract upon my firing? Am I somebody that tends to mistrust others? See the worst in them? No. Therefore, what factor was at play hear for me to jump to such a harsh conclusion?

Our company culture. A culture that I had watched for 4 months become more & more toxic, largely stemming from the top. A lack of trust, a lack of empathy & conflict bubbling under the surface.

It is in this context that misunderstandings, rather than honest conversations, occur.

It is when you see other examples of malicious behaviour that you start to accept that as the rule. You start, even, to expect such behaviour.

It would be too easy to make the argument that I jumped to a conclusion out of anger or pride, but it’s simply not true. Being fired has come as a relief. My plan was always to leave this month, so I have a plan in place & a month paid leave to work on my future.

It is harder to admit that there are systemic problems within a company culture that need to be addressed immediately.

 

The lesson I take away is this: If you are a positive person & you find yourself thinking so negatively, then alarm bells should start ringing.

Where your thoughts tend to turn to the worst case scenario, where trust breaks down, where you start disliking others around you, then you are in a toxic environment.

Where misunderstandings become commonplace because you no longer expect the truth or you expect the worst in people, then you are in a toxic environment.

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”Richard P. Feynman

The only option left to you at that point is to leave. Nothing will change. Don’t waste your time. Some people waste months – even years – hoping it will.

Culture is very difficult to influence, let alone radically change, so ask yourself whether you are willing to fight the fight or whether it’s time to throw in the towel.

Stop making excuses to yourself. Stop entertaining thoughts that things might improve. That maybe people will change. That maybe things will change with that promotion or pay rise. You are fooling yourself.

Don’t be a fool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taken advantage of in a foreign country

My belief in the start-up model has been on the rocks for a while. ‘The Mission‘ convinces us to dedicate ourselves in the interest of investors & being a ‘family’ makes us feel part of something greater than just a corporation. Yet this week has been the final nail in the coffin.

If I ever wanted evidence that founders & investors do not usually give a shit about employees, then the violation of my employment contract is a clear-cut example.

In short, I was fired on Friday via email, with no explanation of the cause.

Dismissal without explanation is not only a cowardly move, but one that, under German law, is illegal. You must provide 4 weeks notice in all cases other than exceptional circumstances. I’ve done nothing ‘exceptional’ recently, so can only interpret this immediate termination as an attempt to avoid paying earnings they are contractually obliged to pay.

Maybe it’s because I’m new to Germany & they think I am naïve enough to not have looked into German law?

Whatever the reason, any violation of the bedrock of workers’ rights, an employment contract, is legally & morally abhorrent. It is the one thing that protects us, the little people, from the superior power of a corporation.

Yet it doesn’t surprise me one bit. Neither the way it was enacted – just a short email – nor the violation of my contract.

Part of the reason I had been deciding to leave had been a previous violation of my contract: an attempt to short-change me on the number of holiday days allocated in my contract. I derided the claim that I had, in fact, signed an ‘old contract’ & was therefore not entitled to my full, contractual holiday quota. I was unaware that was how contracts worked.

So it would even be expected – rather than a surprise – that a contract violation would occur again.

 

The lesson I take away with me is this:

One action reveals a company’s true nature. Don’t allow yourself to excuse that behaviour as the exception. Be aware that it is probably the rule.

Trampling over my employment contract has happened twice to me, so it is likely to have happened to others. Yet no-one speaks out or knows what to do about it.

True, I was taking action to extricate myself by setting up a new business, but I should have cut ties immediately, rather than allow myself to be dragged along for another few months.

There is never a perfect time to start a business or quit your job, so when you know it’s time, you must take action.

Rather than a clean-break, I find myself caught up in legal worries & with a sense of disgust at my whole experience with the company.

 

 

 

I was fired without even a thank you note

Stage 1: Why?

I checked my inbox yesterday to find an email titled ‘Contract Termination’. I did a double-take. I read it, thought about it, a little bemused, read it again.

It surprised me because I thought this had been a one-way relationship of dissatisfaction so far. I thought I had managed to mask my disinterest & dislike well enough to keep doing a good enough job.

But then some decisions like this are not always ‘fair’. The problem is not the work, but my failure to submit to our autocracy. The small things, going against the culture that has been forced upon us, obviously became a problem.

The fact that it was a 9-5 for me, rather than a passion, meant I was out the door by 5.30pm. I wanted to spend as little time as possible in that toxic environment, true. But also, pressure to work long hours completely went against my belief in- & the science behind- peak productivity practices.

The fact that I didn’t participate in our monthly team events must also have been a problem. I knew this would be the case, but I refuse to acquiesce to something that does not strike at the root of the problem. We had a culture lacking empathy & genuine teamwork. A monthly fun evening out is a lazy attempt to just paste over the cracks.

The fact that I didn’t engage with our CEO. Rather than trying to get ahead, putting on a smile & charm & pretending everything was great, I refused. I wouldn’t say I looked hostile, but indifferent & disapproving would be pretty accurate descriptions.

The fact that I didn’t get behind “the vision” was clear. Despite not a single attempt to sell the vision – let alone present the vision – we were expected to throw on our company t-shirts & talk excitedly about the road ahead. Pretty hard to keep your motivation up when you can only see two inches in front of your face.

So I reasoned that it was probably fair to get rid of me. Whether I agree with the reasons or not is largely irrelevant.

 

Stage 2: Panic

“What am I gonna do about money? What do I tell my family? How do I even register as unemployed?! I don’t even speak German!”

Luckily this only lasted 5 minutes.

I had been building up to resignation for 2 months, so already had a detailed, day-by-day plan of what to do once I was finally out of work.

But irrationality, fear & panic are inevitable in these kind of situations. Once I had got the initial wave out of my system, I decided to do some fear-setting, a practice coined by Tim Ferriss for approaching problems rationally & quantifying your fears.

My fears:

“What about my CV? I only worked there for 4 months!”

Firstly, I am going into freelancing next, where all work is short-term. Therefore a perception that I seem to leave companies soon after joining is irrelevant. Secondly, I’m starting my own company in future. I don’t need a CV for that. I need a good story.

 

“What about my income?”

I have savings to cover my expenses for 6 months, my living costs are low in Berlin & I will be freelancing to generate income, which can be more lucrative than a contract role.

 

“How can I tell my friends & family I’ve been fired?”

My ego was its predictably irrational self in this case. I don’t think they would particularly care that much, first of all. I also think that training yourself to not give a shit about what others think is an essential skill to entrepreneurship & a happier life, as it tends to mean you do more of what you want to do, rather than what you think others want you to do.

 

“Maybe I’m just not that good at my work?”

The fact I found work relatively easily over the last year & a half, the fact my work was praised, even in this job, for the first few months, disproves this. I just lost interest & therefore motivation, so inevitably the quality of my work deteriorated.

 

“How do I navigate German bureaucracy?”

This one is a valid fear & one I will have to confront with all my strength (& limited German conversation skills).

 

Stage 3: A Wealth of Opportunity

This is my favourite stage. After realising my fears were largely irrational & unfounded, I decided to write down the opportunities that my firing now presented.

1) I will finally have the energy, time & focus to build up the long-term business, which has started with this blog. I’ll be able to develop the blog, a podcast, create in-depth content – maybe even a book – & eventually move towards providing online courses on entrepreneurship.

2) I will finally have the time to improve my German through an intensive language programme here in Berlin.

3) I finally have control over my time. I can experiment with productivity practices, try out new hobbies, read more & generally feel more free & happy with my life.

4) I can explore different business models over the next year & see which works. UX Design consultancy? Setting up a product development agency? Going into consultancy? Starting to specialise in organisational psychology?

5) I can escape the bleak German winter for a few months a year & work remotely again.

 

Stage 4: Selecting a plan & executing

Two days later, now that the irrational fears have faded & the giddy excitement of opportunity is slowly dissipating, it is time to put my plan into action.

On Monday, I’ll be signing myself up for an intensive German learning course until Christmas. As soon as that is sorted, I’ll execute my freelancing plan.

If you want to follow my journey, then sign up below for a weekly newsletter with my thoughts & learnings from the week.

If you want to help me on my journey, email me at henry@henrylatham.me to get access to my open-source business plans, where you can comment directly on what I am up to. Any help is appreciated!

 

 

 

Seeing things for what they are

It’s easy to be naïve; to accept what is said to you at face value, rather than probing the ulterior motives.

It makes it easier to deal with a complex world with complex people. So we trust people we probably shouldn’t trust. We are naïve even though somewhere inside of us is a voice telling us to get our guard up.

Trust is great. Society is founded upon & maintained by trust. But it’s wrong to trust when you know somebody’s true character.

When you know somebody is untrustworthy, do you naïvely think that this one seemingly kind act reveals their true character? That all the other unkind acts were exceptions & this is the rule?

Yet one act is enough sometimes. It sows the seeds of self-doubt. It stops you in your tracks. You start to think, /“Maybe they are a kind person. Maybe their actions are actions of pure generosity. Maybe I was wrong all along…”/

They know that. They know that because untrustworthy people are not as naïve. They know what the darker side of humanity looks like & imagine deception at every turn. They imagine every person is always ready to seize on opportunity, so they seize on any opportunity themselves.

So don’t turn around one day, surprised that you have been deceived.

There is an ulterior motive. There always is with some people.

Standing up for yourself

Decisions can be scary

There are times in life where you have to make hard decisions. Your goals come into conflict with someone else & you find yourself struggling to decide which path to take. When your goals come into conflict with someone with more power than you, such as your boss, then this struggle is exacerbated.

However, there comes a point in life when you have to make a decision. Will you spend the rest of your life following a path defined by others or will you stand up for yourself? Will you be ruthlessly honest? Will you have courage in the face of power? Will you stand up for what you believe in, regardless of the consequences? Even if it will be difficult – scary even – are you willing to make those decisions?

Decisions around resignation or breaking up with a partner are scary & have considerable consequences. However, when you live your life by a clear set of principles, constantly revisited & revised, then such decisions become easy. They are, in fact, already made. The decision is crystal clear: it either adheres to your principles or it does not.

By highlighting examples of my principles & how I have applied them in my own life, I hope that you too can apply these to improve your decision-making & decide for yourself what you are willing to stand up for.

 

“This goes against everything I believe in”

People look a little shocked when I say I am resigning without any concrete plan for what comes next. They think that I am brave. They admire me, even.

But they misunderstand how such decision-making works for me.

I don’t live my life by a definitive document of beliefs like a modern day ’10 Commandments’. Since reading Ray Dalio’s book, Principles (the inspiration for this post), I have started to.

But even before reading about Dalio’s use of written principles to guide all his – & his company’s – decision-making, I have always held firm to certain truths.

I tend to write about them, for example in Lying. They tend to come through in my conversations & writing in some form. They are clarified & reinforced through meditation & journaling.

With these principles, when I believe something to be true, I am rarely able to act in a way that comes into conflict with those truths, unless rationally convinced that I am in fact wrong.

Therefore, coming back to bravery, I do not see my actions as brave. I see them as an inevitable consequence of having strongly-held principles that are not easily changed.

I am not able to bend my own rules ‘just this once’ because truth is truth. It is not something that you can ignore when it is convenient.

So, later today, when our CEO asks me into one of our meeting rooms for a ‘quick chat’, I will not leave my truths at the door. They are part of me & I must stand up for them.

His belief in absolute rule comes directly into conflict with my core belief that radical honesty is the only way to develop the best ideas & to help each other grow.

Where he envisions everyone unquestioningly following his vision, I see that vision being formed from the amalgamation of innovative & revised ideas coming from a diverse, talented team.

So what can I really do in this situation? Lie & trash my beliefs? Or just simply accept that this is the situation I find myself in & that my truths must be adhered to.

There’s no point complaining. There’s no point hoping things might change. There’s no point questioning whether you might be wrong or not.

Trust your gut. You know what has to be done.

 

 

Live by principles

Take 2 minutes to write down 10 of your core principles. Maybe it’s something like, ‘I believe in people having honest relationships’.

Then write down 3 examples of where these core beliefs are in conflict with your own actions or the actions of others. Now that you have written these core beliefs out, what will you do to correct the situation? Are you able to continue being dishonest with yourself? Does that sit well with you?

 

 

If you’re struggling for an example, here’s mine:

Core belief: I believe in being honest with & fair to people at all times. This is a standard that I want to always hold myself to.

Conflicting action: I remember a year or two ago someone gave me extra change in a shop (I think it was around €10). I noticed this on the way out & happily went about my day thinking I’d ‘won’ in some way. This came directly into conflict with my belief in honesty (I essentially passively stole money) & fairness (the cashier probably had to pay for it from her pay cheque). Therefore when this happened again recently, when I noticed I had been given too much change I automatically handed it back. The pride & happiness of adhering to my beliefs was worth far more than the few extra Euros.

 

 

Leave a comment to let us know what your core beliefs are & when you’ve come into conflict with them.

 

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Unfortunately no-one gives a shit.

We complain about everything. You can’t find the right job. Your boss doesn’t respect you. Learning a new language is too hard. You don’t have enough money.

We readily pass blame on to others, whilst not lifting a finger ourselves. We delude ourselves with ideas of grandeur, that our incredible intelligence & talent is only being held back by the actions of others. If only they knew our full potential.

Yet we remain paralysed, shocked even, as the world continues to not give a shit. The world hasn’t even heard of you, but you wait expectantly for it to lay out the red carpet & lead you to your dream life. You expect it to hold your hand the entire way, diligently removing any barrier in your path.

But why should the world give a shit? What have you done to be noticed? You’re delusional to think – & wrong to expect – that your situations will be resolved by other people or events.

So, should you just become all apathetic & nihilistic? Or just remove yourself from society so you don’t have to deal with the constant sucker-punches to your ego & the oppressive weight of the world bearing down upon you & crushing your dreams? No. You should fight back. You should make things happen.

 

“I hate my job”

Complaint without action is particularly prevalent when it comes to job applications. I see my friends in dead-end jobs that they desperately want to get out of. We have the same conversations. I encourage them to leave. Discuss a few first steps about how to make it happen. They get motivated. Forget about it by Monday. Do nothing.

This cycle happens literally every single week for a vast swathe of humanity. Distracted by work on Monday. ’Fuck my life’ by Wednesday. Down the pub on Friday.

Yet when I discuss specifics, it’s just painfully obvious why they never seem to make any progress.

“I applied for a couple [meaning literally 2] of job applications, but got rejected.”

 

Unless you have a CV that Elon Musk would be proud of, this is genuinely laughable. You really think that every person that picks up your CV gasps in amazement as they pore over your 5A*’s at GCSE or your 3-month work experience at a law firm?

You are absolutely deluded to think that you are noticeably better than most people around you. You may even be a lot better in person. But your CV is most probably not.

What do you think would happen, however, if you sent out 10 applications? Or 100?

Last year, I sent out 80+ when applying for jobs last year, with a conversion rate of 7 final stage interviews & 4 final offers. My CV is good, but not exceptional. I’ve started my own company & worked in a variety of product teams in different countries. So what? So have a million other people.

I don’t say this out of pride. I do it to highlight the fact that under 10% of companies asked me to interview. That’s a low success rate. So you think 2 or 3 job applications will do it? You are, as previously stated, deluded.

My point is this: if you complain, then be willing to take action to resolve that problem.

Hate your job? Apply for 100 other positions & you’ll likely have a number of exciting offers on the table.

Hate your boss? Explain to him whatever you issue have or just fucking leave.

Complaining about how hard it is to start a business? No one gives a shit. Start improving at the things you find hard. Start reading. Attend events. Find mentors.

Start taking responsibility for your lives. Stop talking. Start doing.

 

Make sacrifices.

Do you remember a moment when you’ve ever given up on your dream? Maybe a career path? A business you started? The dream girl you never asked out?

I imagine you remember it as this event completely outside of your control. That you felt the world was conspiring to take it away from you. That these unstoppable forces outside of your control were determining the outcome of your life & you were left there, helpless, unable to do anything about it.

The reality is that you, most likely, did not take action or were not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make that happen.

We at Punchintheface are currently building a business whilst in a full-time job we detest. We complain about our situation A LOT. It actually motivates us quite effectively. But we are willing to put the work in & make sacrifices. We take action.

You think it’s fun waking up at 6am when it’s cold & dark outside? You think we like missing out on hanging out with friends? You think working all Saturday is how we want to spend our weekends? No, but we are willing to make that sacrifice.

We know that being unhappy in our job & lacking purpose is unacceptable to us, so changing that is a necessity. Without happiness & purpose, we can’t enjoy any aspects of our lives.

 

Start taking responsibility

So next time you complain about something in your life, stop & think. Are you willing to put the work in to change it? Is it so bad that you /must/ make change? Or are you happy to live your life with that nagging feeling festering, unresolved in your mind?

It’s easy to get paralysed by inaction, not knowing where to even start. Stop making excuses. If you’re willing to put hard work in, then you’ll find a way. Stop complaining. Start taking responsibility.

 

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