What’s my story?

Without a story compelling enough to make you stop, remark upon it & pass that remark on to somebody else, you’ll get nowhere.

Whether you’re building a product or building a personal brand, at some point you’ll realise that people just don’t care. There are 7 billion of you milling about the world, all thinking their lives are the most important thing that’s ever happened.

Fuck the Industrial Revolution, the World Wars, the invention of TV, the Twin Towers, the internet.

What about that fucking guy at the checkout aisle last week that pushed past me? Why can other people not understand how big a deal that was?

Because, as I said, there are 7 billion of you. No-one does — nor should they — give a shit.

 

So, to become noticed — to deserve to be noticed even — you must tell a compelling story that resonates with them.

You must tell a story that aligns with the stories they tell themselves.

Let’s take an example:

Imagine you write a quality blog about how to recycle better. You send it to a group of environmentalists. They’ll read it & they will listen.

Send that article to a right-wing, oil industry lobby group, however, and it’s going straight in their junk mail.

That’s because the stories you tell, your ideas, align with the stories the environmentalists tell themselves. A story of preserving the planet, of limited resources.

The oil industry lobby group, on the other hand, tell themselves a different story. A story of infinite resources, of the supremacy of financial gain, of protecting their vested interests.

Back to the drawing board

So when I sat down to write, thinking about what story I wanted to convey to the world, I realised I must tell one that clicks with my audience.

It could not be one that was self-indulgent, ego-driven & irrelevant for an outsider.

It would be a story of injustice. Of getting fired. Of having principled that would not be swayed. Of standing up to a fraudster.

I don’t know in which theatre that story will be played out, how each act will unfold, where it will take me even.

I just know that I stand by one primary belief:

That life is too short to not seize every opportunity, to go on the attack, to pursue your dreams.

That you have 4,000 weeks in your life to do something you love with. Something that gets you out of bed in the morning. Something that makes you look forward to each day.

That you can make all the excuses you want, but you’ve got the same 4,000 weeks as everyone else, so don’t go & waste them.

The Lies & Stories That Determine Our Lives

Lies. Lies. Lies.

Lies are all around us.

We tell ourselves lies all the time. They form the beliefs we internalise & therefore guide our decisions & actions.

Others tell us lies. They want us to believe a certain story about their product, or about their lives.

We lie to ourselves. We get lied to.

 

This is because we need these lies, these stories we tell ourselves, to operate as a collective in a complex world. As Yuval Noah Harari points out in Sapiens, without Homo Sapiens’ unique ability to form communities based around certain stories, such as religion, we would never have been successful:

“Sapiens rule the world, because we are the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. We can create mass cooperation networks, in which thousands and millions of complete strangers work together towards common goals. One-on-one, even ten-on-ten, we humans are embarrassingly similar to chimpanzees. Any attempt to understand our unique role in the world by studying our brains, our bodies, or our family relations, is doomed to failure. The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mysterious glue that enables millions of humans to cooperate effectively.

This mysterious glue is made of stories, not genes. We cooperate effectively with strangers because we believe in things like gods, nations, money and human rights. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money and no human rights—except in the common imagination of human beings. You can never convince a chimpanzee to give you a banana by promising him that after he dies, he will get limitless bananas in chimpanzee Heaven. Only Sapiens can believe such stories. This is why we rule the world, and chimpanzees are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.”

 

Let’s use the example of money:

People believe that little bits of green paper are worth something. They trust them because they believe the government will guarantee them. They trust the government because they believe it has legitimate authority. If people started to stop believing in money, modern society would break down & cease to function.

Money is just a story we tell ourselves. It is a lie. It is not necessary a bad thing, but it is just important to be aware that we collectively tell ourselves a story about money that doesn’t have any inherent truth to it.

 

We Need Lies

We need these lies. Without them society wouldn’t function. I need you to believe what I tell you. You need someone to believe what you tell them. We need to believe what society tells us, or government, or our neighbour.

None of it’s true. We can never know what is really true. Every belief we have stems from our specific socio-political context.

We think slavery was barbaric. In two centuries time, they’ll think that eating meat was barbaric.

But don’t worry. You don’t need to go into a spiral of self-doubt, nor question your very existence. We have to believe something, or we can’t really operate.

 

Simplicity from Complexity

We live in an ever-more complex world. As a result, it’s become easier for us to tell ourselves bad lies.

Good lies would be those that are, to the best of our knowledge, help pursue your own, as well as society’s, interests. A good lie would be to recycle, because you want to protect the environment & feel good about it.

A bad lie are those where you are un-informed or mis-informed. Where you think you are pursuing only your own interest, or where somebody else has manipulated you into thinking something despite the facts. A bad lie would be buying an expensive cleaning product that is supported by fake scientific data, for example.

There are so many things. So many decisions. So many ridiculously complex things we need to do ever day that we simplify to cope.

We can’t read up the relative pros & cons of one shampoo, spending weeks reading into the scientific data, testing it ourselves, running peer-reviewed trials & studies, etc. We just want to buy some shampoo. Ideally in under a minute.

So we tell ourselves a bad lie. We make a snap decision based on appearance, based on first impression, on what someone said last week about it.

We follow the company’s lie: We believe the story they told us about their rigorous testing method, the fruity-ness of the ingredients, the foamy-ness of their foam.

 

The Pursuit of Better Lies

You can’t always tell yourselves good lies. But you can tell yourself better lies.

The world is complex. It’s only likely to get more so. You can’t inform yourself about everything. You can’t question everything.

But you can pursue the truth in things that matter. Maybe don’t worry about the shampoo, or the toothpaste brand.

But do worry about the big things:

Is the career path you’ve chosen based on bad lies?
What about that relationship?
The people you hang out with?
Your rampant consumerism?
That new car?

 

(Most of the lies I’ve written here come courtesy of the lies Seth Godin passed on to me in his thought-provoking book All Marketers are Liars.)

Focus on the foundations

We tend to focus on the small things & ignore the big things.

When building a product, we skip over the problem in our excitement to build a solution – any solution.

When building a team, we skip over the principles that we must share to keep us together on the journey.

When building a company, we skip over building a clear, long-term vision.

It stems from impatience. Everyone rushes ahead, worrying about the little things, willing things to move fast. Busying themselves because they lack the patience, to stop, to observe. They allocate time & resources in a flash, rather than approaching it as methodically as a chess grandmaster would.

Fear also plays a major part in this. It’s hard to face the big issues. The structural problems in your company. The toxic culture. The lack of leadership you have provided.

It takes some deep self-examination. It takes questioning your ego. It takes making hard decisions that are going to upset a lot of people.

It also means confronting the possibility that things might not work out. That the underlying problems have become too big.

But it’s got to be done. Those problems will rear their head at some point. And you’ll be unprepared for it. You’ll act surprised, shocked even, but you always knew they were there. You just tried to ignore them.

So be patient & build your foundations properly. Without strong foundations, it doesn’t matter how big you may get, at some point that first storm is going to head your way.

And it’s going to blow your company right over.

What’s your story?

Anyone starting a company knows — or at least should know — the power of story-telling.

A product — let’s say an ice cream brand — could focus on marketing the ten scientific reasons why it is better than any of its competition.

These clear facts may even be understood & accepted as true by the potential customer.

The customer may even like their fancy packaging, the drool-inducing images & the warm, welcoming branding.

But they don’t give quite enough of a shit. They still buy the more expensive, objectively less healthy version on the next shelf.

Why? Because our first product has no soul. It has no narrative to match the brand. Where did it come from? Who worked their arses off to get the milk churned, to hand-pick the fruit, to send it off to you with love, care & dedication?

I don’t even particularly like ice-cream, but if I buy it, I’ll buy Ben & Jerry’s.

The names are fun, true. But I buy it because I remember reading the back of the pack fifteen years ago & it resonated with me. Two guys, on an organic farm, raising a couple of cows, coming up with crazy recipes. What is not to love?

And what’s more? I don’t even know whether it’s organic, nor how many cows they have, nor how they come up with the recipes. It’s probably all just done in a factory by a team of guys in lab coats.

But my ten-year old self created that image in my head & it’s still the same one my twenty-five year-old self envisions.

 

So start telling your story

So any entrepreneur or marketer knows the value of story-telling. Yet we still don’t f**king do it!

And that’s OK. I have ignored it myself. And that’s because it’s a really hard art.

 

Find something remarkable

You need to find something that is compelling enough for people to go & tell their friends. This can happen with luck, but generally happens with a decent understanding of psychology or with the experience of trying one hundred ideas & seeing if one sticks.

We live in a crowded world. It must be remarkable, something worth remarking upon, in order for people to stop & notice.

 

Remove your ego

In order to stumble across an idea that is clear & compelling though, you must remove your subjective opinion as much as possible.

What you assume is interesting about your own story is unlikely to interest others. That life-changing trip? Those years in that shitty job? Unless it really clicks with the audience & comes across as incredibly humble, you are just going to put people off.

Again, we live in a crowded world. People have heard all the sob stories. Someone somewhere has probably had the same experiences. Your audience have already been there, done that.

 

Go out there & tell people

And don’t expect to hit the ball out the park in your first go. Just start telling people what you do, what your story is. See how they react. And I don’t mean their nod of approval or supporting words. They are bullshit. They are just being nice to you.

Really see what their true reaction is. Do they tell other people? Do they visit your website? Do they get in contact with you after?

If 10 people react indifferently, go back to the drawing board.

 

I’m not a marketing guru. You’ve probably heard this advice before. Yet you didn’t actually go & follow it. Find a story, test it on a few friends, go back to the drawing board, test it on as many people as you can find.

Because if you hit that one idea, that one thing that resonates, it does all the work for you.

What value should you create for the world?

When you are ambitious, it’s really hard to settle on one thing to impact. We want to impact everything, but as a result end up impacting nothing.

We want to change the world, rather than the lives of a few people in our own backyard. We think that small step is below us. It’s insignificant.

Which is wrong. Positively impacting others’ lives, whether one or a thousand, is equally admirable.

It’s just harder to accept.

Our desire to change the world also comes, to some extent, from our ego.

We think we can dabble in a bit of everything & do it all well. Focusing on having a specific impact on a specific, small group of people is hard to accept.

Our ego doesn’t like facing up to itself in the mirror & having to ruthlessly select, in as rational way as possible, the one or two things we can do really well. It hates admitting that we are mediocre or below average at many things.

Yet we over-estimate our level of competence in almost everything. Therefore humility is the way of the truth. The data doesn’t lie.

This over-estimation is also true even when we think we may be doing something altruistic.

We just can’t help ourselves.

 

Don’t stop yourself aiming big. The bigger the impact you have the better, if that’s what your aim in life is.

Just aim big, start small.

What’s the one thing you can offer to a friend? Someone in your family? Your time? Your knowledge? What can you help them out with that no-one else can? What problems are they stuck on?

Is it starting a business? Is it help learning Spanish? Is it simply helping them out with the gardening?

That’s your unique value proposition right there. Your unique offering. For one person. And one is enough.

You’ve ticked the box showing that you offer something of value & somebody wants it. It’s simple supply & demand.

Now the question is whether you can scale it.

Can you find that second customer? What if they’ve never heard of you? What if they already use another product? How are you better? How are you different?

Can you charge them for it? Enough to pay your own bills at scale? Is it worth the time put in? Do you enjoy it enough? Can you deal with the uncertainty?

Starting a business & having an impact on the world isn’t rocket science. It just requires you to start small & ask simple questions at each step.

The tricky part is keeping your ego in check & maintaining discipline – and just realising that you need patience.

That you take small steps for years in order to get to the big steps down the road.

And unfortunately there are no shortcuts, despite what you might see on Dragons Den.

Discover that burning need you can’t ignore

“Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.” 
— Napoleon Hill
You start feeling physical symptoms. A tightening around your chest. A deep sense of dread that shakes you to your core. A physical aversion to facing that office door & walking in to face another day. One of nothingness, one that blurs into all the others, one that numbs you.
You start to become ill. Depressed. Angered by it.
You’ve finally reached that point where a burning need to quit your job or start a business emerges. Not doing it is just no longer an option.
Without this burning need, however, you must accept that you are not ready. Without it, it’s too easy to give up. You’ll hit your first bump in the road & hastily retreat.
Entrepreneurship is fraught with fear, uncertainty & no guarantee of success. You can put your heart & soul into something for years & come out of it with your self-confidence shot through, no money in the bank & an endless list of what ifs’.
So you need that burning need as a constant companion. There are too many reasons to give up otherwise. Too many excuses you can rationally make. Too many people saying you are wrong. Too many unknowns for fear to not overwhelm you.
Think of dieting. Of alcoholism. Of drug addiction. People don’t change until they hit rock bottom. Until they hit rock bottom it just hasn’t got bad enough. The temptation to treat yourself just this once’ becomes too great.
You could have the best diet plan ever, the best trainer, & a mountain of evidence to support how & why you need to lose weight. But, until you internalise that why’ to such a deep level that you see no alternative, you’ll give up.
Peer-reviewed studies, for example, suggest that the success rate of Alcoholics Anonymous, the most popular addiction recovery programme in the world, is only 5-10%.
Unless that burning thirst to change is unquenchable, then just don’t bother starting.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness” William Hutchison Murray

My Rock Bottom

I reached rock bottom three months ago. I hated my job. I lacked purpose. I was miserable. I felt myself getting sucked into the tired cycle of 9-5, with a brief respite on a Friday night to allow myself to ignore the dread & the ever-present question:
“Is this it?”
So I started waking up early. I gave up going out. I gave up on a lot of my social life. I avoided any extra work in my day job.
I discovered a burning need an obsession even to dedicate all of my limited resources to finding a solution to the problem. To find a clear purpose & focus all of my attention on it. To avoid the trap of busying myself to feel like I was doing something productive. To put in the work to write 30 articles in 30 days, whilst always knowing only 1 or 2 may hold the answer.
For me it was not dramatic. There was no storming out of the office, resignation letter in hand. No snap decision without rationalisation.
My plan would take months, but each day I was dedicated to constantly moving one small step closer to it.
Each day took me towards leaving an unfulfilling job, towards the relative freedom of freelancing & building our business, punchintheface, in order to help others in similar situations take action.

You are not ready

If you do not feel the pull of entrepreneurship as a need, but merely an interest something you want to dabble in, to test out just to see if you can do it then you are not ready.
And I say not ready’ very deliberately.
Deep down we all desire freedom. It is a fundamental concept underpinning our basic human needs. The freedom to not worry about paying off a mortgage. The freedom to buy that new car. The freedom to travel the world. The freedom to take a Tuesday afternoon off to catch up with an old friend. Freedom from oppression. From society. From doing things we just don’t want to do.
A corporation takes that freedom from you. It impinges upon you. It takes from you.
Everyone has that desire to gain their freedom somewhere within them. In a capitalist society, that freedom of or at least control over time & money comes from entrepreneurship.
Therefore the question is not about whether you are the type of person that is an entrepreneur’, but, rather, whether that burning need to act upon your thoughts is strong enough. Or will fear of the unknown, fear of change & fear of failure get in the way?
Ask yourself, are you more scared of waking up one day, old, unsatisfied, having never tried?
Or are you more scared about what people will think when you leave your job? Of needing to cut down your spending when your company is struggling? Of not boasting about your new promotion at the next office party?
If you are scared of the latter, then ask yourself another question:
“Who is living your life? Society? Your friends? Your family? Or yourself?”
You know the answer. Yet you will convince yourself you are happy. That your corporate job has created a beautiful, fulfilling life for yourself. I mean, if everyone else is doing it, then surely it’s the answer?
To that I would say look yourself in the mirror. Can you honestly say to yourself that you are happy? That this is what you want to do with your life? Your only chance to live new experiences, to try new things?
It’s OK to be scared. Everyone is. Starting something new, going against the current. All of it is scary. But what should really terrify you is having never tried.

Make yourself ready

Very few of us ever become ready. The truth is that you will never be ready. It’s all going to be new & unknown. You’ll constantly need to learn new skills. To learn how to face known and unknown fears.
But you can cultivate that burning need.
Who are you hanging out with? What do they talk about? Are they really happy? What are their ambitions? Their goals?
If you haven’t felt the burning need to change now, then part of the problem is them.
The type of people that accept the norm, that shy away from difficult conversations, that are unsupportive of your ideas. They are people to avoid. They will only drag you down.
If the law of averages holds true, then you are the average of the 5 people you spend time with, so think carefully about who you want to become & what average you are willing to be.
If your friends work unfulfilling, corporation jobs, then you are likely to work an unfulfilling, corporate job. If your friends talk about buying a new car, then you will talk about buying a new car.
If, on the other hand, you surround yourself by some of the world’s best entrepreneurs & thinkers, then it’s a fair to assume that you will start pushing yourself a lot more in life.
So surround yourself with 5 interesting people doing interesting things. People who constantly strive to push themselves. To try new things. To be idealistic. To become empowered.
You’ll find yourself in conversations about life. About what the point of it is. About whether there’s a point. About crypto-currencies. About technology. About change.
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
You will start to develop ideas. To question things you never questioned before. To develop ambition & idealism.
You will find that a subtle momentum starts to build. Quietly at first. Then almost tangible.
Your interest will be peaked by something. You will start to develop an idea. Most tend to be crushed in infancy, but your friends will encourage it & develop that idea with you.
It will start as a small flame, but you will feel that burning desire to pursue that idea. You will start talking about it, reading voraciously, obsessively thinking about it.
And one day you will stop & think back to this article. It will have hit you. You never even saw it coming. That burning need to change.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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