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.)

How to stop people stealing your time

It’s not just at work that you find yourself led astray. You sort of expect it there. You watch out for it.

Maybe your boss asks you to stay in late to finish that project. Maybe a colleague asks you to help out with some seemingly important task that throws your to-do list off for the day.

But maybe it’s also your friends, your family. The people you love to spend time with, but maybe you spend up spending too much time with.

Whether it’s a holiday or long weekend away, there’s always the risk of other people throwing you off course for a few days. And it takes a few days to get back on it.

They want to do everything together, as you do too. But you’ve got to meditate, to journal, to write that article or record that podcast. They are just in full-on escape-from-work mode. They want to disconnect. Not hear the words ‘productivity’ or ‘creative’. They just aren’t interested.

Which is fine, but you’ve got keep those habits up.

So find yourself a few hours, maybe before everyone is up. Go to a café, do some writing, carve out those 1-2 hours you need to create something. Be focused. Leave it at 1-2 hours. Then go & enjoy your day.

Because, at the end of the day, you’re going to remember the experiences enjoyed with them in 20 years, as opposed to the writing or the meditating or the podcast.

But you can still do both.

Choosing One Thing To Change

The biggest problem I find myself facing is choice.

We are so used to living in a society over-whelmed by choice that when it comes to choosing & prioritising what to work on, what to focus your life on, we lack the practice.

Buying toilet roll, for example, is not just buying toilet roll. Which supermarket are you going to go to? How much do you need? Which brand are you getting? Why? How does that 20% off promotion influence you? Soft?

Even the most insignificant decisions become big decisions. Not in importance, but in how much of your time & mental energy it demands.

To compound this, most choices we face are pretty easy to reverse, or the consequences of the choice don’t matter so much.

Buy the wrong chewing gum? Not the end of the world. Even bought the wrong TV? You can just take it back.

When it comes to allocating your time based on a specific choice, such as deciding on a certain career path, it’s not so easy.

 

We are fear-driven

However confidence & in-control we may seem, we all share the same nagging thoughts. The same doubts. The same fears.

What if it doesn’t work out? What will people think? What will I think of myself? But what if I end up doing this all my life? What if I can’t switch careers in future? What if the industry falls apart?

All of these negative thoughts exacerbate our poor decision-making. They influence which decision we should make, making those decisions less rational & more in our short-term interest.

 

You can never recover lost time.

Time is finite. You also only have a limited amount of it to allocate.

Therefore any decision that will determine how you spend a lot of your time is an important decision. Important decisions are scary decisions, because we can never know whether a decision is right or wrong. We realise we are never in control of all of the facts, so have to make an educated guess with what information we have.

 

Decision Debt.

Every time you allocate time to something, it means you are not dedicating it to something else.

By deciding to be a product designer, for example, you are deciding to not be an engineer, or a lawyer.

Big decisions around your career lead you down a specific path. The initial choice may seem small & simple, but the path it leads you on will become ever-more divergent.

 

Lack of information.

Choices tend to be made with pretty limited information. You decide what to study at university whilst still at school. You decide on a career path whilst still at university. You determine the course of your life in your early 20’s.

Should you really spend the rest of your life following the goals you set in your 20’s, when you really had no clue about the world?

 

No easy answers.

I find myself aware of the psychology of fear & decision-making, aware of my scattered thought processes around tough choices I need to make. I’ve read countless books & articles on all of this, yet I still struggle.

Decision-making for me is like a muscle. The more I practice, the better I get. But I’m also aware I’ll never be that good at it. I’ll be influence by my fears, whether rational or irrational. I’ll be aware of the gravity of some decisions both in the short- and long-term. This will make each decision hard. It makes each decision scary.

Rather than offering advice on how to prioritise & execute effectively, however, I think the most effective step is to just realise – & never accept – decisions by default.

Never take the path laid out in front of you. Never stay in that relationship just because you’re already in it. Or that career path just because you’re already 2 years in. Don’t take that job just because someone offered it to you.

“Don’t fail by default.” — Richard Paul Evans

Mornings Can Make Or Break Your Day

Mornings determine how you spend your day. How you spend your day determines how you spend your life. So mornings are important.

In Tools of Titans, author Tim Ferriss interviews some of the world’s best, across a diverse range of fields. One commonality? Almost all of them follow a very strict daily routine, mostly applied to their mornings.

I won’t delve into what those habits are & how to incorporate them into your own lives. Other authors have already done a much better job than I could ever do.

Rather, I want to highlight how following – or not following – a morning routine can create a string of successful, or unsuccessful, days that can compound to lead your life in two very different directions.

One, the path of success & constant improvement. The other, a state of reactive survival mode, characterised by frustration & a lack of progress.

Follow a strict morning routine & you set yourself up for inevitable success in life.

 

“But I’m not a morning person”

What does this even mean?

We say it in such a matter-of-fact way that we rarely even stop to question it.

Does it mean you’ve had a bad morning? That you are in some way “bad” at mornings? That you tend to get up late? That you’re unproductive in the mornings?

There is some evidence to suggest genetics may play a role, affecting determining our natural circadian rhythm. However, for the vast majority, not being a “morning person” stems from bad habits.

The usual suspects:

1. Not sleeping enough: drinking a lot of alcohol before bed, staring at bright screens before bed, having your phone on loud by your bed, going to bed too late, worrying about your schedule the following day, etc.

2. Waking up late: Lack of sleep tends to mean you wake up later & you wake up tired

3. Rushing: You rush around, because you got up late, forgetting your keys, wolfing breakfast down & forgetting that report you need for work on the way out the door

4. Failure to plan & prioritise: You start work or whatever you’re meant to be doing that morning with no planning, no thought into it & a slightly muddled, bumbling approach to execution

5. Being reactive: You don’t look for tasks to do, but rather wait for tasks to be sent your way or for (apparent) crises to pop-up to immediately deal with. You put out fires rather than pro-actively building something yourself

To put this in perspective: Do you think somebody that has slept 5 hours, wakes up 10 minutes before they need to leave, rushes out the door to the metro, runs to work & arrives flustered & exhausted is going to be able to execute & prioritise effectively in the first hour or two of their morning? Are they going to describe themselves as a “morning person”?

 

Mornings are habits

A successful morning is one formed of a collection of habits. Our cognitive abilities wear out throughout the day, so many highly successful people try to put as much as possible on auto-pilot (I.E. convert an action into a habit).

By doing so, they are then able to spend their finite cognitive abilities on whatever is most important to them, whether that be prioritising for the day or creating unique content.

Rather than worrying about what they are going to have for breakfast today, for example, they just always eat the same thing. It’s just a decision they don’t need to – or want to – be making.

I’ve experimented with morning routines for a few years now. It tends to change a little every few months, but generally I try to stick to the following when in a full-time job:

  •  6am wake-up
  • Cold shower to really wake yourself up & get an endorphin hit
  • Meditation for 10 minutes using Headspace
  • No breakfast (I follow intermittent fasting), but always a coffee
  • Quick 5-10 minute journal (free-flow writing & priorities for the day)
  • Write one article to publish on Medium
  • Short break (maybe read an article or go for a quick walk)
  • 90-minute immersive block focused on my main priority for the day

Now that I’m self-employed, I tend to get up a little later & I will add another 90-minute block in the late morning on my priority tasks.

Routines like this may seem intimidating if you’re mornings are currently a mess. But it shouldn’t be. These are habits I’ve integrated over a few years. They are now automatic. I don’t even need to think about them. The only thing I need to think about is what I’m creating for my article & what my priorities for the day are. All the trivialities of my day are taken care of.

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hit your exact routine every day. Just aim for every day. I tend to hit mine 70% of the time.

 

Mornings are the Cornerstone to Success

I cannot stress this point enough: Follow a strict morning routine & you set yourself up

for inevitable success in life.

Society tends to promulgate the belief that success can be achieved overnight. People that are successful seem to get lucky, or suddenly just discover all of the skills & talents to make them successful. There’s no hard work involved.

This is a myth. There is always hard work involved. It just doesn’t make for exciting reading to talk about the thousands of hours put in, getting up early & sacrificing your social life to pursue your ambitions.

When, therefore, you have a goal for yourself, such as starting a business or changing career, it’s not just going to happen overnight. It’s not just suddenly going to happen in a year or two years when you snap your fingers & finally commit to that goal.

Success is built up over years.

 

It starts today by building robust systems into your day. By integrating & maintaining habits that will make the attainment of that goal inevitable.

Want to start a business? Setting aside an hour every morning to write about it will get you there at some point. It’s just a question of when.

Even if you’re only able to get 30 minutes of deep, focused work done before heading off to your 9-5 job, then that is already a successful day, regardless of what happens after.

It means that every morning you are building momentum towards whatever you want to achieve.

Because mornings determine how you spend your day. How you spend your day determines how you spend your life.

Little lies we tell ourselves

We set ourselves arbitrary goals. We make blanket statements that will determine the direction of the next few years of our life. We try to simplify & end up making no sense.

Before starting my last job, I clearly remember saying that I would join for two years. I was very specific on the 2 years.

Once I had made that mental decision, I moved on. Didn’t think about it again for a while.

2 months in, whilst having an open, honest conversation with a colleague about whether I enjoyed the work & what my plans for life were, I re-stated my commitment to 2 years at the company.

“But what do you mean? That’s just a number…”

 

And it struck me that I had just decided, on a whim, to dedicate commit myself to an arbitrary number.

That arbitrary number had been set to simplify a complex goal, a goal of gaining enough experience in product development, in a growing start-up to then start my own company.

So 2 years seemed reasonable.

But it’s a bit silly really. What does ‘2 years’ really mean? I could spend 10 years a in a dead-end job & learn the same amount – if not more – running my own start-up for 3 months.

But it’s pretty hard to quantify ‘experience’. When have you learnt ‘enough’? What type of experiences are you having? What are you learning? What are you not learning? So we set an arbitrary, more easily quantifiable figure on it, like a time period.

‘I’ll start that business once I’ve got 2 years experience. Once I’ve saved €10,000. Once I’ve been promoted.’

 

When starting a new business, it’s simply impossible to ever have enough experience. To be ready. To have everything under control.

What you are attempting to do is inherently risky, uncertain & unsolved. You start a new business to solve a problem there may not even be a solution for.

The only way to get experience for that is by doing it. Just starting it & seeing where it takes you.

 

Somewhere within me I knew that my 2-year goal was just a lie for these very reasons. ‘Experience’ & an arbitrary time period were just excuses to mask the fact that I was apprehensions, nervous, scared.

I refused to openly admit to myself that I needed to start taking steps towards working out what my new business would look like. Because without any idea of what you want to do, it’s hard to know where to start.

But you have to just accept that you’ll never feel ready. You’ll never be ready. You can make all the excuses you want, but, at the end of the day, you’ve got to just start.

 

 

Habits Form the Foundations of Business Success

You can bring in new leadership to radically transform a company. Pay a consultancy firm millions to point out flaws you already see. Put systems in place to change culture.

But employees are still liking to go through the motions, doing things as they have always done them. Always defaulting to their past behaviour.

Come in at 9.30. Check emails. Meeting. Lunch. Meeting. Emails. Coffee machine. Look busy. Leave.

If we are creatures of habit, then the companies we collectively creature of habit.

One that evolves independently of conscious action. One that, once set, is difficult to influence. Rather than trying to shift these leviathans, better to start with the foundations.

Change employee habits.

Request meeting times to be under 30 minutes. Ask everyone to experiment with journaling, meditating, 80/20 analysis. Get them to do it on company time so they actually bother.

Transform your employees into more conscious, pro-active & analytical beings & you are likely to find that your company quickly follows suit.

 

 

 

4 Reasons We Fear Commitment & How to Overcome Them

“But I don’t know what I want to do with my life…”

We are passive in life. We stumble into our first job because we throw up our hands, shrug our shoulders & think there’s nothing else we could possibly do. When we come up for air, & pause to reflect 30 years later, we are not quite able to remember why we started in the first place.

We look enviously at a friend or colleague who got out the rat race. We may even spend time looking into alternative career paths.

But we don’t commit. We never commit.

 

Which is a problem, as without commitment, we never really pursue those big, ambitious goals we should pursue in life. It leaves us paralysed, never taking action.

We tell ourselves as a society that we can be anything we want to be in life. This is just not true.

We tell ourselves we have all the time in the world, when the reality is that we will be lucky to have an impact in one area of society, maybe two if our work is exceptional.

Celebrity culture means we are always looking for the quick wins. The big breaks. The instant fame. The all-in-one modelling, music & acting careers. It makes us believe that commitment is not really a big deal – or necessary.

So we don’t commit. We remain perpetually scared of commitment. Petrified even. Because commitment means we trigger almost every type of fear we could possibly trigger.

 

5 types of fear:

  •  Extinction: The fear of no longer existing (a.k.a death), which gives birth to the fear of heights or flying.
  • Mutilation: The fear of losing any part of our bodies or being physically invaded or harmed (includes the fear of spiders and sharp objects).
  • Loss of Autonomy: The fear of being helpless because of physical or social restraints that are beyond our control. This includes the fear of closed spaces or even commitments that might make you feel like a prisoner.
  • Separation: The fear of rejection and being unwanted or unvalued by others, which can be especially damaging when you consider that we are social creatures that crave connectedness. This is usually the voice in your head that asks you, “What will people think?”
  • Ego-death: The fear of losing our established sense of self, having our confidence crushed, or questioning our own competence and understanding of who we are. This includes the fear of failure and shame.

Source: Practical Intelligence by Dr. Karl Albrecht

Ego-death

We fear the potential failure that comes with commitment. Whether it be a relationship or new venture, failure – & the inevitable mistakes that come with trying something new – will lead you to question your confidence, competence & self-worth.

 

Separation

Failure is still looked down upon & is, to some extent, seen as shameful. You fail once & you are a failure. As social animals, we fear how others perceive us & base our self-worth far too often on society’s opinion. “What will people think?” Becomes a question we internalise & constantly repeat to ourselves.

We shouldn’t celebrate failure for the sake of it. Somebody that fails at the same business idea 10 times becomes he’s unable to learn from his mistakes should not be praised.

We should, however, recognise that failure is inevitable at some point when you try something new & that society’s response to it is irrational & irrelevant.

 

Loss of autonomy

There is a sense that committing to something, whether a relationship or new company, closes off all your other options. You can feel trapped.

In a society built upon constant change & upgrade, always craving something new, it is no wonder this short-term mentality trickles into other aspects of our lives.

 

Extinction

Perhaps the most powerful & least tangible fear, however, is the fear of death.

This is because commitment to a goal, such as a specific career path or new company, forces us to confront our own mortality.

Commitment denotes “life’s work”, “dedicating your life to some specific cause or problem.

Therefore we shy away from commitment. We prefer to sit in life’s waiting room, thinking we have all the time in the world. We ignore the reality that we have but a brief moment to make an impact on it through dedicating ourselves to one goal.

Most of us can only hope to go after one specific thing in life. Maybe we’ll make an impact on it. Maybe not. Whatever the outcome, we should be proud of the fact that we tried to make an impact.

Polymaths exist, yes, but they very deliberately commit to a limited number of goals they can realistically achieve. Almost all have mastered one specific commitment first as well. Think Arnold Schwarznegger, Elon Musk, Tim Ferriss.

Commitment triggers all of these fears & therefore any commitment constitutes a big, scary decision. What do we do when something big & scary appears in our life? We tend to avoid dealing with it at all costs.

 

My Experience

I know from my own experience that these fears are very hard to identify & quantify.

Some are simple. When we closed the first company I started, BackTracker, there was a definite loss of confidence & self-worth, as well as a strong sense of social anxiety around failure.

However, things I tend to hide, that my father had a drinking problem, for example, are harder to put your finger on. Is not talking about it linked to ego-death, in that it questions my self-value? Or social anxiety? Or even a fear that I develop the same problem & achieve none of my ambitions in life?

 

 

Overcoming Commitment

All these fears are very common, if not ubiquitous. Therefore you shouldn’t become frustrated with yourself when you feel them seeping into your thoughts & actions. They are just a natural, human response.

However, you must also realise that they lead to poor decision-making. When you are fear-driven, you make bad choices & never commit to anything impactful, because everything impactful is risky.

So you end up committing to the default path. The easy path. Without even realising it, you commit yourself to a life of monotony, in a job you dislike, a relationship you are unhappy with & an expectation that life can only ever be just ‘fine’.

“Mostly, making good decisions involves beginning with a commitment to make a decision. That’s the hard part. Choosing the best possible path is only possible after you’ve established that you’ve got the guts and the commitment to make a decision.”
– Seth Godin

 

I could tell you the logical, rational solution to overcome your fear of commitment. But that doesn’t work. Your fears will prevent you from following the advice.

Rationally, you should explore a few different options first. Map the terrain, as it were. Spend time researching & dabbling. Then you should choose one path to follow & commit yourself 100% to that path. Never wavering. Never backing out.

This approach, based on Essentialism by Greg McKeown, is lauded by many top entrepreneurs & thought-leaders.

Yet most of you will still just shy away in fear & mask inaction with excuses. This is OK. It’s just a natural response.

 

Breaking commitment down

So, how to overcome your fear? Just stop talking about goals. Don’t talk about your ambition to start a new company. Don’t talk about how you want to find your dream job.

Instead, put systems in place that will make the achievement of that goal inevitable.

Say you want to start your own business. You don’t need to make grand statements & start your business plan on day 1. You’ll end up paralysed by inaction, terrified of the mountain you are about to start ascending.

Instead, put one small system in place that will get you there. Read for 30 minutes every morning on key aspects of entrepreneurialism & an industry you are interested in.

Test & reinforce that system over a couple of months.

Introduce another. Start journaling every morning for 5 minutes. Test & reinforce it. Develop that system, by writing a short article every morning. Then publishing a short article every morning.

I apply this to my own ambitions:

I want to run a business with 10-20 happy employees that pushes the boundaries of work culture, experimenting with new ideas & questioning social norms. I don’t worry about when or how that will happen. I don’t even worry about what the problem we solve will be. I just worry about process. That process is to set aside at least 1 hour of learning & writing every day. I know that by improving myself dramatically, it will inevitably happen at some point. It gives me a quiet, relentless confidence that I’ll get there.

Systems work because they provide you with the framework to become a radically more knowledgeable, experienced person. Carefully-cultivated knowledge & habit will breed confidence & momentum. That confidence & momentum will mean that the outcome of starting a business will just be an inevitable next step.

This is not to say that you cannot have goals. Just don’t worry about them, because goals tend to reduce your current happiness, reduce long-term success & can be outside of your control.

When you focus on systems, there’s nothing to fear. What are you committing to? Writing a few sentences every day? Reading a couple of articles? How hard is that?

What’s stopping you starting that first system today?

 

 

 

Why You Need Goals & Why They Are Irrelevant

If you want to live an extraordinary life, you must have a big, clear goal in mind.

Something that gets you out of bed every morning. Something that you are accountable to. Something that directs your being & your daily toil.

Without it, you’ll be floundering around like the rest of us, going a bit in one direction, a bit in the other. Never quite sure of what the point of it all is.

I’m an atheist. I don’t believe that there is some higher purpose to our lives. I do believe, however, that that this should not excuse our apathy & lack of ambition.

Doing something that excites you every day, having a positive impact on other people & finding purpose in work is something that is consistently scientifically proven to lead to a fulfilling life.

The pursuit of a goal, a life ambition, is one way of achieving this.

Making the assumption that people want to be happy, in some form, it therefore follows that finding a goal to pursue is a logical step for you to take, regardless of which goal you dedicate your life to.

 

The Goal is not The Goal

The goal itself is actually largely irrelevant.

For the vast majority of us, our work will outlive us by a mere moment, if at all. Most of it won’t last past next week. Some of it may last a generation. Some lucky few may find that their work is still relevant after a couple of centuries.

But recognise the facts:

We are only a moment in time, one of countless billions that have come before us & will come after. Only your ego can convince you that your life will have anything other than an imperceptible impact on the universe. And that’s OK.

This is not nihilism speaking. I don’t say this excuse you to live a life of apathy & lack of ambition.

I do it to stop you making excuses. To stop you (very legitimately) picking holes in the whole “self-help, find-your-purpose” doctrine that is so pervasive.

“Well, what’s the point, when we are so insignificant? What is actually impactful other than preventing global warming or preventing nuclear war? Why can’t I just treat work as a necessary evil & enjoy my moments down the pub or watching Netflix?”

 

My answer to these excuses is the following:

You need to set an ambitious goal for your life for the simple fact that, without one, your life will be a series of monotonous, dull days that slump into each other.

That is because each goal is accompanied by a quest; a journey of struggles, successes & surprises that moves forward in its own unpredictable way. Your days become full of excitement, from novelty & fear, rather than the comfort of routine & the known.

Without a goal, what’s your story? What’s your journey been like so far? What struggles do you expect to face? Which mountains will you climb?

A life with purpose is a richer life. A more exciting life. A happier life.

So are you going to reject the science? To continue living a tolerable, relatively happy existence devoid of purpose? Or are you willing to pick a goal & see where your journey takes you?

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.

Turning travel into a quest: How to find joy & wisdom on the road

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.”

– John Steinbeck

 

We see the same quotes dotted around a hostel, a Facebook group or generic travel websites.

They leave us in wonder at the depths, the complexities, the meaning behind the words.

They invoke an image of ourselves as the intrepid explorer, trespassing into the unknown, digressing from social norms at every turn. We aren’t “tourists”, we are “travellers”, conjuring images of wise, experienced beings who have seen it all.

Yet this is far from the reality.

The reality is that we travel for its own sake. We travel to a small island in Thailand to get drunk with other white, middle-class people from Northern Europe, Australia & North America.

Yes, you may learn a lot about yourself & other cultures. What drinking games they play in France, how to say ‘Cheers!’ in Thai or the political landscape of the US, for example.

I don’t mean to trivialise this, either. Some of the best conversations & experiences I have ever had have come from having a beer with someone new in a hostel or chatting with a group of backpackers out on an excursion.

But what such experiences lack is purpose.

 

Are you traveling just to escape “real life” for a few months? To lose yourself in the hedonism of backpacker, beach life for as long as your money lasts? Or are you using this as an opportunity to face hard truths, make real change in your life & really learn something about yourself?

You could travel to every corner of the world & still come back as clueless about – & scared of – life as before you left without departing with some specific goal in mind.

So whenever I look at quotes like the one above, I find it depressing to think that many of us will never really experience their true meaning.

We trick ourselves into believing we’ve ticked the box & really learnt something about ourselves just by getting on a plane, rather than truly changing ourselves in any significant way.

 

4 monkeys & myself in the Amazon

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a lot. I’ve spend around 8-9 months backpacking in total since finishing school & I have loved every minute of it (apart from the odd bout of food poisoning).

There was, however, always a niggling frustration somewhere in my mind during my first two trips abroad.

I felt like, yes, this is great fun: I’m seeing wonderful new things, having unique experiences & meeting some fascinating, diverse people. But where’s that sense of conquest & completion that we associate with long-term travel?

Where’s my Motorcycle Diaries moment? My big summit to climb?

There just wasn’t one. I went from hostel to hostel, country to country, person to person. Each was unique, but each was also the same.

Just a series of random events blurred into one.

 

So, 3 years ago I decided my next trip would be different. I decided it was time to go out there & find my summit to climb.

I had been living in Spain & had saved up enough money from teaching to go on a big trip before my final year of university started.

I had starting self-teaching a bit of Portuguese whilst living in Madrid, seeing a girl from Brazil & did a weekly language exchange. I wanted to set myself an ambitious target.

So I booked flights to Brazil to spend 3 months traveling by myself & learning Portuguese properly whilst on the road.

From angry ex-guerrillas playing cards with indigenous men in the Amazon, to football in the Maracanã, to being taught how to dance in Salvador. Each experience I will savour as an experience in itself, but also because I was constantly learning, constantly pushing towards my linguistic summit.

I even spent a week hanging out at a lodge 2 days from the nearest town, with 4 orphaned squirrel monkeys & an angry parrot as my only company. One of the monkey babies would sit on my head as I took walks in the jungle. It was awesome.

By the time I got to Southern Brazil, I had gone from barely understanding a word to having fluent conversations in Portuguese, even in a large group.

All because I had set myself a goal of getting to near fluency & had gone after that goal incessantly. I had sat on sweltering boats down the Amazon with my grammar books out, chatted to locals everywhere I went & avoided the tourist traps at all costs.

 

Hedonism is not the aim. Fulfilment is.

And the beauty of it? It was by far the most fulfilling trip I’ve ever gone on.

People view trying something new as a struggle. As an uphill battle with no guarantee of success. The summit is so far off that they tend to give up on the way.

Yet they don’t see the enjoyment found on that journey, during the process.

They never even start because they have no idea what they would start with or are too scared as they look up the mountain towards the distant summit.

But hedonism only gets you so far. We end up spending all our time sitting by the beach, drinking out of boredom & having the same conversations about where we’ve been & where we are off to next because of hedonism.

Fulfilment means you can still do that. I spent many a night enjoying drinking & chatting at a hostel, but it’s not the aim. You lose interest after a night or two & move on when you realise you get more satisfaction from the difficult pursuit of your goal.

 

Create your own quest

Whether you know what you want to achieve or not on your next trip, turn it into a quest. Create a game with different levels in your head.

The joy of games comes from confronting a challenge & overcoming it, yet when we confront challenges in real life we crumble in the face of the difficulty & adversity they represent.

Everything is framed differently. Everything is a new opportunity. Everything becomes an exciting challenge for you to overcome.

You change your mindset, from “I can’t be bothered” to “Where can I find the most outlandish challenge for my quest”.

This technique has even been used to help those struggling with mental health to radically improve the symptoms.

The main thing I want to get from my next trip, for example, is to spend as much time alone in nature as possible to think about starting my new business & what I want from it on a personal level.

This has led me to book 4 days in the desert in Jordan by myself. I’m currently working out whether I can rent a horse & go fully Lawrence of Arabia for a few days*.

Without my quest, I would never have thought of the idea. It even seems absurd – & a terrifying prospect – to most. But I know it will be a hugely enriching experience for me.

 

If you, like most, have no idea where you would even start, then just stop & ask yourself a big question you would like to solve whilst away.

Maybe you’re unhappy with your job? If so, set yourself the quest of knowing exactly what career you want to pursue when home.

Start reading about new industries, asking friends about their industry, maybe try an online course, most of which are free. Just do 2-3 hours of work on this every morning & spend the rest of your time enjoying meeting new people & discovering new places.

Be prepared to try ten things & end up only following one. Each failure becomes a learning. Each challenge you overcome gets you closer to that goal.

Say you go away & learn to programme for 3 months. There’s no reason you can’t come back with a good enough level for an internship or full-time employment, a few mentors in that industry & a good idea of who to contact for a job when you get home.

 

Takeaway

It’s always easy to think we are learning a lot about ourselves or becoming wise whilst traveling.

Usually we are lying to ourselves. We are learning variations of the same things as we jump from hostel to hostel.

So next time you feel that slight sense of feeling lost, of angst, of wanting something more, set yourself a quest. A simple goal you can achieve whilst on the road. Break it down into smaller goals you can start ticking off your checklist every day.

You’ll find you come back a wiser, more fulfilled person.

 

“He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

Travelling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.”

— Emerson, Self-Reliance

 

 

*One excuse that is so common is lack of money to travel. Don’t travel to popular places (e.g. Barcelona, Paris) & piss money away on €8 beers & over-priced meals. For my desert trip, return flights from Berlin to Eilat, Israel were €39 in January. It’s €50 to pay the visa to get into Jordan, which is a 10-minute bus from Eilat. I am then spending €8 per night at a tented camp in Wadi Rum, Jordan. Renting a horse is still being negotiated.