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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

“Hey guys, why is the app not working at all?! :) ;)”

You can feel it boiling under the surface, hidden in the forced smiley at the end of that Slack message. It’s been included to take the edge off, but it still cuts through you like a knife.

It’s not a winky face. No, no, no. Definitely not a winky face. It’s more an angry, nervous & uncontrollable tick. The passive aggression inevitably emerges, like steam forcing its way through an air-vent. You can feel the anger, the veiled threat. All hidden in those cute, seemingly innocuous little emojis.

Maybe it’s a coping mechanism? Maybe they believe the smiley reflects how they think the world perceives them? Maybe they genuinely believe we will be deceived into thinking they are a chilled-out, nice, friendly person too. That they are ‘down with the little people’.

 

In our company, every crash or bug identified from our CEO holds a veiled threat. It may seem like nothing. An outsider would most probably assume he’s a nice guy, even. It doesn’t seem that offensive right? A simple smiley? What damage could that ever do?

But this requires knowing the person. It requires a certain skill of translation – or intepretation, if you will.

What he says:

Hey team, just thought you should know that I can’t sign up with my email address 🙂

 

What he actually means:

Hey people-I-have-to-pay-to-do-my-bidding-that-I-would-really-prefer-not-to-deal-with, I can’t believe you didn’t pick up on this really fucking basic problem. It is yet another sign of your incompetence &, as usual, I am the one that has to step in to resolve it.

P.S. I’ve included a nice, friendly little smiley so you can’t openly say I’m not nice to everyone! It’s there to sow a seed of doubt, but you know deep down that I’m pissed off. You know that underneath that smiley lies my anger, my threat.

 

And don’t think this is over-thinking it. Interpretation is required because we are not honest with each other. And that comes from the top. People don’t say what they think, out of fear, so they default to veiling their intent behind cute little rounded smileys.

That doesn’t mean we are dishonest people. It means that the culture is dishonest.

If you build a culture where everyone feels comfortable giving honest feedback to anyone else, regardless of position, then people say what they think.

Rather than veiling what they think, they say it as it is – undisguised.

A good company praises, encourages & nurtures honest feedback. A good company realises that people need to grow so that they company may grow. It realises that only through radical honesty can you discover truth & therefore make the best decisions possible.

 

It doesn’t matter through what medium it manifests itself, passive aggression is a sign of a culture of dishonesty & lack of respect. By identifying the symptom, you’ll identify the disease.

It may seem small, but it is the tip of the iceberg.

Therefore, you must ask yourself: are you willing to put up with that?

 

[mc4wp_form id=”4520″]

 

 

That Sunday feeling won’t go unless you change

For the first time in my life, I get it.

I had spent a lovely weekend in London catching up with all my close friend & spending quality time with my family. That Sunday evening I flew back to Berlin for work on Monday morning. And it hit.

A wave of deep sadness & apathy crashed upon me as I sat squeezed into my Easyjet window seat. Sadness because I knew I would be spending the majority of my scarce resources – energy & time – on something I did not enjoy. Apathetic because I just didn’t care. I think at that point if someone had offered me a week off work if in exchange for deliberately contracting a horrible strain of flu, it would have been an easy decision.

This is the first time in my life this has happened. I would like to think that I make very deliberate steps in life: I joined this – and my last – company after 2 years of entrepreneurship because I felt there were specific things I could learn from the experience of joining more experienced startups.

Therefore, even when the work has been hard over the last year, I have enjoyed it & remained motivated enough to avoid experiencing the Sunday Blues.

This time was different however. Somewhere deep inside me I knew that this was no longer something leading towards my goals in life.

 

Being ‘Fine’

What really scared me about this experience is that some people will experience it every single Sunday for the rest of their lives. Assuming you work ~50 years, that means you will spend over 2500 Sundays (7+ years) of your working life in a state of dread, anxiety & depression, hoping that tomorrow does not come.

This is, in fact, the norm. It is accepted that you should do something you don’t enjoy for years on end because ‘that’s just life’. Well fuck that.

It is totally unacceptable for me not to enjoy every day; to not feel a sense of excitement at the thought of tomorrow. Everyday should be an exciting opportunity to build something of your own. Everyday should be building towards something meaningful in your life.

Never, ever find yourself saying your job or life is ‘good enough’, ‘fine’, ‘alright’.

Every day you settle for just FINE, you’re losing out” – Ramit Sethi

You never take risks, you ignore opportunities right in front of you & always live in a world of hypothetical promises to yourself, like ‘I’ll just do this for a few years & then do something I enjoy.’ Sadly, most people never make it past the hypotheticals.

Even when others ask how we are, we are very good at disguising the truth. We project an external image of ourselves that exudes positivity.

Even more tragic, most of us internalise this belief, tricking ourselves into believing we are OK with our current situation despite the fact that there is a niggling voice in your head that says this is not OK, that you lack purpose, that you are, deep-down, unhappy.

Hold yourself to a standard

If you don’t control your time- someone else will. If you don’t protect your dream- you will fulfill someone else ‘s dream.” ― Wayde Goodall

As humans, we have this infuriating tendency to rationalise our way out of doing something, whether it’s going to the gym or quitting your job. There are always a hundred excuses why not to make a change.

Just remember that not taking action is the same as taking action. It is still a decision you must make.

Don’t fail by default.” ― Richard Paul Evans

 

To avoid the trap of inertia, set yourself certain standards in life – certain ‘if this then that’ scenarios that compel you to make change:

“When you raise your standards and turn “should” into “must,” you are making an inner shift to take control over the quality of your life. Any area you are not getting what you want is because you haven’t raised your standards.”Tony Robbins

 

By setting crystal clear standards for yourself, you set clear guidelines on what action must be taken in certain situations. For example, you could state that ‘If I am unhappy with my current job, I must change that job within 3 months’.

This means that, as soon as you start feeling unhappy, you have a written statement holding yourself to a certain standard: that it is unacceptable for you to not take clear action when you are unhappy in your job.

These standards provide not only a moral framework to live your life, but they prevent you rationalising your way out of taking action. This forces you to adapt & make change in order to live your life to a certain standard of happiness & fulfilment.

Take Action

The standard I have set myself is that it is unacceptable for me to be unhappy in life.

The Sunday Blues have provided me with a clear signal that change is needed. I have set my own standards & defined a clear action: writing a blog & building this business for 2 hours every morning in order to be able to quit my full-time job in 3 months time.

What standards can you set in your own life? Which situations are you always able to find an excuse to not take action? What things make you unhappy? Uncomfortable? Morally-conflicted?

Whatever they are, just hold yourself to a standard, whatever that may be. You deserve better than living a life that is just fine. The fact is that we live in an exciting time to be alive. Despite the pessimism of the media, the world is a fascinating place of infinite opportunities. It would be a waste of life not to take advantage of it.

 

[mc4wp_form id=”4520″]

The Mission Fallacy in Start-ups

The last few weeks feel on a similar plain to the Matrix’s blue/red pill scene. The big difference, however, is rather than me consciously making a decision to ‘wake up’, someone slipped the blue pill into my drunk at a bar last night.

I have always been a strong believer that startups make a positive impact on the world. A company like Airbnb, for example, brings people from different continents together who probably would never have met. I have hosted myself, & found the experience richly rewarding.

However, I now realise that many are a farce.

The majority of companies – including my current one – insist on using the word ‘family’ to describe the relationship between employee & employer. This is a complete façade.

It is not in the interest of the company to even have a ‘family’. Better to automate as much as possible & avoid hiring until absolutely necessary. What business wants to deal with paying individuals & having to fuss over creating a pleasant working environment? It’s a drain on resources.

As soon as those in the ‘family’ are no longer required, any manager would not hesitate to fire that individual. What’s their purpose? They are wasting the company’s time & money. Send them packing with a P45 & the cute picture of their dog that sits on their desk. Get them to leave the company laptop on the way out.

Is that how a normal ‘family’ works?

“Hey, son. So… we’ve just had a new baby… I’m not sure we’ll really be needing you anymore. Close the door on the way out, will you?”

Yet who in the startup world questions this absurdity? Its usage is completely antithetical to the definition of the word &, quite frankly, an affront to our collective intelligence.

I’ll tell you what though, thanks to whoever spiked my drink with the blue pill, as I am no longer singing along with the choir.

I’m pretty sure we are not a family

I work in a smart home company. It has raised a load of investment & has high hopes. We are, as you might have guessed, a ‘family’. (If it were a sketch show, then I’d be seen as the sort of renegade, drunk, verbally abusive uncle).

Our mission, purportedly, is to save household’s up to 30% on their energy. That’s cool, right? That’s actually a big impact on the environment if it comes to dominate the European market?

However, our CEO clearly does not give a shit about that.

It is – & seemingly always was – an ego project in the pursuit of wealth & social status. The glories of our ‘family’ would be borne by our benevolent, omniscient leader. We, the faithful, were always doomed to bask in his glory.

Yet many at the company still fawn over – & aspire to – something that is clearly a myth.

How did I accept this opiate so unquestioningly? I consider myself fairly self-aware, yet I spent 3 months walking through a haze. I accepted unquestioningly the direction we as a company were headed & never voiced my concerns or opinions.

Looking back, it is clear that I didn’t voice anything because I didn’t care. Some part of me had already realised the paucity of purpose in my work. Some part of me had already realised that there was no point, because following someone with ego means accepting that they will always be right & that any attempt at persuasion is futile.

So, in this context, you understand why it pissed me off to core when our CEO said we were ‘a family’. I don’t think we could further from that.

What, I wonder, could ever merit using the word? Any attempt we seem to make to follow its definition are an affront. Throwing a few limes in the fridge, a litre of gin on the table & labelling it a ‘social, family event’ is being disingenuous. A weekly social drinking event is hardly an authentic attempt to create the strong, deep social bonds between those you work with.

It’s putting a Band-Aid over much deeper issues, such as the clear, almost tangible conflicts throughout the office & a general air of unhappiness & stress.

Waking Up

If you find yourself nodding along with what I have said above, then hopefully you as well are ready to take action.

Since my awakening a month ago, I have focused relentlessly on creating an alternative path for myself, by building a new business.

This started by starting every day with a question ::(see full article)::.

Every morning, create a note (whether on Notes, Evernote or Bear with the question, ‘What is the most important thing I can do today?

Spend 2 minutes thinking of the one thing that will get you closer to your goals and write down a short, concise answer. This can literally be one or two words – or even a paragraph if you want to clarify why it is important to do. Some examples from my journal: ‘Write blog post’, ’30 minutes learning to programme’ or ‘Be more present with friends later’.

There is also absolutely no way to excuse not doing this. You can write the note on your phone whilst commuting, it takes under 2 minutes & is not mentally demanding. By just stopping for a moment each day, you’ll find much greater mental clarity, however, and you will start a habit which you can build up towards a fully developed journaling habit in future.

By making a small step every morning, you are taking action towards changing your circumstances. These small steps start compounding & will help you too escape your 9-5 ‘family’.

[mc4wp_form id=”4520″]

Your Inner Critic & Ever-Present Fear

One evening Milarepa returned to his cave after gathering firewood, only to find it filled with demons. They were cooking his food, reading his books, sleeping in his bed. They had taken over the joint. He knew about nonduality of self and other, but he still didn’t quite know how to get these guys out of his cave.

Even though he had the sense that they were just a projection of his own mind—all the unwanted parts of himself—he didn’t know how to get rid of them. So first he taught them the dharma. He sat on this seat that was higher than they were and said things to them about how we are all one. He talked about compassion and shunyata and how poison is medicine.

Nothing happened. The demons were still there. Then he lost his patience and got angry and ran at them. They just laughed at him.

Finally, he gave up and just sat down on the floor, saying, “I’m not going away and it looks like you’re not either, so let’s just live here together.” At that point, all of them left except one. Milarepa said, “Oh, this one is particularly vicious.” (We all know that one. Sometimes we have lots of them like that. Sometimes we feel that’s all we’ve got.)

He didn’t know what to do, so he surrendered himself even further. He walked over and put himself right into the mouth of the demon and said, “Just eat me up if you want to.” Then that demon left too.

Pema Chödrön

 

Who are they?

You have let literally thousands of opportunities pass you by because of them: you let the girl of your dreams walk by without stopping her to ask her name; you didn’t go after your dream job because he told you you weren’t good enough; you were quiet around your friends last week because you didn’t think you had anything valuable to say.

Just accept it – you’re not good enough’, a voice says.

Self-doubt is one of these dark forces, sitting on your right shoulder, whispering in your ear that you aren’t good enough, intelligently outlining all the reasons not to take a risk, pointing out all of the flaws in your logic.

The difficulty is that he tends to win, drowning out the quiet, supportive voice on your other shoulder.

It’s a natural human tendency to be over-cautious, as we wouldn’t have survived particularly well on the open Savannah 10,000 years ago if we took big risks to get every meal. Better to go hungry than be eaten ourselves.

Academic research also supports this theory.

It is therefore not something to beat yourself up about – you will inevitably be over-cautious. The important thing, though, is that you do something about it.

 

Harnessing the inner critic

The battle between your monkey mind (i.e. the one still trying to keep you alive on the open savannah) and your rational pre-frontal mind (the ‘modern human’ brain) is a perpetual one.

However, you can start with two simple techniques to ensure rationality comes out victorious:

 

1. Write a simple list of pros and cons on a single blank page

This will allow your inner supportive voice to shine through. You will likely see that the negatives are not that serious and that there are more more advantages to you making this decision than there are negatives.
The simple act of writing it down stops the maelstrom of confused thoughts in your head being dominated by your inner critic

 

2. Fear-Setting

Writing the pros and cons is a good way to rationally determine why you should do something and whether it’s feasible, but it still doesn’t remove the irrational fear preventing you from taking action.

Spending 5-10 minutes writing out the ‘What ifs’ to taking action should make you realise that your inner critic’s arguments are flawed, irrational & entirely over-exaggerated.

(I would highly recommend watching Tim Ferriss’ TED talk on the subject & following download the template he uses for fear-setting.)

 

When deciding to start this business, this fear-setting exercise was the main catalyst in making the decision to start it. When I first considered it, there was an endless list of reasons to not do it: secure, well-paid job; enjoyable work; I was friends with my colleagues; it wasn’t particularly stressful; etc.

However, just one of the points in my list of ‘pros’ outweighed all of the others: ‘I am not fulfilled by my current job’. It was still a job.

Without fear-setting though, I think my inner critic would have got the better of me & kept me living an unfulfilling life for a few years longer, at least.

Fear-setting made me confront and break down my main fears: what if I run out of money? What if I fail? What will others think of me?

When I actually broke these down, there was really nothing to be fearful of. The worst case scenario would be a failed business and no money, but what would I lose there?

I could move back to my Mum’s house in London, find a new job with my UX Design experience & start again. Not only would I have learnt a huge amount about myself, but a huge amount about entrepreneurship & life lessons that would enrich me for the rest of my life.

 

Takeaway

You will never escape the inner struggle, but you can mitigate the consequences of it significantly. Accept your inner critic as part of your life – even welcome him into tea – and you will find yourself happier and more at ease with his existence.

Once you have accepted him, you will tend to find that his voice diminishes.

By simply listing the pros and cons of a decision, coupled with ‘Fear Setting’ in order to break down your fears, you will find yourself empowered to try things you never thought possible.

Imagine a life where you actually started that business you always wanted to start, asked the love of your life out for a drink, pursued the career you’re most passionate about.

It’s not as hard to achieve as you think.

 

[mc4wp_form id=”4520″]

Fuck this. Time to change. How you can do the same.

I am unhappy, so I must make changes. What is more important than waking up excited to tackle the day? To take one more step towards your goals? To simply enjoy the moment?

What if you wake up every day and these goals are not your own? What if you wake up and you would prefer to escape the day rather than confront it head on? What if you become apathetic, unmoved by whatever happens to you or what you achieve that day?

For the first time in my career, I am asking myself these questions. Now that I see it for what it is, that these questions are ones I face every day, the time has come to take action.

Sometimes it takes a moment of clarity to realise the last months or years have been a lie. For me, the last 3 months in my new job have been a lie.

Where before I was a leader, I now dully follow orders and wait for direction, acting more like an ant than the leader I have been in the past.

Where before I was charismatic, I now leave the talking up to others and interact with others with mild disinterest. Where has that energy gone? Why am I not inspiring others and improving their lives with each interaction?

Where before I had purpose, I now feel like I’m consigned to limbo, waiting in a metaphorical airport lounge for an idea to strike or a more inspiring opportunity to come my way. I am waiting, though, for something that will never come unless I take action.

Where before I was happy, I now feel melancholic, with a sense of resignation to an unhappy year or two: apathetic, lacking energy, excited about nothing.

‘Now I’ve committed to it, I don’t want to admit failure by quitting.’

 

Now that I see these truths emblazoned on paper, I am shocked to realise that they describe me. They are words I would never let become reality if I caught the signs earlier. They are now inescapable, however, and lead me to question:

If this describes my life, then why have I not already made radical changes?

 

 

How have I got to this situation and how can I make radical change?

I got here out of fear. I will get myself out by being brave.

For the last year, I have avoided confronting the inescapable reality that I need to run my own business. I have made excuses about needing more experience, learning from mentors, mastering my design skills, etc.

However, the reality has always been there that I am highly independent & have run a business before. Mentors, mastery & experience – all these are best achieved in the frenetic, uncertain world of entrepreneurship.

Despite this, I joined a startup in São Paulo which I loved, but it was not my passion. When I left them, I did so in order to pursue something more challenging, so applied for startups in Berlin.

After finding a really exciting opportunity in Berlin, I flew over for the interview, met the team, agreed on a contract and moved here full-time.

It was only a week or two after starting that things started to go wrong. A lack of autonomy, leadership and direction quickly brought about an oppressive state of apathy and unhappiness.

However, how could I admit to myself that I had made the wrong decision after only a couple of weeks? What about all my family and friends? What would they think if I gave up a well-paid contract in a new city?

 

This was my ego & the Sunk-Cost bias in play.

Essentially, the Sunk-Cost bias is a human tendency to continue committing resources to something purely because you have already committed resources to it. This can be seen with, for example, a poker player continuing to play in order to win back their money or an investor funding a second stage of investment for a failing company just because they invested in the company before. It’s bad economics in action and is a strong driver of human behaviour.

 

But fuck that. If you worry too much about what others think you should do then you’ll never end up doing what you want to do. Who is the one living your life 24/7? You or your social circle?

If you are someone with a niggling thought at the back of your mind saying ‘Is this really what I want to do with my life? Does this really make me happy? Am I passionate about it?’ then it’s time to make changes.

 

Useful Tools: Meditation and Journaling

Self-awareness is a very powerful tool when it comes to focusing on what makes you happy or provides purpose in your life. Self-awareness is not something that I have been naturally bestowed with, but rather something I have cultivated.

By doing a 10-minute daily journal you cannot escape the streams of thought that are constantly with you. Writing them down every morning allows you to confront your problems, clarify your thoughts on a subject and has been proven to make you happier.

Combine this with 10 minutes of meditation every morning (try the free Headspace starter course) and you’ll not only feel 10-20% happier every day, but you will also find much greater calm & clarity in your day-to-day life.

 

[mc4wp_form id=”4520″]