The above questions are essential to discovering whether or not you’re actually enthusiastic about something.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.
Passion emerges through a diversity of experiences that allow one to tie it all altogether. A beginner’s mind, an open mind — are essential ingredients to railing against monomaniac passions that keep you in one place.
If you have an idea, test it. Test it not just to see if it works but also to see if it excites you and if it’s something really worth pursuing.
I realized why I need to start a new company. Not for the money. Not because I’m ‘bored’. But because a company is a laboratory to try your ideas.
Figuring out what you love to do takes a combination of gut and experimentation. Like a frog hopping between lilypads, it may take a few jumps before you discover which vocation makes you feel most alive.
A lot of people think thinkers can’t be leaders. But that’s exactly what leadership is: thinking. The leader of a group takes what they read and hear internally and externally and originates his/her own thought. They speak for themselves. As former Yale professor and best-selling author William Deresiewicz said in his 2009 speech to West Point cadets:
“If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts.”
It’s lonely at the top because being the boss requires a lot of independent reflection and focus. Leadership also takes courage, as saying what is unpopular or unknown makes other people uncomfortable. People wish for the status quo as much as they seek certainty.
Being a leader precludes following. The problem is that some of the world’s leaders continue to jump through hoops like “excellent sheep” to get to where they are. They go to Ivy League schools and get straight A’s and go on to become CEOs and lawyers where they keep the usual routine going.
“Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along.”
Success, therefore, is that which appeases others more than it leads. Some of the most educated people choose to chase the herd. On the other hand, real leaders embrace complexity. Deresiewicz uses US General David Petraeus as the apotheosis of a great leader.
“What makes him a thinker—and a leader—is precisely that he is able to think things through for himself. And because he can, he has the confidence, the courage, to argue for his ideas even when they aren’t popular. Even when they don’t please his superiors. Courage: there is physical courage, which you all possess in abundance, and then there is another kind of courage, moral courage, the courage to stand up for what you believe.”
So, how does one think well?
Thinkers concentrate. Thinkers avoid multitasking, distractions, and the tendency to ape the thoughts and opinions of other people. Like philosophers, they search for their originality and tools that will help guide their action.
“Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.”
Leaders require solitude. Isolation requires concentration. Silence means spending time in the canvass of your thoughts and not running away from denial on Facebook and Twitter. “Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality.” Mulling over thoughts, ideas and observations is a single task-driven to achieve honesty with yourself.
“Climbing on that steamboat and spending a few uninterrupted hours hammering it into shape. Or building a house, or cooking a meal, or even writing a college paper, if you really put yourself into it.”
Thinking too, is a social act, not just with anyone but with people you trust. Says Deresiewicz, “One of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person.” Speaking your mind to a friend removes the friction of judgment and helps clarify your thoughts and opinions when they still need pruning.
Thinking is preparation. The more deeply you know about yourself, the easier it will be to react naturally to any situation, from the battlefield to major decisions at work or personal life. Solitude and leadership go hand in hand because when it comes to big decisions “all you really have is yourself.”
A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.
Whether you’re stuck in a labyrinth or looping around the same racetrack, admitting you’re frustrated and lost is at least a starting point. The hard part is developing a plan to do something about it.
If you want to go pro in any profession, you’re going to have to practice your beliefs and take calculated risks to gauge their rigidity. Doing the work removes the cobwebs of uncertainty.
Being lost is not an excuse to stand still unless something requires patience for results. Dance with the fear and see where it takes you.
When it comes to decision-making, first you decide, then you deduce. Of course, life’s biggest decisions such as marriage or a career change are some of the hardest decisions to make because the fear is that they won’t work out. The bigger the risk, the greater the hesitation.
‘This might not work.’
People like to play it safe. It’s easier to adopt the status quo than playing the long game and facing the fear of uncertainty. Chance is risky. Change is scary.
We’re so scared of making a change that we outsource our decisions to other people. In other words, we seek their permission. Not surprisingly, our family members and peers recommend circling the race track rather than pursuing the labyrinth of self-discovery. Warns financial advisor and essayist/sketcher Carl Richards for the New York Times:
“People expect you to stay how you are, to maintain the status quo, to stay the course. And if you get bogged down looking for that affirmation to make a change, you may never make it.”
All believing is betting
People that do risk change — on their volition or because of a coin toss — usually end up thinking the best of it. When we change, we grow.
“Based on the results of tossing over 20,000 virtual coins, the study found that people were happier after making a major change, whether they did it because the coin forced their hand or because they decided on their own.”
The only person we need permission from is ourselves. Indecision is a decision, albeit, the wrong one. Still unsure? Here’s your permission slip.
“Whatever it is, you now have permission to do it.”
Alternatively, we could use those few hours at the start of the day to build up toward an industrious afternoon.
The hardest part of any structure is dealing with interruptions. All it takes is the presence of our phones to disrupt our thinking. Text messages add more petty things into our heads and onto our to-do list.
Getting to-done is a daily discipline. The imperative of movement makes us feel more alive, freer, and less regretful.
Cartoonist and former ad copywriter Hugh MacLeod sent out an excellent newsletter about being good at two things. In it, he spells out the reasons why we should be knowledgeable in two areas in order to maximize our unique career potential.
When you’re very good at “n”, there are probably thousands of people who are also good at “n”. But if you are good at “n + 1”, that number is far smaller.
A good example is this Irish dude I knew in London, back in the day.
He started off as an aspiring journalist, who studied English at a prestigious British University, just like thousands and thousands of other clever, would-be British journo types.
But before he went job hunting in the newspaper business, he spent four years working in on North Sea oil rigs as a roustabout. That experience gave him a tough, inside, visceral knowledge of the oil industry, which he could eventually bring to a top job as an energy correspondent for the Financial Times, the prestigious European newspaper.
“Be good at two things”: Oil-plus-journalism. Exactly.
The post reiterates what fellow cartoonist Scott Adams implores in his life advice about “becoming very good (top 25%) at two or more things.” He writes about his own success:
The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.
Do what makes you unique, is the saying. What they didn’t explain is that it takes the synthesis of two skills to be good enough that they can’t ignore you.
“There is a positive correlation between the fear of death and the sense of unlived life.”
“There is a positive correlation between the fear of death and the sense of unlived life,” writes Oliver Burkeman in The Antidote (Amazon).
Futuring is a tough business. We toggle between our present number of choices along with desires and goals that reinforce the prioritization of time.
Knowing that we can’t do it all, most people reach for what’s most immediately accessible and end up regretting about what could be. They stifle themselves in exchange for feeling ‘safe.’
For others, death compels action. Their gut instinct refuses to accept standing still and succumb to mediocrity. Yet, their expedition may incorrectly rest in jealousy, a fear of missing out, rather than chasing a purpose.
Faith in the unseen
Our vocation chooses us. We grade our impact by how much we cling to that sense of priority rather than chasing other people’s dreams.
In reality, there is nothing out there that will make us fulfilled forever. But the attempt to cultivate happiness by pursuing what’s meaningful remains a noble attempt to maximize our time on Earth.
Work grinds the dreams of many. The cycle of boring jobs begs the question: What should we do with our life?
Yet we run into the next occupation, thinking that it could be the defining one. But it too fails to shape us.
If a job shapes our identity, we damn well should make sure we take on something we care about. Otherwise, the invisible wall is always there, wanting, waiting, to frustrate the dreamer into a perpetual struggle.