Michael Gerber, in his book The E-Myth asks this question: What are your primary aims?
Imagine walking into a room. You pause at the entrance. In the room, seated, are all your friends and family. You enter the room. You walk up the middle of the room. At the front of the room there is a box. You approach the box. As you come closer you realise it is you in the box, and this is your funeral.
You hear people talking about your life.
What do you want them to be saying?
You have to decide.
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” Viktor E. Frankl
If you want to live an incredible life and achieve amazing things, you have to decide. Nobody ever stood on the summit of Everest and said “oh wow, this is a surprise.” It was a vision years before it became a reality.
Living an incredible life is no accident. I have to start knowing what I want to achieve. I need to be clear on who I need to become in order to achieve what I want. And then I need repeatedly to take action, even when I am plagued by doubt.
“A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.” Viktor E. Frankl, from his book Man’s Search for Meaning
The question that really struck me and has left me deep in thought for the last 24 hours is this:
“What is the hardest thing that you ever had to work for?”
Ryan said that a friend asked him this question and the fact that he could not answer it made him change. He became World Champion of Public Speaking because of the question.
What is your answer? Is it clear?
Personally, I don’t have a clear answer.
I have been reflecting on school, university, MBA; on 8 years of work at Accenture; on 1 year travelling with a backpack around Asia and Latin America; on 12 years building companies as a entrepreneur; on teaching; on 8 years of being a parent… and I am not sure I have a clear answer.
My reflection is that I want to have a clear answer on my 50th birthday. I want to know that there was something that I was willing to sacrifice for and that I chose to do the work consistently; in the good and in the tough times.
This weekend, I am on a 3 day course with Dr John DeMartini called “Master Planning for Life”. I aim to have an answer on Sunday night.
My Questions for You, Reader:
I would love your help. I learn so much from listening to other’s experiences. I would welcome comments or emails direct to me conor (at) conorneill.com with your experiences, reflections and perspectives:
What is the hardest thing you have had to work for?
When did you know that you were committed to achieving it?
How did you overcome the loss of passion, the doubts as you worked through the project?
What is something you are working on now that is big, hard and meaningful (but your choice! not your boss, company, family… you personally chose this project)
Last month, I asked my email subscribers a question: What do you know now that you wish you knew then? (and wish you did). Imagine you are having a coffee with a younger version of yourself. What would you say? (If you still feel that you are the younger self… what would you ask the future you?)
I will be publishing a couple of the answers as I have really benefitted from the wonderful answers over the last 6 weeks.
I am interested in these answers because I am in the process of preparing a speech to 1,600 undergraduates who are on the point of transition between the world of university and the world of work and building a career.
Lesley’s Answer: What An Independent Consultant Would Say
Your question stimulated a rather interesting ponder over a glass of wine listening to the waves in Cartagena! This is what I’d tell my younger self, but it definitely wouldn’t apply to everyone…
People (clients, bosses etc) are more influenced by what you say about yourself than you might think so learn the art of self-promotion as quickly as possible and don’t rely on the quality of your work to speak for you.
View feedback as potentially interesting information about yourself and the person giving it (not personal criticism).
Individual differences between people are even greater than you think so learn some tools to help you make sense of those differences as quickly as possible (especially MBTI) so you can handle people as they need/want to be handled.
Perfection is unnecessary and unattainable.
It’s not cheating to play to your strengths and delegate/pass on the other stuff to people who are better at it. There are actually people who enjoy the routine stuff and they’re worth their weight in gold!. Be in ‘the flow’ as much as possible (ref Csikszentmihalyi).
But the devil IS often in the detail, so you’re right not to try to wing it!
Trust your intuition even if it’s hard to put into words how you know and you can’t back it up with hard evidence.
Years ago I went to see John Harvey-Jones speak and someone asked him the same question. I loved his surprising reply: “The shits always get theirs”. I’ve seen quite a few bullies rise up through corporate structures and unscrupulous individuals riding rough shod over people but sooner or later they have generally been derailed. So I’m delighted to say that I agree with him.
Sadly, I’m not sure any of the foregoing will help get any young Catalans/Spaniards into work. What I’d say to them is “Learn good English, think more about delighting customers and before trying to get funding for a big idea, get hands-on experience in a small business that makes and/or sells things to learn about business basics like cash flow, margins and understanding the customer.” Working in my Mum’s greasy spoon as a teenager was a great preparation for running my own consultancy!
About Lesley Cannell, C. Psychol. AFBPsS
Lesley is a business psychologist who established her consultancy business, the Change Team, in the UK in 1993, with the mission of using psychology to enable people to change their behaviour and organisations to change their culture. Her clients are mainly multinational FMCG companies. Lesley has lived in Barcelona since 2007. Like the birds she flies south to escape the cold… spending the winter months in Cartagena, Colombia.
As I grow ever older, staying fit requires ever greater intention. I sometimes wish to myself that it might be a little easier, but then quickly realise that this is my inner saboteur distracting me.
If you are going uphill then you are going towards success. I so often want writing to become easier. I live with the hope that if I really work at my fitness, at my writing: I will find that they become easier. It does not work this way. Eka told me that the better I get at something, the better my inner saboteur becomes. I am wise enough to see through the excuses of 10 years ago, but now I have new, more sophisticated, more subtle, more dangerous excuses.
John Maxwell shares a story of a tree in a garden. He says “if I take up my axe and swing at the tree, will I chop it down?” Not in one blow, unless it is a very small tree. In 5 blows? maybe? If I go out every day and swing the axe at the tree, will the tree fall? Yes. When? eventually. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow… but if I keep on chopping, the tree will fall. It could be a Californian Sequoia, it could be a towering British Oak: if I keep on chopping, the tree will fall. It doesn’t matter the quality of the blows, it doesn’t matter the strength in my arms: if I keep on chopping, the tree will fall.
If you want to be successful: do what you have to do to be successful. Not what you want to do, not what you wish you could do, not what you feel like doing… what you have to do.
What are the 5 things you have to do to be successful? You don’t need a PhD to figure these out.
“If you are not growing, you are dying” Jim Rohn
If I don’t have a plan for growth, the natural is not to stay in good fit shape. If you are not moving forward, it is likely that you are being left behind.
I do have a plan for growth. I have a plan for health, a plan for writing, a plan for teaching. However, in the last few weeks I have grown comfortable. I have stopped doing what is hard and only done what is easy. I have allowed my inner saboteur to move me off the uphill path. I was hoping for some automation, some easing of the uphill journey. My friend Florian says “only dead fish swim with the flow”. To be alive, is to swim against the natural flow.
“The only thing automatic in life is death” John Maxwell
Life is simple. We live for a short moment, and then we die. It is easy to be hopeless in the face of this simple equation. It is easy for me to tell myself that anything I do is meaningless. It is easy for me to excuse myself from the hard work. In the face of the equation of life, there is only one heroic response.
The heroic response to challenge: Defiance.
Defiance in the Face of Difficulty
I cannot control the external forces of my life. I cannot control whether people read my writing or like my writing or learn from my writing. I cannot control when I get ill. I cannot control when those that I love suffer, get ill.
I can always control my reaction. To react is to give up the heroic response. To respond in a way that resonates with the best version of myself, to be defiant in the face of difficulty: this is the heroic response.
If you want to grow, you have to be intentional. What’s your plan for growth? What do you do every day to ensure that you are growing?
Most people live their entire life and never plan to intentionally grow.
There are no secrets to success: You don’t have to do it all day. You do have to do it every day. The 20 mile march, daily progress. I don’t get to brush my teeth 7 times on a Sunday to make up for not brushing Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday…
(PS You may have already guessed: the read audience for this post is myself, to make myself go for a run today)
No written word, no spoken plea
Can teach our youth what they should be
Nor all the books on all the shelves
Its what the teachers are themselves
Anonymous, quoted by John Wooden (at 4:12 in the video below)
What is True Success?
John Wooden’s simple answer: to know you did your best. It is not to win, it is not to accumulate material possessions, it is not to be famous, it is not to be better than another… it is to know you did what you could do. If his team won, but had not given their best he was disappointed If his team lost, but they each knew that they had given of their best – he was a happy coach.
John Wooden, affectionately known as Coach, led UCLA to record wins that are still unmatched in the world of basketball. Throughout his long life, he shared the values and life lessons he passed to his players, emphasizing a concept of success that’s about much more than winning.
In my interviews of people that have achieved, it seems that they all share this concept of success. Killian Jornet is a winner in ultra-running because he doesn’t do it for anyone else, he does it to test himself. Miquel Suñer is a winner in open-water swimming because he doesn’t do it for anyone else, he does it to test himself.
In life we start where we are. I often wish I was somewhere else, was a year or two ahead in my career, was a little bit younger/stronger/taller, had a bit more hair these days… but I am not. It does not serve me. I can start where I am and take the best step that I can. Nothing more is asked.
I have read massive quantities of ancient myth in 2012. I have debated purpose with many people of many persuasions. I am moving towards clarity around an idea that a meaningful life is based up a chosen sacrifice.
Success and The Chosen Sacrifice
Kilian pays the price that ultra-running charges. He makes his chosen sacrifice. He is committed, there is no half-measures.
There is a little irish story about going “all-in”, committing 100%.
A man has had a pint or two of Guinness and needs the toilet. He makes his way to the back of the pub. He enters. Approaches a urinal. Begins his relief… and a €5 note falls from his pocket into the urinal.
Just at this moment another guy enters the toilet. He sees the €5 in the urinal, he sees the moment of indecision and he asks “You’ve got a problem. What are you going to do?”
The man quickly takes out a €50 note and throws it in on top of the €5 that is soaked in the urinal. He turns and says “there was no way I was getting piss on my hands for a €5, but for €55 I will do what it takes.”
What is your €50
The €50 is the chosen sacrifice. The €5 was life’s contribution. The €50 was his chosen sacrifice. The meaning in a life comes from choosing this sacrifice. Choosing to pay the full price willingly. Not by waiting to see if life charges the price.