In my previous post, I wrote briefly about a knock on my head while discussing career plans with a good friend. He asked me if working a normal white collar job for 40 years and then retiring is really what I wanted to do. I wish I could say that it was at that very moment where everything changed and I immediately stood up, took action, and started going after my dream life. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Before I go further, I want to make a very important note. In no way am I trying to degrade or belittle the work done by the amazing people of this world regarding what I’m going to call the American Reality. The American Reality is, very simply, the currently accepted norm for a career in America – Go to college, get a job working 40 hours a week, work on an advanced degree, move up in the industry, work for around 40 years, and then retire.
Those incredible people impact our country in countless ways. I have the pleasure of working with some of the smartest people in the country – PHDs and subject matter experts that have forgotten more about topics then I will ever know. The wonderful world we live in with all the technology, medical care, services, buildings, etc… are all results of their success. It is essential to providing us the quality of life we are so blessed to have and I am incredibly grateful for.
Earl Nightingale said that success is the “progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.” People who decide to join the American Reality are successful if that path in life helps them realize their goal. Perhaps their goal is to provide for their family and the American Reality helps them to do that…then they are successful!
Nevertheless, the vast majority of people go down the paved road of the American Reality without ever meditating on “why” or what that worthy goal or ideal really is that they pursue. Sadly, those are the people that can never be successful.
Back to my turning page moment…well, more like a turning chapter. The unearthing of the “why” of my life was not a flick of a light bulb switch but more of a dimmer switch slowly brightening a room. As the light became brighter, I could see more and realize what I was blind to…the only limits we have are the limits we place on ourselves.
”People are where they are because that is exactly where they really want to be–whether they will admit that or not.”~Earl Nightingale~
Get Real With Yourself
There was a few key things I did that really helped brighten that light over the past 3 years. If you haven’t read the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” then you’re just wrong. If you can manage to find a live training course for it, then jump on it! I cannot recommend it enough!
It is during one of those courses that I finally became aware of my true purpose. The course was fantastic because it forced me to go outside of my comfort zone and hold myself accountable. I learned how to listen with empathy (though my wife says I can still use some work…or something like that, I can’t remember exactly), and went through exercises that if you only read the book by yourself you’d never do. So, either take the course or read the book with a friend and hold each other accountable to actually doing the homework! Without the work comes no results.
“People often forget that EVERYTHING in our world obeys the equal and opposite reaction rule…you get back only what you give.”
Discovering Your “Why”
There were a lot of great exercises in the 7 Habits course but I don’t want to spend a lot of time re-hashing those. If you want to know more you can go to the source and read all about it! However, the single most important tool I added to my toolbox from the 7 habits is the Greek aphorism of knowing thyself.
Through some self reflection I was able to start digging out my “why”. I say digging because it really was like a paleontologist brushing dust away from ancient bones. Your “why” has always been there. You aren’t creating it, you’re discovering it. My “why” started as a page long mission statement where I wrote down all the things that are important to me such as:
- God and family first
- Continuously improve myself
- Leave this world better than when I arrived
Over the course of a year or two, I finally narrowed it down to a single word that I can base everything I do off of. That word is FREEDOM.
“True freedom is being able to do what you love, with the people you love, where you love to be – and helping others do the same”
When Things Seem Wrong, ‘Write’ Your Life
I heard a story about a highschool student that was an extremely gifted artist. Unfortunately, he started going down the wrong path and his art usually showed up as graffiti. He had an art teacher that was wise enough to mentor him. He told the student, “You can either pay for doing this, or you can get paid to do it.”
That student decided to change his life. He ended up writing a pep talk letter to himself telling him he needs to change his ways. That student went on to be a successful artist and is now raising money helping get graffiti artists off the street.
His story inspired me to try something: Write a letter to myself from myself ten years in the future. I know it sounds weird but I have to say that doing so helped me take a major step out of the American Reality and in to the American Dream.
I sat in the terminal at LAX, opened the laptop, and started typing. I didn’t filter anything and simply let the thoughts flow. In a few minutes I had a two page letter to myself. It covered everything from talking through some business ideas, how many kids we have, where we live, and whether to get out of the military. It was so strange how everything seemed so clear to me on what to do when I stepped back and looked at my life from a different angle. I simply imagined that if I was living my dream life 10 years from now, what would I tell myself today.
After writing that letter, I gave up an offer to get a master’s degree by going to school full time in the military. It was an offer that all but a handful of people said I was crazy to pass up. However, after reading a letter from myself 10 years in the future, it was as clear as day what I needed to do to live my dream life. School was the paved road to the American Reality. Instead, I chose to forge a new path to the American Dream.
Overcoming Analysis Paralysis
Up until that moment where we decided to get out of the military, I was all caught up in analysis paralysis. I had spreadsheets galore with pros and cons of multiple career options. After the letter exercise, I was finally able to decide! But that analysis paralysis is a relentless monster. It’s so easy to say something like, “I’m getting out of the military and giving up a very secure career.” It’s a piece of cake to say to my wife but an entirely different story officially telling my chain of command when it becomes real.
“There’s only one thing that will you get you out of analysis paralysis and it’s not decision — it’s action.”
We have become so risk averse that instead of focusing on the incredible rewards that are possible, we put all our attention on minimizing the possibility of risks. As I wrote in my previous post, “You are what you think.” If you spend all your time thinking about minimizing risk, then you’ll go through this life with very little risk. Conversely, if you dedicate all your thinking to achieving the amazing reward of your dream life, then it will come to you.
In the past month, I took the largest step off the paved path that I’ve done yet. I took a major step in a project I’m working on that carries plenty of risk with it. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t any analysis paralysis happening. But, thankfully, I can say that it was only for a short time.
I’ve been slowly reconditioning my mind over the past 3 years to have only positive thoughts. It’s a very subtle change from having to consciously speak and think positively to having my subconscious speak and think positively. I do apologize if any of this ever comes across as arrogance. It’s not meant in that way at all. I’m merely continuing with the exercises I started with the 7 Habits by constantly reinforcing positive thinking.
In keeping with the theme or Earl Nightingale, I’ll leave with one last quote:
“There is a time when one must decide either to risk everything to fulfill one’s dreams or sit for the rest of one’s life in the backyard.”~Earl Nightingale~
I challenge you to take 10 minutes, be brutally honest with yourself, and ask “Why do I do what I do everyday?” If you aren’t happy with the answer…ACT!
Here’s to leaving the pavement and trodding a new path!