Breaking the Cycle: From Ideas to Action

Yesterday I talked about the plethora of options we have in life, and the vast opportunities available for personal gain and fulfillment. But in some sense, it was mostly a theoretical post. Although I gave you my experiences on how I am “breaking the cycle”, there was not much in the way of how others can break the cycle.

Here was a comment from that post:

I think your next post should be “How to break the cycle”. You may have already discussed this in an earlier post with a link to a TED talk, but I think a lot of people end up at a job they hate out of lack of direction or necessity to pay the bills and then wake up one day and they have been there for 5, 10, 20 years and at that point they have invested (or feel that they have invested) too much time to walk away. How do you decide today is the day I am done? Also, how do you harvest your talents for monetary gain? I do not plan to work for my company forever, but I think the scary part can come when you are unable to recognize that you either have talents, or that your talents are valuable to yourself or others. If you do not see value in your own skills or the things you enjoy, then how will you ever market yourself to get a paycheck out of them? Essentially, the scariness factor in leaving your job would directly correlate to your level of self-confidence.

Now, part of the problem is that, like I am talking about, there are countless avenues to follow in life, so there is no one answer on how to break away from the rat race and daily grind. But I think we can all take small steps as part of a bigger goal. While it might work for some people to up and quit their jobs on a whim, most people need some kind of security or back-up plan.

Figuring Out An Alternative

The first problem might be that you don’t know of any way to monetize your passions, or don’t know which passions to try to monetize. This is where you need to do some brainstorming. Write a list of all the businesses you would want to start, if money was not an option. Write a list of all the jobs you would want, if you had the skills and training. Make a list of all your skills, from excel worksheets to gardening, from cleaning toilets to running.

Rate the skills from 1-10 on how much you enjoy doing each one, or rate them in order from most to least enjoyable. Rate the jobs and business lists with 1-10 based on which one you would enjoy the most, and which ones would be the easiest to land. Maybe even group some together if one would be a step to another; example: you want to be a nurse, but you need to go to school first, however you could immediately get a job at a nursing home, which you would find more rewarding than your current job.

You may have a skill you want to focus on, but that itself cannot earn you money. Example: you love to paint or knit, but cannot realistically make a living selling the things you paint or knit. But you could teach others how to paint or knit, or perhaps run one of those bar painting classes. You may never be a pro-tennis player, but could you teach others how to play tennis?

Perhaps you cannot realistically quit your job until you find something to replace it with equal income. You might need to work on something at night or on weekends. The time spent training, studying, building, planning is an investment, and like any investment it can pay off or not. Sometimes it is straightforward like taking night classes to earn a specific degree or certification. Sometimes it is more about building a clientele, or  gaining exposure, or putting together a website.

Plan it out. If you earn the degree, what is the next step to getting the job? If you finish the website, what is the next step to gaining traffic? If you acquire clients, can you fulfill their needs in your free time, and can you sustain them or are they limited time customers? Will your business spread by word of mouth, or do you need another method?

The more planning you do the more confident and comfortable you will be in leaving your job. If you fall short on your planning, it might mean you need to spend more time getting prepared before you can move onto the next step. But usually the planning stages are fun and can invigorate you to make the change quicker. If the planning stages are not exciting, it may be a sign that the end result would not be exciting either.

Planning the Move

I think people in the position of hating their job or being stuck in a rut need to assess what they want and need. If you quit your job, run out of money in two weeks, and start sinking into debt, that is not a long term solution and any momentary happiness will quickly wane.

But if you have a dream already, if you are set in the change you want to make, if you know what you want you just can’t pull the trigger: set a plan in motion to nudge you towards action.

Maybe you know that you need a certain amount of money to live, and a certain amount to start your new venture, whatever that may be. You could save up enough for 4 months before quitting, attempt turning your passion into an income full time for at least 3 months, then reassess to see if you can continue at the same rate, or need to make extra money on the side.

Or you could figure out your actual expenses, strictly budget yourself, and take up a lower paying, but more rewarding job (or at least less time consuming). While doing this job, exploring your interests and honing your skills, you can be planning for your next step. Are you working at the type of store you want to open? Are you gaining skills that will help you start a blog on a certain subject? Are you networking with people in your field to find the next opportunity? Or are you building your future in the newly acquired free time?

Not ready to make the decision on a whim? Set a date in the distance, possibly adding some checkpoints along the way. Set savings goals so that you have more freedom from bills. Keep a jar and put money in it every time you decide not to get a coffee or fast food. Decide at what dollar amount you will leave your current job.

What’s the Worst that could happen?

The not so easy part to answer is if you do not believe in yourself. It is easy for me to say, go out and do it, but I don’t know you. But chances are, if you are not confident, you are underestimating yourself.

Bertrand Russel said, “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts”. Honestly, it is good to have doubts. It shows you are assessing things properly: weighing the risks and rewards. It is not, however, good to let those doubts rule you. They have their place, but it is a support role, not a central piece.

It may help to write down your doubts, and follow them to their logical conclusion. Ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen. I decided to start this blog in July. What is the worst that could happen? No one reads it, or people read it and criticize it. The worst outcome is losing time writing (not that bad since it is still good practice), and the $8 per year for the domain name.

But don’t just be negative, write down the best case scenario as well. My blog takes off, millions of people read it, and I become the millionaire voice of a generation. See, things can only get so bad, but the possible benefits are practically limitless. It may be less likely to end that well, but since the possible negative is negligible, there is really no point in not trying.

Obviously some things will have more negatives, and it is up to you to honestly assess what outcome is most likely. But base your assessment on something, not just “everything goes wrong for me”. Worst case scenario for starting a running shoe store for me would be going into hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and possible bankruptcy. But is that likely if I do my homework in the first place?

If I look into the area I want to start a store: how much rent will cost, what the population is like, if it is a rich or poor area, will the bank give me a loan, and can I recapture any capital if things go south? You may find the worst case scenario is unlikely to happen. While even if things do not end up ideal, perhaps vendors will take back their product for a refund, or perhaps the type of loan can be restructured.

It is useful to realize the full repercussions of what could happen. But those possible negatives should not paralyze you. The worst case scenario should be incentive to make sure you pick a good area, do your homework, and run a tight ship.

While there are always unforeseen circumstances and hurdles, you are not helpless; your life is not completely out of your control. You can affect what happens to you, your business, your ideas, and your life.

It may all be a dream right now, but just because your grand plan will take 5 or 10 years to come to fruition doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it. In fact start now, and in 10 years you will be happy you did. Otherwise you might look back ten years from now and say, wow, I could have earned a degree by now, I could have saved up $100,000 by now, or I could be quitting today to start my own business. But I didn’t start making moves because ten years seemed so far away; almost unattainable.

It is daunting to look ahead with no light at the end of the tunnel. But if not now, then when?

Write a letter to your future self, and seal it with the date you want to read it on. Tell yourself your goals. Capture your enthusiasm and chastise your future self if they lose faith; congratulate your future self if they have made progress. Maybe even respond to the letter, setting more goals, probably shifting the game plan, and seal them up again. This might just be a fun activity for self improvement even if it is not career related or life changing.

Putting My Ideas into Action

Let me end by relating this back to me, because I’m not a success story, I am trying to carve out my niche in this world as well.

I want to publish a book. Well really I want to publish multiple books, and have planned out a whole series that takes place in the same universe. Last January, I had an outline and 0 words. Today I have finished the first draft of 63,000 words that my family and friends are now editing.

Worst case scenario is I wasted a lot of time. But even if this book is not published, I have gained so much writing experience. Now I am ready to start writing another book from the same series, and I get pangs of anxiety since even if I start today, it will be at least March before I am finished. Well if I wait until March I will have nothing and be in the same position as I am now. And if I hadn’t started writing the first one in January, I would still be going back and forth, unsure if I want to possibly waste all that time.

But I pulled the trigger back in January to start, and now have a story, and 63,000 words that I have crafted together to form a novel. I remember when I hit 1,000 words, and 10,000 words, and 30,000 words and thinking about how much further I had to go. It would be easy to have a half finished book on my google drive that every time I go to work on I convince myself not to waste my time, since there is so far to go. But I didn’t do that, and I can now say with certainty that I can write a full length book, thus encouraging me that much more for the next one.

Action begets action. You may not be ready to quit your job, but you can take out a notebook and make the first move.

Advertisements

Don’t Be Scared into the Status Quo: Ordering Off the Menu versus Building Your Own Life

So here’s the conundrum. Life has such vast opportunities, but that means it is impossible to calculate where a choice will lead. It is scary to invite the world in, because inevitably some bad might come in with the good. It can be comfortable to stay were you are at, having reached a benchmark. But there are limitless opportunities and adventures out there! There is not 1 formula for how a life must be lived. With infinite paths, this life can be any combination of experiences, people, adventures, and opportunities you desire. Feel free to mix and match.

The “Sure Thing”

Most of us end up falling back on the sure thing… well as sure as anything can get in this life. We get a job, maybe start a family, save for retirement, and raise some kids. I am not criticizing anyone for doing that if it makes/ made you happy. I think that is an awesome choice for some people, one that can truly be a blessing. But that is one option. To make that choice for yourself is great, but it is natural to try to make your own choice look like the best one, and project outwardly how awesome your circumstances are.

So the problem becomes when enough people collectively adopt the same path, and pressure others to take the same path. Some people do this because they honestly think they took the best possible path and want to help others do the same. Some people are just programmed robots who repeat what they feel they should. Some people are pissed off about their life circumstances and misery loves company.

Don’t let other people talk you out of the typical life if that is what you want, but don’t let anyone trick you into thinking the same thing will make any one of us happy. Everyone is free to make their own choices, but it is hard for some people to resist societal and peer pressure. I am pretty confidant and happy in the abnormal direction I am taking with my life. But even I have to remind myself often that it is okay to not do the same thing “all my friends” are doing, in terms of pursuing careers etcetera.

I am not just saying play video games on the couch your whole life. Actually the opposite. Don’t use “I’m an individual” as an excuse to be lazy and go fewer places, literally of figuratively, than a normal 9-5 would take you. But if you have a plan, and it doesn’t include a cubicle, go for it! I have to constantly remind myself that it is okay that I do not work in a cubicle doing something I hate for five days, just to try to squeeze some enjoyment from the other two, overshadowed by the next 5 days spent doing something I hate.

It makes sense that the “sure thing” is what the majority of people go for. They order off the menu. If you honestly don’t know what you want, you might as well provide yourself with the means to buy necessities, and some spending money to pursue fun and adventure on the side. Even if you do know what you want, the “sure thing”might be the best path to get there. Why try to build my own sandwich when I already see a delicious one available? But some people choose the “sure thing” out of fear, and end up surviving when they should be living.

Build Your Own Happiness

So if that typical work life isn’t for you, try something else. Even just talking about jobs (because I understand we all have needs) there are countless, although most likely lower paying, alternatives to doing something you hate. It may be cliche, but they say do what you love and the money will come. So maybe you like hiking… and just walking around the woods might never earn you much money. But have you looked into becoming a park ranger, a canoe/ kayak guide, or even part of a grounds crew for a park? It might not be glamorous, but for some people the quality of life might be better earning less but working outside.

There are so many ingredients in life, why not try your hand at combining just the right ones for you?

Running is one of my hobbies, so on the side I work for a running shoe store. Is working at a running shoe store the same thing as running? No, but it is closer than working on a computer. I get to interact with runners, trade training tips and knowledge, offer advice, learn from anecdotes, address injuries, and use the stick and the foam roller while getting paid to be there. I work with awesome people, the customers are almost always happy and excited, and I’ve gained enough knowledge and expertise that this job could be a stepping stone. I could use it as a jumping off point to become a coach, a nutritionist, a trainer, or maybe even someday open my own running store.

I am that guy that likes hiking, and no I haven’t earned any money from walking around the woods. But I did pick up foraging, and reading into natural medicines. This is a skill that I practice while hiking; it adds to the fun of being in the woods to identify useful plants. I could see becoming an herbal healer some day, perhaps combining my interests in physical activity with diet, and throw in some experience working for a small business. I’ve got the background to start a natural medicine clinic. And the perfect base for customers would be injury prone runners, who may not know that some ginger and pineapple after a run will help reduce inflammation in the joints, and eating a beet regiment can help open up the blood vessels, increasing oxygen flow.

I don’t know if I am going to go into the running or natural medicine business—right now I am trying my hand in the writing industry. But I do know not to get too caught up in padding my bank account, instead focusing on the endless opportunities that life has in store.

I want to move south, at least for a while. I feel the need to change my surroundings after 25 years, live somewhere new, and experience a different atmosphere. That is scary though, and it is sad just thinking about not seeing certain friends and family for prolonged periods of time. But it is something that will keep me from stagnating, move me forward, and afford me with new opportunities and skills. I haven’t had much opportunity to try my hand at mini-farming, which also fits into my interests and possibilities for future income generation.

And I want to see the world. Again, it might be tough to ever make money on some of these things. But seeing the world gives you perspective, the kind that might impress someone in conversation, the type of someone who happens to be able to get you a job as a tour guide at a museum of fine art. I don’t know! That’s the point, there are a thousand opportunities around every corner, and doing what you love can’t hurt. The more you break outside of the status quo, the more likely things will be new, exciting, and rewarding!

Don’t let fear stop you from doing what you love. It may be safer and easier to stay at a job you hate, pay the bills, and try to squeeze some enjoyment out of life. But if that doesn’t make you happy, it might be time to take a chance, and see where it leads you. Seriously why is 95% of the population trapped in the same “this is how it has to be” mentality, when there are countless, endless opportunities for gains, adventure, fun, knowledge, skills, and anything else you might crave, desire, or need for fulfillment.

Don’t let the fear control you. Don’t be so scared to grab at an opportunity, or create your own opportunity, that you let the sand slip between your fingers. What’s that old cliche: on their death bed, most people don’t regret the things they did, they regret the things they didn’t do.

The Legend of (Your Name Here)

This is a Ted talk called “How to Find and Do the Work You Love” by a guy Scott Dinsmore who started something called live your legend. Essentially he says that 80% of people are not happy with their jobs, and as Warren Buffett put it, working jobs as a resume builder is like saving up sex for old age. You’ve got to do what you love now.

I was excited watching the video because I felt like I was already following his advice before I even saw the video. As he suggests, I surround myself with encouraging people who care about my happiness, and success in my own terms. But that doesn’t mean they can’t offer constructive criticism. If I was trying to make it as a pro-football player, my family and friends would hopefully talk some sense into me. But I’m not, I’m trying to make it as a writer, and I am so grateful for the amount and type of support I get. And by the way, I am out on a limb as much as the next guy who would go this route—I haven’t made a dime writing… yet.

Not only on my day to day life though, but at the event that sparked this blog I was surrounded by people who were doing what I want to do. Not precisely, you’ve always got to have your own angle, but they were excellent models for how to throw off the jealous and vindictive weights which society places on you, in an attempt by the cynics to make themselves feel better by keeping you at the bottom with the masses. Politics was (and in many ways still is) my passion, but what I learned from the people I surrounded myself with is that it is not political theory or facts that is lacking, it is the philosophical basis on which people live their lives. Scott asks, what if instead of 80% of people hating their jobs, all 80% of those people did exactly what they wanted to do, and loved it? Can you imagine the type of world we could create? And that transcends politics.

I like the quote he uses from Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win”. And it is so true! As much as we need to surround ourselves with the right people for our success, other depressed robots seek to make sure those around them remain depressed robots. Misery loves company, and they will work to keep you miserable. So find what you love, and do that. If it has to start as a hobby, so be it, but don’t let it fade away, don’t be too tired to make a run for the money, and don’t wait until you’re dead to go for the gold.

He closes by asking the audience, “What is the work you can’t, not do?”