Take a moment to think about the things that you would like to do in life. Not just to do with work, but the things that you would like to do in general. Smaller things, not just the big things. Things like taking your partner to dinner, going to the theatre. Things like spending one-to-one time with each of your children. Watching that movie you wanted to watch, reading that book, perhaps skydiving. Whatever you have in mind that you would like to do at some point in the future, particularly the things you’d like to do soon but that keep taking a backseat and getting postponed to ‘next week’ or ‘next month’.
Think of the one-off things that you would like to do, things that perhaps you should be able to do one of each month – one month you skydive, the next month you commit to reading that book, and so on. Also think about the things you would like to do every month, like taking your family to dinner, watching at least one good movie or documentary, taking one full day undisturbed and undistracted to spend time with your family. These things are relatively small – important, indeed, but part of normal life. You want to do them but you know you won’t be able to every month. You just accept it.
Take a moment to think about that, because I think you might find what follows profound. I started thinking of the things that I wanted to do each month, exactly the things I’ve just mentioned: spending one-to-one time with each of my children, taking them to the movies, taking my wife to a new place for dinner and giving us my truly undivided attention, starting this book and so on. Then I realized that several months had gone by without me having been able to do those things regularly; I realized that maybe I was only doing them every other month, or every three months, and that some of the stuff I wanted to do regularly hadn’t happened at all.
Then something occurred to me. I think I was at a conference and someone mentioned a fact that has not only stuck with me but has profoundly affected how I prioritise. At my age, 42, if I am to live past 80 (which I assume I will) I have less than 500 months to live. Fuck! 500 months! 500 isn’t a big number at all. And all of a sudden my perspective changed dramatically. Very dramatically.
I started thinking in weeks, and even days, which is why, for me, only setting large long-term goals doesn’t work. It’s okay to have those, but it’s vital that I have daily goals that I want to accomplish, not just to do with work but for life in the wider sense – work, sport, relationships and everyday things. I realised that ‘everyday things’ are seldom done every day, and those ‘at least once a month’ things are sometimes never done at all. With 500 months left to live, if I postpone my ‘once a month’ things just once, I might only have 250 opportunities to do the stuff I love. Screw that.
If you think of the things you want and need to do in this way when planning your business or work, it becomes even more important to choose something you truly love. It becomes really important to do the stuff you have great passion for.
But that sparks another dilemma. Many motivational speakers will tell you that you just need to find something you love doing and do that. But it isn’t quite that simple, not quite so easy. It raises a fundamental question, a big one: what is it that you love?
How on earth are you supposed to figure that out if you don’t have any clear ideas? It isn’t as easy as just thinking about it for five minutes and realizing “Oh yes, I love that thing, so I’m gonna do that.” Coming up with something we really love can be a massive challenge that many never overcome. We may love something today, this year even, but we might not love it quite as much tomorrow or next month, or next year. So to ask ourselves today “What is it that I would love to do every single day of my life, for the rest of my life?” is a bit like asking a 15-year-old what they want to do when they grow up.
We know this doesn’t work, because we can see that the majority of people who studied at university end up switching careers: according to a survey of 2,000 graduates carried out by the New College of the Humanities, 96 percent of people switch careers by the age of 24. This isn’t the end of the world for students; the biggest value that studying brings isn’t the knowledge of the subjects studied, as this changes and evolves anyway. The biggest skill that studying provides is the skill of learning. This is fortunate because if students had to sign a contract that committed them to work in the field they studied, we’d have a very large number of extremely unhappy members of society.
The point here is that it’s not easy to find something you love; it’s not easy when you’re young and it doesn’t get any easier as you get older. It’s not easy to find something you think you’re going to love for the rest of your life and just do that.
What is much easier, much more attainable, reliable and likely to survive the test of time, is to identify the values that are important to you, your core values. To find the principles and concepts that you love and that can form part of your non-negotiables. To find things that you can love every day in the context of what you do.
For example, I have immense passion for personal development and seeing other people inspired to be better because I have two core beliefs:
- Happiness is provided by the sense of progression and not status. An accomplished, healthy and wealthy individual might feel less happy than a person who’s in difficult circumstances if the former is ‘static’ and the latter is progressing.
- Everyone on earth can progress, everyone can be better.
I feel it’s important that I back up these beliefs. Perhaps the latter doesn’t need much backing up, since I think we can all agree that the vast majority of people can get better at something – we can all set goals and progress. The former, however, might or might not be so easy to accept.
Research on goal pursuit and well-being suggests there is a cycle between progression and emotional well-being. In a book chapter on the topic, German psychologist Prof. Dr. Bettina S. Wiese illustrates the cycle between progression and emotional well-being (which she refers to as subjective well-being, or SWB):
Wiese’s research shows that as we make progress on our goals, our SWB increases: we feel happier. Feeling these positive emotions, she suggests, motivates us to pursue the goal even more. The research also concludes that the more difficult the goal we go after and achieve, the higher the SWB gets. So in simple terms:
Progress = Happiness. Happiness = Progress
I have great passion for inspiring others, especially younger people, to do better. I don’t believe that I am, as a whole, better than anyone else. I might be better at something; others might be better at a different thing. When I see an individual who is better than me at something I want to improve on, I get inspired to learn from them and get better. That’s why this book exists. This book doesn’t exist to help you make all the money you want, it wasn’t created for that. Sure, that may be a welcome side-effect, and if it happens I’ll be even more pleased. This book was created to inspire you. This book was created to make you better, in a way. Not because I am better than you; whether you are ahead of me or behind me is irrelevant. If I can add even one percent to where you are and what you do, then you will be better than you were.
This is why we should always be open to learning from anybody in the world, irrespective of where they are, how young they are, when they joined the company, or what they have achieved. Even if they are way, way, way behind you, they might have something to offer; in fact, I think they most probably would. And if you take that one percent, five percent, ten percent, whatever it is that they have to offer, then you become a better version of you. That is one of the reasons why this book exists: to inspire you, to help you be a better you.
A decade ago, the twenty-something-year-old intern would walk into the boardroom to bring the coffees. Today, the twenty-something-year-old intern walks in and tells everyone how to grow their brand online. If you refuse to be humble and ready to learn from anyone, you might never recover from the shock you’ll get when you realise what you’ve missed out on. This is true in any situation, in business and life in general. I learn from my ten-year-old every day.
If I adopted a more traditional way of thinking, the one promoted by most motivational speakers and motivational theories, then I might be quite stuck right now. My options would be to quit what I am doing, quit my agency, maybe even quit writing this book to do what I love, which is to touch many people on a personal level. If I did that, I might become a full-time motivational speaker, writing about motivation and inspiration, publishing self-development books, doing seminars, and sharing videos and content all about that. Ironically, if I did that I would probably not be able to touch as many people as I do now. It would be obvious that that’s why I was there; the people who are resistant to personal development, not ready to embrace it in that way or simply unaware that they need it wouldn’t access my content because it would be labelled personal development and therefore raise all the common presumptions.
Instead, I’ve chosen to use my passion, which is to inspire and help people be better, in everything that I do. If my job was that of collecting rubbish in the morning from residential homes, I would do the same. If I was a builder, I would do the same. If I was a lawyer, or a painter, or a singer, I would do the same. My job is to run a digital agency, so I’m doing it here. And I can do it by implementing either formal or informal, overt or covert, ways of inspiring my team, my staff, my colleagues, my clients, my customers, my audience, the people at conferences I speak at, my peers, everyone. I get to enjoy every single mile of the most scenic route I can take on my journey, irrespective of what I am driving – I focus on the outside.
So instead of trying to understand what you love doing and do that in your work, seek to understand what’s important to you as a person and inject that into whatever you do.
Before you allow your pessimistic monkey (we all have one) to sabotage you, yes you can do this in any job and with any passion. If your passion is painting or being artistic, for example, but you find yourself in a job that doesn’t lend itself to that, maybe you’re a lawyer or the CEO of an analytics agency, there are many ways in which you can nurture your passion and use it in what you do.
Let’s imagine I was the lawyer with a passion for drawing. I could create an artistic infographic about the branch of law I’m in. I’d use my artistic passion and skills to draw that infographic and move away from the traditional way of presenting legal information as well as from the traditional style of infographics. Or maybe my passion is singing; I could launch the singing lawyer podcast, all about legal issues, in harmony.
I am writing this section of the book on the move – I’m speaking into a voice recorder and thinking on the spot, so this might be a wild example. But my message is simple: if I can think of an example like this on the spot, I am confident that you, with your great passion, can come up with some decent ideas for applying what you love in your field.
LearnVest, a financial planning organisation, turned the financial planning industry on its head by creating a membership-based business that provides straightforward, understandable advice to people who are not clear on what to do to secure their financial future (most people). As well as providing advice, LearnVest also sells personal finance software.
CEO and Founder Alexa von Tobel had a strong WHY: she was just 14 when her father passed away unexpectedly, leaving Alexa and her mother to manage the family’s finances, which had always been Alexa’s father’s job. Alexa and her mother experienced first-hand what it was like to lack stability and easy-to-understand information. As a result, Alexa became very determined to understand finance and help others plan for their future.
She went on to fund LearnVest in her mid-twenties when, after asking hundreds of people – young, old, rich or not – she discovered that no one knew how to even start planning for their future. She created a tool that simplifies financial planning and investing. Within three years, LearnVest was offering support to millions of people, and in 2015 Alexa sold the company, reportedly for about $250 million.
As well as having a strong WHY, Alexa was able to create a phenomenal and exciting business in an industry that she found, in her words, boring. She introduced plain-English advice, which some finance veterans criticised her for, technology and innovation to help people feel stable when life brings potentially stability-reducing circumstances.
There are many opportunities to inject your passion into what you do. If you have a JOB (just over broke), you might be convincing yourself that your passion cannot be translated into something that you can do daily and profit from. I think that’s really sad. I truly believe that every single person on the planet has something special to offer; but we know that we can only add true value when we’re in a state of excitement and passion. Sure, choose to do something that you love, but if you’re not in love with the technicalities and strict definition of what you do, then spice it up. Change it up a bit, inject your passion into what you do. You have no limits, I promise.
I have retired now from high-level martial arts, but I have competed in mixed martial arts (MMA, sometimes known as cage fighting). At the same time, I am leading a digital marketing agency and speaking at events. I need to interact with my staff and clients face-to-face. Obviously, when you do something like mixed martial arts, you might end up going to work with bruises on your face, or limping; although that hasn’t really happened to me yet, there’s always a chance I’ll turn up with a big black eye.
How do I deal with that? I’ve made being a mixed martial arts athlete part of my brand. We worked on this at the agency: MMA was all over my LinkedIn profile and all over my Facebook profile; we published more than one blog post on the agency website about it and generally made it very much part of my brand.
The idea behind this is that you can turn that different side of you into something that can fit into your business or your job – something quirky about you then becomes not only accepted but also a good talking point. This gives you a license to write about what you love even in a totally different environment. You could use your passion as a metaphor, drawing the attention of the reader to the overlapping commonalities between your passion and your work – in my case, high-impact competitive sport and business. Doing this allows me to talk about productivity and how I find ways to train so hard, whilst also running the agency, about courage, competitiveness, dealing with failure and hundreds of other business-related topics.
You see where I’m going with this. Making my passion part of my personal brand gives me more licence to use it in my business. It’s open to my staff, it’s open to my clients, it’s open to everyone. This means that not only do they accept it when I come to work with a mark on my face, but they also they embrace that part of my identity; I’ve been introduced more than once as the MMA athlete who speaks to professional audiences on behalf of global organisations.
What this comes down to is that we really don’t have much time. If you’re around 40, you probably have about 500 months to do the stuff you want to do. When you realise this, you also realise that postponing things isn’t a great idea. What are you going to do with your 500 months? What are you going to do every month? Every day? Whatever you do, you owe it to yourself, and to the world, to do it with passion and love.
- What are the things you really want to do but you don’t have time for? Can you make these part of your professional profile?
- What are the things you absolutely want to do every week, or even every day? Going to the gym, writing, learning UX, data analysis, having lunch with your partner? Make these part of your non-negotiables. Put the time in the calendar.