After university, I trained as an accountant. But, while I trained to be an accountant, I soon had it confirmed to me that an accountant I am not. Oh, sure, I qualified, and I have letters after my name, but being an accountant and being me: not the same thing.
Looking back, my decision to dive into the world of numbers, debits, credits, profit and loss and balance sheets still leaves me utterly bemused. The problem is that accountants like predictable, consistent, orderly things. Accountants like formulas. And, with a core signature strength of creativity, a loathing of the routine and mundane, and a craving for adventure, there could not have been a career path I was more ill-suited to follow. But, follow it I did.
And, progressing rapidly along that path, the way I saw it, I’d made my bed, and now I was just going to have to lie in it, as uncomfortable and unsatisfying as it was. I'd chosen to be an accountant, this was now my lot in life; so, if I was going to live out my ‘lot’, I needed what I did, and who I am, to align. And, to get to that place, I figured I needed to develop a love affair with formulas. I needed to make life predictable. I needed to embrace the routine and celebrate the mundane.
So, I developed formulas for pretty much everything. My life became a spreadsheet of increasing complexity. And, formula by formula, I tried to reach that place where who I was and what I did were in tune. In my mind it was simple: if I apply enough formulas to my life, surely there will come a point when I like them?
But, there didn't. No matter how much formula-making, and formula-following, I did, there never came a point when I liked them. The problem was that I'd got the process back-to-front: I was trying to make myself become what I did rather than making what I did line up with who I am. And trying to shoe-horn who you are into what you do, when the two do not naturally align, ends badly.
All over social media - on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs - you name it - self-appointed 'motivational gurus' are telling you the [insert any, it seems, number here] things you need to do to make this pandemic a 'success' - that you need to come out of it 'better' than you went into it. How, in these weird and wonderful days of lockdowns, empty supermarket shelves, home-working, home-schooling, and a host of other new experiences, you should be using this new found free-time you apparently have to learn new skills, develop new practices, launch new projects and emerge the other side of Covid-19 a 'better' version of you.
I know, right? Emerge a 'better' version of you? Personally, I'll consider it an excellent result if I emerge alive, sane, and with my business and family still intact. Maybe I'm just an under-ambitious under-achiever, but I don't think so. You see, while I get the sentiment in all the 'rah-rah-rah, turn Covid into the opportunity of a lifetime' posts, they all miss the point.
On the one hand, I actually agree that Covid-19, and all the chaos, upheaval and anguish it has brought with it, is the opportunity of a lifetime; it's just not the opportunity it's being dressed up to be in all those 'rah-rah-rah-style' posts. You see, rather than being an opportunity to learn new skills, develop new practices, launch new projects and emerge from this crisis faster, fitter, stronger, healthier and wealthier than you are right now, what Covid-19 has presented you with is an opportunity to use these paradigm-shattering times to rediscover who you truly are, what life truly means for you, and to frame a new paradigm for living.
And, while I'm a huge believer in looking forward - because, after all, the best is yet to come - in order to frame a new paradigm for living, your focus must be not on striving for more - on the future, and all those new skills, and so on, that you could be acquiring - but on a search for less. And that search starts not with...
In these strange days of a global pandemic, with its lockdowns, distancing, isolation, panic-buying and more, never more has it been so important to hold onto one simple, yet powerful, message: your present circumstances are temporary; and they do not have to define your future reality, unless you allow them to. I heard Greg Hartle say that from the platform at a conference in L.A., and it's stuck with me ever since.
You know, and I know, that those words are not just the stuff of motivational tweets and coaching conversations: they are a fact. Yet, despite knowing that, so many of us allow our future to be shaped by the situation we find ourselves trapped in right now, don't we? I know I certainly have. Many times.
In fact, I spent 30 years living as if my present, temporary, circumstances were also my future, permanent reality. I allowed myself to become trapped in a profession I hated, believing that I had made my bed and now I had to lie in it. It never occurred to me that I could break free from that self-created prison cell. And why would it, because life just doesn't work like that, right?
Wrong. Life works exactly like that. If you choose to make it so. But, how do you choose to make it so? How do you exercise the gift, and harness the power, of choice so that you come out the other side of Covid-19, not simply facing the groundhog day of previous patterns, but a future that reflects who you truly are. A future that is aligned with your values, your strengths, your qualities, your meaning, and your purpose.
Well, you adopt five simple, but powerful, principles to guide you.
No matter what havoc Covid may, or may not, be playing with your circumstances right now, it's time to get honest about what those circumstances are. No fluff, no feathers, no brushing things aside. They are what they are, and only when you truly get a handle on what that looks like can you begin to move forward with any real...
Let's talk about ownership. Not ownership of houses, or cars, or crap you don't need, but ownership of your situation - of your life.
The question of who owns your situation, or you, is much bigger than who owns your house, or cars, or the crap you don't need. Yet, in spite of that, we often pay more attention to the ownership of our 'stuff' than to who has ownership of our lives. And that is a big, big mistake. Because, when you don't pay attention to who owns your life, you risk becoming a slave inside your own story.
The simple fact is this: whoever owns your life, owns not just your present reality, but also your future potential.
So, who owns your life? Do you have the title deeds? Or have you placed ownership of your present reality, and your future potential, in the hands of someone else? You need to know - no, scratch that, you must know - because every part of who you are quite literally depends on it.
When you don't own your life, you don't live in your reality.
If someone else owns your life, they set the paths you follow, they shape your choices, they open and close your options. The reality you reside in is not your own. When you do not have ownership of your life, you end up living someone else's definition of reality - someone else's interpretation of who you are and what your life should be. And living that way always ends badly.
You see, at your core is an essence that cries out to be heard, and to shape the picture evolving on the canvas of your life. That essence - your soul - knows the reality, both in the present and in the future - that you want - that you need - the reality that you were made to live. And, when your soul finds itself imprisoned in an interpretation of that reality - an interpretation created and imposed on you by others, it fights for its freedom. It fights tirelessly and violently. It urges you to take hold of the reality that you were made for - the reality that fits your soul perfectly. And the only way you can step...
Have you ever had that dilemma of what to choose when you get passed that Christmas box of chocolates (you know, the fancy ones you only ever buy when the holidays come around), but the little slip of paper that tells you what lies inside has gone missing? Sure you have. We've all been there.
And you know what? Every time I get that 'chocolate box lucky dip' moment, I'm reminded of that wonderful line in the movie Forrest Gump about how "life is like a box of chocolates".
And I'm reminded of that scene because it is. Life, I mean. It's exactly like a box of chocolates - full of sensory delight and sensory horror. And, all too often, those delights and horrors come right out of the blue because, somewhere along the line, you misplaced that slip of paper that tells you what's what.
Yes, I know what you're thinking: "But, Andy, I didn't misplace anything - life doesn't come with a handy slip of paper! If only it did!". And you're right, it doesn't come with a slip of paper to point the way towards the good choices - the sensory delights, if you like and to lead you away from the bad choices - those sensory horrors, so-to-speak. But, that doesn't mean you can't create one for yourself.
And, before you say anything, I'm going to stop you right there - before you make that objection you are thinking about making. I mean the one that says that "if I don't know what's in the 'box' that is 'life', and if there never was any handy slip of paper to point me in the direction of the choices and outcomes I'll like, how in the heck am I supposed to create that slip of paper for myself?". And I'm going to stop you because it can be done. And much more easily than you may think.
You see, you have experience.
Take the Christmas box of chocolates. Sure, you may not know exactly what's inside each wrapper, but you have eaten chocolates before (don't deny it), and you know that hard chocolates tend to have chewy centres, like toffee, or they may even just be a block of...
For the life of me, I couldn't see who he was pointing at. I peered through the crowded carriage, full of the jostling and excitement of kids on their way home after a day at school, and scanned the area he was pointing towards. "There, look, next to the one with the blond hair and pony-tail." Nope, still couldn't see who he was banging on about. "Oh, for crying out loud, Andy, brown hair, super-pretty. There! Look, she's laughing right now. Surely you can see her!"
Oh, her. Yes, I see her, now. And yes, she really is super-pretty. "What about her?" I asked. "Who is she?". My friend looked exasperated. Agitated, even. "I think her name is Kate, and she gets off at the next stop, so you need to be quick".
"Me? What am I supposed to be doing?". I was genuinely confused at this twist of events - a twist that apparently had me on some kind of critical mission. "Get me her phone number. I need her phone number. But I can't get it - I need you to get it for me". Me? When did I suddenly become Casanova? Why would she give me her number any more than she'd give it to him? "You're kidding, right? I've never met her before. Why would she give me her number, but not you?" I inquired of my friend. "Trust me, you have to do it. I need that number. Please! Come on! I'd do it for you!" came the almost desperate reply.
"Oh, what the hell", I thought, "it's not like I ever have to speak to her again afterwards, so even if I go down in flames, who cares?". Fighting my way through the crowded carriage, against the clock as her stop drew ever closer, I made my way towards the girl with the brown hair. "You owe me" I called back to my friend.
Turns out, though, I was wrong. My friend didn't owe me; I owed, and continue to owe, him, big-time. You see, that was thirty-two years ago, give or take a week. She gave me her number (and to this day, I have no idea why), but I never gave it to my friend. And, today, that laughing girl with the brown hair at the other end of a busy train...
It's a memory that is forever burned into my mind. Looking back, it may actually have been the straw that broke the camel's back and ushered me into a period of my life during which everything changed.
In a single moment, weeks of building trust, hours of finding solutions, more conversations that stretched long into the evening convincing the client we had a way forward that would get them back in the game were undone. A split second in which every promise I had made, every reassurance I had given, became meaningless. Became empty. Became a lie. A split second, when two of my core values were shattered. A split second, in which I was shattered.
Driving back to the office, my boss's words instructing me to direct the outcome in a totally different direction from the one I had just assured the client I would take, the anger that raged in my soul threatened to eat me whole. I pulled into the staff car park and just sat, staring. More than 200 people would lose their jobs. People would lose their houses, their pensions, their investments - everything they had toiled so hard to secure. Because of me.
Right then, right there, staring at the bland, flaking paint on the car park wall, I have never hated myself so much.
It took several months, but eventually, I threw off the self-loathing as I realised that, actually, it wasn't because of me that things had played out as they had. I had acted in all good faith. I had followed the remit. I had found the solution. I had prepared the way forward. It was my boss who undid all of that. It was my boss who drove a cart and horses through my core values.
Maybe I should have stood up to him. Maybe I should have cried foul. Maybe there was more I could have done. It would most likely have changed nothing, but maybe I should have tried. Maybe. But I didn't. And, a few months after I learned not to hate myself anymore, my world came apart at the seams as the tension between the world I found myself in - the lies, the deceit, the...
When I first start working with a coaching client, especially those who are looking for help to shape and step into their personal (or, indeed, business) vision, I'm always amazed by the tidal wave of ideas that they bring to the table. Ideas that inspire and excite them.
But, too often, those ideas are accompanied by tales of how inspiration soon turned to disillusionment, and excitement became frustration, because, in spite of the tidal wave of ideas bursting out of them, they found themselves getting no closer to seeing their vision or goal become a reality.
I understand the frustration, and the disillusionment. I've even felt both, on occasion. But I also understand that there's a reason that tidal wave of ideas isn't bringing results. You see, as exciting and inspiring as they are, ideas are just exactly that: ideas.
The topic of ideas came up in a conversation that I had recently with a friend of many years - a successful entrepreneur who knew exactly what it is to experience that tidal wave. In that conversation I asked my friend how he'd managed to build the confidence and conviction to step out of where he was - right before he became a successful entrepreneur and all he had was that tidal wave of ideas - and not just pursue his dream, but actually start to turn it into a living, breathing reality.
The answer he gave me was beautifully simple: "I decided, and I did it". "In fact", he went on, "these days it's kind of become something of a mantra I live by - 'decide, and do' - and it's never let me down yet."
Decide and do. I love that.
I love it because it quite brilliantly captures a simple truth: for your dream to become a reality, there comes a point when you have to actually do something.
But, sometimes, as simple as it sounds, to 'decide and do' can be really difficult. After all, when you have so many ideas, where do you start? Well, ultimately you have to do what works for you, but let me suggest a process that may help to get you up...
I sit down and take my seat at the conference room table. Looking around me, I see faces every bit as eager as my own. This is it. Finally, I've made it. I've arrived. This moment, this beginning, is what every ounce of effort that's preceded it has been leading to.
Hanging onto every word the Senior Partner speaks, I feel my heart pounding in my chest. He lays out the opportunities that lie before us. He paints a picture of a land flowing with milk and honey, where the world is at our feet and nothing stands in our way.
Like Pavlov's dog at the sound of a bell, I realise I am salivating at the prospect.
His words suddenly change pace and his tone sharpens. It jars slightly, and snaps me out of my reverie, bringing me back into the room, and back into our 'graduate induction morning'.
As commanded by that sharper tone, I glance down at the booklet on the table and, as instructed, say out loud, and in unison with each of my fellow inductees, 'Consistently Exceeding Expectations'.
As I spoke those words, as I took them on board not as a mantra, an encouragement, or simply a strapline, but as an instruction, everything changed.
From that moment forward, my life would never be the same. Those three, seemingly innocuous, words launched me onto a trajectory that would lead to devastation, restoration, and transformation. But, at the time I spoke them out loud, I had no idea what lay ahead.
The period of devastation unfolded slowly, masquerading as sheer exhilaration and adrenaline for a time. Apparent success followed apparent success. Promotion followed promotion. Pay-rise followed pay-rise. I was on the fast track to stardom and nothing could impede my progress. Goal after goal was hit right out of the park, and yet none of it - the money, the praise, the achievement of goal after goal, could satisfy the longing in my soul. The longing for something more - something that would make me feel whole. Something that would end this chase for the promised land and bring me...
Here's what I know about setting goals: not every goal you set, however SMART you may make it, matters. Although, I admit, it took me a long time to realise that.
There are times when I feel like my life has been one long goal-setting exercise. But it's only in more recent years that all that goal-setting has felt like there was a point to it. And that's because, for many years, the goals I set myself meant nothing to me.
Think about that for a second.
I set myself goals that didn't matter to me. And I'm not alone in doing that. How many of the goals you set yourself actually matter to you - how many of them are actually important to you? Hopefully, most, if not all, of them. But, I suspect that a fair chunk of those goals you've set yourself in the past, and possibly in the here and now, aren't actually that important to you. Not really. If you achieve them, great. If you don't, c'est la vie.
And there's a simple reason for that: if you aren't living your real life, as the real you, then the goals you set yourself can't have true meaning for you. Not intentionally, anyway - how can they?
You see, if you aren't living your real life, you are living someone else's interpretation of your life. And if you aren't living as the real you, you are living as someone else's interpretation of you. A life, and a version of you, that don't really matter to you, because they aren't yours. So, it follows that any goals you set to progress in that interpretation of your real life, or as that interpretation of the real you, will likely not matter to you, either. And if they do, it's thanks to chance, and not by design.
But, when you know who you really are, and you are fully engaged in the adventure of becoming that person, and creating your real life - your best life - everything changes.
Take Whiplash, the super-charged Snail in the movie 'Turbo'. Sure, he found his 'true self' through a freak occurrence but the fact is (ahem, such as facts are in animated movies) that he...