Life is not a formula

Jul 29, 2020

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.

So, eventually, I accepted defeat. I admitted that formulas and me were never destined to like each other much; and no amount of grit, determination and persistence would convince me otherwise. Through what was, at the time, a traumatic twist of events, I left accountancy and found myself with an opportunity to forge a new path. I seized that opportunity and, perhaps for the first time in my life, I stopped trying to make life predictable, and embraced the chaos and creativity that, deep down, I had always been seeking.

However, as time passed, without realising, as I pushed on deeper into my adventure into becoming who I really was, signing up for course after course, and reading book after book, I began to fall back into the formula trap. Maybe I was secretly looking for the silver bullet - the magic potion that would suddenly catapult things to the next level. Maybe I was looking for a shortcut. It could have been any number of reasons. But, whatever the reason, course by course, book by book, I was slipping into 'life by formula’ again.

And, as I tried in vain to implement every guaranteed step to success I was learning - to apply every formula I was offered to carry me where I wanted to go - what I came to realise is that, in the messy, chaotic, world of the adventure into living your real life and becoming the person you really are, formulas simply do not work. Because life is not a formula. But the fact life isn't a formula, and that your adventure doesn't play by the rules, does not mean that those formulas you've learned about in the courses you signed up for, and the books you read, can't help you - they can.

You see, it’s all about context and application. You are unique, and your life is your own, so no one-size-fits-all formula will ever be the golden ticket to transport you where you want to go. But, while each of those formulas, tips, tricks and techniques you’ve explored may not offer you a golden ticket, they do offer you golden nuggets. Your job is, as the saying goes, to eat the meat and spit out the bones (or eat the flesh and spit out the pips, if you are vegetarian).

And you do that by taking every formula you’ve applied - whether with or without success, every tip and trick you put to the test, and you examine it. Every single element of it. And, for each element, ask yourself what fits with your values, and what jars. What aligns with your strengths, and what plays into the hands of your weaknesses. What simply feels ‘right’, and what leaves you with an unease in the pit of your stomach. What reinforces your authenticity, and what undermines it. Then take hold of what fits, and cast aside what does not; and, armed with those elements that line up with the real you and your real life, and free of all those elements that had no place in your adventure, you can put them to work.

I can't emphasise enough how valuable that exercise is. Nothing - nothing - you learn in life is ever wasted if you choose to look within it and find the value. I apply this principle in my own adventure. I work with coaching clients to help them take hold of, and harness, the power of this principle in their adventures. I work with business owners to shape their visions, missions and strategies to embrace this principle. And I encourage you to not cast aside the experience of the past, but to use it, to learn from it, and to take from it what can move you forward, and cast aside all that would hold you back.

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