While out running one beautiful, early summer's morning, nearly 20 years ago, I learned a simple principle that has stuck with me, and guided me, ever since: the principle of 'The Next Step'.
The sun was low in the sky, the breeze was refreshingly cool, and it was too early for the morning traffic to have built to its frantic, rush-hour levels. It was just me, my music and the street. Perfect. Perfect at least until I hit the half-mile marker, that is. Yes, you read that right - the half-mile marker.
As I passed the bus shelter that acted as my 'you've made it a whole half mile!' signal, I began to feel like I had nothing left in the tank. And, with four and half miles still to go, that was not a good thing.
Determined not to give in, I fixed my gaze on where I knew the one-mile marker lay, and began a mental war of words as I tried to convince myself I could - and would - make it at least that far.
The more I peered into the distance, however, the further away that mile-marker seemed. And the “you can't do this” voice became way, way louder than the “you've got this” voice. I knew I was losing the battle.
About to give up and turn back, I heard another voice - a voice I recognised, but wasn't mine. The voice said “Andy, don't concern yourself with how far you have to go. Simply lower your gaze and focus on your next step”.
I took heed, lowered my gaze and, as instructed, attempted to focus on my next step. It felt awkward to be looking down, and I imagined that I would run straight into a tree, or a signpost, at any moment. But I persevered and, gradually, began to find a groove.
Even so, the urge to look up was strong and, each time I succumbed, the sense of impending defeat returned. So, I began to chant “next step”, over and over, in my head. “Next step. Next step. Next step.”. Over, and over, and over.
As I watched each step hit the tarmac, and heard the voice in my head remind me that my point of...
Let's talk about ownership. Not ownership of houses, or cars, or crap you don't need, but ownership of your life.
The question of who owns your life is a biggie - much, much bigger than who owns your house, or cars, or the crap you don't need - because whoever owns your life, owns you. And whoever owns you, owns not just your present reality, but also your future potential.
You see, when you don't own your life, you don't live in your reality. You end up a slave inside your own story, trapped in an interpretation of who you truly are, hurtling towards a version of the future that was never intended for you to inhabit - someone else's interpretation of who you are, and of the life you are supposed to lead - your real life.
Without ownership of your life, you end up following paths, making choices, and facing options and opportunities that are shaped by someone else. And living - or, more accurately existing - that way always ends badly, because you are not cut out to navigate this world living in an interpretation of who you truly are and the life you are truly made for: your real life.
When you don't own your life, life is done to you, not by you. But life is not meant to be done to you. As William Ernest Henley wrote in his poem, Invictus, "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul."
Those are powerful, life-changing, words.
You are the master of your fate. You are the captain of your soul. Hold on to those words, and resolve to reclaim your life and become both master and captain of the road ahead.
"That's all well and good, Andy, but it's not so simple," I hear you say. "I'm trapped, and it's not my fault. I had no choice. People forced me onto this path. I'm not responsible".
Only you are responsible. You did have a choice, even if it may not have felt much like a choice. You chose to allow someone else to own your life. But, just as giving up ownership of your life was a choice, so is taking it back. A choice that only you can make.
I’m going to come clean, and tell you something I’m not very proud of. And it’s this: one of my most used phrases is "I'll just...".
There, I said it. And you’re probably thinking “OK, and…?”.
I agree, on the face of it, it doesn’t sound like something to be too hard on yourself about. Until, that is, you stop and think about the effect of having “I’ll just…” as one of your most used phrases.
I'll just finish this, and then I'll take a break. I'll just get to the start of the next session, and then I'll hang out with the kids. I'll just make those few calls, and then I'll spend some quality time with the family.
Good intentions that, if you are anything like me, virtually never work out quite the way you hoped?
And it doesn't work out the way you hoped because there's always something else to do. The list never gets shorter, and for every item you complete, two more appear. Before you know it, "I'll just do this and then I'll take a break" becomes "I'll just do this and then I'll do this and, when I've done that, I'll just do...".
I've lived and worked that way for years. And, as I've done so, I've known that my family, and I, have paid a price. But I've always found a way to justify that price: it needs to be done, I have to earn money for us to live, once I get this done then things will be different and we can really start to live.
Always tomorrow. Never today.
The trouble is, by finding a way to validate putting all my energy into working rather than living, I was simply justifying a lie: that the work I do is more important than the person I am.
I prioritised doing above being and becoming. And that is back-to-front.
The realisation that I had been justifying a lie, and that I had got my priorities totally out of whack truly hit me a few years ago, when I was forced to contemplate my own mortality, fallibility and...
Live a Big Life is an adventure. It is an outworking of everything that sits at the core of who I am. It flows out of a burning desire to stir up a revolution that equips and empowers an entire generation to pursue the adventure into their real lives.
But, as admirable as it may be, the burning desire that drives Live a Big Life - a desire to unleash a better world - is the same burning desire that has been the downfall of many valiant adventurers, and the death knell of many an adventure.
As those adventurers pursued their own revolutions to unleash a better world - whether in politics, education, commerce, industry, religion or wherever - they placed the needs of the ones for whom they wanted to unleash that better world ahead of their own needs.
And, slowly but surely, as they prioritised the needs of others, they crumbled under a weight they could no longer carry.
Those adventurers suffered because they did not heed a simple principle: the desire to help others must come second to the reality that, first, you have to help yourself.
That may sound like a selfish thing to say. It isn’t. If you don’t help yourself first - if you constantly put yourself second - eventually you run out.
You run out of money, time, energy, patience, emotion, resilience. You run out of you.
And, if you run out of you, you can’t help anyone.
Airlines know this. The pre-flight safety video of any reputable airline clearly instructs you that, if you are travelling with a child or someone not able to easily fend for themselves, you must put your oxygen mask on before you help anyone else get attached to theirs. Why? Because, if you are passing out from lack of oxygen, you are no use to anyone, and both you and the person next to you will be in trouble.
And that principle - to help yourself first - is not confined only to airlines and oxygen masks. The requirement to help yourself first applies to much of life, and most definitely to the pursuit of the adventure into...
How many times have you watched a sportsman, or sportswoman, implode? Standing on the verge of greatness and, suddenly, out of no-where, they have a meltdown? A rush of blood to the head, an overdose of adrenaline, or an explosion of passion, whatever causes the meltdown, the result is the same - failure.
If you’re a golf fan, or just someone who likes to see train wrecks unfold, you will doubtless have seen Jean Van de Velde, the French golfer whose famous meltdown at the 1999 British Open Championship cost him an almost certain win - see it [here](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkOf8Ic3LP4 “Jean Van de Velde Meltdown”), if you want a reminder. The quite brilliant commentary says it all.
Standing on that final tee, Van de Velde could afford to take six shots - two more than the regulation four for that particular hole - and still take the title. Caution should have been the name of the game - he could afford to drop two shots and still walk away victorious.
Caution, however, was not on the agenda and, as a result, neither was a title win.
But it’s not just sportsmen and women who have meltdowns. Entrepreneurs, students, activists, politicians, professionals - people from every aspect of life - even adventurers like you - are all susceptible to them.
No matter what the situation, when the chips are down - when the stakes are high - if heart rules head, if passion prevails over precision, a meltdown will almost certainly follow.
Don’t get me wrong - passion is vital. You know by now that I’m all for passion, and I have it by the truckload. Passion gives you that initial momentum. Passion picks you up off the floor when you feel like you have nothing left to give. Passion keeps you pushing forward in the face of obstacles and objections. Passion drives you towards the finish line.
But, over the years, I have learned, the hard way, that passion only takes you so far.
Passion alone will not carry you over the finish line and on...
Let me ask you a question: is your life a congruent life? Are all the different parts of your life in harmony - I mean, do they fit together? Or, is your life littered with inconsistencies?
The reality is that most of us live with inconsistencies in our lives. Life is complex and full of competing expectations and demands. So, to survive under the pressure of those expectations and demands, you find ways to fit in - 'to be all things to everyone', to please everyone, to let no-one down.
And, it is in finding a way to fit in, that you open the door to inconsistency.
In an attempt to please everyone, you adjust your values, your belief systems, your personality - maybe only a little tweak here or there, but enough to ensure that you become different people in different situations.
But, if you are a different person in different situations, you can never live a congruent life - you will always have a life littered with inconsistency. You will never live your real life.
It can be a hard thing to admit that the various aspects of your life are inconsistent - to accept that the person you are at work is not the person you are at home, or at church, or down the pub, or in the gym. No-one likes to confess that their life is not 100% the genuine article. I know I don't.
But, unless you accept, identify, acknowledge, and confess those areas of your life that compete and conflict with each other, you will never find harmony. And, without harmony, you will always be at war with yourself, and never be free to live the life you were made for.
I spent years playing different parts, depending on the situation I was in. And it sucked.
In the office I was the hard, cold, serious, risk-averse, calculated, brutal person. In my family I was the dependable, loving, fun, adventurous person. In church I was the clean, spiritual, devoted person.
In reality, I was none of those people.
Day after day I lived multiple lives - wearing masks and presenting personas that gave people what they...
You may be one of the few people walking the earth who is genuinely living their real life. But, if you can’t count yourself among that number, why is that? Why aren't you already well on your way to living as your best self in the life you were made for?
Instead of living a life filled with fulfilment, meaning and vigour, why do you so often cut a frustrated figure, cussing and complaining about the lack of progress you are making towards the ’success’ you long for?
Well, if you're anything like me, you've probably talked yourself into a corner where you are surrounded by so many issues and blockages that you're now trapped - a multitude of reasons and excuses why you haven’t got what it takes. Reasons and excuses that have you pinned down and unable to move.
The more time you spend hemmed into that corner, the bigger those issues and blockages seem, and the more real those reasons and excuses become.
And then there’s the fear. Fear that, even if you could find a way through all that stands in your way, you won't be able to pull it off - that your efforts will fail, your goals will be missed, and ‘success’ will forever evade you - begins to creep in.
And, as fear creeps in, it suffocates your enthusiasm and wrings the life out of your determination. Slowly, at first, and then with greater pace, you start to settle for existence in the status quo.
But you weren't made to settle. The status quo is a place you were never meant to be. You were made to live. To 'have a go'.
You were made to write a story of failed attempts, missed goals, tears and frustration, all outweighed by the joy and wonder of becoming the person you truly are. So wouldn't you rather live the life you were made for than lead a ‘play it safe' existence filled with stories of, well, nothing at all?
I know I would.
And I do live that life - complete with stories of failures and missed goals that, so far, exceed...
[SPOILER ALERT: THIS IS QUITE A LONG STORY, BUT IT’S WORTH THE READ]
Allow me to introduce you to Jay (not his real name, by the way). I ran into Jay when I was taking the opportunity to step away from my desk and into a rather nice coffee house to grab a coldbrew and some clear air to think. I can’t recall how we got chatting, but I do recall, early on in the conversation, thinking ”Are you talking about me when you’re saying all this stuff?”.
You see, as Jay told me his story, it was like he was living a life that was running in parallel with the life I had when I was around his age; and he was telling me my own story.
Aged 33 when I ran into him, Jay had always been a motivated guy. For him, just like it had been for me, what success looked like was set out early on: financial independence, stability, solid career and a plan for the future, with maybe (OK, definitely) a family as the icing on the cake.
In school, Jay made the sports teams and got good grades, but he always felt like he was on the brink of failure. So he outworked his classmates, never relying on his own ability: that definition of success that had been spelt out to him echoing in his mind, never allowing him to relax or take his foot off the gas.
After completing college with a solid degree, and despite longing for a future filled with variety, creativity and the things that brought his soul to life, Jay opted for the respectable career that he believed would meet the demands of that ingrained definition of success that hung over him. Accountancy. A career that represented everyting Jay knew he wasn’t, but that ticked all the right boxes.
Making good money, Jay married his high school sweetheart and started his family. By all accounts, he was the very picture of success, and earned no end of praise for the amazing life he had established.
Only, for Jay, his life never felt that amazing.
Sure, he tried to embrace it, to love it. But it never came close to...
There's a particular scene in the movie Ice Age 2 that I love. It's the part where the three main characters - Manny (a mammoth), Sid (a sloth) and Diego (a sabre-toothed tiger) stumble across another mammoth, Ellie.
The thing is, though, Ellie doesn’t realise she’s a mammoth. In fact, she thinks mammoths are extinct!
No, Ellie (who weighs in somewhere around three or four tonnes and stands close on three metres tall) thinks she is a possum (which, would have her weighing in at around five or six kilos and measuring less than a metre nose to tail).
And, much to Manny’s irritation, no amount of convincing, or arguing, will persuade her otherwise. Even when Manny shows her that their footprints and shadows are the same, she concludes that he must be part possum.
So, how can a mammoth weighing several tonnes be convinced that she is a small marsupial that needs to "climb trees" and "live under rocks so birds can't carry [her] away"?
Simple. Other people. Other people (or, in this case, possums) had an agenda for her life. Their agenda.
In the movie, Ellie was adopted into a family of possums, and gradually became convinced by her surroundings and the messages she was given, that she was something far removed from who she really was. Messages motivated not least by an agenda that the possums had for how Ellie could protect them.
In fact, Ellie became so convinced that she was something far removed from who she really was that, even when presented with compelling and irrefutable evidence, she could not easily accept that she was not a possum but, rather, a mammoth.
And so it is for you and me (hopefully without the possum/mammoth dilemma).
You entered the world created for greatness, with passions deep within your soul that longed to emerge. Passions that would, if unleashed, see you blossom and flourish, and become all you are meant to be.
But, from the moment you were born, you became part of an...
A couple of weeks back, I was easing my way into the day, enjoying the peace and quiet before the rest of the house began to stir.
Gathering my thoughts and skimming through that day's edition of the newspaper on my phone, as I like to do, I was sifting through all the usual blah blah blah that the media pushes, when I stumbled into an article that nearly made me choke on my morning coffee.
According to this particular article, researchers at University College London found that the key to happiness lies in settling for mediocrity.
Read that again: the key to happiness lies in settling for mediocrity.
Mediocrity. The key to happiness? I know! Crazy, right?
Essentially, the research tested groups of people in different ways to find out what induced a happy state and what did not.
Through the tests, the researchers found that - and brace yourself for this - happiness followed ‘when the outcome of a situation was better than expected’.
And, not content simply to make that paradigm-shifting discovery, the researchers even developed an algorithm and an iPhone app to prove the point!
OK, maybe I was being more than a little sarcastic using the term ‘paradigm-shifting’ to describe the research findings. And, while I may have been left a little incredulous that someone would actually report something so un-newsworthy, it was not the finding itself that made me almost choke on my morning coffee.
No, what made me nearly choke on my drink was the recommendation that followed. The recommendation that, in order to be happy, you should set the bar of expectation nice and low.
Nice. And. Low.
Think on that for a moment: if you want to be happy you need to lower your expectations.
Regrouping from my near-choking experience, I read on.
And, from what I read it seems that, if you are going to meet friends for a meal, for example, you should pick a low grade joint rather than your top-end favourite restaurant. You see,...