I don’t need to tell you how many obstacles stand between you and your dream becoming a reality. You know better than anyone the scale of what you are up against.
But, often, and I learned this the hard way, the biggest obstacle you face is you.
Or, more accurately, the biggest obstacle you face is the soundtrack that is constantly running through your mind – your self-talk.
A lot is made of self-talk – the words you speak silently to yourself as you confront the downs and embrace the ups of your journey. And rightly so, because self-talk can be your most powerful ally and yet also your most fearsome enemy, switching roles and allegiance in the blink of an eye.
I’ve seen, and been involved in, many projects that flourished through the power of positive self-talk. And I’ve seen, and been involved in, many projects that stumbled, and even failed, through the impact of negative self-talk. That experience taught me that no hurdle you face – be it finance, building a tribe, or finding backers, time, skills, or whatever – will ever come close to impacting the progress you make into the adventure into your real life as your self-talk will.
And that’s because your self-talk, whether positive or negative, is influenced by, and influences, your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual circumstances.
When your self-talk is positive, the world is a better place: you are better company, and everything follows on – efficiencies, productivity and energy levels all improve.
But, when your self-talk is negative you can quickly disappear into a pit of despair, where the smallest problem becomes an unconquerable mountain and defeat seems inevitable.
So it should come as no surprise that the impact of your self-talk on your mood, your outlook and your general ability to cope, can be profound. And, to manage that impact so that the effects move you forward rather than hold you back, you...
What if you didn't have to be the one - be the one to achieve it all, to make it to the top, to square the circle, or be the solution to the problem?
What if your goal - your purpose - was not to aim for, reach, and then break through your ceiling?
What if you didn't have to be the beginning, middle and end of the story, but rather the prequel to the next instalment of the adventure you found yourself in?
What would life look like then?
Totally amazing. That's how it would look.
The problem with having to be the one to make it to the top, or the squarer of circles, or the solution to the problem, or the whole story from start to finish, is that enough is never enough. Just as you think you've arrived you discover there is still more to do, further to travel.
And so you keep pushing. Pushing further, harder. Pushing to be bigger, better, stronger than you thought you needed to be.
Because the further you travelled, the more you came to realise that what you <em>thought</em> would be enough is <em>not</em> enough. You came to see that, if you are to be the one - and you <em>have</em> to be the one - at the top, the solution, the squarer of circles, the beginning, middle and end of the story, you need to do, to be, more than enough.
But no-one is the solution. No-one is the squarer of circles. No-one is the beginning, middle and end of the story. <em>A</em> solution, yes. <em>A</em> squarer of circles, yes. A <em>part</em> in the story, yes. But not <em>the</em> solution, or <em>the</em> squarer of circles, and most definitely not <em>the</em> story.
You see, this story - this adventure - that you find yourself in is bigger than you. It pre-dates you, and it will outlast you. It is enriched by you, but will survive without you.
Your role in this adventure is to play the part you are made to play, and to play it the best way you can. To reach...
I'm a pretty confident guy, and I'm not short on self-belief.
Most of the time.
But, sometimes, in quiet, private moments, I sit and ask myself just who the hell I think I am: who am I kidding to think that I can change the world?
Do you have those moments, too? If you do, and I'm guessing you probably do, you'll know that in those quiet, private moments it's easy to convince yourself that you are a nobody, to compare yourself to the real revolutionaries who are making a real difference in the world. Who are you when compared to Richard Branson, or Blake Mycoskie, or Aung San Soo Yi, or Bob Geldof, or Bono?
But, frankly, why should it matter how you compare to Bono, or to anyone else for that matter?
The reason it seems to matter how you compare, and, for that matter. how your revolution compares, is that we have been conditioned to a vocabulary that espouses a message of 'bigger is better'. Words and phrases like 'create something epic', 'do something amazing', 'be awesome' and 'make a commotion' can make you feel that, unless what you are doing is grand and bold enough to be worthy of retweeting, or sharing, or giving a plus-one - or, to put it another way, unless it's like something Richard Branson might do - what's the point?
But, what if I told you that it isn't scale or size that makes something epic. Or amazing or awesome. Or a prerequisite to making a commotion?
What if I told you bigger is not always better?
What if I told you that impact in the world isn't measured in retweets, shares, plus ones and the size of your mailing list?
What if I told you that what you are doing is epic?
What if I told you that the revolution you are creating is not just amazing, but heroic?
What if I told you that you are awesome, and you are making a commotion?
Well, forget 'what if'. I am telling you that.
And you can forget those objections you are about to start throwing at me - the ones about how I've got it all wrong, how I've...
I'd like to share something personal with you, if that's OK?
Jeff Goins, a favourite blogger and author of mine, talks about being 'wrecked'. What he's referring to is the effect that some events can have on you - how they can 'wreck' you. These are the life changing events that impact you to such a degree that there is no way back from them. What was normal is gone, and what now is normal is something new.
I used to think of those events as being confined to third world mission trips, war zones and other far-away situations. I never imagined that you could be 'wrecked' in one of the western world's most vibrant and wealthy cities, home to a multi-billion dollar film industry and over a hundred thousand millionaires. But you can.
A year or two back, I was in Los Angeles for an amazing conference. As part of the conference experience we were housed in a $200 a night hotel. Ensconced in my funky, 300 square foot room, with flat screen TV and mini bar, overlooking the LA offices of major banks and corporations, and surrounded by trendy bars and restaurants, life was as life is. Normal.
But it didn't stay normal for long.
I quickly discovered that L.A. is a city of extremes. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Extreme happiness and extreme despair. Over 126,000 millionaires and over 50,000 homeless.
Like I said, extremes.
I knew the statistics. I'd seen the pictures, and watched the movies. But knowing statistics, seeing pictures and watching movies did not prepare me for seeing those extremes right before my eyes.
Just a two minute coach ride from my funky hotel room, with its flat screen TV and minibar, was a reality that hit me with such force I am still reeling from it. This was a reality that my brain could not fully process. And what my brain could not process spilled over and broke my heart.
As we passed through a shanty town of tents and shopping carts that spread endlessly down the sidewalk, it took a moment for me to...
"Just go with the flow, man." It’s the battle cry of hipsters, the mantra of the 'spiritual’ and the ‘enlightened’. Going with the flow is the cool way to live. Maybe, if you believe the hype, it’s actually the only way to approach life.
Why get worked up? Why stress? Why strive? Why struggle? Just go where life takes you. Chill out. Relax. What will be will be.
Of course what will be will be. If you let it. If you let it, what will be can't be anything other than what it will be.
But why would you let it?
Why would you allow the course of your life - the path of your adventure - to be guided by chance, taking you to some unknown destination that is not of your choosing?
But, more importantly, why would you choose to deny the world the gifts and talents deep inside you, that are only ever brought to the surface by your stresses, your strivings and your struggles? Because that's what you do when you 'go with the flow' - you deny the world around you the opportunity to receive all that you have to offer.
Sure, there may be times when tracking with the currents of life, rather than swimming against them, is the smart choice. But those times are simply interludes - spaces in which you can hide while you catch your breath for what comes next.
It’s almost an irony that this paradigm for life filled with stress, striving and struggle, rejected as futile and pointless by the hipsters, the spiritual and the enlightened, is embedded deep within the rhythms of nature, which lies at the heart of the universe those very same people seek to be at one with.
Nature knows the value of not simply going with the flow. And nowhere is that paradigm better expressed in nature than in the lifecycle of wild salmon.
While salmon spend long periods 'going with the flow' of the rivers, lakes and oceans they inhabit, when the time comes to make sure that their lives count for something, those salmon embrace their calling to strive and struggle, as they...
The best adventures are messy - ragged around the edges, unpredictable, loose, fluid. They seem to stand far removed from the hum-drum of normal life, as they cry of freedom and craziness, of excitement and surprises.
But those adventures are out of reach for those of us who stand rooted in the hum-drum of normal life. Which is most of us. We will never get to taste the freedom, the craziness or excitement they offer, or experience the surprises they hold.
No, far from enjoying the wonder of adventure first-hand, those of us grounded in normality must satisfy our longings for adventure vicariously - through novels, or movies, or news reports and editorials of the achievements of others. Because, if movies, novels and newsreels are to be believed, adventures - especially the messy kind - are the sole domain of the real risk-takers - the action heroes and crazy fools who hold no regard for rules and order - the brave and reckless who live in the moment, with a sense of abandon for the future.
But movies and novels do not align with reality, and newsreels only give glimpses, at best, of how real life works.
You see, whatever movies or novels may suggest, a life filled with adventure - a life that colours outside the lines and walks the undiscovered paths - is not borne out of hedonism, or a sense of carpe-diem, or from chaos, recklessness, or a willingness to throw yourself on the mercy of chance with no regard for your own safety. No, a life of adventure is borne out of intention and purpose, making room for the unexpected, and embracing the unknown. A life filled with adventure flows out of order.
And that applies to every adventure, no matter how small, or how epic - whether it’s tackling Everest, the Inca Trail or the Vendee Globe, discovering new lands or populations, building an enterprise out of nothing, or taking a new direction in work, or in study, the outcome, and the shape, of that adventure rests on the foundation from which the journey began.
About a week ago, I sat down and wrote a post. A shouty, ranty, pissed off kind of post.
But this isn't it.
I felt like I had my reasons for being shouty and ranty. It's been a tough few months. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's been a shitty few months. Really shitty. So shitty, in fact, that I finally had enough, and, with Limp Bizkit's 'Break Stuff' blaring in the background, let rip in my journal. A proper spleen-venting session, releasing months of pent-up anger, frustration and disappointment.
And, as my spleen vented, and my fingers pounded the keys, the irony of having spent that day launching a new programme about managing your self-talk - mastering your inner voice so that your negative soundtrack stays firmly in its box - was not lost on me. Nor was the hypocrisy.
But, no matter how ironic, or hypocritical, the battle I was having with my self-talk undoubtedly was, I could not shake the soundtrack blaring in my mind.
A soundtrack that told me I was a failure.
A failure as a dad. As a husband. As a provider.
A failure as an employer, a colleague, a friend.
A failure, period.
I'd allowed that soundtrack to become the dominant voice for all sorts of reasons. Tiredness, battle weariness, and family pressures all contributors to an ever-shortening fuse, and a growing haze in my brain. And there was always some reason why space to catch my breath was something just out of reach.
As the fatigue set in, so the negative voice grew, its taunts wearing away at my resilience.
"You let that person down". "You missed that opportunity". "You screwed up that meeting". "You didn't see that coming". "You're losing your edge".
And, gradually, almost surreptitiously, 'you're losing your edge' became you've lost your edge. You've lost your edge became you're finished. You're finished became you're a failure. You're a failure became the truth.
Only it wasn't the truth. It isn't the truth.
And, as the keystrokes continued, and the words took shape on the page, I began...
We are all connected. Nothing exists in isolation. Yet so many revolutionaries end up on a lonely path, jaded from the knock-backs, let-downs and battle-scars, convinced that this thing that is ready to burst out of their soul must stand alone. But the problem with that lonely path is that it skews your reality.
I’ve walked that lonely path and experienced that skewed reality. I’d reached a point where I was so focused, so single-minded and blinkered in my approach, that it no longer bothered me that we couldn’t get the backing for our revolution, or build the team we needed, because I was going to change the world, by myself, if it killed me. I truly believed that my life was a self-contained book - a story written in its own right.
But that belief - that my life was a self-contained book - was arrogant.
The day I realised just how arrogant that belief was, I found myself deeply, deeply humbled. That day, I realised that, while taken in isolation my life is a self contained story, life cannot, and does not, exist in isolation. I realised that, taken in a cosmic context, not only is my life not a book in its own right, it isn’t even a chapter in a book. In fact, it isn’t even a page in a chapter - not even a paragraph on a page, or a sentence in a paragraph, or even a word in a sentence.
My life is merely a syllable.
Now, here’s the thing with syllables - taken in isolation, they are meaningless and, in the context of the whole - a word, or a sentence - they are often imperceptible. Yet, as seemingly insignificant or imperceptible as a syllable may appear, they are vital to the meaning of the word, the sentence, and the story.
Syllables give, and receive, meaning from what lies either side of them.
Try this: imagine that you are a syllable - the syllable ‘tho’. On its own, ‘tho’ seems pretty insignificant, right, and pretty meaningless, too.
Do you spend time wondering if you're making the right decision, or if you're in the right place, or if it's the right time? I do.
Or, at least I did.
You see, I've become convinced that there is no right decision, right place or right time. Instead, there's a 'sweet spot' - your 'middle'.
Your 'middle' is not about the decision you make, the location or the timing. It's all about alignment - aligning your activity with your strengths, skills and passions.
The significance of this hit me when I was chatting with my buddy, Steve.
Steve makes a ruckus wherever he goes. He's pioneered a ton of stuff. He's inspired others to make a ruckus and to pioneer new things. And he's enjoyed some real success. But now he's starting a new venture. And, as he was sharing his ideas and how they lined up with his vision, I realised how Steve's new venture aligned with his passions, his strengths and his skills in a way the other stuff he had been doing hadn't.
He was moving into his sweet spot - he was finding his 'middle'.
I got very excited.
Steve asked me why I was excited, so I explained. You see, as I saw it, everything up to that point had been like a pebble thrown towards the edge of a pond, rather than out into the middle. There was a splash and there were ripples, but those ripples hit the shoreline pretty quickly and then ran out of steam.
But Steve's new venture was like a pebble thrown into the middle of the pond. That pebble makes the same kind of splash as the one thrown towards the side, but the ripples go much further. In fact, they just keep on going until they reach every part of the shore.
Maximum reach. Maximum impact.
Now, you are a Change Architect, so it's inevitable that whatever you do will make a splash and send out ripples. You can't help it. It's what you do. But, if you are going to have maximum impact, you need to give those ripples a chance to reach...