This is a guest post by Joel Curtis. Joel is a registered Psychologist with Endeavour Wellness. Joel owns a number of private practices in Sydney and provides expert content for several national media programs.
Take Charge of Your Life
Feeling like you are not in charge of your own life is an unsettling feeling. Worse yet, many individuals are not even aware that they are acting according to the scripts laid out for them by society, family and other outside pressures, without any true self direction.
“If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it.” -Jonathan Winters
Being able to take direction is a positive quality, but there is a potential downside. Many individuals who are great at figuring out the formulas that will make other people happy, such as the teacher or the boss, may follow those formulas blindly without taking the time to decide what it is that they really want.
Take a second to look at your career choices by asking yourself the following questions:
Why did you choose the field you’re in?
Are you doing something that you honestly love to do?
Does your career enable you to have the lifestyle that you want?
Is there anything missing?
Could you be delegating certain tasks to others so you can focus on what you are truly great at?
What is one thing that you would like to stop doing?
What is one thing that you would like to start doing?
The goal here is not to craft some ideal vision that may not be attainable. Most of us have to do some things that we do not want to do each day. The point is to determine how much of your day-to-day work you consciously chose to put on your plate.
You may find that you got to where you are simply by taking the next logical step, or that you are doing things a certain way just because that is how they have always been done. Take some time to reconsider your options if you need to.
Take decisive action
If the previous exercise identified any areas of your work life that need some adjusting, make the decision to change them. Depending on how much you need to change, this can feel a bit daunting. Here is how to make it more manageable.
“Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.” -Carl von Clausewitz
After you have a 5-year goal, decide what you can reasonably accomplish in the next year to move yourself towards it. You may choose to focus on networking, education, or a side hustle.
Break your 1-year goal down into smaller tasks.
No matter what your 1-year goal is, you will need to break it down into actionable steps in order to achieve it. For instance, if you need an additional certification, that can be broken down into the steps of researching programs, applying to programs, scheduling out study time, etc.
Lightning strikes a tree and alters the course of a stream causing two rivers to join.
You’ve heard of the butterfly effect, where one small creature flapping its wings and creating a small wind current causes a chain reaction that alters hemispheric weather patterns half a world away.
When I think back on my own life, there are a few of those major moments that changed my life. Had just one person, one event, one little part of the equation been altered, even the slightest bit, who knows how different my own life would be.
“A good life is a collection of happy moments.” -Denis Waitley
One of those moments happened in 1990. I walked into a crowded room, looked up, and met eyes with the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Everything slowed down for a moment, the world tipping on its axis, freezing time long
enough to suspend us for a few seconds. It was immediate. It was intense. It was like nothing I’d known before.
Only a short time later, this week in 1992, she stood in the back of a church, the light flooding in through a stained-glass window behind her. She seemed to almost float there, as if she were an angel who was given the option to become fully human and was making her choice by joining her life with mine. From the front of the church, I sang to her, and she walked up the aisle and then we sang a duet together. Our lives forever changed. Yes, it was exactly like one of those Hallmark movies, the story line either inspiring or sickeningly sweet, depending on your perspective.
Others are gone, too: aunts, friends, my other grandparents, who were so gracious that day. My grandmother looked in the camera and thanked my wife “for being one of us now.”
Time marches forward. I’m now that guy that can tell others how to make a marriage last twenty-five years.
There are other moments that stand out:
Buying our first home together. How we managed, I’m not sure, but we did on a shoestring budget. We remember our near panic when we received that first utility bill, wondering how we would pay it.
The birth of our daughter in 1997. We recall every single minute. My wife’s elated cry out to me when her water broke. Hours later, my daughter surprising the nurses by tracking me by my voice.
A health scare. Only months afterward, we were surprised again with another altering moment. I’ll never forget the doctor coming out, telling me that my wife had breast cancer, and that she was about to come out of anesthesia. We would have to tell her together. It was advanced enough to require radiation and chemotherapy. She lost her hair but never her spirit. In a few months’ time, her faith began to sprout faster than her hair, and she has never wavered in her belief.
“It is in our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” -Aristotle Onassis
Life-threatening disease. Years later, we learned she had another cancer. This one even more insidious, threatening once again to steal her away, to shatter the glass of our lives. We’ve learned to pray more in these moments. No one prays in good times quite the same as in challenging times. We don’t know the why behind them. Perhaps God uses them to get our attention, perhaps because we’re finally still enough to see what is always there, and yet we miss it as we race by the important on the way to the meaningless.
Then there are the career moments. When she left hers to fight cancer and stay home to raise our daughter. When my promotions started. Her belief in me fueled my success. From the outside, my job promotions looked miraculous. The truth behind them was more struggle, political battles, and more work than you’d want to know. Nothing came easy. And it seems we moved so often that my wife put our furniture on wheels. In fact, it was our move to Columbus from Nashville that opened our eyes into how much junk we were carting around, stuff from decades ago, some of it in boxes not opened in several moves.
Turning points. Leadership moments. Whatever you call them, all of us have experiences that change us.
Bernie Swain has had a backstage pass into the lives of numerous public figures ranging from US presidents to business leaders to sports legends. As the founder of Washington Speakers Bureau, he has interacted with, listened to, and learned from many celebrities and leaders.
“The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it.” –Richard Bach
His new book, What Made Me Who I Am, takes us behind the scenes of these incredible lives to ask them about their turning points.
As we listen to their stories, what can we learn about our own lives?
What lessons of our own potential can be gleaned from these experiences?
Control Your Destiny
You open your book discussing turning points, those moments in life when everything changes. Your book is about these moments. Tell me about that moment in your life.
Funny thing about the turning points, they can be obscure and go unnoticed if we don’t pay attention. That happened to me. It is the lesson I learned.
As a graduate student, I’d worked as assistant director of a local community swimming pool. It was a good job, and the summer income was important to pay for graduate school. About once a week, usually a Friday or Saturday, we would keep the staff after closing and have a few beers. It wasn’t exactly allowed, but the director of the pool, who I had known since I was twelve, saw it as a morale booster and looked the other way. One night we decided to invite more friends than usual. About an hour into the party, a member of the board who lived nearby noticed the overhead pool lights and called the pool director. When he arrived, he closed down the party. I was fired the next day and replaced by the daughter of the board member, who had arrived home from college the day before.
Although I routinely dismissed the incident and had my share of laughs about it over the years, my wife Paula understood I was troubled by it. She knew I’d never really be happy unless my success or failure was in my own hands. “You will never be truly happy or confident in your future if you can’t make your own decisions and control your own destiny,” she told me.
That was all it took to undo a 15-year career on the verge of being a success; the power of passion.
“Follow your dreams. They know the way.” –Yohi Yamada
Imagine your life if you had lived your childhood dream and become a baseball player. What wisdom would that Bernie Swain be sharing? Do you think your life would have been as fulfilling?
I was happy with my career in athletics. Would I have loved being a baseball player? Yes, of course. But then what? Maybe I would have transferred my passion to doing something else, but maybe not. Life has a way of taking us to many forks in the road. Our lives are full of influences and defining moments, turning points. A mentor in high school put me on my career path, and one seemingly unimportant event at a summer swimming pool changed everything. All things considered, I found a passion that made me wake up every morning excited about a new day. And nothing is more important than that.
“All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” –Walt Disney
Your incredible business had humble beginnings. Go back to that closet for a moment. Why was it that your agency took off and endured when so many competitors disappeared? What can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?
Agencies like ours, even Hollywood agencies, don’t stay on top for long. In the lecture business, it is about 10 years. Why did we become No. 1 and remain there for the last 27 years? Honesty and trust! Whether it was because we mistakenly agreed to a handshake deal with our first speaker and then with all speakers, or we had a built-in desire to do things the right way, we were honest, hardworking and trustworthy. The lesson for other entrepreneurs? Find your passion and always do what, in your heart, you know is the right thing to do. Passion and honesty, it is a great combination.
Learn a Powerful Lesson from Robert Reich
You’ve interacted with some of the most successful people in the world for over 25 years—presidents, sports heroes, actors and authors, on and on. The book is full of their stories, a peek behind the curtain. Off the top of your head, is there one story that you consider a ‘must-read’? Why?
There are a number that I love, but probably the story of Robert Reich. 4”11” tall, he was bullied through his school years. Uninterested in current events and politics entering college, he devoted a life to equality and justice for others to honor the life of another boy who protected him and who was killed during the civil rights movement in the south.
“When I was a vulnerable child, Mickey protected me from harm. I, in turn, feel a responsibility to protect others. I was honored to know him, and I hope, in some small way, that my life’s work honors his idealism, his courage, and his sacrifice.”
It is an amazing story of a life dramatically changed.
Use Failures to Win
Failing is a turning point for many. When I talk about failure, who comes to mind? What did you take away from that?
In my book, I write this about Lou Holtz: “I’m not special, and I’m not particularly smart. I haven’t found any magical formula for success. But what I do know is, adversity is part of life, no matter who you are, what your age, and what you do. You will never outgrow or outlive it, but you can be motivated by it. As I have learned along the way, you have two choices in life: you either stay down or pick yourself up. In life and football, you can’t count on anyone else picking you up. Georgia or Michigan State isn’t going to call and say, ‘Coach, you don’t have a quarterback, let me send you one.’
Rarely can you find a truer statement. Almost every day in our first year could be described as a failure. We could have given up at any point. If you can find your true passion in life, and that takes some soul searching, you develop a never-give-up attitude. I never thought once about quitting. But that will not be true for entrepreneurs who lack real passion.
“Failure is good as long as it doesn’t become a habit.” –Michael Eisner