Morpheus: Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Neo: The Matrix?
At this time, I’m unbelievably grateful for a series of events that have brought me to questioning and learning about the nature of our reality in ways I never thought possible. There have been recent experiences that gave me the final shove, but when I look back I can recall a number of ‘splinters’ of nagging observations that just didn’t make sense in my life that I parked somewhere in the depths of my mind to be a reminder that things just aren’t how they are sold.
As a kid, I never questioned much (as I recall) – I went along with things. I hated being late and rushed, but otherwise, I went along to get along. I was the middle of a family of five kids, and felt alone sometimes, which is normal right…
When I was in high school, drinking age varied by the various states and provinces around us. The US went to a standard drinking age of 21 nationally during my high-school years, while my home province went to 19, and our Maritime provinces were 18, with Quebec at a nominal 18.
I remember being disappointed when parents deferred their judgement on what an appropriate drinking age would be to the local laws – this seemed arbitrary. It made no sense to me that when a province changed their drinking age from 18 to 19 that a friend’s parents changed their view on what age was appropriate to match. Wasn’t it obviously an arbitrary line in the sand drawn by an arbitrary organization of people who don’t know your children or the situation.
Early on in my adult life, I realized that the ‘elite circles’ of country clubs and high-priced condominium complexes are comprised of the most miserable people on earth, second only to older regular church-goers.
Likewise, I could see from my early jobs in large companies that those that rise in the ranks of the company tend to be more miserable than those that do not. It always seemed to me that higher-ranking, meant bigger higher-profile headaches:
- I could see that men’s ambitions were often driven by competition with their peers or the ambitions of their wives – and with each promotion, the man felt more and more disconnected from his own family
- Many of these people never seemed to be satisfied, always comparing with the next rung in the shallow-ladder (you can always be out-shallowed)
- Couples often seemed to be striving to ‘belong’ to an elite social club they thought existed, if they can just break that next level in the social hierarchy
- When I was in Southern California, going into the office on Saturday morning was an epidemic – as was staying late at the office a few times a week. This always seemed to me to be ‘daddy issues’ (or more often issues of ‘the boss’, combined with ‘we all have to suffer together’) – some deep self-loathing, that was only appeased by taking action one believes would be approved by one’s parents:
- I thought ‘does no one ever re-think the values they were taught as children?’ Or, are we all driven largely by ‘childish notions’ that were drilled into us as kids…
- My parents’ generation were products of a ‘The Great Depression’, and ‘WWII’ and had a very different mindset towards livelihood and life
My logical conclusion was to travel until I could find some meaning outside my corporate existence to come back to, and travel I did. Immediately, once I made this decision, life insights started to bombard me:
- The first was that complete strangers were by far the most supportive of dramatic personal change, and actually no one that was currently in my life was – I had to go alone
- I did have a couple of friends from other cities to get started with. I was immediately in love with the idea of roaming freely on a low budget, meeting people of like minds. This experience literally began at the equipment store, and the departure terminal of my local airport. It reminded me of Michael Douglas in ‘The Game’ – once the game is on, his entire life perspective immediately shifts.
After the vaccinations and jetlag wore off, I quickly became more in touch with flow in my life than I ever had before.
The friends I was making, and experiences I was having were just clicking, with synchronicities abound. It was an incredible luxury to mentally check out of ‘the matrix’ for six months and be open to an additional 6 if my interest/money allowed, and luckily it did.
When I look back now, I can see what’s so empowering about this choice. The prime ‘currency’ of adventure travel is naturally, adventure. This completely shifts your mindset from a workaday grind to openness, awareness, music, fun/joy, connections, laughs, etc. And, the fact that the name of the game is ‘shoestring’, only helps in this regard.
I eventually returned and embraced corporate work-life with gusto. I felt so lucky to have had this experience, and was committed to living the rest of my life with this zest. I met my wife, and we decided what better honeymoon for two wander-lusters than a long global journey.
On our last destination, we re-emerged in the ‘first-world’ in Australia. We were absolutely gob-smacked with how the perspective on global events at the time (post 9/11) were shaped by the news channels our friends were tuning into. I had exchanges with old friends and family members that absolutely blew me away in terms of differing views on what was actually happening in the world.
Once we re-settled in California we swore to ourselves we wouldn’t fall victim to the ‘programming’ of the news channels and would stay tuned into what ‘was really going on’. Before long, Arnold was elected governor and GW Bush was re-elected and it was all just too much to take. We quickly left the USA for what we thought would be more enlightened pastures (Sydney).
Australia politically, wasn’t any better. I realized that the strife the US had been through internally for the past century had actually caused them to ‘grow-up’ much more in many ways than Canada, Australia or UK, despite some of their choices.
In my first week in Australia, there were ‘race riots’ that started in our small beach town (Cronulla 2005). This was so counter to any experience I had had in this town or with Australians to this point, I was shocked. Curfews were imposed, and police on horseback were dispatched to patrol the beaches.
I’ve come to believe that a lot of the splinters come from personal ‘programs’ that have been downloaded to us sometimes explicitly by people we look up to, but often more subtly in ways we don’t even notice. These programs are obviously flawed on their face, but for whatever reason we cling to them for dear life, and try to sustain the myths:
- The ‘husband/wife’ program – once I get a life partner, I’ll be happy. Backward compatible with ‘girlfriend/boyfriend’ program.
- The ‘kids’ program – once I get kids, I’ll be happy
- The ‘house’ program – you get the idea…
- The ‘retirement’ program
- The ‘grandkids’ program (see ‘kid’ program)
- The ‘golf/tennis/bowling/bridge club/boating, etc’ program – once I join the club, break the milestone, get the locker, get the friends, etc, I’ll be happy
If these don’t work for you, don’t worry there’s still the whopper of all time…wait for it…: ’The Afterlife’ program – let’s just put in time here in this waiting room of life, running on our self-imposed rat-wheels until our sacred spiritual experience comes along after we die. hmmmm…
One of the biggest programs running these days seems to be the ‘don’t talk about the programs’ program. Don’t question the goods we’ve been sold. Just keep your head down, be grateful that you have your health and you’re not on skid row. Don’t contemplate what you could be. Whatever you do, don’t ever bring up anything serious or contentious. And above all else, never lose your cool (someone will download you the ‘anger management’ program).
I’m as guilty as anyone in this regard. We talk about the latest gadgets or the latest Netflix series, and that’s about as deep as it gets. To diverge from materialistic ideals will only create contention, and we just can’t have that.
We steer away from contention even in our own households. I think this is because we just don’t have the language or the logic to articulate the contradictions. We’re the fish still in the water, needing to talk about the water.
Mike Babcock, the new head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs this year was asked about his outlook on the future of the team (they finished dead last in the NHL last year, btw):
“It’s a funny thing. My outlook for the future is 100% dictated by my outlook on the night. We have a good night, we have a bright future.”
Which I apply to life as the quality of your (fill in the blank …retirement, marriage, next relationship, next job, etc.) is 100% dictated by the quality of your awareness or ‘consciousness’ on the day.
So, how to raise awareness? I’m afraid the answer isn’t get the iPhone7 or watch Netflix. Nor unfortunately, is it drink a six-pack, or get a six-pack for that matter. If it were, we’d all be levitating by now.
It seems to me, you have to first snap out of the programs. Second, acknowledge that the quality of our experience is shaped by the level of our awareness. And then, realize that our awareness is shaped by our knowledge & understanding.
So, how to raise my knowledge? Both Max Spiers and Mark Passio “Get as Offended as You Like” (www.whatonearthishappening.com/) have said ‘make your own personal truth the number one priority in your life’. Light your fire with the topic that lights you up and feed that flame with knowledge (books, and networks) that take you on your path to understanding. But, you have to go alone.
Most of us are graduates or masters in our fields, with 10-30 years experience in our professions. It has been a very humbling experience for me to realize that I’m actually in Junior Kindergarten in understanding the truths that surround me. But alas, I’m finally in the right school…
To err is to wander and wandering is the way we discover the world; and, lost in thought, it is also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying, but in the end it is static, a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling, and sometimes even dangerous, but in the end it is a journey, and a story. Who really wants to stay at home and be right when you can don your armor, spring up on your steed and go forth to explore the world? … To fuck up is to find adventure: it is in that spirit that this book is written.
— Kathryn Schulz (Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error)
One of biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make, I learned a few weeks ago from an experienced and successful entrepreneur on Ted-Talks, is getting attached to our business model and shopping it around looking for a market. In fact, we should be doing the opposite. We have a set of capabilities, and certain access to a market, and our focus should be to adjust our business model (or value proposition) until we hit the sweet spot of the market.
Upon reflection, it’s funny we seem to get fixated too quickly on the most flexible element in the equation: the model. Our capabilities, and our access are much less adjustable, but we tend to try to bend our market instead!
After following John, the expat life coach, and a number of other independents around the globe while collaborating directly with many more, I’ve begun to recognize some patterns of challenges we all face together, albeit independently.
The first and most poignant, is John’s observation that to thrive in the environment we’ve set out to manage, we must ‘get comfortable with self-doubt’. I’d suggest further, that when you consider entrepreneurship overseas, your self-doubt doubles again! After all, you’re now operating in a foreign environment, with a thinner support network, while navigating a myriad of invisible cultural boundaries in the process.
- The Feast or Famine Syndrome (aka ‘When She Rains, She Pours’) – There is very little margin between not having enough work, and having more you can deliver on. Many of us target mid-to-large sized organizations, with long selling cycles (i.e., famine). When the skies open, they want the work of five senior consultants done yesterday! Remedy:
- Build a loose syndicate of affiliates you can trust and pull together on a project-basis. Unfortunately, not unlike ex-convicts, independent consultants are slow to trust other independent consultants!
- Leverage social networking (a low touch means to keep your network active)
- Get better at partitioning your time with your clients, to ensure your business gets built in parallel with theirs
- Commit to a Marketing calendar and budget at the beginning of the year
- Seek out, qualify and incentivize other access points (other channels) to your client-base on the front-end to promote your services for you
- Partner for Scale and Speed (e.g., ‘Big 5’) – The big players are more likely to be able to understand your value proposition and promote it as a new value-add to their client-base. This can expedite the sales cycle through a trusted channel for the end-client. Beware of ‘assimilation’ here, where there’s value, there’s risk of being absorbed!
- Timing is Everything – Offer time-sensitive incentives, to stage delivery, and smooth your resource requirements and sales efforts throughout the year…easier said than done…
- Focus on the big decision-makers (ideally C-Level) for all client interactions
- Focus on risk-takers – Look for renegades who see the value of your offering, and are willing to promote and create urgency internally
- Focus on the missing in-house capability, or capacity, or focus that you can bring to bear
The obstacles are many while the challenges keep us on our toes. We’ve got to manage our internal resolve, while riding the changing tides. We need to constantly be willing to revisit our value proposition, and adjust our model if it’s not hitting a chord with our market. Our challenges are there to be overcome.
I wouldn’t have it any other way…
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.