Break the Rules – Change your Life

career coaching, career change, find work you love

Raising the bar

I sometimes think that we live life like a high-jump competition.

We take on new things and have a good go at clearing the bar.  Every time we succeed, we raise the bar a little higher.  Eventually we’ll raise the bar so high that we can’t clear it any more.

Then we feel gutted.  Beaten.  Defeated.

All those clearances we made before feel like wasted effort – in the end we were a big loser!  All our focus goes on the failure.

This approach relies on some rigid rules about how to be successful in life that are hard-wired into our brains.

The Rules

Rule 1 – Strive to be perfect

We must always push us to keep striving to be higher, faster, stronger.  We strive for perfection, to be better every time.

Rule 2 – Never, ever stop

Like the high-jumper, when we achieve our goals, we barely stop to celebrate.  We have to go and get focused for the next jump.  The next task.  The next hurdle to negotiate.

Rule 3 – Failure is not an option

When we fail, we feel crushed, fixate on our failure.  It feels like the end of the world.

How did this happen?

career coaching, career change, find work you love

Evolve or die

I guess we have to thank our ancient ancestors for these rules.

Back then it was survival of the fittest – evolve or die.

You had to keep raising the bar – inventing a better spear, learning how to make fire, how to be a great hunter.

Stopping was not an option – life was urgent and primal.

Failure was the end of the world – literally

I’m still thankful that we have strong survival instincts. Yet in our modern world, I reckon it might be time to break these rules apart.

To live a remarkable, high quality life requires a more flexible approach to life than our primal ancestors took.  We need to break all the rules.

Breaking the rules

Stop pushing so hard

Striving to be perfect is such a heavy burden to carry.  We can always find someone richer, smarter, more charismatic to compare ourself against.

Perfection is just an imaginary concept to compete against – it lacks any kind of definition.  It’s like trying to find the end of the rainbow.

Instead of striving for perfection, how about aspiring to do the best you can?  Frankly you won’t always succeed, however hard you try.  Welcome to human!

If you try to do the best you can, enjoy each experience as much as possible and accept the outcome it is hard to ask for more.

Sometimes that means that you’ll lower the high jump bar rather than raising it, and be happier for it.

Give yourself a break

Never stopping is exhausting.

In the modern world, we have the luxury of being able to stop and reflect.  To smell the roses.  To day-dream, relax, look after ourselves and recharge our batteries.  We have the space to prepare for the next great challenge or project.

For most people life flows in peaks and troughs of energy and activity.  Your body and minds will tell you when it is time to go for it and when to slow down and take a break.  If you don’t listen you’ll be cruising for a break down.

So when you clear a jump, take a while to enjoy it.  Perhaps rather than resetting the bar, find a deck chair and take a nap.

Enjoy failure

If you’re not failing 90% of the time, you’re not trying hard enough”.

The current world high-jump record is held by Javier Sotomayor of Cuba at 2m 45cm.  Check out his jump.

Sotomayor didn’t just wake up one morning, hop out of bed and successfully jump over 8ft.  Sotomayor’s record is the result of a lifetime of failure.

Javier has inevitably failed many more than he has ever succeeded.  All the hours of training involved failing to clear the bar thousands of times.  He has learned to reflect on and learn from his failures to figure out new approaches to clear the next height.

If he had taken his first failure at the age of 5 as an utter disaster and given up, his personal best would probably be about 40cm.

If you can learn to enjoy failure, to reflect on it, to see the good things that happened as part of the failure, two things happen.

First, life becomes a pleasure all the time, not just when you succeed.

Second, you’ll learn more quickly and find success more easily in the long run

Sometimes in the high jump you’ll fail.  If you can enjoy that failure and learn from it, you’ve succeeded in breaking the rules.

Over to you

  • What rules do you follow in life?
  • Where did they come from?
  • What would happen if you broke all the rules?

Photo credit: Selective Focus Photography,  Lord Jim (Flickr Creative Commons)

Lessons learned from being a Chicken

Reading time: 1 minute 47 seconds

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How did I become the man in the chicken suit?

career coaching, career advice, find work you love, career group, careershifters


It all started eighteen months ago.  My client Terri was struggling to find the motivation to study for a particularly dry module in her upcoming HR exams.

We’d explored some of the more conventional motivational techniques – understanding how the exams fitted into the big picture for her career, getting someone to hold her accountable, setting rewards for success.

No dice.  This stuff was truly dull.

Suddenly a flash of inspiration – a little wager. Another client had purchased a chicken suit as part of her campaign to lead a less ordinary life (don’t ask!).

The deal was set – if Terri studied for and passed her exam successfully, I would walk down a busy shopping street in broad daylight… in a chicken suit.

Miraculously, Terri’s attitude to study transformed. Suddenly she was whizzing through the modules like a superhero on a mission.

Exam day came and the inevitable result.  Passed with flying colours.  Terri even got a lapel badge to proudly tell the world she is a qualified HR practitioner!

Fast forward to April 2010

The venue: the bustling Santana Row bar scene, San Jose, California.

The time: Friday evening at Happy Hour.

A 6 foot five chicken emerges sheepishly from a side alley.

A group of men in suits stop drinking their beers mid sip to stare.

A passing couple do a double take.

A security guard looks a little nervous and considers reaching for his radio.

The world starts to warm up to the idea of a giant chicken in their midst.

career coaching, career change, find work you love, careershifters

Chicken in action

Suddenly people start approaching.  “Could I have a photo? – My dad would love it” asks a passer by.

Children are waving and smiling, coming up to say hello.

In the frozen yoghurt place, everyone loves the chicken.  The guy behind the counter has never seen anything like it.  The chicken has made his day – “this one’s on the house”!

Deep down I wasn’t looking forward to wearing the chicken suit.  In the end I could hardly take it off.  I loved every minute of being a chicken.

Lessons learned from being a chicken

What do I take away from dressing up in a giant chicken suit?

  • Sometimes finding motivation requires something a little beyond the ordinary.
  • Doing something different is fun and inspiring.
  • Wearing a chicken suit showed me that there is no need to be afraid.  I normally loathe being the centre of attention, yet with the suit it was great.  Now I can imagine wearing a chicken suit to stir myself on to greater things.
  • I have a renewed respect for anyone who has ever been a mascot – giant yellow chicken suits are hot and cumbersome!

Over to you

  • What do you do to be a little bit extraordinary?
  • How do you motivate yourself when the going gets tough?
  • Have you ever dressed up in public and what happened?

More Inspiration

Evelyn Lim on how to get creative and map your mind

Jeffrey Tan at Art of Great Things on Being who you want to become

How to be an Everyday Superhero

Reading time: 2 minutes and 23 seconds (finishing time 4 hours and 40 minutes)

Imagine being surrounded by 36,000 superheroes….

On Sunday I had the honour of running the London Marathon.  I was humbled by the whole day.  Everywhere I looked I saw ordinary people doing quite extraordinary things.

career coaching, career change, find work you love

Another everyday superhero...

Each and every runner had spent the bitter winter months fitting a gruelling training programme around their busy lives.

These heroes had been pounding the pavement at every hour of  the day and night – building up, preparing for the challenge ahead. Logging those miles and hours, tending those blisters and chafed nipples, stretching those aching limbs one more time.

Every hero  had their own motivation to be there.  The vast majority were raising money for charity – fighting disease, helping vulnerable children, getting clean water to Africa, finding a cure for cancer.

Reading their shirts told a story – “In memory of Lily”, “Running for Mum”, “Doing it for Derrick”.  They felt compelled to make a difference for others, to bring a little light in the darkness, to remember those less fortunate.  Proper heroes.

Some of these everyday heroes had taken it one step further.  The pantomime camel manned by two people, the human caterpillar of 34 people tied together, the two men carrying a small boat, the heroes dragging a brick wall on a sledge.

Everywhere I looked was an endless stream of costumes (countless superheroes, Rocky, endless Elvises, some serious cross-dressing).

This was going above and showing superhuman support for something they believed in.

The spirit of the day was unbelievable.  Huge crowds lined the streets from start to finish.  They offered support to each and every runner.

They banged drums, played music, offered their hands, gave out sweets, drinks, fruit.  They cheered endlessly “Come on Steve”, “Keep going Batman, you can do it”, “Nice work, Jean”. Without this support, I’m sure quite a few runners would never have made it to the end.

For one day, communities came together.  Strangers joined for a common purpose.  The atmosphere was electric and dripping positivity.  In their own way, every supporter is a hero too.  They played their unique part in a day that made a serious difference.

So how did my race go?

I loved each and every of the 30,000 strides.

career coaching, career change, find work you love

Still smiling at 18 miles

I was running for the NSPCC (a charity aiming to stamp out cruelty to children).  I got amazing support from friends and family and have so far managed to raise over £2,000.  I want to publically thank each and every donor for their extraordinary generosity.

I got fantastic support all along the course from the amazing crowds, and particularly from my support crew (thanks Em, Celene and Andy).

I felt well prepared and stuck to my game plan, finishing in 4 hours 40 minutes and 10 seconds. At the end, I felt elated, overwhelmed and a little wobbly.  It was such a buzz to be surrounded by so many Everyday Superheroes.

Being an Everyday Superhero

Reflecting on this experience it made me realize that we all have the potential to be everyday superheroes.

Every day, people go out of their way to help others. They volunteer, spend time with someone lonely, help out with the shopping,  give up their seat on the bus. These acts make a huge difference and make the world a better place for all of us.

We’re surrounded by these wonderful people.  Just walking down the street, you’re in the presence of someone with super powers.

You too have the power at your fingertips – every time you put someone else first you’re an everyday superhero.  You have the power to make the world a little better every day.

Over to you

  • What do you do to be an Everyday Superhero?
  • Who do you admire who puts others first?
  • What will be your next Everyday Superhero act?

Other resources

Arvind Devalia on how to change the world in less than 27 miles

Amit Sodha on how anyone can run the marathon

Photo credit: Julian Mason (Flickr Creative Commons), Celene

Change your Story, Change your Life

Reading time – 3 minutes 22 seconds

Career coach, career counselling, change your career, find work you love

Change your story, Change you life

Part 2 of Spring Clean your mindsubscribe now and get a 6-step process for a clearer mind and better living delivered to your inbox

What stories do you tell the world about yourself?  If you changed it how would your life change?

What is a story and how can it make a difference?  Here is a life-story in 87 words:

I was born in the north of England in the 1970s during a time of economic turmoil.  I never really felt comfortable or confident as a child, and I was bullied by the other kids in my neighbourhood.  At school, I did reasonably well, somewhere in the middle.  I stumbled my way into an ok university, again with average results.  When I graduated, through sheer desperation, I took a job with an accounting firm – certainly not what I was passionate about, but frankly about what I deserved.”

  • How do you respond to this story?
  • What sort of person do you think this is?
  • How do you think they feel?
  • How would you respond to this person if you met them?
  • What lasting impression would you have about them?

In less than 60 seconds, this story has set the foundation for how you relate to someone, and we all know that first impressions are hard to change.

This, of course, is my story. Or more importantly, one version of my story.

Everything in this story really did happen to me.  If someone asked me to “tell me about yourself” I could choose to tell this story.

Two truths about storytelling

Two things that happen when we tell stories:

1) We choose which “facts” to include in the story.

The building blocks of stories are experiences and memories, which we often think of as “facts”. When we tell the world our story, we have literally billions of these building blocks to choose from.  In my story I count somewhere in the region of 16 that I selected to let you know about me.

You may think that your story is your story – yet you choose the building blocks in every story you tell yourself or anyone else

2) We add our own editorial.

We choose how to present these “facts”.  We pick the tone and the editorial direction.

Clearly in my story, I’ve chosen to tell a hard luck story.  At every turn I am playing my little violin.

I was born in a time of economic turmoil” – really?  I was 1 year old at the time and my parents both had jobs.  Yet I chose to add this little zinger in.  I’m trying to make you feel sorry for me.

I never felt comfortable or confident.”  Find me anyone who can’t say something similar about parts of their childhood.

About what I deserved” – now I’m busy making judgements about myself.  I’m telling you that I’m not self-confident, that I feel pretty worthless and inviting you to feel the same way.

In storytelling, the narrator chooses whether to create a hero, anti-hero or villain.  We have the choice on HOW to tell the story.

Our life is little more than the sum of all our experiences.  When we tell others about who we are, we tell them our story. We weave together some selective memories from the past, and bind them together with our interpretation of those “facts”.

Choice is good

The important thing is that we always have a choice when we tell any story.  We can pick the building blocks and we have a choice over the narrative glue we use to stick them together.

Once we become aware of what stories we tell and what impact that has on us and the world, we can start to tell stories that we love and stop telling stories that drag us down.

Here is my story again in 87 words:

I grew up in a happy home and went to a school that I loved.  I thrived and was able to study history at a great university, after travelling the world in my gap year.  I met and married my soul mate along the way.  I’ve been blessed to be able to travel and live in different cultures.  It took me a while to find what I love to do, however now I’ve found my vocation and am thriving by helping others live life to the full.”

Ask yourself the same questions about this person that you did about the first story.

When we change our story, we really can change our world.  We also change how the world around us responds.

Even writing the first story, I could feel myself getting drained of energy.  I literally slumped in my chair, and felt overcome by worry.

Writing the second story, I felt my energy growing.  I felt great about myself, clear and confident.

In my mental spring clean, I’m going to look at the stories I tell the world.  For each story, I’ll ask:

1) Choosing Facts

  • What facts did I choose to share?
  • Why did I choose these facts?
  • What other facts could I have chosen?

2) Narrative / editorial

  • What kind of story am I try to tell?
  • What is this story telling the outside world about me?
  • What is this story telling me about me?

3) Alternatives / changing the story

  • What do I really want to tell the world?
  • What other stories could I tell that would serve me better?

If you are taking part in spring-cleaning your mind, ask yourself the same questions.

Good stories to look at include

  • How you introduce yourself at a work or networking function
  • What stories you tell at a job interview
  • What stories you are telling on your resume
  • What stories you share with your friends
  • What stories you tell your family, what stories you tell your other half and if applicable children.

I know I’ve found some stories I love and others that need junking.

Try changing your story and see how your life changes.

Next time – we’ll look at the stories we tell ourselves.

Picture credit : Victoria Peckham (From Flickr Creative Commons)

How to Keep Going

Reading time: 3 minutes and 23 seconds

career change, career coaching, find work you love, do what you love, find your passion, find your vocation

Keep Climbing Life's Mountain

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You catch yourself staring out of the window daydreaming.

What challenges are you thinking about?  Finding work that feels worthwhile?  A happier life?  An exciting project?  A big life change?  Finding love?  Getting fit?  More balance? Turning your passion into a living?

Daydreaming means Thinking Big about the future – then we need to take actions to make that dream a reality.  Getting going is tough, keeping up the momentum is even tougher.  I’m sharing six powerful ways to keep going once you commit to a big project and make your dream into a reality.

Eighteen months ago I was daydreaming about making a living working for myself as a professional career coach.  The vision was exciting.  When the dream became a reality, everything changed.

Suddenly I was faced with a big mountain to climb.  I felt a combination of intense excitement mixed with deep nausea.  I was climbing my own Mount Everest – what an amazing undertaking.  Looking up at the top, I saw the sun glinting on the mountain top, a beautiful peaceful place.  I knew that I had to get there.

Getting started wasn’t easy, and in the end I just had to cross my fingers toes and everything else and just go for it.   As several of you pointed out, the challenge is how to keep going.

Once the novelty wore off, I sometimes found myself slogging through the foothills.  After weeks of hard work, the peak only appeared a little closer, and my starting point teasingly close.  The temptation to call in the rescue team and go home teased me.  No harm, no foul.

I’ve learned a lot about how to keep going during the last 18 months. It has been a steep ascent, with some rocky patches.  Yet there have been some breathtaking vistas and milestones that have kept me striding slowly forward one step at a time.  On reflection, here are six big lessons I’ve learned about how to take on any or challenge and keep going:

  1. Keep the dream alive – I’ve kept that glinting ray of light at the top of the mountain burning bright in my mind.  My motivation is to make a living helping others find satisfaction, peace and happiness through meaningful work.  When the going gets tough, remembering this re-energizes me and keeps me going.
  2. Break up the journey – when I started out, the mountain looked huge.  I set up some intermediary targets along the way.  Creating this blog was one of the legs on my journey.  These camps on the mountain provide short-term objectives – to make it to the next station.  Breaking up my dream into achievable chunks makes it seem realistic.
  3. Get support – no one in their right mind would climb a huge mountain alone.  I’ve assembled a great support team of supporters, mentors, advisers, collaborators to help me on the climb.  They carry my pack for me when the going gets tough, share their oxygen when the air is thin, give me a pep talk when I’m despairing.  Without this team, I know I’d have no chance.
  4. Stop and enjoy the view – at first I often saw the climb as an endless trudge without end.  I felt tired and drained.  I’ve learned that to stay motivated I need to enjoy every step of the journey.  I try to do things that I love as much as possible (still have to do the admin though!).  I regularly stop and enjoy the view along the way – looking back on what how far I’ve come and reflecting on how the world has changed already.  Enjoying the climb makes it worth continuing.
  5. Prepare for setbacks – Setbacks are inevitable on the climb.  I’ve had my fair share of challenges – workshops with no attendees, prospects who aren’t interested.  Now I think ahead to try and see what pitfalls may be ahead and try to plot my path to avoid these.  I also have learned to prepare myself mentally for these moments and to find the good or opportunity in them.  The setbacks don’t stop me in my tracks and bring the doubt that they used to.  I can reflect, find the lesson and move on up the hill.
  6. Be flexible – there are many routes to reach the top of most mountains and they may be more or less difficult depending on the conditions.  I’ve realised that doggedly following the planned path doesn’t always work.  I’m more flexible and open to different directions as long as they keep me moving toward the summit.

So where am I on the mountain now?  I’ve helped lots of people to find work that they love and am making a living doing work I love.  The summit of the mountain is much closer than base camp now.

After all the climbing I’ve done so far, I’m starting to become a life mountaineer.  I’ve got through many days when I didn’t know if I could keep going.  I know that I’ll reach the summit now.

Are you a life mountaineer?  How do you keep going?  What motivates you to climb your mountain?  How do you maintain progress when the going gets tough?