The hero’s journey

I subscribe to the theory that we all have a hero’s journey waiting to be lived out.

In his book The Artist’s Journey, author Steven Pressfield refers to the hero’s journey as ‘a template that exists from birth in our psyches.’ He proposes that there are two aspects to it which are often overlooked or not taken into account:

  1. This template has within it a pattern and sequence of events but the specific details are up to the individual.
  2. It exerts a powerful and almost irresistible pressure on the individual to live it out in real life.

I think we all feel this pull, this pressure to follow a particular path. We can choose to ignore it, but that urge remains. We can try to silence it with drugs, alcohol or any other number of obsessions to dull or consume our attention, and that may work for a time.

If you are feeling a little lost, then take some time to consider this. Turn off the tv, put your phone down, sit quietly and write a page with all of the ideas, no matter how crazy they might seem, on how you want to spend the rest of your life. Let the ideas and dreams percolate to the top so they can be captured.

Then pick one of those ideas and make a start. Today.

Hubris

Defined as excessive pride or self confidence, author Steven Pressfield wrote this about hubris:

But ambition must never be allowed to rise to the level of hubris. The minute we believe that we are the source of that which comes through us … that’s when the gods start dusting off their thunderbolts.

My own experience of hubris is that it can destroy in a matter of months something that can take 10 years to build.

Four years ago, my business was growing at an astounding rate and we were selling some new and exciting products that no-one else had yet bought to market. Profits were good, supply was good, and demand was ever-increasing.

After struggling for so many years, it was a dream come true, so I dropped my defensive game. I put all of my energy into driving sales, added staff, and bought even more stock. I was recognised nationally as the founder of one of Australia’s fastest growing businesses.

But I wasn’t paying attention to the greater landscape, and (naively) assumed that the good times would just keep on rolling. More than that I wanted to believe that this was what I had worked so hard for, so surely I didn’t have to apply the usual rules which I had used to build my business so far?

When competing products were announced I didn’t change a thing. I kept on buying stock. I didn’t want to miss out on a single sale. When the competing product hit the market, not only was it superior, but the prices began at 30% less than mine. My sales plummeted. Suddenly I had non-cancellable PO’s that I couldn’t afford to buy, stock that wasn’t moving, I was rapidly running out of cash, and had way more staff than I needed.

Rather than cutting my losses at that point, regrouping and downsizing, I did the opposite. I pushed harder. I took on expensive radio advertising. I kept renting an expensive house. I lowered prices to drive volume. I mingled with other high flyers.

It was hubris at it’s finest, and of course none of it worked.

Finally in 2016 I ran out of money and had to lay off 80% of my staff because I could no longer afford to pay them. I cashed in every investment I had saved up over the previous 10 years and borrowed heavily just to stay afloat. I had suppliers threatening to take legal action. Some actually did.

I’m not back to zero yet, but in some ways I’m glad that this happened. I’ve learned how a business can run in much more efficient ways and how to focus on the most important thing that I need to do each day. I’ve learned how to hustle, and then hustle some more.

The moral of the story is that no matter how well things are going, and no matter how successful you become, the basics are always going to apply.

Work with humility. Allow the profits to run, but as soon as the signals point to a downturn, cut your losses. Expect good times, but be prepared to make sacrifices when bad times appear.

Be bold my friends, but stay sharp.

Nobody’s perfect

When you make a mistake, or lose your cool, or hurt someone else’s feelings, it doesn’t make you a bad person.

It just means that you are human, and we all make mistakes.

What really matters is that you apologise for doing so.

Clean up the mess.

Mend the fence.

Rebuild trust.

You always..

The use of the terms ‘you always’ or ‘you never’ (in an argument) are rarely used to represent facts, and using them just ends up wounding the other person. If you have a need, or want something done, then ask for it rather than resorting to criticising the other persons character.

“You always leave the toilet seat up” versus “You left the toilet seat up, can you please put it down when you are done?”.

“You never listen” versus “I feel like you didn’t hear me when I asked you to take out the recycling just now”.

Using “you always” or “you never” in an argument is a way to blame the other person for what’s going on without taking any responsibility for asking for what you need. Does it help you get what you want? Definitely not.

Try complaining without blame. Be clear about what you need and be surprised by the results.

I can’t…

When we make a choice and communicate that clearly to those around us, it’s far less stressful for everyone involved.

If you don’t want someone to pass calls through to you, then say:

“I’m not taking calls until mid-day”, rather than “I can’t take any calls now”.

If you are invited to meet with your account manager at xyz company because he’s “in the area” but it’s not something you want to do, then be honest about why. “I appreciate the invite, but I don’t take in-person meetings unless you are a potential client”, rather than “I’m sorry, I’m busy this week and can’t meet”.

I rarely take marketing calls, but if I happen to pick up the phone when someone does call, I politely decline their invitation. “I’m sorry that’s not something I’m interested in”. If the caller presses to send me an email outlining their product as opposed to meeting in person, I say, “I appreciate you have a job to do, but don’t send me an email. I will just delete it any way.”

Being direct doesn’t mean you have to be rude, and it makes for much clearer communication.

Practice, but also experiment

Once your objective is clear, a key ingredient to reaching it is to get to work and practice, over and over again.

Whether it’s learning to do Transcendental Meditation, or to write well, or to play the guitar, or learn to write code, practice will be the thing that determines the level of mastery you achieve, and how quickly you achieve it.

Not all practice is equal though, as new research from Case Western Reserve University conducted in 2016 shows. Their meta-analysis concluded that constant practice accounted for just 20-25% of the skill level achieved in games such as chess, or music, or sports.

They discovered that other factors such as age, genetic makeup, and how you learn all combine to determine how long it will take you to learn a specific craft. (I also think that innate talent plays a role here too.)

Most would be familiar with the 10,000 hour rule, popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers. He said that practice mattered more than anything else in determining the level of skill and success achieved.

Business leaders like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos or Netflix’s Reed Hastings say that success is more of a function of experimentation than deliberate practice. So rather than just doing the same thing over and over again, they are constantly experimenting, sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding, then continuing to practice based on the results of those experiments.

So as you practice, also experiment. Try different learning methods, different techniques, different teachers, or practice at different times of the day to see what works best for you.

Little boxes

Little boxes on the hillside

Little boxes made of ticky-tacky

Little boxes on the hillside

Little boxes all the same…

This excerpt from the song Little Boxes, originally written and composed by the folk singer Malvina Reynolds in 1962, takes aim at middle class conformity and still resonates today.

Look at your own life. Are you conforming to standards or ideals that are not your own?

Do you find your work fulfilling, or is it a means to an end? Are you on a path that was originally set by your parents, by a school councillor, or by someone else?

I’m not saying drop out of school, quit your job, or abdicate your responsibilities, although for some, this may be exactly what you need to do.

What I am saying is to ask the question, is this what I really want to be doing with my life?

The answer may not be one that your friends or family agree with. They may actually try to discourage you, which is why it’s a good idea to keep your dreams to yourself and perhaps one other who is in your corner.

If you have the courage to follow your own path, then a life of possibilities, rather than eventualities, awaits you.