How do you live a successful life?
Often is seems like a hidden code.
A black box.
A puzzling prescription.
Some people just seem to thrive.
Life flows from one success to another. They find opportunities that others don’t. Prosperity is their life.
But others seem to struggle.
An obstacle at every corner. Darkness just keeps showing up. Life’s a battle.
Everyone of us will find times in life that will challenge us.
Often we don’t know why things work until they don’t.
We don’t value what we have until we have lost.
And loss and struggle has the habit of manifesting some life reflection.
The truth is often revealed in life’s most tormenting experiences.
And we learn more from pain and sorrow than happiness and joy.
Comfort is not a good teacher.
Even though we seek it.
Life’s adversities need to be welcomed but not wished for.
And then you need to seek truth.
Look for answers.
Develop life skills that set us up for success.
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Life skills that your parents often didn’t teach us
So what are the hidden but sometimes “in plain sight” life skills that the grown ups often neglect to share.
There are many that we need to develop as we move through life.
Some are more obvious than others.
Others are often discovered as we move beyond the basics and start discovering that life is a bit more complex.
These are often not taught by our parents or our school teachers.
In a previous article I listed “6 Life Skills That Will Set You up for Success“.
- Building quality relationships
- Daily action
- Communication skills
- Life design capabilities
But they aren’t the only ones.
The real magic happens by not mastering just one. But combining them and producing a formula for success.
Here are the others I have discovered along the way.
1. Discover the life skill of discovering and nurturing your passionate purpose
I sat down to take the first lecture. And within minutes I knew that something was wrong.
I felt it.
Despite the feeling I pressed on. Kept showing up to those lectures.
I had been brought up to commit and persist.
It’s a quality that can work for you or against you. Our parents often teach us these skills.
But despite the inner voice getting louder I continued to the end of that first year.
The course I had selected was an accounting degree.
Ever felt like a square peg in a round hole?
That was me.
I was oil and the choice was water.
It didn’t mix.
So I made a pivot.
Decided to become a teacher. My accounting major was replaced by a teaching degree.
So I felt more at ease.
And sort of comfortable.
But when I did my first stint at “practice teaching” where you spent 2 weeks in a real school teaching that now familiar foreboding feeling made its presence felt again.
Despite this I finished my 4 years and secured my first teaching appointment.
I then headed south to an unfamiliar city. It was great school with supportive friendly colleagues.
But the feeling persisted.
Turning up to school every day was a chore. I looked at some of the older teachers and some loved their work.
Others just looked tired, worn out and cynical.
I gave that career 5 years and then I moved on.
I needed to find why I was on this earth and teaching people who didn’t want to learn wasn’t it.
We call them teenagers.
The adventure continued and the hunt was on. I had decided not to settle for stability.
I needed to find my calling.
I wanted more from life.
And it was scary as I moved into the unknown.
What was my passionate purpose?
It took me decades to find it.
Leaving a career that wasn’t me was the best decision I ever made.
Along the way there were tears, pain and challenges.
But I wouldn’t change anything.
The big question
So how do you discover your passionate purpose?
That is one of life’s biggest questions and I don’t have an easy answer.
My journey was mine alone.
But maybe I can provide some hints. Maybe a guide to unearthing the reason you’re here.
Joseph Campbell (The author of “The Heroes Journey” and “The Hero with a Thousand Faces) calls passionate purpose “Follow your Bliss“.
“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
What it isn’t
Following your bliss doesn’t mean….
Because you like watching Netflix that you become a movie critic.
You love running you and so you become a professional athlete.
Also it often isn’t just one thing for the rest of your life.
It isn’t static.
It will evolve.
What do others say?
So how do you discover your passionate purpose? Here are a few clues.
Steven Spielberg has followed his bliss and his contribution to the world is there for all to see with Jaws, ET and Jurassic Park just some of his creations.
This is what he had to say about following your bliss and discovering your dream.
“When you have a dream, it doesn’t often come at you screaming. This is who you are. This is what you must be for the rest of your life. The hardest thing to listen to, your instincts, your personal intuition. It’s very hard to hear”
Bliss doesn’t shout. It whispers.
You need to listen.
Joseph Campbell, the author of the book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” and “The Heroes Journey” believes that we are all on a heroes journey.
But finding that adventure and bliss is not given to us at birth with a mission written out in big black letters.
So what is a hero?
The hero can be someone who had found or achieved beyond the normal range of achievement and experience.
A hero is also someone who has given his life to something bigger than themselves.
But according to Campbell there are 2 paths.
It is chosen for you….
Or you choose it yourself.
When it is is chosen for you it is like a soldier being drafted and becoming a hero on the battlefield.
Or you can choose your passionate purpose by listening to that small voice that lies within and start the journey.
But the most powerful insight from Joseph Campbell for me?
“The most heroic of all acts is the courage to discover who you are and who you want to be. To slay the savage dragon of the ego and to follow your bliss to the truth of your life“.
It starts with being aware of who you are.
A friend of mine shared a book with me that had an interesting title, “The Tao of Pooh”
It is just a small book but it may help you.
Now this is not a children’s book despite the title. It is a book written over 30 years ago by Benjamin Hoff.
It is a simple overview of an ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism.
Here are 3 quotes from Winnie the Pooh and Ben’s take on them that provide a glimpse into its messages and meaning.
#1. “A fly can’t bird and a bird can fly”
So things are what they. Everything has its own place and function. You are who you are. Not someone else.
People try and violate this principle all the time and try and fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that “Things Are As They Are“.
And you are who you are.
And I was not an accountant.
#2. “A fish can’t whistle and neither can I”
Once you face and know your limitations you can work with them. Instead of having them work against you and get in your way.
Then limitations can be your strengths.
Knowing I wasn’t a detail person now means I can hire those that have that skill to do that for me.
#3. “Why does a chicken, I don’t know why”
We all have an inner nature.
A chicken is a chicken. Trying to be an eagle is not going to work.
The brain can be fooled.
Inner nature, when relied upon cannot be fooled.
But many people do not look at it or listen to it.
And consequently do not understand themselves very much.
So…….begin with recognizing who you are, what you’ve got to work with and what works best for you.
And it is not what your parents of friends tell you.
Discovering and nurturing your life’s purpose will give you direction and meaning.
Drifting is not a program for success.
2. Learn the life skill of falling in love with the process
There is a myth that has been centuries in the making.
It is a lie that has stopped many from starting their dream.
Prevented people from displaying their genius.
Stopped people succeeding.
That being an artist, a creator or successful is only for a special few.
That lie is that innovation and creativity starts with a genius moment. That being creative is waiting for inspiration to show up.
And that it is only for the chosen few.
It isn’t mystical.
It isn’t a divine gift.
You don’t have to be special.
It is mundane.
It is a process.
Listen for the whisper
But where do you begin?
It starts with an inkling. A feeling. But if you aren’t listening you will miss it.
The busyness of life often drowns that whisper.
That still small voice.
It is lost in the noise.
We see it everywhere.
Ear buds plugged in.
White cables hanging from heads.
We are filling our heads with noise, buzz and tunes all the time.
We need to say no to more noise and say yes to more silence then the creative process has the space to evolve.
So what is the process? How does your genius emerge?
Consume for inspiration
Stephen King had this to say about writers. “If you want to write a lot you need to read a lot. There is no other way.”
Ideas and innovation do not happen in a vacuum.
Entrepreneurs need to hang out with other entrepreneurs. Movie makers need to watch other peoples movies. Artists need to study and ponder the canvases of others.
We need to stop, read and consume. Even when it feels like a distraction.
And we may feel that reading is a guilty pleasure. I do.
And even Tim Ferris often has the same feelings of guilt.
It doesn’t feel like you are working. And the work ethic is often what drives us to success.
But in a knowledge world the need for consuming information and being inspired is mandatory.
You also maybe daunted by the creative geniuses that inspire you as you consume, watch and listen. But we all need to start somewhere.
We have all been beginners and amateurs.
Act on the whisper
As you consume there will be ideas and insights that will show up.
That consumption maybe reading. It maybe consuming a conversation with a friend.
Tingle your mind.
Touch the edges of your consciousness.
Write it down.
You may need to…..
Interrupt a conversation. Pause a movie. Stop the car.
But act on that still small voice.
But the difference between success and failure comes down to this.
I have heard many ideas over the years but an idea without action is just an idea.
Sitting in silence at your desk and staring at a blank screen or a blank canvas happens to everyone.
The act of just sitting down to do the work is where genius emerges.
One word at a time
One stroke of the brush.
One piece of code.
A routine that puts you at your chair, stool or desk is the start of the magic.
The habit of creating requires you to confront the demons of procrastination.
So you have started.
The next piece of the puzzle is persistence.
And a morning routine is the mother of creativity.
Showing up every day is a pre-requisite. Persistence and playing the long game is key.
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year but underestimate what they can do in 10 years” – Bill Gates
The only way to build a house? One brick at a time.
The only way to write a book? One word at a time.
Stephen King was asked “How do you write?”
“One word at a time,” and the answer is invariably dismissed. But that is all it is. It sounds too simple to be true, but consider the Great Wall of China, if you will: one stone at a time, man. That’s all. One stone at a time.
At first your creation will be imperfect and malformed. Doubts will creep in.
But it all starts with a rough draft. A simple sketch. An outline.
As you create, add and edit the masterpiece slowly emerges. Both addition and deletion will be required to burnish your creation.
The polishing comes later.
Show up every day
So take one step every day.
Show up and start.
You will not create a masterpiece every day. Your creation at first will appear ordinary.
But if you follow the process you will surprise yourself and the world as your genius emerges from the habit and a daily routine.
Don’t buy into the genius myth that has stopped so many of us from manifesting our gifts to the world.
Fall in love with the process and achieving your life’s purpose will evolve.
3. Nurture the life skill of developing a morning routine
Morning routines seem trivial to some.
Maybe boring to others.
They prefer chaos and excitement to what they see as drudgery.
But a morning routine can set you up for success.
It is an enabler to creativity and inspiration.
As humans we are meant to be creators and makers.
It is in our DNA.
One of the biggest challenges though is just starting.
Because things get in the way as the day progresses.
These include distractions, overcoming negative emotions and other people’s demands on your time are just a few.
Some people start their morning in chaos.
Wake up late and plunge into the day.
Dash out the door.
No set routines or rituals.
That approach to life is a recipe for failure.
Successful people have morning success routines that set them up to thrive and flourish.
Why are these morning success routines important?
Willpower has been shown to be finite according to Kelly McConigal, PhD and author of “The Willpower Instinct“.
According to her research we only so much of it and and it runs out as we use it.
So starting your day and applying it to what is important can be the difference between success and failure.
But routines can also help you with the following:
- Keep you moving forward despite how you’re feeling.
- Nourish your mind and spirit.
- Give your body the energy it needs to get through the day and thrive.
- Builds resilience and allows you to flourish
- Anchors you. You can start without thinking and not worrying about how you’re feeling.
Morning success routines will sustain you when tough times show up.
And we all know that they will.
Here are some routines from successful people.
Tim Ferris achieved global attention when he wrote his first book, “The 4-Hour Work Week”. It was one of my key inspirations to starting my blog and digital entrepreneurs journey.
His core philosophy to life is “Stoicism”. Routine for him is the discipline and ritual to overcome emotions that can ruin his day.
Here is his morning routine as outlined in Businessinsider.com
- Makes his bed – It keeps you grounded. He met a Hindu priest and speaker named Dandapani who told him that a way to help bring grounding into his life was to start off his day by making his bed.
- Meditates for 20 minutes – He uses a technique called Transcendental Meditation
- Drinks some strong tea – His combo is pu-erh aged black tea, green tea, and turmeric and ginger shavings. He adds hot water and lets it steep for one to two minutes. Then, in his mug, he’ll add one to two tablespoons of coconut oil or Quest MCT Oil Powder for a dose of medium-chain triglycerides, which some studies have shown to be linked to promoting fat burning.
- Journals for 5-10 minutes – He alternates between a 5 minute journal and a Morning pages exercise.
- Has a small breakfast – He often has half a can of Amy’s black bean chili, a low fat chili that’s high in fiber and protein
- Exercises for 20-90 minutes – Varies between a peloton bike and a 20 minute high intensity interval training workout.
For Tim he knows that the daily routine can change your emotions rather than letting emotions control your day.
Twyla is a world famous choreographer. Her creations are dance.
How does she start her day?
In her book “The Creative Habit” she outlines her rituals of preparation for each work day.
This is what works for her.
- She rises at 5.30 am
- Dresses in her workout clothes.
- Walks outside her Manhattan home and hails a taxi.
- Tells the driver to go to the Pumping Iron Gym where she works out for 2 hours.
What’s the most important part of this routine for Twayla?
That ritual is the cab.
That is the trigger and the first step where she is committed to the gym habit.
She knows that the first steps are hard.
That ritual leads to the routine.
Then the rest of the day is set up for success.
Steve Jobs kept life simple and eliminated distractions where he could.
His morning routine as disclosed in Inc.com revealed that each day he would get up, make his bed, shower and then look at himself in the mirror and ask this question.
“If today was the was the last day of my life, would I be happy with what I’m about to do today?”
If he discovered that the answer was “no” too many days in a row he knew that something needed to change.
Brian is the author of many books and is known for being highly productive.
Here is his morning success routine.
- Get’s up 2 hours before his first fixed appointment.
- Exercises for the first 30 minutes. Swim, Yoga or stretching
- Has a a coffee
- Spends some time doing some inspirational reading.
- The next hour is to to plan his day and have breakfast.
Brian is also the author of the best selling book, “Eat That Frog“, which get’s its title from that famous Mark Twain saying “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day“.
The practical essence of applying that quote to your morning routine is a habit of getting one important thing done before opening your emails.
And we all know that once you open your first email that your ability to get important things done starts sliding into oblivion.
What works for me?
Routines are your creation.
You need to find out what works for your metabolism and feeds your soul and mind.
But by reflecting on what works for others you gain a glimpse into the elements that you may adapt, copy or ignore.
- Rise at 6am but it used to be 4.30 am. But this changed due to life circumstances evolving. It will change again.
- Drink a glass of water with 2 table spoons of Apple Cider Vinegar with “The Mother”.
- Make a coffee and tea – Coffee to start and Lemon and Ginger Tea to follow while reading
- Be grateful – I use the 5 Minute Journal app
- Read an inspirational book.
- Meditate for 10 minutes – Currently using the “Calm” app
- Commit to spending an hour or two to creating something that feeds your soul. For me that is writing. That is where I am able to perform deep work.
- Breakfast – Bircher Muesli with almond milk and berries and yoghurt
- Get one priority and important task done before opening emails
Now you may have noticed that exercise is not in my morning routine. I have tried to weave it into how I start my day but it just didn’t work. But I do exercise 3-5 times a week but later in the day or after work.
The most important thing for me with exercise is to do something you love and is convenient and easy. You may be an early morning person, so do it then. For me afternoon is best.
But my biggest challenge in the process? Stopping myself being distracted by the trivial tasks that stop me getting the important things done..
Finding a morning success routine has been a game changer for me.
It’s transformed my life.
And you may discover that it will take you from ordinary to extraordinary.
4. Embrace the life skill of creating deep work every day
For many of us we define ourselves from our careers, our jobs and even out families.
At the age of 65 we are usually asked to hang up the tools, hand in the computer and the mobile phone.
And fade into the sunset.
But they are all a narrow definition of who we are.
But a solution tho this to set aside time and create a life skill and habit of creating around the passion and skills that you have developed and love.
That’s your real purpose.
That is a life skill that many of us ignore as the busyness of life consumes us.
Because “that” craved for career can also be destroyed by a corporate takeover or the cruel game of office politics. A job for life is being replaced by a 12 month contract or the freelancer.
But in a world that is in the majority a knowledge economy, the opportunities to reach the world that is thirsting for your experience and expertise and get paid for it is now needed. Becoming a freelancer or entrepreneur is becoming a solution.
Now I can hear you saying……“I have a day job and don’t have the time”. A day job is just 8 hours…..the raw reality? There are another sixteen hours available.
Arnold Bennett highlighted this in a small 33-page book “How to Live on 24 Hours a Day” (written over a hundred years ago). He encouraged us to live a day within a day that can take us from ordinary to extraordinary.
Many of us go to work and come home and engage in trivial activities. This includes television, reading a glossy magazine, sending text messages or even playing with Snapchat.
Investing in your own creation, production and distribution of your experience, expertise and passion while holding down a day job can transform your life.
How do I know?
That is what happened to me when I stumbled into a social web that offered a promise of freedom to create and reach the world one word at a time.
Work that makes a difference
In his book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”, Cal Newport dives into the difference between deep work and shallow work. Any of us that are trapped in the never-ending cycles of responding to emails and attending meetings know the feeling.
At the end of the day you are asking “that” question.
“What have I done or created today that is of any consequence.”
But there is a solution to that nagging question. It doesn’t matter if you are a knowledge worker within the corporate machine, an entrepreneur or a creative.
According to Cal Newport there are several options to doing “Deep Work”. It is not one size fits all. It depends on how you like working and living and also depends on your particular life circumstance.
Monastic Approach: Cutting yourself off from the world to focus and remove distraction.
Bi-Modal Approach: This is where you may work and perform the day-to-day work in one location and do your deep work at another. You then dive in and out of each space.
Journalist Approach: This is an approach where you seize the opportunity to perform “Deep Work” at random as time and your schedule allows.
Rhythmic Approach: This where you set apart a certain time of day to create and block it out every day and commit to that ritual.
These are not the only ways to create “Deep Work” but they provide some ideas for a habit that could change your life.
In 2009 I started my blog and my approach was more like a journalist. I often created late at night but also on weekends. But as the journey continued the ritual changed to a rhythmic habit.
I rose early at 4.30am for 5 days a week and turned off all email, social networks and other distractions. The ritual included making a coffee, a mug of lemon and ginger tea and sitting down and strapping myself in.
I researched, wrote and published. The last step was pushing that content out to the waiting world.
When you do that one day at a time for 4 years then things start to happen. A passion project became a serious business. Done part time before most people were awake.
That habit was an investment in me. But when I started I didn’t understand its far reaching consequences.
The power of validation
In 1998 a journalist David Isay decided to capture the stories of ordinary people. He visited the flop houses of New York and sat down with men that had been living and surviving for decades in run down buildings.
After publishing their interviews he went back and showed them their one page stories in print. One man on seeing his name in black and white, seized the book out of David’s hand and ran down the corridor and shouted “I exist…..I exist……I exist!”
These men had to wait for someone else to discover them……to share their story with the world. The visibility had also provided a validation. It is something we as humans crave.
To be acknowledged is a powerful thing.
Choose to be discovered
But on today’s social and mobile web we don’t have to wait for discovery or for permission.
We can create, publish and showcase our own existence without waiting for permission or to be “discovered”
We can choose to start something of consequence. We can choose to create. When you start sharing that with the planet, the magic of that distillation of your thoughts and genius is a place to grow and to be validated.
The social web with its platforms and networks is a feedback loop that will give you the feedback you need to evolve and grow.
I pose a new mantra. “I create, I publish, I exist”
Block out your time for “your” creation
So plan your day for making sure you have focused creative space. Block out time for “deep work”. Don’t make success an accident. Design your life, share your expertise, experience and passion.
We all have the opportunity to be craftsmen. To be creators and producers of content and media that belongs to you and not the corporation.
The habit of doing the “deep work” is not just about productivity. It goes much deeper than that.
It is a place where your learning goes to a new level one day at a time. Blocking out some hours for you. For your work. But……don’t keep your creation hidden from the world. Share it. That is where the magic happens.
It will fill the hole that gnaws at you every day if that opportunity to create in concentration is ignored.
You will feel a sense of accomplishment as a work that started as raw and rough becomes a piece of art that is yours. It will feed your soul.
That’s your life, your work and your creation.
You will look back in a year and wonder why you didn’t start the habit earlier.
But you must commit to making it happen and to investing in yourself. Responding to other people’s emails and attending meetings is not investing in your work.
It is just busyness.
One of the biggest challenges in life can be the habits that trap us in mediocrity and stop us growing and moving forward.
It’s your choice.
I was annoyed.
Here I was talking with a client that was demanding the impossible.
It wasn’t the first time I had these types of conversations.
I asked “When do you want delivery?”
“Next week” was the reply.
My short answer.
“Yes…..we can do that”.
I was traveling that week and had to pull all nighters to deliver for a dysfunctional corporate ladder climber.
The ones that know more about politics than performance.
I slept in the car to recover as my partner drove.
My team back in the office worked 18 hour days.
But we delivered.
A few weeks later the client said we weren’t providing good enough service.
They had found another supplier.
At the time I was devastated.
But the truth.
I came to realize a few months later that I should have fired the client first.
Not even taken them on.
I learned that not all clients are worth working for.
Life’s too short.
Business can be tough and life can be hard.
But many of us from childhood are encouraged to be nice.
Agreeable and compliant.
Share our toys.
Agree with our parents.
Say yes to the teacher.
Obey your elders.
Always help out.
And nothing wrong with any of those.
They are rites of passage.
We need to live together, have productive and friendly communities and get on.
Getting on with people is a valuable skill.
It allows us to build relationships.
Grow personal business networks.
But as you get a little older that constant attitude can be a problem.
It removes your freedom.
Your life is centered around everyone else.
Helping them with their goals.
And there is nothing wrong with that.
If it is not stopping “you” from growing, learning and making a difference.
Achieving your passionate purpose.
Getting important work done.
Going along with the crowd
Saying “yes” just to please and to be agreeable.
Going along with the crowd.
Can stop you getting ahead in life and as an entrepreneur.
While your goals and dreams and priorities are parked.
You are helping other people get ahead.
We all need to be better at saying another word.
A shorter word.
That word is “No”.
When should we say no?
That is easy to say but hard to do but it’s worth the effort.
Here’s some ideas.
Say no those who just want to use you.
Say no to spending time with those who are constantly negative.
Say no to activities that diminish you.
Say no to tasks that aren’t important.
Say no to poisonous and dysfunctional clients.
Say no to distractions that take you away from your passionate purpose.
Say no to drama based relationships.
It’s time to reveal the rebel.
The crazy one.
Who makes a difference and gives themselves the time and space to change the world.
Sometimes you will be called selfish.
But if you want to….
Write a book.
Start a business.
Create a masterpiece.
Craft a life.
Saying no more often will be a habit you need to learn.
For some of us it will be hard to even utter just once.
But you will need to start practicing saying “No” a lot more often.
Learning that is is a habit and skill worth developing.
Time to say no more.
Put up the “do not disturb” sign.
Important stuff is happening.
And that will change your life.
The synergy of life skills
The game of life is long and looking at the list of these life skills can be overwhelming.
But showing up every day and nurturing these habits lies at the core of success.
The reality is we are wired for instant gratification.
That is a struggle we will face every day.
Deferring today’s tempting distractions that stop us producing a life imagined is a daily battle.
So…. strap yourself in.
It’s a marathon
And the journey is where the joy is.