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Go fetch your future

May 13, 2010
One Small Step Balakov

I spend a lot of time talking to people about their careers and how to direct their efforts towards realising their hopes and dreams. Many of the articles I’ve written have also focussed on careers, leadership, values and the need for real trust and empowerment in order to achieve greatness within a corporate context.

This article hopes to talk specifically to you.

Being in my early forties – just, I have a lot of “friends” within this age group; say 40-55, who are wondering what’s next. They have often achieved success within the corporate world and are now asking if this is all that life may have in store for them for the next decade, or is there some new, greater adventure waiting for them. Most of them are hoping for a “burning platform” to present itself, one which will actually force them to jump, rather than taking the proactive leap for themselves. This may come in the form of a “restructure”, early-retirement, the “changing shape” of the workplace and a host of other unwelcome events.

The trick is to go looking for and to discover the new opportunity or challenge before it is forced upon you.

Truth is we are hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with the new challenges of today’s world. We are a frontier generation. We are living longer than ever, yet being forced to retire earlier. We work faster due to technology and harder due to unprecedented global competition. Markets today are the planet, rather than the city in which we live. The average corporate CEO has travelled more than Christopher Columbus and Vasco De Gama combined. They don’t see themselves as explorers; they’re just doing the job. Longer days, more pressure, listening harder, being more compassionate, faster turn-around times, cheaper rates, multi-tasking, and then at home, being a far more involved father, mother or partner….there’s a whole lot of “giving” going on. It is easy to lose oneself in all of this.

A good friend of mine said something seemingly shocking to me a few years back; “you know Mike, sometimes you need to take, in order to give”. For those of us that have been brought up believe we live to serve, this can be brain-crushing stuff.

What do you mean “take”? It has a definite Oliver Twist ring to it “More?! “.

Here’s the question then. Who is currently writing the script for your life? Is the play about you or have you given permission for the play to be about your company or family where you play one of the key or supporting roles (- let’s hope the script-writer doesn’t kill the character off too early). You can’t say you never gave permission because whether it is active, or tacit, you have.

So, if the play were about you, and starring you in the lead role, with you as Executive Producer, Director and Script Writer, how would you change your current story? What line would you write next? Would it be “Joe turned to his boss and said ‘you’re right, I am a getting older but I need this job’ or would it be ‘Joe considered his options, “surely” he thought “there must be more to life than this?” Joe stands up and walks out of that play and starts writing a new one with a prettier cast, better prospects and a nicer environment. I’m sure this is how a Bono, a Beckham, Richard Branson, Picasso or a Desmond Tutu live/d their lives. Never for a second, allowing anyone but themselves, to write their own scripts. As a great advertising line for Jaguar once said,  “A copy of absolutely nothing”.

There is also an over-reliance on research (and opinions) today in personal script writing. Research, as I see it, can often tell you what not to do, which is of course useful. It assesses risk more than it does opportunity. It is far more rear-view mirror than windscreen. The reason for this, is that it asks people. Most people see what is, or what was or why not versus what could be. Nobody wants to give advice that could end in failure. To achieve greatness, we unfortunately need to take a leap of faith – in our own ability. The hard truth is that if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will.

About seven years back I had a rather calamitous health issue, and I was faced with a very real decision. Would I allow this uninvited guest to dictate the script for my life going forward or would I, not choosing all the cards I was dealt, decide how best to play the hand ie what was in my control. A school acquaintance of mine, Alison, famous for her book and talks on surviving her rape and attempted murder wrote something like “they came into my life without my permission and I was not going to give them permission to take anything more away from me”. I have found this to be one of the most inspiring and liberating concepts I had ever encountered. A true notion of choice.

How many 50-70 year olds tell you about the people they once were. They jobs they once did. It’s because the now, the present, may be a vacant pasture where nothing grows. My grandfather retired as a dentist when he turned 60.  He re-opened his practise when he was 60 and 3 days old, as he loved it and felt retirement was not for him. He practised for the following 21 years operating a large and dynamic practise specialising in all the latest dental techniques. He did this because he remained fascinated and passionate. How many of us find ourselves in jobs we tell ourselves we love? Are we victims of Stockholm syndrome?  Have we simply fallen in love with our captors – the pre-written script of our employers, spouses or other subtle influencers or is this truly our passion area and sweet spot?

I have been incredibly fortunate to choose a career that I truly love. I changed my mind three times until I got there. Although my job it is bloody hard work, it mostly doesn’t feel like work because it invigorates and energises me. I love solving business and marketing problems. I love working with smart, highly creative thinkers and doers. I enjoy the constant tyranny of finding new and fresh solutions. In this environment, no two days feel the same. If I don’t enjoy the environment that I’m in, I change it. I try never to be the victim.

This is a strict technique I have for myself. I look at my life much like climbing a ladder. As I climb it, the rungs beneath me fall away. At any point in time, I have only two choices. I can either stand still or climb higher. Going down is simply not an option. It forces me to be optimistic, to look for solutions and to find a better way.

I hope in some way this can be useful. Delaying usually solves nothing. It is difficult to be “great again”; And again. And again. To invent yourself every day. Stephen Hawking’s mind has wondered to the very edge of the universe and most recently returned with advice on what to do on meeting an alien – run ! What is needed is a child-like delight in the impossible and a gladiator’s heart to make it happen. Every day.

As the saying goes “If not now then when?  If not you then who ?”. The sheet is blank. It’s yours to write.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Jason permalink
    May 14, 2010 5:33 pm

    Damn straight 🙂

  2. Dirk Groeneveld permalink
    May 17, 2010 1:40 pm

    Great article Mike.

  3. Neville kopping permalink
    May 18, 2010 7:51 pm

    Go Mike!

  4. raelene levy permalink
    May 27, 2010 3:48 am

    at 5.30am deciding whether to go back to sleep or not…this was a Gr8 read – I wide awake now and ready for the day. Thx 🙂

  5. raelene levy permalink
    May 27, 2010 3:51 am

    p.s. gr8 pic reminds me of what I tell my kids…If you have a good foundation, you can “blast off” anywhere!

  6. Evan permalink
    May 31, 2010 2:42 pm

    endorpin charging stuff!!

  7. Carol Gelman permalink
    June 3, 2010 6:57 pm

    Truly inspirational

  8. Jon permalink
    June 6, 2010 2:21 am

    A thought provoking article Mike – there’s a lot to consider in our lives.

    Not only are we often caught in the script that someone else is writing, but it’s also a script that we *think* we should be a character in.

    We seem to be conditioned to live a certain way. The way to break that conditioning is to have the vision and the courage to take a step away from the page and become our own storyteller.

    It’s that first step into the unknown that’s terrifying, but ultimately the most rewarding, I think. I hope soon to follow that example. And you picked a great line to finish on – “If not now, then when?”

  9. carl permalink
    June 12, 2010 6:15 pm

    great article Mike. Some serious food for thought.

  10. haydn permalink
    July 27, 2010 2:23 pm

    One of the most inspiring blogs I’ve read in a helluva long time…

  11. August 3, 2010 12:06 am

    Some years ago I woke from a dream where I had my own agency that focused on a predominantly the Afrikaans market. It even had a name “Kaktis Vlakte Advertising” or KVA…talk about empowering bonehead deluxe-ekse! I spent the rest of the night making all the neccesary stationary and branding ………….The odd thing…I chose to continue leading the way with the packaging business instead.

    Your blog has driven me from 40KVA to 40 000 and climbing.

    How am I going to get to the Advertising life I think of in my sleep…simple…the Mrs. Her blog is currently ranked 164 699 (worldwide) and if can’t be transformed to a launch station for my creative juice then I should retreat to bad tea and sucking mud prawns at the Swartkops River.

    Thanks MA…you can always rely on your Ma to get you back on track!!

    All the best with the JHB ventures.-Des Timm
    PS. All suggestions welcome.

  12. Donna permalink
    October 20, 2010 12:25 pm

    Fantastic blog Mike and really hit the spot. I wrote on a similar topic just yesterday entitled “Becoming Available to Life”

    Thank you

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