Last week my brilliant friend and colleague Paula Boyle shared a list of ways to ensure a mediocre life and career with the group we were working with:
1 – Stay in your Comfort Zone
Our comfort zone is a space where we feel safe and relatively competent. The space beyond mediocrity requires a journey through risk, discomfort and learning new skills on the way to excellence. Unless we are willing to embrace the discomfort zone, we will never find it.
2 – Partly believe in yourself, but remember to criticise yourself regularly
If we don’t believe in ourselves, why would anyone else? These first two on this list create a catch 22, that we have to break out of. If we stay in our comfort zone it makes it harder to create the evidence of something for ourselves or others to believe in. If we don’t believe in ourselves there does not seem to be much point in going out of our comfort zone. We have to regularly break out of this catch 22 to make this experiment called life worth pursuing.
2- Blame other people for your problems / feelings / experience / life
Every time we blame others, we fail to recognise responsibility and every time we fail to recognise our own responsibility for our problems or feelings we fail to learn. Every time we fail to learn we are condemned to going around that problem/feeling/experience/life loop again until we learn the lesson it is sharing with us. Each time around the loop the lesson typically gets harsher and more painful. The more sensitised we can become to the learning opportunities the less pain we will experience.
3 – Work at a job you don’t like because it pays the mortgage / your family and friends approve / it will look good on your CV
I wrote a whole book about this ten years ago – remarkably it is still available. Suffice to quote Steve Jobs inspirational speech at Stamford – “You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”. If you have not seen it yet – or for a while – watch it here.
4 – Never, ever stand out or draw attention to yourself
Most of us were taught pretty successfully at school that standing out was a route to ridicule and exclusion. This is a lesson everyone who has been excellent at anything has either unlearned or avoided. It is not about being attention seeking, but it is absolutely about being willing to stand out when the situation demands it or when the opportunity arises. We are all faced with situations where we can choose to step up or to step back, every time we step up we grow as a person, every time we step back we shrink – unless we learn not to step back next time.
5 – When you fail, don’t ever try again
Honda, Churchill and Eddison are all quoted on the essential importance of moving on from failures and trying again. There is a good reason why people we regards as icons of excellence show signs of determination, even pig headedness – there is great value in persisting with something that we believe in passionately, in learning the lessons from every failure adapting and trying again. There is very little value in just giving up and deciding that something is either impossible or we are not capable from the evidence or just a few failures.
6 – Refuse to believe that you are more powerful, talented and capable than you could ever imagine.
The simple act of believing makes an immense difference on its own. Belief is transformative and in most cases has to come before reality or change. As Henry Ford said – “If you think you can, or you think you can’t – you are probably right.”
7 – Do believe that anyone who thinks you are brilliant is an idiot and not to be trusted.
In most cases when people are critical of us, they are talking about themselves not us. People who are genuinely thinking of us and have some valuable advice for us will find a kind and constructive (not critical) way of communicating it. Listen to those who are teaching us from a place of love and positiveness, avoid believing those who are trying to make themselves feel more confident, by making others look bad.
8 – Wholeheartedly believe that people generally, and you specifically, can’t really change
Anyone who is not a psychopath can change. All we need to do to change is to take responsibility for our feelings and experiences, be willing to learn from them and to replace habits that do not work for us with new habits based on what we have learned.
9 – Try to be perfect
Perfection is an illusion. Striving for it makes failure inevitable every time and while we must not be beaten by failure, it is demoralising, especially if there is no way of avoiding it. Replace perfection with “the best I can do right now” and then be willing to learn, develop and improve. The flip of this is that when we do delude ourselves into believing that we have achieved perfection – there is no longer any room for improvement, hubris sets in and, ultimately, we fail.
10 – Be cynical, and share your cynicism with everyone you meet
Cynicism is the enemy of belief (see above). It kills belief in ourselves and in others. Be aware of and sensitive to your own cynicism. If you catch yourself being cynical stop yourself and replace it with being constructive. If you find cynicism in others – challenge it or just avoid the cynics and find more constructive collaborators.
If you think this is helpful – please share it as widely as you can. A world where everyone learned these simple tenets and made them into habits would be a better place.
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