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Imagine, a very corporate headquarters shod in a slate just the right side of chic. Aggressive stainless steel rails and a swathe of muted ties and suits counting money and setting strategy. Ensconced in a leafy Dutch city and buttressed by a feel-good mission statement. A Very Important job title, a satisfyingly high payslip and a hollowness of purpose crouched behind a 16:9 widescreen sufficient for the most detailed of PowerPoints.

I feel confident that the majority of readers have been in roles they are not sure how they got there or where they’re going. Plodding along silently through the years with nary a light at the end of the tunnel. Grinding through, crossing off days till the next holiday. My own career has been happenstance and unaimed. Lady Luck and my good chat resulted in ‘good’ roles. Until the day I was sitting behind my computer thinking what the fuck am I doing here. It wasn’t a surprise. There are only so many mornings where the motivation to get out of bed and commute an hour became a thoughtless routine. The gaping hole at the centre of the most time-intensive activity of my life was obvious if I couldn’t even be excited when I told people what I did for a living. The pressure for change built slowly but surely. The decision to leave was hard. My ego was tied up in my job. Ultimately it wasn’t just about the job, it was the industry. I simply did not find the industry interesting enough to commit to. I should add that these things reflect on me and my interests, not on the company per se which is doing important work, well.

The need for change chimed nicely with S.’s desire to quit her job. To quit meant at the time that in some crevice of my mind, I had failed in finding ‘purpose’ in my job. Failure is one of many emotions that bubble up as you start doubting if you’ve made the right decision. Thankfully it’s one I didn’t listen to all that hard. Once I had made the decision, an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders. There was an irresistible beckoning freedom to getting back on the road.

I didn’t quit with another job lined up. Instead, I wanted to do something else. What, I wasn’t sure, but no worries. In the meantime I would undertake a long stint of travelling. I would hopefully be confronted by an apparition of some minor Saint of Job Advice and it would all become clear to me. I guess I was really thinking that I’d deal with all that when I got back to Amsterdam. Maybe daydream a little on beaches, read some career help books and websites, and bounce ideas off S. Not that I was worrying about the potential of being out of a job, I had experienced two other gaps between jobs. Though stressful at times, it’s also a good time to catch up on ironing, Mad Men episodes and old friends!

The one thing we did plan was book a course in Chiang Mai, Thailand at the very start of our journey. I fell into conversation with a bright-eyed Chilean co-participant. Upon asking him his profession, he replied, “I’m a life coach, I help people to make their highest contribution in life.” Somewhat taken aback (and looking for his halo), I endeavoured to investigate this unusual career. My selfish motivation was to see if he could help me in my search for a job with purpose. This was not happenstance, I was open and receptive to new things, and we were attending a ‘finding your purpose’ meditation course, so not exactly divine providence. I saw in life coaching a potential tool to help me figure it all out. Little did I know where it would take me!

I met Marcelo in the dusty, well-worn lobby of our hostel over an excellent mango juice. He explained what a life coach does and doesn’t do, and I reciprocated by introducing myself and my motivation. Most importantly we ‘clicked’ personally and that’s crucial when you lay your soul bare to someone. I am a true believer in the power of business to effect change for good. I was also not interested in something skin-deep. I needed a cerebral and structured approach. I wanted someone who could relate to my business background. I wanted a taskmaster but also a sense of humour. An international, modern outlook. Marcelo ticked all those boxes and more. The engagement was for six months via regular Skype calls and serious homework in between. A wonderfully fun exercise finding decent wifi in Myanmar!

The decision to push play with Marcelo was not hard. I had an open mind when it came to his methods and I was willing to trust him. I felt like I had been floating along in life long enough and it was time to try something bold and invest in myself. My expectations were quite modest (or so I thought); that at the end of this process I’d have a clear idea about what I wanted to do when I was back in the Netherlands. Perhaps some career guidance, perhaps some improved clarity and skill in choosing priorities and goals. Maybe even a job!

A life coach holds up a mirror to you and tells you to your face, stop buying your own bullshit and get on with doing something that matters. This may require some elucidation. In other words, a life coach is equipped to help someone undertake self-analysis of their past and present. They do this by pointing out both helpful and unhelpful behavioural patterns. The facilitate the creation of a structured approach to identifying a meaningful purpose or mission in life, and help kickstart a plan to get there. Along the way, they keep you on the straight and narrow. Uncomfortable questions asked and pushing you to be more honest with yourself than you’ve probably ever been.

For me, it was fascinating to look through my life with a different lens. Why had I ever thought job titles meant anything? Why did I subconsciously equate material possessions and the outward trappings of success with actual personal fulfilment? What did I actually think about money? Was it healthy? Why were elements of communication within my family so irritating? Why had I not taken great opportunities which in hindsight would have been awesome? It was liberating. I felt sad, guilty, happy, but also cleansed. A brutal process to uncover things I’d been ignoring.

I had realised that for example I’d been wanting change and talking about it but had never taken concrete action to do anything about it. I’d been ignoring it solidly. Next month I’ll have a think. I’ll read that book later. I’d love to do a course but perhaps I’ll do some research next year. Procrastination was deeply embedded.

Sadly a life coach is not someone with a magic wand ready to give you the answers. A life coach is not a therapist or psychologist to help you with past mental traumas or current mental health issues. These are best addressed by relevant trained professionals. A life coach won’t guarantee a result. The result is up to me completely (assuming you have a decent life coach). A life coach won’t give you happiness or the perfect career. Instead they’re likely to leave you with the realisation of how much work you still need to do to achieve whatever it is that will help bring you closer to your purpose in life. This blog post was hard work and time-consuming. Exposing my inner journey to friends and family is hard. Realising I’ve wasted part of my life is hard. Admitting that you’ve been lying to yourself is hard. Changing ingrained behavioural patterns, like being polite to others rather than honest, is hard. Change is hard, but oh so rewarding!

What do you need in order to take on a life coach? I think it’s most important to be open to change & new ideas and be willing to be honest with yourself. These will give you the courage to face uncomfortable truths and go against the expectations of society and those around you. There are two main motivations in life, fear and love. We are driven in some measure by both. By choosing to be less driven by fear, we choose to love ourselves and back our own version of how life should be lived. I was driven by many fearful emotions, like what would people think if I just gave up my job? The reality of choosing to love my happiness instead had a funny result. Virtually everyone supported my decision to quit and travel! “I’ve always wanted to do that”, one envious, workaholic 60-year-old general manager told me sadly.

Every life coach has their own models they use and I can only share my own experiences. We started with slightly metaphysical lessons. There is no objective reality we as humans experience. Everything we observe in terms of external stimuli we process into a subjective reality which makes sense to us, or in other words creates meaning. By understanding this basic truth, I was able to build upon that and start to question other long held assumptions. One example is the beautiful story we tell ourselves of being born, attending university (with attendant student debt), working for appropriately prestigious companies and finally retiring with a pension in our old age. A story reflecting the most worthy of pursuits and one our parents will be proud of. In our individual subjective realities this is a story we can sign on to and pursue. Alternatively we can recognise this story as one of many which may lead to a fulfilling life, one as equally valuable as the other.

We also discussed what I consider the most important elements in my life and covered some emotionally impactful events. We analysed these through different lenses. Once I held up a mirror to my actions, it was much harder to maintain these fictions I had created for myself. Which actions or patterns are helpful and lead to growth, and which actions or patterns are holding me back. Let me be clear, the hard work is done by me through self-reflection, meditation and daily diarising. All of which have become hugely useful to me as they’ve turned into habits. A quick 10 minutes in the morning using the Insight Timer app, and 10 minutes pouring reflections into a Moleskine journal.

The relationship with my coach Marcelo very quickly evolved to a friendship. He’s my cheerleader, supportive of my ideas and encouraging of action. Coaching is an ongoing process, a deep relationship which will likely be ongoing given we’ve shared so much with each other. I’m deeply appreciative of his insights and his enduring positivity of what the future may hold for me.

One visible result of my journey was a purpose statement (in bold). This reflects my strengths, values and interests and states the motivation upon which I will base my work and personal life for the foreseeable future. This is accompanied with a vision statement of my life in a few years. I had doubts about sharing this with the internet (have slightly edited it to withhold some elements relating to my personal relationships). As Marcelo quite rightly pointed out, making yourself vulnerable is a great way of encouraging personal growth so I’m curious to hear your thoughts!

My vision is that in five years I will be living my purpose. My purpose is to empower people to become aware of their impact on the environment so they can take responsibility in creating a sustainable future. I wake up every day and remind myself that I am living my own dream and am fully capable of creating my own reality, this gives me a feeling of empowerment that at any moment I can change direction. I am authentic in every interaction I have with others and myself. I decide how I spend my time, and am not pushed by others to fit in with their needs. I treat my body like the unique temple it is and keep it well-tuned with daily meditation, regular exercise and balance in what I eat. I feed my soul by regularly accessing nature and sourcing strength from this connection. I am selective in who I spend time with and have surrounded myself by loyal friends who contribute to my curiosity and philosophical questioning of the world and left other relationships behind which do not add to my life. I live my life with the realisation that this is the only life I will get and that this environment is the only one we have. I go to work in the morning full of enthusiasm that I am doing something worth doing. Something which makes a difference to one of the biggest challenges facing humanity today. I work with young, enthusiastic and intelligent people in an inspiring workplace where innovation is threaded throughout what I do. I earn enough to support a lifestyle free from financial worry and am driven by meaning, emotional wellbeing and am driven to serve a greater good. I am happy, tired perhaps but feeling good in my body. Mentally I feed myself by reading regularly and leaving the distraction of my phone as much as possible. I am aware of my autopilot/un-present self and try to remain as conscious of my behavioural patterns to see whether they add to my life or not. I am learning a new skill which exercises my brain. I diarise every day and have a creative writing outlet. You’re OK. You’re alright. You’re loved.

The purpose and vision translate into actions I intend to undertake in the coming years covering both my career and my personal pursuits. The career path will be driven by an intention to work in an industry driven by sustainability values and one which is creating change in the way we live on our pale blue dot. My plan is a structured multi-year series of stepping stones with a deliberate destination. It’s also flexible as I learn more about where I want to head to and as my own life situation changes. I may share more on this in the future as it becomes clearer.

Making a purpose statement is like making sausages. You really don’t want to know how it’s done. It’s messy, full of uncertainty over wording, misgivings over direction, fear about setting dreams down on paper and fear of committing to one thing only. I went through many iterations and it may still change. The point is I have something to aim at now. To give me guidance when I’m lost and reassurance in the low periods to come.

I wanted to also give you some headline benefits of my life coaching. As a result of the coaching I:

  • Feel empowered to do things I’d never have done before;
  • Realise that I’m in charge of creating my own experiences;
  • Have increased my self-awareness;
  • Have put life tools like meditation and daily reflection journaling into practice;
  • Am more honest with myself and others;
  • Have gained a clarity of longer-term purpose I’ve never had before;
  • Changed my career aspirations significantly;
  • Worry less about the future;
  • Care less about what other people think;
  • Care more about the people who matter; and
  • Love myself more.

My main long term expectation from this life coaching transformation process is that I will continue to work towards aligning my work and personal activities with my purpose on an ongoing basis. End result, net increase in aggregate happiness.

It’s an ongoing journey or process and there are no quick answers or easy wins. I am also aware that the above can sound like the ravings of someone who has just come out of a Landmark Forum seminar. I’ve spent the last six months reading books, writing self-reflectively and conversing with Marcelo, S. and a few friends. It’s been an intensely internal process with little external to show for it. I don’t expect people to say, wow you’ve changed! But instead to see subtle changes in how I see the world and what I choose to spend my time on. Over time hopefully the results will speak for themselves.

I hope you get something out of this post. Something that spurs or inspires you to take action of your own. You deserve it!

As Howard Schultz says, “onward!”

This is a great article which delves into why it is important to be alone with your thoughts and how this can improve your ability to lead.

Concentrating, focusing. You can just as easily consider this lecture to be about concentration as about solitude. Think about what the word means. It means gathering yourself together into a single point rather than letting yourself be dispersed everywhere into a cloud of electronic and social input. It seems to me that Facebook and Twitter and YouTube—and just so you don’t think this is a generational thing, TV and radio and magazines and even newspapers, too—are all ultimately just an elaborate excuse to run away from yourself. To avoid the difficult and troubling questions that being human throws in your way. Am I doing the right thing with my life? Do I believe the things I was taught as a child? What do the words I live by—words like duty, honor, and country—really mean? Am I happy?

So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. All of these help you to know yourself better. But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship. Of course friendship is the opposite of solitude; it means being with other people. But I’m talking about one kind of friendship in particular, the deep friendship of intimate conversation. Long, uninterrupted talk with one other person. Not Skyping with three people and texting with two others at the same time while you hang out in a friend’s room listening to music and studying. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude.

– William Deresiewicz , Solitude and Leadership 

Rolf Potts and Tim Ferriss are two people whose ideas I have a lot of time for. Rolf’s book Vagabonding informed the philosophy of my travel in a huge way.

This blog post, I think, is very powerful. Nice thing is, you don’t have to leave home to change the way you think/do things/be.

An excerpt:

Scientific studies have shown that new experiences (and the memories they produce) are more likely to produce long-term happiness than new things. Since new experiences aren’t exclusive to travel, consider ways to become time-rich at home. Spend less time working on things you don’t enjoy and buying things you don’t need; spend more time embracing the kinds of activities (learning new skills, meeting new people, spending time with friends and family) that make you feel alive and part of the world.

I value your time as a reader. Believe it! Having danced through the best part of 9 months writing this blog, investing the hours on drafting, editing and posting each blog post and generally enjoying it, makes me want to continue to write. The focus of this blog will widen to reflect my thoughts on things other than travel. I will be blogging on things of interest to me: travel, my life, entrepreneurship, quirks, design, art, innovation, smart people, books, culture, solutions, leadership and sharing learnings I believe you will value. The blog posts are likely to be significantly shorter and punchier! You are welcome to continue reading, or not, depending on your yen. My short term aim is to get back into thinking about working (better) after months of resolutely not thinking about work!

Seth Godin, one of my favourite bloggers, has created an e-book containing 70+ mini-essays on themes that I believe are worth reading if you are keen to meditate on improvements in your life for the coming year. My borrowed Christmas present to you all!

PS: Title credit