We often hear about the struggle to match fulfilling work with paying the rent. Coaches like Charly Cox - with proven track records in both business and leadership development - can help. Come join us on October 21st to learn more. Here, she talks about becoming the boss of your own destiny.
In January 2006 I developed acute RSI in both wrists. My body called time on the stress of working in a string of London jobs that I’d not really enjoyed, and I was signed off sick with exhaustion. I decided then that life had to be in technicolour and I made a commitment to myself to be more extraordinary.
Now, having retrained for my fifth career in thirteen years, and having lived for almost seven of those in West Africa, I’ve learnt a few things about what makes that leap easier. I’ve also learnt that all of us want to be extraordinary in our own way.
Leaping isn’t easy. I had many ideas in London, but it took moving to one of the world’s toughest countries for me to find my feet. In Sierra Leone, I started a creative agency on £500 and took it through growth to a fully staffed office with clients on three continents. It was anything but easy, but it taught me important lessons about acting on my instincts. If I’d done that sooner, perhaps my body wouldn’t have sounded the alarm in 2006.
1) Be an opportunist
Running your own business teaches you to spot opportunities. People tell you their problems all the time. See a way that you can solve them and you’ve either invented a product or got yourself a job. Be open to ideas and when opportunity knocks, assess it not for what it doesn’t offer, but for its potential to be a step in the right direction.
When I was offered my first leap – a lowly paid job in Sierra Leone with Save the Children – I told a friend “It’s good, but it’s not THE one”, to which he replied “No, but it’s A one, take it”. It wasn’t perfect but it was the stepping-stone I needed to shift my perspective. In Freetown I soon became a self-employed consultant earning per day what I’d previously earned per week.
I’ve met many people who came to Africa for one thing and moved into more career-defining work. Waiting for the perfect offer might see you waiting forever. Spot an opportunity, feel that tingle of excitement, trust your instincts and move.
2) Set the dream, don’t sweat the small stuff
I’ve met so many people who have agonized over the perfect business plan and never launched. And I work with big scale entrepreneurs who, like me, never had one. That’s not to say we didn’t have a vision, we did, but rigid plans would have prevented us from capitalizing on opportunities.
If you’re thinking of starting a company, know that your business model will change ALL the time. In my company we had a guiding strategy. We knew the destination and some of the landmarks, but we allowed the route to form before us, and that gave other people space to help us. In life it’s natural to want to cover all bases, but objectively, that isn’t possible. Rather than concentrating on building the perfect plan, start telling people your dream.
Don’t be shy; state your intention and give people the chance to help you. When we share dreams, we inspire people to get involved. After all, Martin Luther King didn’t say, “I have a plan”.
3) Find a new tribe to run with
Everyone you know is settled and it’s not easy to leap away from your crowd. So create a new tribe, alongside existing friends. Find people that are in your new world, and they’ll help you to keep your faith and your focus.
In 2008, when I decided to retrain as a photographer, I started hanging out with them, to get a heads up on the industry and build contacts. I found out that it wasn’t that hard to be a freelance photographer when you had been a self-employed consultant and that photographers aren’t some rarified breed.
I demystified the sector and made friends who were also passionate about the same work as me. They supported me through the change and helped me to see myself there, long before I had business cards.
4) Anchor yourself in your values
I’ve learnt to see my values are the common denominator in my life, and as the thread that runs through everything I’ve ever loved. A big value for me is curiosity in human nature. When I look back I see that this underpinned my enjoyment of an English literature degree, my desire to tell stories as a spokesperson, my pursuit of documentary photography, and now my work as a coach and a trainer.
Tellingly, I also see that my most important values were absent in many of my jobs in London. When we’re in our values things just feel right, thus we feel confident. Look at your CV and ask what attracted you to each job.
Where are all those values alive in your life today? And where are they in the dream you have for your future? Live more in your values and I guarantee you, you’ll leap more confidently.
5) Write your own rule book
If I had to settle on one thing that I loved about running a business, it is the realization that only you create your rules. We spend so much time conforming to the expectations we think others have of us, and don’t see that we choose whether or not to conform.
In West Africa, the ‘rules’ were less apparent and it was liberating. I realised that it was me that granted myself freedom. We tell ourselves that we are the sum of our job titles, our friendship groups, and our wealth. But how we are being is so much more important than what we are doing.
It is our behaviour and our attitude that dictates how people treat us. Some of the work I love the most is helping people who are starting out in business to see what I learned the hard way: that you can be the managing director of your kitchen table and have the authority to command a room.
Don’t wait until you have the job title, start being it now, and decide on your rules for your future.
Whether you leap into a new career or stay in your current one, know that the biggest leap is in choosing to lead yourself and set your own destiny.
It’s easy to unconsciously let the world make our decisions for us, but it doesn’t make us fulfilled.
So ask yourself the hard truth: “Who is leading here?” And if the answer isn’t you, choose whether you want it to be. You don’t need anything to lead yourself other than a commitment to just being 100% you, with no apologies for who you are.
Whether you work solo or in a multi-national, start with how you’re being, and make the biggest leap, from ‘doing’ your career, to ‘being’ in charge of it.