Rule 104: Make Your Work, Work For You

Hi Everyone, I hope you’re having a great week.

Mine has been busy and interesting; up to my infraorbital foramen with speaking, radio and writing my new book. Among other things, this week I spoke at the Victorian CPA Congress here in Melbourne (great conference, great crowd) and one of the curious things to come out of that experience was the four people (all strangers) who came up to chat to me about changing their careers. On top of that, yesterday I had another almost-identical conversation with a police officer who, for a range of reasons, wants to totally change the direction and focus of his professional life.

For whatever reason, it seems that this week (in my tiny world) has become “Craig, can I talk to you about changing my career” week. So, with that in mind, and realising how broadly relevant (and maybe timely) this kind of conversation and exploration can be for many of us, today I thought I’d do a minor edit on something I wrote a few years back and take it for another spin. Most of you won’t have read it and those of you who have might want to re-visit it.

It’s kind of long (I know; a definite no-no in our LOL, LMAO, OMG abbreviated culture), but if career change is something you think about, then it’s definitely worth investing the five minutes.

Successfully Miserable

In the mid to late nineties I was a busy bloke. Crazy busy, in fact. I was in my early thirties, owned five separate businesses (including three gyms), employed more than a hundred people, was working as a strength and conditioning coach with a professional sporting club, was writing regular articles for a major newspaper, was still working on the gym floor as a PT, had just kicked off my speaking career and was earning more money than I felt I was worth. And while my life looked very successful, it didn’t always feel successful. It often felt stressful.

Chaotic even.

Learning by Doing

I seemed to spend a great deal of my time dealing with problems. Managing a hundred-plus personalities, egos and attitudes can be somewhat challenging. And mildly exhausting. My team was great but even good employees have bad days. It’s fair to say that, as a leader, manager and employer, I was far from perfect. I made many mistakes; some of them, monumental. In the early days of owning my business, I often felt like I was out of my depth. I was learning by doing and I wasn’t always doing well.

Employee to Employer

Over the course of twelve months in the late eighties, I went from being an employee in someone else’s gym (with no real clue about business development or management) to being an employer with twelve staff of my own. Over the course of the next five or six years, my professional and personal lives became so intertwined that they couldn’t really be separated. Owning businesses which operated sixteen hours per day (my gyms) didn’t leave me with much down time. Clearly, I hadn’t embraced the E-Myth principle of working on the business, rather than in it.

Instead of it serving me, I felt like I was serving it.

As a result, I became an exhausted slave to my business. I worked hard not smart. The thing that was once my passion started to become something of an anchor. It began to weigh me down. And yes, it was all my doing. I had created the success and the problem. There was no self-pity, just a blur of work, people, commitments, and over time, mental and emotional exhaustion.

The Pause Button

The practical reality of my work situation meant that it was almost impossible for me to hit the pause button on my career. Five businesses, a hundred-plus staff and hundreds of clients equated to constant challenges. Even when I wasn’t working, my mind was still at work. Every night I would sleep with a pad and pen by my bed so that when I woke up with a thought, idea or concern about my business (which I always did), I could make a note of it. There were many mornings when I would wake up with pages of notes next to me. And sometimes, on me.

Lots of notes, very little sleep.

From the outside looking in, I was flying. People kept telling me how well I was doing. I was busy. So busy. I was making good money. My business was healthy. My brand was growing. And some of my self-appointed business advisors were telling me that I “absolutely had to expand my business”. According to them, I should have been opening personal training centres all over the country. Apparently, more is always better. I was told to ride the wave that I had created. According to them, expansion was a natural and intelligent progression. It was about then that I started to wonder about my intelligence. What if the intelligent thing was not the right thing for me, I wondered?

What if their intelligent was my stupid?

Apparent Success

In the middle of all my apparent success, it dawned on me that my internal reality wasn’t a reflection of my external reality. It also dawned on me that success is different things for different people. One person’s dream career will be someone else’s nightmare. I began to consider my values. My purpose. My reason for getting out of bed. I considered what work meant to me. The place I wanted it to have in my life. Was work solely for the purpose of creating financial wealth and growing a company, and if so, to what end? What if all the busy-ness, money, long hours, employees and pats on the back didn’t equate to happiness for me? Was I still successful then?

An unhappy success?

My staff and I were getting busier and busier but I wondered what the cost might be over the long term. At times, I felt like I was heading towards physical, mental, spiritual and emotional bankruptcy. Lots of money but no wealth.

The Purpose of Work?

As a kid and young adult, I had been ‘taught’ that the whole purpose of work was to generate money. To pay the bills. To acquire assets. To create some security and stability. And to “set myself up for the future”. They were the rules. You finish school and then you get a job. Or maybe, you start a business. I was doing what I had been taught but for some reason, my work wasn’t working for me. I started to question the conventional work paradigm. I decided that I needed to look at old things in new ways. Sure, I understood the practical side of going to work each day (paying bills, etc.) but I allowed myself to consider a career that might meet – not only my financial needs – but also, my mental, emotional and creative needs.

I decided that money was a resource for living, not a reason for living.

My original plan to be a trainer, coach and educator had almost been lost along the way. In the course of a few years, I had somehow transformed myself from happy, laid-back personal trainer to a pretending-to-be-happy-and-laid-back (but really stressed and anxious) business man. Not the outcome I was after.

A Turning Point

One night (actually, early one morning) in the late nineties, I woke up and could feel my heart racing. While most people were sleeping, I was stressing about work. Laying there in my bed, I could literally feel a pounding pulse in my neck; which always helps with that feeling of anxiety! Nothing like a little adrenalin to relax you in the middle of the night! It was two o’clock and yet again, I was worried about work.

In that not-very-comfortable moment, I found a new level of clarity and certainty about what I did and didn’t want for my life. For my career. I didn’t want to be a business mogul. Other people wanted that but I didn’t. And that was okay. I didn’t want a hundred employees. And that was okay too. I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur. The thought of opening more and more businesses didn’t excite me; it stressed me. In the middle of my success, I actually craved for less. Less complications. Less commitments. Less fifteen-hour days. Less business meetings. Less conflicts to resolve.

I also wanted more. More teaching. More learning. More coaching. I wanted more spontaneity and less strategy. More laughing and less over-thinking. More passion and less logic. More calm and less chaos.

And I definitely wanted more quality sleep.

I came to realise that there is no universally desirable or optimal career path. And that I would need to discover my own best career. My own version of success. Happiness. Contentment. I discovered that ‘successful business’ did not necessarily equal successful life.

A New Plan

Within twelve months of my nocturnal revelation, I had down-sized my business empire to one gym (I sold everything else) and twenty-ish employees. I had enrolled in and commenced full-time study at university (which I continued for three years and then became a college lecturer for another two). During my time at college, I made way less money than before and loved every minute of it. Over time, I reduced my work hours from around ninety to forty per week and my dominant emotional state shifted from ‘anxious and over-thinking’ to calm, happy and content.

Instead of doing what ‘I was supposed to do’ I began doing what I loved. I listened to my heart more and my head less. And yes, that might sound cheesey but it’s totally true. I’m of the opinion that we ignore our inner voice (intuition, gut, instinct – call it what you will) at our peril. Prior to this point in my life, there were times when I was too logical. Too strategic.

Keeping in mind that sometimes logic and strategy is a euphemism for fear.

A Career Blueprint

So, I decided to ‘build’ my best career. I stopped what I was doing and found some space. Mental space. Emotional space. I stepped back from the rules, the expectations and the norms. I began to visualise what my best career might look, feel and function like. As I let go of my self-limiting beliefs and ridiculous rules, the picture in my mind became clearer. I didn’t want to spend my days being a business man, marketing bloke, number cruncher or entrepreneur. I wanted to be a teacher (not the classroom variety but a teacher nonetheless). A speaker. A writer. A student. I wanted to explore and develop some media opportunities. I wanted to have a quiet home office and maybe even an outdoor office surrounded by trees. I wanted to step out of the box I had built for myself and to explore my creative self. To see who I might become and what I might create when I let go of my obligation-mindset.

And Now…

These days, I still own the gym (well, 70% of it) but I don’t run it. Johnnie and Mikey have that responsibility and they’re great at it. When I’m not working corporately (coaching, consulting, speaking) or doing radio stuff, I work from home. In summer, I write, coach and create mostly from my outdoor office (the one surrounded by beautiful trees) and in the cooler weather, I work inside; like I am right now. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful and for me, it’s success.

And, it doesn’t feel like work. :)

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