I used to frequently have the feeling, that there is something missing in my life, I just couldn’t figure out what it is exactly. At the same time I felt that there is a huge force stopping me to further develop my potential. Despite the fact that I was constantly working on myself. My environment wasn’t helpful here either: Believing, I am too hard on myself, they reminded me of all the things I have achieved in my life and how driven I still am. That it’s time to be happy with what I have and who I am. The thing was: I was happy with myself but yet I wanted to continue to grow and I wanted to feel it.
My last experience which gave me a huge growth was in 2017 when I decided to quit my permanent job to become a freelancer. I did not know what I would do exactly and neither did I have any prospective clients in mind. I only knew that I did not want to continue like this any longer, that I wanted to take ownership in what I do, work in a sustainable way and that I wanted to work with great people who are value-driven. I also knew that I can only benefit from the experience ahead of me and knew that in the worst case I could simply return to where I was which was quite unlikely since I had multiple other options I could explore. In retrospect, I can tell that my mind was sharply in the moment and focused on the process to get “there”.
Ultimately, this was the key: First, I made a decision, there was no point of return. Second, I trusted in myself and on the process. I let go and embraced the uncertainty. I realized I can’t just stand still until it hits me and wait until I have figured that there will be a guaranteed positive outcome. I knew I needed to make a move not knowing whether it would work out. Thirdly, I wasn’t scared about making mistakes or to be judged. Most importantly, I stopped judging myself and instead focused on seeing the things as they are as if I would be a referee observing a game instead of judging. Did you ever witness a referee — let’s take a tennis referee (since I am huge fan of Tennis)– making a disgusted grimace when a players’ serve falls into the net or when a players’ forehand goes too long? That would be out of place. A good player will eventually figure out during the match what he needs to adjust in order to succeed after all — without grieving over a past mishit and blaming himself/herself. I could vividly imagine how it would look like and how it would feel when I have achieved my goals. It did not feel futuristic to me, it felt like as I have got there already. Next, I developed measures that would help me to get there and from that moment on I let go. I didn’t think too much, neither if I was doing the right thing nor if I could really achieve my goal. I just did it. Timothy Gallwey explains in his book “THE INNER GAME of Tennis” — which I can highly recommend. no matter if you are interested in tennis or not — that it is not primarily about victory or defeat, it is about making experiences without judging. You can be your best, when you are able to soothe down the critical voice inside you. Only when you stop being critical and stop controlling your behavior, will you have the opportunity to focus, to be in the moment and do the right things.
The result: 2017/2018 turned out to be the most fulfilling period in my professional career. I got everything I imagined and even more. I have taken ownership, I have worked with wonderful, inspiring and value-driven people and I have worked on projects that mattered — to me and to my clients. On top, I heavily invested in myself to not only further advance but also because I simply became increasingly interested and curious. It felt so natural to me.
Looking back, I wonder what was the most fulfilling aspect. Because, I did not celebrate my success or bragged about it. It was hard work and I am rather deeply humbled and grateful. I can say without any doubt that it was the journey — when I decided that there is no point of return now, to move forward embracing the uncertainty and not wanting to make any compromises any longer. I could have waited for a better job to come along before quitting or I could have taken less fulfilling jobs as a freelancer simply in order to earn some money. Instead, I felt the need step out of my comfort zone. Testing my limits and making it happen was an amazing experience. I can now totally understand why Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka have been looking forward to competing against each other. Victoria Azarenka has been the only player to constantly challenge Serena Williams on tour for which Serena needed to play her best tennis, and so did Victoria. Only then, they were able to test their limits, to become aware of their abilities and ultimately to grow. This goes for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as well if you are rather into male tennis. If you are not into tennis at all, Timothy Gallwey gives the example with surfers: Can you understand why some surfers prefer to wait for the big wave even if it is more challenging and they might fail?
When I compare myself to the person I was 1,5 years ago, then I have changed and I will never be this person again. This is what truly growing means to me. Today, I am working on the goals I set for myself for 2019 and beyond which always starts with a “why”: “what’s in it for me?”.
Asking why is essential, no matter if it is regarding your personal development or to successfully implement projects at work. I often witnessed in the past that people did not take enough time to answer the WHYs and some even considered it as a waste of time with the argument that they could imagine what the client wants and jumped into developing concepts or simply copy and pasting concepts. Imagine all the money wasted when especially million dollar projects evaporate into thin air because the measures did hardly invest in the company’s business or overall marketing goals or due to the copy and pasting you are simply one of many and not unique and outstanding. So imagine, how the process of my personal development can also invest in the growth of your organization, teams and brands.
Here is my checklist for you if you are eager to grow and shape your future.
- Brainstorm what you would want to achieve and be like. Take your time. I brainstormed a whole week during Christmas to figure out my goals for 2019 and beyond. Important is to not be judgemental about your own aspirations. Imagine that everything is possible and you are up for it. Brainstorm as long as you want until you feel lively and excited and feel your ideas are complete.
- Go through every idea and ask yourself why. Why would you want to work on that specific goal? What’s in it for you? How do you feel when thinking about it? Is it an intrinsic desire or something expected from you to be like?
- Choose your top 3–5 goals that just feel right for you and have the most priority for 2019+.
- Now imagine you have already achieved those goals just like a tennis player imagines to win a match before the game even started or during a match how to successfully return a ball. Imagine the outcomes of your goals in detail such as seeing yourself speaking perfectly Italian or being in shape.
- Next, define measures for every goal, what do you think you need to get there? Further training, change of work, a different attitude, learning a new language etc. Also, who could help you on your way? Look for mentors and don’t be shy to approach them! In this stage you might feel uncomfortable because you realize you are about to step out of your comfort zone. This is a natural reaction. Your brain wants to convince you that it is safer not to change anything, that you might not know if you would even succeed, but your brain doesn’t tell you that the price for it is not to grow. If you decide on moving forward then define that this is the point of no return.
- Break your measures into single tasks that are necessary to reach the desired output and block them in your calendar or keep them in your journal. Decide whether it is necessary to tackle more than one task at the same time or one after the other. This will also depend on the time you are willed to spare. Then let go and trust in the process.
- During the process you might realize you could dedicate more time to your goals and you might start to overthink how you spend your days and decide to eliminate activities that rather prevent you from achieving your goals (in a timely manner). From people not believing in you and supporting you, to binge-watching movies and spending time with people who only take and hardly give which takes your energy that you actually need to work on your goals or even reducing the time you used to spent with dear friends (if they love you, they will understand).
- The development process towards your goals might not be linear. Your journey might end up exactly the way you expected or — during your journey — other ideas might cross your mind and other opportunities might come across that are more aspirational to you.
- Stay focused on what truly matters to YOU and be in the moment! Some people will love to give you unsolicited advice. I felt into the trap in actually listening to them and considering their advice which threw me off balance. Unsolicited advice is often based purely on the people’s own narrow perspective. For instance, if a person doesn’t allow himself/herself to step out of his comfort zone, this person is likely to find your ideas crazy and advice you to play it safe instead. Or the other extreme: Those who are over-motivated / “know-it-all” will tell that you either need a bigger or different goal. However, these do not represent your own vision. It is your goal, not theirs! Proactively look for good mentors / coaches who act as your advocate and can differentiate your goals from theirs. During your journey you might become aware of behavior patterns you did not realize before. To be more aware of your behavior pattern and those of your environment I can highly recommend “MINDFUCK — how we sabotage ourselves, and how we can prevent it” by Dr. Petra Bock. Proactively look for mentors / coaches who act as your advocate!
- Give yourself the time to recover: Eliminate constant distractions like the loud notifications from your phone, switch off your email when you work on getting things done, eat healthy and sports to become mentally and physically fitter etc.
Apart from starting an uncertain journey to become a freelancer I could think of other examples in my life making bold moves and sure will you! Making aware of your past success in mastering your life — whatever aspect it was — will give you additional boost in wanting to achieve your next goals.