Years ago, my father shared a simple bit of wisdom with me that you’ve probably heard before: Life is too short, he said. Too short to do something you’re not passionate about, that is.
My father loved his job at General Electric. In fact, he didn’t even think of it as work.
He was on to something. Spending your entire adulthood working a job that provides you with income but no other type of satisfaction is a waste of your life. Consider the prospect of spending 40 years working day in, day out and looking forward only to the weekends and vacation. Yet that’s what most people do.
At the time I had that important talk with my dad, I was studying business at Santa Clara University, and I hated it. On a lark, I took an art class and discovered that working with my hands gave me immense pleasure. I wanted to create! Not only objects but also my ideal life. When I told my father this, his response was to go for it. “Follow your heart,” he said.
Artists never stop creating. You shouldn’t, either.
My father encouraged me to take a risk at a critical juncture. And fortunately, it paid off immensely.
These days, I get to speak with young men who are looking for advice. Looking back, I can see that when I began studying art, I took the first step toward designing my own life. Of course, along the way I did a few things I wish I hadn’t — and I wasted some of my time.
But now, ironically, my journey has come full circle. I’m all about business these days, and I absolutely love it — because the work I do is on my own terms. I use my creativity every day. The traditional way business is taught just didn’t work for me. Now I know better: Business is an art form, too.
Looking to find your own way, and quickly? Here is my best advice on how to design your life the way an artist would.
1. Learn from others.
Find people who inspire you and topics that feed your soul. Dig deep! There is so much information available today. You can truly become an expert very quickly. So, when you discover something that truly excites you, get involved. Find others who are doing something similar and reach out to them. This is easier than it sounds.
Here’s a tip I picked up from Tim Ferriss, the prolific writer and influential podcast host, who approached me for advice back in the day. Before you reach out to someone, do your homework. Know details about that person most people don’t. Flatter and tell this person how much he or she inspires you. Ask questions this person hasn’t heard before. He or she will know you’re being genuine because, obviously, you’ve put in the time.
The next thing you know, this person will ask, “What can I do for you?” Respond that you’d like to be involved in the questioner’s industry and ask if he or she has any suggestions.
Let your enthusiasm show! It’s contagious. And it’s such an attractive quality. Few people will turn you down. This approach is simple and it works. Use it to discover opportunities and get help pursuing them. Truly successful people have had many people in their lives help them. Success, to me, is being able to choose what you want to do each day.
2. Create a plan.
Ask people you admire how they achieved the goals you’re interested in. Don’t get too attached to the plan you create, though, because it’s going to change over and over again. Someone said to me the other day that it’s a little like going off-road when you first start out. There are going be a lot of bumps and things you’d prefer to to avoid, but you’ll get there.
Now that I’m in my sixties, I know that it’s easier to hit a target if one is sitting right in front of you!
Take jobs that will teach you tools that make you indispensable, but don’t let any job define you. Look at it this way: You’re not working for them — they’re working for you. They are paying you to learn, aren’t they? So, raise your hand for everything. You are gathering tools to use later in life.
Select jobs that will give you tools you can use for the rest of your life. I’ve been mostly self-employed. When I have had a job, I’ve always had my next move in mind. Even the lousiest jobs are beneficial if they fit into your plan.
And yes, it’s your plan.
So, raise your hand to take on other responsibilities. Learn as much as you can. Remember, your attitude is your greatest asset. Skills can be taught, but not attitude. That’s priceless.
Following are three must-have skills I recommend you seek out. You don’t necessarily have to go to college to find them. But you will need them to achieve success in designing your life.
Financial intelligence. Work at a bank or take a class. The bottom line is, understand how to make money work for you so you’re not just working for money.
Sales intelligence. Take any sales job. The worse the better! Cold-calling and door-to-door sales are absolutely terrible, but you’ll learn more than you could ever imagine about human nature — which is priceless. With this insight, you can gain some control over any situation. Once you obtain these powers, don’t abuse them.
Management knowledge. Knowing how to manage and lead people so that they’re successful is a powerful tool. If you work at a fast food restaurant, work up to a management position. When you learn to help others, you actually learn how to help yourself. That’s also priceless.
3. Keep an open mind. As I’ve gotten older, I say yes much more often. You never know what might happen. Many opportunities have arisen for me because I was able to keep an open mind.
4. Be curious. Never stop learning. Keep reading. Become a student of life. We all can and should try to improve ourselves.
5. Truly care. Make sure you give the people who matter to you your full attention. Listen deeply. Everyone has something to offer.
6. Look at the obstacles in your life as opportunities. You’re going to encounter problems every day of your life, so choose to look at them differently starting now. I highly recommend reading The Obstacle Is the Way, Ryan Holiday’s powerful book on this subject.
7. Give back. You can never give enough back. Don’t expect anything in return, ever. You’ll be surprised where this attitude can lead.
8. Be dedicated. Create a habit of dedication. Like anything in life, you have to do something more than a few times to get good at it. Also, get in the habit of being on time. It denotes respect.
9. Travel. You can learn a lot about yourself and the world we live in by experiencing other cultures.
10. Embrace new technology, especially as you age. It’s a big world out there, but it’s getting smaller every day. Don’t let yourself be passed by.
11. Protect yourself from the noise. You are truly influenced by the inputs you receive. Don’t pollute your soul with garbage. These days, it’s everywhere.
12. Treat everyone with kindness. Everyone is unique, and everyone is on this journey we call life.
13. Never talk badly about others. Keep your opinions to yourself. When you take the high road, people notice and respect you. Your friends will always come to your defense anyway.
14. Don’t chase money. If you find something you truly love to do, there’s a very good chance you’ll have the money you need to design your life.
The upshot? There will be many ups and downs in your life. Try to enjoy the ride each and every day.