Reclaim Your Future: 12 Practices To Help You Own Your Life

Note: This is the second of a two-part series about reclaiming your future. In Part 1, I described the increasingly surreal, matrix-like climate that government seems to be creating, and touched on some reasons for taking charge of your life. In this part, I provide an overview of actions you can take to begin to own your life, and exercise more control over your destiny. To go deeper on any point, just follow the links.

Reclaim Your Future (2)Have you ever found yourself saying about another person, that they ought to get a life? Yeah, me too. And if you’re like me, on occasion, you’ve probably found yourself admitting, “Man, I need to get a life!!” So, my question is, when do you say that? [Tweet this]  

Well, again drawing on personal experience, I’ll bet you’ve been most prone to feel a need for big change when:

        • You’ve felt like things were slipping out of your control.
        • Things beyond your control were negatively affecting you.
        • You’ve felt obligated in some uncomfortable way.
        • You faced too many competing demands, and felt overwhelmed.

Too often, people feel the biggest need for change when they’re trapped in circumstances that cause pain. And there’s no bigger source of pain, than a feeling of overwhelm that makes you feel helpless. It’s even more painful when you see things you can change, but you’re afraid to give yourself permission. [Tweet this]  

Well, stop it! Instead, get ready to take action!

I won’t claim to have an answer for your specific circumstances. Owning your life and reclaiming your future is ultimately up to you. [Tweet this]  Still, here are 12 ideas to get you started:

1. Journey Inward.

Since the time Socrates first uttered the injunction “Know Thyself,” countless others have chimed in with the same advice. So, I’m betting you’ve heard this. Yet, I’d guess you haven’t really done the kind of deep dive of introspection that leads to genuine insight. If not, why not give it a shot? And if you need an easy way to get started you may want to check out, Kerry Pastine’s nifty little book.

2. Establish Your Quest.

It’s very likely that one of the biggest challenges you’ve ever faced – or need to face – is making a conscious decision about what you want out of life. Yet, counterintuitive as it seems, you’ve probably been trying to achieve it for a very long time. You see, I believe we decide pretty early on, and often unconsciously, what we want our lives to be about. It’s a big reason, why I’m such an advocate of uncovering your story. I’ve coached lots of people on doing this, with great result. But I know for some, this retrospective exercise is tedious. So, alternatively, you may want to invest effort in some visioning work to figure out your quest.

3. Understand How Others See You.

Having worked with lots of people on their “personal brands,” I can tell you that many have only a faint idea about the real value they deliver to others. Maybe that’s you too. So, how do you find out? You ask. You can ask others directly, or you can choose to do an anonymous 360 survey. However, you do it, you’re likely to validate things you already know, but also to uncover a few surprises. Still, if you are opting for the red pill, this provides a unique reality check.

4. Be Authentically You.

As you probably know, we’ve crossed a threshold into a value-driven world. It’s no longer sufficient to define yourself in terms of a title or professional category. Instead, you need to answer a prospective employer’s question, “What can you do for me?” So, you need to position your unique value. Yet, who you are and what makes you worth knowing is a question that will be on the mind of everyone you meet, whether you meet them at a social function, at a community event, or at the gym. And when you meet others, it always helps you to connect when you’re being your best self.

5. Seek Belonging.

Of course, it’s easier to connect with others when you’re tuned in to the needs, wants, values, and beliefs of the communities you seek to belong to. People tend to gravitate to people they resonate with. And if you’ve ever experienced the magic of discovering shared interests and experiences, you already know this. Now build on it. Because the possibility of becoming known, liked, and trusted by others can often hinge on the perception that you’re “one of us,” and that you “get it.” So, find your people in all parts of your life, and make yourself visible to them!

6. Open Yourself Up To New Relationships. 

It’s said that variety is the spice of life, and this is ever more true of relationships.  So, seek out friends from a diverse array of ages, genders, ethnicities, and locations. Interacting with people from around the world can broaden your perspectives, and enrich your human experience. Diverse FriendsThis is much easier than ever because social media allows you to put yourself out there. So, jump in. And when you do, be a proactive conversation starter. Often saying hello and making a relevant comment often launches relationships! Do this in face-to-face meet ups too. In fact, forget the script, and dare to engage in conversations without a net.

While you’re reaching out to make new friends, don’t forget to cultivate relationships with people in your work-related communities. You probably already know lots of people who matter to your work life. Still, there is real benefit in growing that community beyond geographic and industry boundaries. Again, think variety! There is some evidence that you become more valuable as you grow a wide and diverse network.

7. Run Your Career Like A Free Agent.

The world of work has changed. Forever. While it’s true that there are still people who fit the traditional model of employee, the trend is toward free agency. Most often, this means you’re a contractor, and probably short-term. You make a valuable contribution to projects for as long as you’re needed. Then you move on. So, even as you deliver value to one client, you always need to be looking for that next opportunity. Being a free agent requires skillful self-management as well as clarity about what matters to you in finding happiness at work. Yet, more fundamentally, it means choosing yourself! Because if you don’t, you risk becoming a career zombie.

8. Learn New Things.

You probably already know that in a rapidly changing world, it’s important to keep up. Lots of people don’t, but it doesn’t mean you have to join them. If you want to reclaim your future, you need to do the learning that makes your career portable across time. Determine what you need to learn, then put yourself in charge of making sure it happens. And if you need a little extra motivation to start, see what one of the most challenging fitness systems can teach you about success.

9. Take Care of Yourself.  

Owning your life means you’re responsible for regular maintenance.  So, dedicate time to the self-care that will sustain your personal vitality. As you know, it means investing time in proper nutrition, exercise, and other wellness practices. Still, there are ways to fire up your resilience by adding other successful living practices.

10. Forget About Reinventing Yourself.

Many people, maybe even you, often face life’s disappointments with the resolve to reinvent themselves. It sounds pretty attractive, actually. Perhaps because of the promise of a fresh start. Problem is, self-reinvention is a myth, and can lead to an illusion of change. Better to engage in the kind of critical self-assessment and learning that allows you to bring out your best.

11. Decide To Be Happy.  

How do you attain happiness? Well, if you’re like a lot of people, you might be waiting for some magic event or set of circumstances that will make you happy. Decide To Be HappyThe truth is, though, happiness is less a matter of circumstance than personal choice and daily practices. And there is some significant happiness research to back this up. Turns out, there are eight happiness practices that work. Find out what they are and start applying them right now!!

12.  Give Yourself Permission To Keep Trying.

It’s pretty amazing how often people who need to make some positive change will announce their bravery or say they’re giving themselves permission. Declarations are great! But change only lives in action. And mastery only results when you move through feeble your first steps to eventual mastery. Sure, we all know what Nike and Yoda say about doing and trying. Forget all that, and keep trying. Let’s face it, you don’t learn, and you don’t get better, if you don’t try. On the road to reclaiming your future, you will stumble and fall. Yet, if you truly want to own your life, pick yourself back up, and keep trying.

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Was this helpful? If so, do you want more? Let me know the challenges you face, and I’ll address them in future posts. Just leave a comment. Or, if you’d like to privately share a challenge for me to address, use my contact page.

Escape the Matrix and Reclaim Your Future

Note: I’m generally not a fan of two-part posts. Yet, in thinking about the time you may have to read, I felt breaking my nearly 3,000 words into two parts would be best.  In this part, I want to highlight the context for the strategies I will present in Part 2. In any event, I hope each part is a worthwhile read for you. So, let’s get started.

Living IllusionI don’t know how you feel about the current state of things, but it sure seems to me that increasingly we are living in some kind of Matrix-like world. Actually, I’ve written about this before. Yet, before saying much more, I want to share the definition of the matrix that inspired my first post:

“One way to interpret the movie is that we’re supposed to realize that there are lots of games out there, and many of them are designed to deceive you, to keep you feeling as if you’re running the show when you’re not.”

That observation comes from Chris Brogan who was discussing the premise of the movie, The Matrix.

When I wrote my original post, I was offering advice on job search to people feeling the heat of an economy that’s in pretty poor shape. It’s still in poor shape. And yet, the fact that the economy is in horrible shape, and only getting worse is not even the scary part. No, what’s truly frightening is the view, as recently delivered by some government officials, that the projected loss of jobs actually empowers people. [Tweet this] 

It doesn’t.

Earned Success, Happiness, and Longevity

Frankly, I hold to the belief that true happiness, optimal health, and longevity are tightly related to the idea of earned success, which economist Arthur C. Brooks discusses in his book, The Road to Freedom, as well as in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. Referencing the work of psychologist Martin Seligman on learned helplessness, Brooks states:

“People simply give up and stop trying to succeed…During experiments, Mr. Seligman observed that when people realized they were powerless to influence their circumstances, they would become depressed and had difficulty performing even ordinary tasks.”

In my experience as an outplacement consultant, I can attest to the fact that people without jobs are thrown onto an emotional roller coaster. And job loss has as much to do with harming sense of identity and relationships as it does with forfeiture of money and health insurance. Worse, the longer people are jobless, the less attractive they are to prospective employers. [Tweet this]  Over time, that sense of loss and helplessness can only become deeper.

Yet, this is about more than loss of identity and depression. Not working may even have an impact on how long you live. In their book, Successful Aging, John W. Rowe, M.D. and Robert L. Kahn, PhD, discuss a three-part model for longevity: (1) avoiding disease, (2) maintaining high cognitive and physical function, and (3) engagement with life. Significantly, engagement with life is determined by continued productive activity and maintaining relationships with other people.

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Your Goals: Think Journey Not Destination

JourneyAh, a new year, a fresh start. Well, start yes. Follow through, not so much. Statistics show that of the people who make New Year’s resolutions, about 65% abandon them after just one month. What’s even more remarkable is that the resolutions made have amazing consistency across groups of people and over time. 

Here are five of the 2014 top ten New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Lose Weight.
  2. Getting Organized.
  3. Spend Less,
  4. Save More.
  5. Enjoy Life to the Fullest.
  6. Staying Fit and Healthy.

See what I mean about consistency? And if you look at the other five, you’ll find no surprises there either.

I don’t know about you, but I always find myself amused and amazed by this annual ritual. Why do so many people follow the same cycle of resolution, attempt, and failure? [Tweet this]  And why do they tend to do this repeatedly, despite all the advice that’s available.

 New Year’s Resolutions: Just Another Bad Habit

Now, I’m no expert, but having recently finished Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, I have a new insight. It seems to me that the whole resolution dance is itself a habit. A bad one. [Tweet this]  It starts with a cue (New Year’s) that prompts a routine (set new goals) and ends in a reward (false sense of action).

Fortunately, you can change the habits that keep holding you back. And if you don’t have time to read Duhigg’s excellent book, he has posted a helpful book excerpt on the process at his site. It’s a great place to start.

Specific Is Better

Perhaps the biggest problem with resolutions, and even with the goals people typically set, is their lack of specificity. So, how to change that? I’ll bet you already know. SMART objectives. Because these are focused on time,action, and results, they allow for ongoing evaluation of progress and refinement of actions.

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Your Quest Is Your Story

Your QuestOkay, let’s face it. If I were to ask you to tell me about your quest, you’d probably give me a funny look and walk away. Well, unless you’re into online game experiences like MMORPG. But even then, we might quickly end up talking past each other.

What’s Your Story?

I bring up the idea of quest because I’ve been thinking about ways to help people tune into their personal stories. Despite the nearly incessant advice to tell your story, many people find it daunting. [Tweet this]

In fact, in recognizing the need to get story telling advice to more people, my friend Jeff, recently invited me to appear on The Next Step with Jeff Rock. He wanted to discuss several personal brand story telling tips I’d once blogged about, and to go into a little more depth. While you may want to listen to our radio chat, or read my original post, I wanted to offer you new perspective on story.

On some level, I suppose today’s emphasis on uncovering and telling your story can seem like so much hype. It seems trendy.  So, you may think emphasis on story will simply pass. Only it won’t: Because we live in story. [Tweet this]

Stories are at the very core of our humanity. Stories are how we make sense of the events of our lives. As Seth Godin points out, it’s the power of narrative that keeps our lives consistent and predictable. Or, we can harness that power to change our lives for the better!

Controlling Our Narrative

Godin notes that too often the stories we tell ourselves get in the way of more effectiveness and success. They create a comfort zone that holds us back. I think this is especially the case when we navigate life on autopilot. We lose control of our own narrative when we operate without self-knowledge. As a consequence, we fail to make choices that let us live in a way that’s personally meaningful and fulfilling.

Controlling our own narrative means shaping our own story. [Tweet this] And that requires having some sense of what we’re seeking in life. It helps us build on experiences that have significance to us, as well as direct our efforts toward achieving what we most want for ourselves. Ultimately, our narrative is about finding and achieving our own personal vision of success.

How Your Quest and Your Story Are Related

Our lives are filled with many ups and downs. We succeed. We fail. We trip and we get up. Yet, the reality is that while many things happen to us, only some experiences factor into our story. So, the question becomes how do we identify the experiences that fit into our narrative and move us forward toward success. [Tweet this]

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Don’t Become A Career Zombie: How To Survive the Apocalypse

For my last post, I drew on some Halloween inspiration to help you avoid the fate of The Invisible Man in managing your online presence. I promised a second installment to share how a career lesson from the zombie apocalypse of World War Z applies to you. So, read and learn.

Apocalyptic retro poster. Sunset. Grunge background.I love it when I gain perspective from unlikely places! This is probably not so surprising. I’ll bet it’s the same for you.  Yet, for me, the more unlikely the source of insight, the bigger the impact. So, stick with me, and I’ll show you what I mean.

Lately, I’ve been reading, Max Brooks’ World War Z. What’s amazing is that it has offered what I think is a central lesson for career management, today. Yeah, I know. Zombie war? Career management? You’re probably thinking, “Give me a break!” [Tweet This]

Not A Zombie Crisis But An Economic One

Frankly, needing to survive a zombie crisis is highly unlikely. Yet, we have, for several years, been living through economic crisis – with clear impacts on careers. This is not news. Yet, what may surprise you is that this jobs crisis has deep roots. [Tweet This] In fact, writers like Charles Handy and William Bridges, long ago predicted the demise corporate positions. And despite the fact that people continue to pursue full-time spots, Dan Pink has correctly characterized our nation as a free agent one – and it continues to evolve.

So, what does this have in common with surviving a zombie war?

World War Z character Arthur Sinclair, Junior, in describing an effort known as the National Reeducation Act, talks about how careers like executive, analyst, consultant which were viable in the prewar world became totally inadequate in the time of crisis. The world no longer needed people to talk on the phone to broker deals or to review contracts. He then makes an astute observation:

“That’s the way the world works. But one day it doesn’t. No one needs a contract reviewed or a deal brokered. … For some, this was scarier than the living dead.”

By contrast, the people who did well were

“… people who knew how to take care of themselves, how to survive on very little and work with what they had.”

This is as true in our real crisis as it is in Brooks’ fictional one.

Choosing Yourself

While it’s important to have specific strategies, I think this suggests a fundamental capacity for self-direction. Over the years, I’ve tended to think of that as making choices that allow you to own your life. Yet, there is another slant on autonomy that’s offered up by James Altucher who calls characterizes it as choosing yourself.

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Hiding In Plain Sight

The Invisible ManAh, it’s that time of year! You know, beer fests and Halloween. I don’t know about you, but it’s actually Halloween that most fires me up!  Not only is it good fun, but it also offers rich symbolism and abundant metaphor. So much so, it inspired me to write a couple of posts that apply eerie – and even ghoulish – themes to career success.

This first post focuses on avoiding the fate of The Invisible Man in managing your online presence.

Meet Griffin

In the classic novella by H.G. Wells, the main character, Griffin, is a man consumed with his greed for power and fame. As a scientist, he believes that “…if a person’s refractive index is changed to exactly that of air and his body does not absorb or reflect light, then he will be invisible.” Of course, he decides to carry out this procedure on himself. And voilà! He becomes invisible. But there’s one small problem. He can’t reverse the process. This, of course, leads to mental instability and his ultimate death!

Avoid Using Camouflage

Being able to hide oneself does not, of course, require becoming invisible. Actually, the ability to hide in plain sight is built into nature. It’s called camouflage. It’s a protective adaptation that allows organisms to blend in with their surroundings.

Camouflage may provide survival advantages in the wild. Yet, blending in is a huge disadvantage in the world of work. [Tweet This] In fact, if you’re a consumer of career and business advice, you know the emphasis is not on fitting in but on standing out. In today’s competitive world, the thinking goes, you need to discern and leverage your personal brand across a range of media – and especially on line.

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How To Be Everything Other People Aren’t

Dare To Be YouHave you ever thought about what makes you truly different? I have, and I’m betting you have too. Of course, the bigger question is the extent to which you can translate those insights into more success in your career and business life. One way, of course, is to develop your personal brand. Yet, in pursuing a recipe for branding yourself, you risk being just like everyone else.  [Tweet This]

So, what to do?

I have some ideas. Before I get to them, however, I want to give you a little context. It comes from the work of Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon. In her book, Different, she tells the stories of brands that have broken the mold, in some way, to stand out and attract loyal followings.

I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of upsetting the status quo! Frankly, it can be risky, but it seems those who do, reap some very nice rewards. [Tweet This]

Take Cirque du Soleil, for example.

It is one example of what Professor Moon calls “Idea Brands.” That is, brands that challenge limits and assumptions. They are brands that break away by disrupting our consumption classification patterns with new frames of reference. It’s what Cirque du Soleil accomplished in its careful positioning as “being everything a CIRCUS is not.”

As she points out, idea brands are “…not perfect brands. … They are polarizing brands. They are lopsided brands. …[yet]…they make perfect sense…” Actually, I think the unique imperfection of idea brands, offers some clues for how to be more attractive to the people we want to serve.

Okay, now for some ideas: [Read more…]

Should You Work on Your Personal Brand or Your Personal Attraction?

Cool EggHave you ever noticed how some ideas or activities can get caught up in the causality dilemma? Not sure what that is? Well, you probably know it as “the chicken or the egg?” Certainly, it’s not often that we need to ponder what came first. Yet, there are aspects of our careers and business lives that can benefit from considering causality. Personal branding is one of them.

As I would frame it, the causality dilemma for branding is this: Does “your brand” find its grounding in the carefully crafted word picture you present to the world, or in the way you engage the world every day?

The Brandwagon

As personal branding has become mainstream, there’s been a flood of advice on how to create, or build, yours. These days, it’s not just brand strategists who promote the importance of branding, but also career coaches, resume writers, social media strategists, and other experts. Lots of people are jumping on the “brandwagon.”

As you might expect, the spectrum of advice ranges from on-target and useful to misguided or superficial.  Even detractors have offered advice; namely, personal branding is loathsome, so don’t do it. Yet, the consensus is that you need to have a personal brand, leading more and more people to buy in.

And why not? Building a brand is generally perceived as the hallmark of success in business. It is believed to offer a differentiation that supports competitive advantage. But does it really?
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What CrossFit Can Teach You About Success

CrossFitIf a colleague told you a project was going to be a “slam-dunk,” you’d probably think your prospects for getting it done are excellent!! Similarly, if your manager tells you it’s “gonna take a Hail Mary” to save the business, you get that too. Even if you’re not a fan, sports metaphors are so pervasive that it’s hard to miss their meaning or lessons. Up to now, football, basketball, and baseball metaphors have been most common. There simply aren’t a whole lot of CrossFit success metaphors or lessons… Now there are! [Tweet This]

But wait! What’s CrossFit?

It’s kind of a craze. Still, if you’re not up on your lifestyle news, or if you’re not watching The Biggest Loser, here’s a quick overview. Basically, CrossFit is the “sport of fitness.” It is overall conditioning to prepare people for a high level of general (even elite) fitness. Among the activities it includes are: Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, tire flips, rope climbing, dumbbell swings, handstands, pull-ups, box jumps, broad jumps … and oh yeah, running!!

Each day, select elements will be combined into a Work Out of the Day (WOD), which may be scored in rounds, repetitions, or time. Each group class run during the day does the same WOD, and scores are posted for all to see.

I’ve been doing CrossFit for two and a half years now, and found it more physically challenging than anything I’ve ever done. Reflecting on my progress, recently, I had the insight that CrossFit offers some great lessons for career success. Here are eight:

“Just Do It” is incomplete advice.

I’ve always admired Nike’s well-known philosophy, especially for it’s action orientation. Yet, when it comes to CrossFit, there is definitely a learning curve. Moves can be complex, so you need time to develop your skills. In CrossFit, if you “just do it,” you’re gonna get hurt. [Tweet This] Success lesson: Even though you may be eager to make your mark, success means investing time to learn. Make sure you know what you’re doing.
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Be Yourself, Only Better

goldfish jumping out of the waterHave you ever noticed that a lot of people simply aren’t comfortable in their own skin? Of course you have. I have too. I think it may be true of all of us at different times in our lives. Ultimately, however, we learn and we grow. So, most of us seem to find a level of self-acceptance allows us to have rewarding and successful lives.

What Authenticity Is

Frankly, though, there are some people who translate their discomfort into a quest for self-reinvention. Others, it seems, translate it into an obsessive concern with authenticity. Regarding being authentic, a friend of mine once made the interesting observation that “The people most concerned with being authentic, usually aren’t.” [Tweet This] Perhaps this sort of façade is what prompted Gapingvoid cartoonist, Hugh Mac­Leod, to call one of his e-books, Authenticity Is The New Bulls**t. In it, he lays out a pretty simple success philosophy:

“i. Work hard.

ii. Be nice.

ii. Have great product or service.

iv. Don’t suck.”

I like it. Yet, I think a rewarding and successful life can be even simpler, and may only take trying to be just a little better every single day. While I’d love to claim this insight as my own, it’s actually something I discovered quite by chance. So, let me tell you a little story…

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