What To Do When The Boat Starts To Sink

Picture the scene: It’s a beautiful spring day so you decide to take a little rowboat out on the lake. You make it out to the middle of the lake, and just as you put your feet up to start enjoying the tranquillity, you notice water starting to pool at your feet.

To your horror, you become aware that the boat has sprung a leak, and you’re slowly sinking.

You realise that in this new reality you find yourself in, there are a couple of options:

  1. Find a way to plug the hole in the boat
  2. Start rowing quickly back to shore before the boat sinks.

Now, I’d say in an ideal situation you’d find something to plug the hole, get rid of the excess in the bottom of the boat and get back to the business of relaxing and enjoying your day right?

In life, we’re presented with many similar, seeming obvious decisions. But often, we end up making the wrong choice – the wrong call at the wrong time.

If you have somewhere you want to end up in your life – an ideal goal you’re striving for – be it a change of career, or building up your savings – whatever it is, there will be steps you need to take today that put you on the right path.

Think of those steps as being the equivalent to plugging the hole in the boat. It’s the making of a budget and allocating savings on your path to financial freedom, or the signing up for training or studying on the path to a new career.

Without taking those steps then the journey is going to be a lot harder. If you try frantically rowing back to shore without dealing with the hole then the chances are you’re going to sink before you get there – stressed, tired and wet. And you’ll have missed out on a lovely day.

A lot of the time we get so focused on the end result, that we forget (or are unwilling) to think about whatever needs to be done to get there. We rush through trying to get to the end, but forget that life is lived in the now.

So whatever it is that you’re aiming for, make sure you first think about the steps you need to get there.

Unleash The Power Of Mentors

It doesn’t matter how smart or talented you are, if you want to get somewhere you need to have some good mentors in your life – people who have been there, done it, and got the T-shirt. It’s so valuable to take that knowledge to become the best you can be.

There are a few different factors to consider when looking at your mentors…

The best isn’t always best

It may sound a little counter-intuitive, but the person who is the best in their field, won’t necessarily make the best mentor. Often with people who are naturally talented or brilliant, they can find it difficult to pass on actionable learnings. Their natural talent enables them to do things that only they can do, so learning how they do it won’t work so well for anyone else.

Leo Messi is probably the best footballer of all time, so for him to try and teach someone else how to do what he does would be a complete waste of time. Far better to learn from someone who might have less talent, but can explain exactly where you’re going wrong and how to make those little changes to make you the best version you can be.

You don’t have to agree with them

It’s also tempting to pick mentors who match well with you. We all have different styles and personalities, so I can understand the reason for choosing someone with a compatible approach. I personally don’t think you need to worry about this quite so much.

I’d argue you could actually learn more from someone who sees the world differently to you – though this will require empathy on your part to be able to make the most of it. The most important thing is that you see them as an expert.

The more the merrier

You might like the idea of having a single Yoda-like mentor to help guide you along the right path, but these are very hard to find. I think it’s far more beneficial to have a few who give value in different areas of your life. You might have a mentor who you trust in your professional life, or from a sport or hobby. There isn’t a magic number, but I always look to learn from as many people as I can.

Mentors come in many forms. You don’t need to know them or get face to face time with them to be counted as a mentor – just someone whose opinions and advice you value. My biggest mentor has always been my father. I have taken his great advice many times over the years, and although I’m not following the same career path as him – and we don’t always agree – I know that any knowledge he imparts comes with years of valuable experience.

Who are the mentors in your life?

Little Fixes

There are times when you need to fix something quickly – if you notice your car tyre is deflating, then it makes sense to get some air in it before you head off. But quick fixes should lead to problems solved. If you keep doing this, eventually the tyre will blow and you’ll have much bigger problems.

The issue arises when we use fixes as a default without ever actually solving the root cause. Going out and getting drunk after a rubbish week to cheer yourself up is a fix – and there’s nothing wrong with that every now and then – But if you have to do it every week because you don’t like your job, then it’s a problem. Fixes should only be temporary, and should always lead to solutions. The only way to make it work long term is to solve the problem and find a new job.

How many situations in your life are you making little fixes, instead of solving the problems? None of us will have to look too hard to find some.

The next time an issue comes up – ask yourself if you are just applying a quick fix, or whether you can take the time and energy to solve the problem.

Embrace Your Mistakes

From an early age, and throughout our lives we’re conditioned to try and avoid making mistakes at all costs. Mistakes are bad, and there’s no upside. Playing football as a kid, the first thing you’re taught is “if in doubt, kick it out” – meaning it’s better to give up possession rather than risk making a mistake.

This sends out the wrong message and creates problems down the line as children enter their teenage, and then adult lives. It is impossible to live a meaningful life without making plenty of mistakes.

Rather than avoiding them like the plague, mistakes should be viewed as opportunities to learn and grow. The things that are worth doing, are hard to do. The feedback of trying, failing, learning, trying again and succeeding is how you improve. Figure out where you went wrong, and go again.

The only mistakes that should be avoided are the ones you don’t learn from because these are the ones you will keep making over and over again. Fortunately, it’s entirely within your control to avoid them.

Fake It Till You Make It

There is a phrase I like, and I try to adhere to it often. I’m sure you’ve heard “fake it till you make it”. The reasoning goes that by acting as if you have complete confidence you will appear more confident, and as a result you will be more likely to achieve the desired outcome.

Having to present to a room of 100 people feels much more intimidating than having to present to just 10 people, but the actual difficulty level is the same in both cases. In this situation, by faking confidence – smiling, holding eye contact, solid ‘A’ stance – the chances are it will go much better than if you look at the floor, mumble and generally look like you’d rather be anywhere else in the world. Even if that’s exactly how you feel inside.

Alternatively, sailing a boat along the coast on a nice summers day isn’t overly challenging for a novice sailor, but if you tried to cross an ocean you will quickly run into trouble unless you have vast experience. Acting like you know what you’re doing in that situation would almost certainly have disastrous consequences. Far better to build up your ability gradually before taking such a big step up.

These are two fairly extreme examples, but often in life, we get these types of situations mixed up and deal with them in the wrong way. “Fake it till you make it” won’t work for everything.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the workplace. You will find plenty of people who are afraid to test themselves and push to the next level, falsely believing that they aren’t ready or good enough to succeed. They find themselves trapped and frustrated.

You will also find people who have all the confidence in the world, and talk a great game, but don’t have the knowledge or experience to deal with tough situations. When push comes to shove they find themselves completely out of their depth.

It’s important to understand the situation in which you find yourself, and know whether you can push through the discomfort and come out the other side, or if you need to take a step back, and gain the skills you need to get to where you need to go.

What Are You Looking For?

We all know someone who just seems to have rotten luck right? No matter what they do, they just can’t catch a break and everything goes wrong for them. They’ll be the one to tell you about how unsafe it is to drive a car or fly a plane, and how everything on the internet is horrible and negative.

And we all know another person who is always super positive. Everything just seems to fall into place for them. They constantly seem to meet really interesting people, and their plans are full of nice surprises. They only see the good in each situation.

We all live in the same world – a world that’s equal parts wonderful and terrible. Many of us are having a similar experience, so how is it that two people could see it so differently?

Someone who defaults to negative thoughts, who thinks that only bad things happen to them, that the world is against them,  and they never get any luck will be looking out for all the bad stuff – and every time they see it, their viewpoint will be reinforced. The slightest challenge becomes a mountain to overcome, and further proves that life is a cruel game.

But the opposite is also true.

Someone who sees the world in a positive light, assuming that people are friendly and experiences are good will find that too. And every time they get a smile from a stranger, or an outcome is positive, their viewpoint will be reinforced. The slightest challenge becomes an opportunity to grow.

By looking out for something, chances are that is what you’ll find. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you tell yourself you’re going to have a shitty time, you probably will.

Of course, it’s impossible to be positive all the time. Life will throw you some curve balls, and there isn’t a whole lot you can do to avoid some of them. What you can do something about is how you choose to react. By keeping hold of the negativity, and carrying it around with you the chances are that will impact the rest of your experiences. It is rare for an experience to be entirely positive or entirely negative, but by focusing on the good, it’s likely you’ll have a far happier time.

Love What You Do

As the saying goes, when you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. It’s a lovely thought, but I’m not sure I can get on board with it entirely. Many people are not living the life they think they want, the Instagram life that looks like an extended highlight reel of happiness. Never a quiet moment.

If perfection is what you’re after, then I’m sorry to say but you’re in for some disappointment. Perfect doesn’t actually exist (and if it did, it would be quite dull after a while). Life is not all sunshine and rainbows – it can sometimes be difficult, and boring, and painful, and a bit of a grind – but that is the balance of life. You can’t have ups without downs, it’s the bits in between that are where we find our growth. If you think of the best moments of your life, they are usually as a result of overcoming some adversity or pushing yourself past where you thought you could go. Those are the truly rewarding moments in life.

In reality, very few of us will get paid to do the thing we love the most, and fewer still will get paid enough to actually live on. The key is to find rewards in the ordinary aspects of life. Regardless of what your job is, if you can find the challenge in it, and have a degree of control over the decisions you make then you can be fulfilled.

Sports icons and movie stars have some of the most envied jobs in the world, but assuming that playing the sport, or acting is the best part of those jobs, consider how much time they actually get to spend doing that. The dream job for most young guys is that of a professional footballer. They only spend 90 minutes a week (assuming they are even in the team) doing the fun bit of their job. Assuming a normal full-time job is 40 hours a week that translates to less than 4% of their time. The rest is spent either having to do the same drills over and over again on the training ground, or else sitting on coaches and aeroplanes, or spending several nights in some hotel room away from their family. Now don’t get me wrong, they have a very enviable lifestyle – and they get paid an absolute fortune for the privilege – but there is also a lot of boring stuff they have to go through as well.

It can be easy to glance enviously someone else’s life, thinking how fortunate they are, but the chances are you’re only seeing the very best bits. You don’t get to see the other 96% of the time, filled with the same stretches of boredom and grind that we all experience at some stage. Once you realise that, then you can see the wonderful opportunities that are available in all our lives.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes in the world, which I think perfectly sums things up:

“It’s the silence between the notes that makes the music”

Second Album Syndrome

In 2003, a little-known band released their debut album, without much fanfare or expectation. ‘Permission To Land’ was the album, The Darkness was the band. Overnight they became a household name, playing major venues across the world, and though largely seen as a bit of a joke, they were undoubtedly talented musicians who created an album unlike anything else at the time- packed full of great riffs and earworm choruses. Permission To Land is still one of my all-time favourite albums; impossible to listen to without a big grin on my face.

The Darkness’ debut album, Permission To Land

Two years later, the follow-up, ‘One Way Ticket To Hell…And Back’ was released and, well, flopped. A couple of half decent songs weren’t quite enough to make up for the rest of the album, which lacked all of the charm and fun of the original. As quickly as they had burst onto the scene, The Darkness disappeared into obscurity. The wheels had already started coming off by this point, with lead singer Justin Hawkins eventually having a bit of a breakdown.

This situation is far from unique to The Darkness. Known variously across the world as either the ‘sophomore slump’, ‘second album syndrome’ or ‘second-year blues’ this phenomenon refers to when a follow-up album (or film, book, athlete, sports team) fails to hit the heights of the debut effort. A quick google will reveal countless lists of examples, from The Strokes to The Stone Roses. Seemingly the more successful the debut, the harder it is to follow. Lightning doesn’t strike twice as they say.

On one hand, the first effort has been crafted over a lifetime, and without the expectation has been crafted lovingly from a place of truth. The follow up however will only have a year or two, and often less, to try and capitalize on the ‘buzz’. But if the talent is there, then why should the quality drop off so much between efforts? I think the problem comes when the focus is lost. Very few people create with the expectation of becoming rich and famous. They do it because they love it – because it’s what they feel in their heart. Once they start believing the hype, they’re no longer creating what they feel, they’re creating what will be the most successful. They stop trying to make another great piece of work and instead try to make what they think others will want.

Money is a great servant but a terrible master.

The people who avoid second album syndrome are the ones who stay true to themselves, the ones who make what they make for themselves, and no one else. Most of us will not experience creating something which is beloved by millions, but it’s still easy for us to get caught up in our own hype. If you find yourself at a crossroads, remember what got you started in the first place. Do what you do because you love doing it, not for any other reason. Being distracted by things outside of your control like money or what other people might want will nearly always end up in failure.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, this story has a happy ending. The Darkness are still going. After several stints in rehab, lineup changes and infighting, they took a further 7 years to release their third album, and while it was hardly a commercial success it was at least critically appreciated. Now sober, happy and healthy, they have continued to release a new album every couple of years and touring regularly. They remembered why they became musicians in the first place, and once again make the music they want to make.

Start Something

There are plenty of reasons why you might fail:

  • The idea isn’t good enough…
  • The brief is unclear…
  • You spent too much money…
  • Or not enough…
  • You may launch too early…
  • Or leave it too late…
  • You target the wrong people…
  • You could be too niche…
  • Or too broad…
  • You might not be good enough (yet!)…
  • Or experienced enough…
  • Or lucky enough.

But there is one sure-fire way to guarantee failure:

  • You never started.

The first step is always the hardest because you have it all to do, but once you make a start, you have something to build on. The momentum makes each new step that little bit easier.

Of course there will be hard times, and unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee success, but with every step in the right direction, you have the experience of all your previous steps to learn from and improve on.

As the saying goes ‘the things you regret most in life are the risks you didn’t take’. If you don’t try anything then technically you will also never fail, but what kind of life would that be? When all is said and done, you will feel more fulfilled having given it your best shot. So, what’s in the way of you starting something?

Setting Yourself Up For Success

Think about something you want to achieve – a personal goal perhaps. What would success look like to you? What are the steps you need to take to make it happen?

It really doesn’t matter how anyone else would see success for you, only what you think. The key to defining success is to set objectives that are within your control to achieve and not dictated by outside factors.

For me, I plan to be a successful writer this year. On the face of it, that might seem like quite a fanciful statement, but when you break it down to the separate parts it becomes a lot more manageable. I write for me, not for anyone else. I want to improve as a writer and use my writing as a way to express myself. I have defined what success looks like for me using these 3 objectives:

1) To write every day, for at least 20 minutes. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing for my blog, writing fiction or journalling, all that matters is that for 20 minutes every day I sit down and write.

2) To post at least once to my blog every week. At the moment, that’s about as much as I can manage, but I would like to up this to twice a week.

3) To see improvement in my writing over time. I will measure this in terms of both the quality of output, as well as how much editing I have to do from the first draft. Hopefully, by the end of the year, I’ll be able to look back on these early posts and see how far I’ve come along.

So that’s it. I’ve not overcomplicated things and kept it as streamlined as possible. There might be some goals where you want to really push yourself by setting really ambitious goals. I want to solidify the habit first, so if I can stick to this in 2019, then I can pick up the pace for the year after.
Whatever you want to achieve, this simple framework can help you to make it a reality.