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.

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.

Finding Purpose

No one particularly enjoys Mondays, but apparently, today is the worst of them all. The 3rd Monday in January is known as ‘Blue Monday’ – the most depressing day of the year. It turns out that this concept was actually researched and created by a travel company a few years ago in an attempt to sell more holidays in January, but still, it is a time when people can feel most down. A mix of the post-Christmas blues, rubbish weather, having to go back to work and what feels like a lifetime waiting for payday all help drive the mood down to rock bottom. But you can at least take comfort in the thought that if today is the worst day, then tomorrow can only be better.

Remember, you are in control. You can choose to notice the things in life which you are thankful for, instead of focussing too much on what you don’t have. Often, that empty feeling can stem from a perceived lack purpose, or a desire to do more with your time. To give back. If you’re feeling a little directionless – you want to do something, but can’t quite figure it out – then ask yourself the following question:

If you were given a vast sum of money, and you had to spend it on improving the world in some way, what would you choose to spend it on?

What’s your first thought after reading that? It might be that one thing jumps out at you straight away. Some people are already very clear on the cause closest to their heart, but it took me a little while to really think what my answer would be.

I’d never really thought of purpose in this way before. I’ve been happy enough obsessively following one interest for a while, before switching over to something else and repeating, but never getting down to that deeper level. I haven’t been one for a grand plan and have instead chosen to focus more on the here and now, following whatever takes my fancy at the time. As I get older, I want to find a larger purpose – something in the world that really drives me to change and be the best version of myself that I can be.

So if, like me, you find yourself thinking about what to do, and which direction to take then maybe you should ask yourself this question. The answer you come to might surprise you, but once you have it you can start taking steps in the right direction. Very few people get to change the world, but we can all make a difference in our own small way, and you never know where the path may lead.

Morning Routine

When I’ve studied the habits of the people I look up to, there are a few things that seem come up time and time again. One such thing is a productive morning routine. If you’re anything like me then your current morning routine consists of setting your alarm for as late as you can get away with, snoozing it a couple of times, then rushing through your essentials in some sort of mad dash to get to work on time. As I’m sure you’ll agree this isn’t exactly the stuff of champions.

On those rare occasions where I do get up on time, and fit in some exercise or writing it sets me up for a more content and engaging day. By fitting in some ‘me time’ at the start of the day for things like writing and meditation it means I’m not trying to cram it all in to the evening when I get home from work.

It often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done that we want to. I don’t have time for a 90 min morning routine!! – but it comes down to making conscious choices about what is most important to you, and then making sure you stick to it. So, it’s not a new years resolution as such, more a tweaking of current habits which should set me up for much more fulfilling days.

Finally, any productive morning routine starts the night before. Making sure you have a good night’s sleep is essential for wellbeing, so going to sleep earlier is part of this new deal. No more falling asleep with the TV on, or checking something on the phone. I’m going to have my book on the bedside only.

So for the last few weeks I’ve been trying to stick to my new routine- slightly different for weekdays and weekends. The first thing I do is 35-50 pushups, not a major work out but enough to get the blood pumping and it wakes me up. I’ve started exploring yoga, and have learned a couple of basic routines. I’ll alternate between that and meditating, as I find they both have a similar effect on me. After that I’ll do some writing, whether that be for the blog, some journaling/ idea logging or some creative writing. Once I’ve done that then I do the essentials – looking after the dog, and getting ready to leave the house looking at least semi presentable. Ideally I’ve left enough time to sit down and have some breakfast, otherwise I take it to work and eat at my desk.

On the whole I’ve managed to keep it up, though there have been a few days (mainly Mondays) when I have really struggled to get out of bed. I’ve never been a morning person (sounds better than bloody lazy!) but I’m determined to force myself to keep it up.

Weekdays

  • Push ups (2 mins)
  • Yoga or meditation (10-15 mins)
  • Writing (15-20 mins)
  • Feed & let the dog out (10 mins)
  • Make lunch (10 mins)
  • Eat breakfast (10 mins)
  • Get ready for work (20 mins)

Weekends

  • Push ups (2 mins)
  • Yoga (10 mins)
  • Meditation (10 mins)
  • Feed & let the dog out (10 mins)
  • Writing (30-45 mins)

2018 In Books

Another year, another stack of books read. For the last few years I’ve been participating in the Goodreads Challenge. You start the year by giving yourself a target number to complete, and are able to keep track on your progress through the website. In 2018 I set myself the target of getting through 60 books, which I finally reached on the 30th of December, and have set myself the same goal again this year.

In July, I moved jobs to be a bit closer to home and as a result I now drive to work instead of the 2.5 hour round trip on the train I used to have. While this has been lovely for my work/life balance, it does mean I’ve lost quite a big chunk of my reading time, so hitting 60 again might be a little ambitious. We’ll see.

Rather than talk about all 60 books I read, I’ve picked out the 5 highlights, but the full list is at the bottom if you’re interested. I love browsing charity shops for books, so you will no doubt find some older books here mixed in with a few newer ones.

I’d love to hear if you took the Goodreads Challenge and how you got on. How many of my books from 2018 have you read? Any recommendations, please leave a comment.

In no particular order, my top 5 reads of 2018 were:

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

Very different to the books I usually read, which is probably why it has stayed with me for so long. Oddly I didn’t particularly enjoy reading it at the time as it is pretty slow I did take a little pause in the middle somewhere and briefly considered leaving it there. I’m glad I stuck with it. The main character, Toru looks back on his college years, and the events that shaped his life, in particular love and loss. Looking back now, I can’t remember a lot of what happened in the book, or how it ended, but more the journey the characters take along the way

The History Of Bees – Maja Lunde

One of my favourite books of all time is Station Eleven, and this uses a similar device of telling different stories from different times, which are all interlinked. In The History Of Bees we follow a story from England in the mid 19th century, near modern day America, and late 21st century China. As the title suggests the link between the 3 narratives is bees, but deeper than that it explores the state of the environment, and the rather depressing fate we’re currently heading towards. The book also explores the relationship between parent and child, as that is the key relationship in each of the stories. After finishing this book you will want to get out there and do something for the environment.

Quiet – Susan Cain

This is a book about introverts, and how dramatically undervalued they (we) are. Throughout the 20th century there’s been a rise in the ‘Extrovert Ideal’, which now seems to dominate what we value the most in western culture, but it hasn’t always been this way. This book is equally valuable for introverts and extroverts, and will make you cherish the differences between us all and how together we can bring about the most change in our world

The Accidental Further Adventures Of The Hundred Year Old Man – Jonas Jonasson

Jonas Jonasson is probably my favourite writer. This is the sequel to ‘The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared, so if you haven’t read that yet stop what you’re doing and go find it. Allan Karlsson (our Centenarian protagonist) has been involved in most of the major events of the 20th century, and all by complete accident. Allan just lets the world happen around him. You will come away with the feeling that life is full of serendipitous moments, and I find it hugely uplifting, and laugh out loud funny. I would also recommend another Jonasson book ‘The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden’.

I Think You’ll Find It’s A Bit More Complicated Than That – Ben Goldacre

Ben Goldacre is a physician, academic and science writer, and this book is a selection of some of his most interesting articles and essays over the years. You’ll be scared by some of the bad science and lazy research that he calls out in this book, and also encouraged to dig a little deeper. Don’t believe everything you read because even some of the most respected sources can be much lighter on the facts than you would think.

The complete list of 2018 reads:

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Attwood
  2. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs
  3. Adapt – Tim Harford
  4. The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman
  5. Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
  6. Elon Musk – Ashlee Vance
  7. The Little Book That Beats The Market – Joel Greenblatt
  8. Shadow Of The Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  9. Artemis – Andy Weir
  10. The 4 Hour Work Week – Tim Ferriss
  11. The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman
  12. The New Paradigm For Financial Markets – George Soros
  13. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari – Robin S. Sharma
  14. Linchpin – Seth Godin
  15. E-Squared – Pam Grout
  16. Reminisces Of A Stock Operator – Edwin Lefevre
  17. Lost In A Good Book – Jasper Fforde
  18. The Boy On The Bridge – M. R. Carey
  19. Utopia For Realists – Rutger Bregman
  20. The Templars – Dan Jones
  21. Day 21 – Kass Morgan
  22. Golden Son – Pierce Brown
  23. Killers Of The Flower Moon – David Grann
  24. The Hidden Oracle – Rick Riordan
  25. The Postman – David Brin
  26. Tin – Padraig Kenny
  27. Mayday! – Clive Cussler
  28. The History Of Bees – Maja Lunde
  29. Who Moved My Cheese? – Dr Spencer Johnson
  30. Moonwalking With Einstein – Joshua Foer
  31. Start With Why – Simon Sinek
  32. The Room – Jonas Karlsson
  33. Blink – Malcolm Gladwell
  34. Jump Start Your Marketing Brain – Doug Hall
  35. The Fellowship Of The Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien
  36. Quiet – Susan Cain
  37. Animal Farm – George Orwell
  38. The 30 Day MBA in Marketing – Colin Barrow
  39. All Marketers Are Liars – Seth Godin
  40. All You Need Is Kill – Ryosuke Takeuchi
  41. How To Win Friends And Influence People – Dale Carnegie
  42. The Star Wars – J.W. Rinzler
  43. Universal – Brian Cox
  44. Deadpool & Cable – Fabian Nicieza
  45. The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers
  46. Purple Cow – Seth Godin
  47. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson
  48. The Laws Of Simplicity – John Maeda
  49. What The Dog Saw – Malcolm Gladwell
  50. Entrepreneurial Confessions – Elliot Lum
  51. Choose Yourself – James Altucher
  52. Sleeping Giants – Sylvain Neuvel
  53. The Accidental Further Adventures Of The Hundred Year Old Man – Jonas Jonasson
  54. I Think You’ll Find It’s A Bit More Complicated Than That – Ben Goldacre
  55. The Undoing Project – Michael Lewis
  56. The Stand – Stephen King
  57. Mortal Engines – Philip Reeve
  58. We Can Remember It For You Wholesale – Philip K. Dick
  59. Snakes In Suits – Paul Babiak
  60. 500 Words You Should Know – Caroline Taggart

Patience

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao Tzu

My writing isn’t very good at the moment but I’m OK with that. The start of any journey is always the hardest part, but it does get easier. The key is not to get frustrated and give up. It takes time to get better- that is true of everything in life- relationships, hobbies, work. The real pleasure in life comes from knowing you are growing, really seeing and appreciating every breakthrough that you make and enjoying every step of the way. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself straight away to be the best you can be. Sometimes that internal pressure can be useful – it separates the good from the great but if life is a journey then it doesn’t always have to be a sprint.

I enjoy writing, and I will get better at it the more I practice. I don’t need to be the best writer in the world, and I won’t get annoyed that I struggle to put the right words on the page sometimes. But I will enjoy the journey.