10 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF IF YOU ARE UNSATISFIED WITH YOUR CAREER OR LIFE.
(This article by Joe Foxton was originally published on sosv.com)
One morning in 2006 I woke up with a completely numb right leg. No pain, just a curious symptom to add on to the years of curious symptoms that had befuddled my doctors. I visited my GP, who sent me racing to the hospital for an MRI, and the result was clear for anyone to see… multiple lesions on my brain and spine. I had Multiple Sclerosis.
The diagnosis actually came as somewhat of a relief. I had finally discovered what had been causing these mysterious symptoms for so many years (and that I was not in fact a hypochondriac). At the same time the diagnosis brought my life goals and my future into clear focus. I knew that I would most probably live a shorter and more rocky life than most, which lit a fire under me to find my purpose.
As I started to attend MS meetups and meet people at different stages of the progression of the disease, I began to realize that my future may be much worse than I had imagined. MS doesn’t just sink a single person. It sinks entire families as they watch their loved one lose capabilities. I became determined to do two things with my life: 1. Maximize my chances of staying able bodied for as long as possible through the seeking of healthy habits, maximum happiness, and the best medical treatment; 2. Reach for my goals and dreams ASAP before my ability to reach them dissipates.
As most people do, I stumbled off this course for years at a time. Yet the more I thought about it over the years, the more I felt lucky to have been issued this challenge. I have come to the realization that, in fact, everyone has this exact same challenge. Not one of us knows when our health will crumble. None of us know when our goals and dreams will become instantly inaccessible due to accident, loss of capabilities, or the most final of exits: death.
The only problem was, I didn’t know yet what my dream was. What was my unique ability, that I could access to positively influence the world in some way? There were so many potential paths, none seeming like a home run for my capabilities and my passions. None that I knew would make me truly happy.
It took me a decade of fumbling through high flying corporate jobs to finally realize that I would never find my purpose on that path. It wasn’t until I made the ballsy, some would say irresponsible, decision of quitting my job with no prospects, that I was able to identify the unique abilities I could offer to the world.
Quitting my job with no prospects was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. It was a level of freedom of thought that I had never felt. It made me happy and excited, but more anxious to succeed than ever. I had to succeed to sustain. Through this process of discovery, I realized that my dream was self evident: to help other creative people find their inner badass, boost them to success, and see them shine. So today I find myself here at FOOD-X doing exactly that, and I couldn’t be happier, and more honored.
Through this process I’ve gathered some key questions that you should ask yourself if you are unsatisfied with your career or your life:
1. On the last day of my one-and-only life on Earth, what will I wish I had done with my life?
Sounds morbid, but it’s really not. It is in fact the most important question you can ask, and it’s a question I ask myself every day. I always come back to the same answer: I want to know that I moved the ball forward, that I followed my dreams and improved something that matters—or at least that I gave it the best shot I could.
If you ask hospice nurses what regrets people express on their deathbed, by far the most common answer is, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” What a gift that life offers a way to avoid these tragic regrets. To quote the article again, “health brings a freedom that very few realize, until they no longer have it.”
This line of thought is uplifting, if you let it be. Allow yourself to imagine your last day knowing that you honored your hopes and dreams.
2. Does my current employer help me work towards my dreams?
It’s easy to get stuck in an unhealthy co-dependant relationship with a corporation. So many people are stuck in this quandary because it seems like the right thing to do. The corporate life is presented as the responsible path; the path that ensures a consistent paycheck, with healthcare benefits for you and your loved ones, as well as incremental raises over the years, if you are a good corporate citizen. But before long, you realize that you are just a tiny cog in the mega-machine driving towards someone else’s dreams. You end up spending most of your waking hours pushing hard towards someone else’s goal because it’s the “right thing to do”. You lose a sense of passion about your work, yet you keep your nose on the grindstone thinking that there will be some kind of payoff in the future. This future comes for so few.
3. What am I great at?
If you can find a way to make money doing what you are best at every day, you will be happy doing it. It is a simple verifiable truth.
The tough part is identifying what you are best at. It can be really challenging to nail down what special, unique ability that you possess. We all have one, and sadly many of us can’t find it. It can be programmed out, or stagnant from years of neglect. But if you do find it, you will have the chance of reaching the magical intersection of skill, productivity, and happiness.
To discover your unique ability, you may need to think long and hard about it. You may need to discard all preconceived notions about what you think you are good at. There may be some seemingly obvious choices floating around in your head. Don’t just settle for the first thing you think of. And certainly don’t settle for the the “responsible” choice. Meditate on it.
When you identify a potential unique ability, test it. Try it. Volunteer or intern for a few weeks to get a taste of what it’s like. Get a first hand experience of it before you go all in. You may need to quit your job first to make this possible.
Ask your friends and colleagues to identify your unique ability. Avoid the trap of thinking that this question is narcissism. It’s not. It is you taking positive steps towards being the most happy and productive person you can be. Ask, and you’ll be surprised at how forthcoming and helpful people are. You’ll find that everyone is rooting for you.
How do you know when you’ve found your unique ability? You’ll know because it will feel right. Working hard at it will feel natural, fun, and productive. You may already know what it is reading this right now.
4. What am I passionate about?
This is an easy question for some people, but very hard for many. With the flood of information that we all receive through every orifice on a daily basis, your own passions can be drowned out, and replaced by things you are told your should be passionate about.
Ask these questions of yourself:
- What activities make you genuinely interested, happy, or excited?
- What topics of conversation engage you deeply? What topics can you talk about all day?
- What fills your thoughts when you are on the subway, or can’t sleep at night, or in the shower?
- What do you automatically do when you have free time?
Write them down. Sounds kooky, but you might find your answer.
5. Are my capabilities and passions useful?
If you live in America, especially in places like New York, LA or the Bay Area, there is a market for almost any kind of ability you can conceive. There are some simple rules that determine whether you can make money from your capabilities and passions:
- Do a lot of people want what you can offer?
- Can you conceive a way to do it easier, cheaper, better, or more conveniently than the status quo?
- Can you pull together a team to help you do it?
- Are your family and friends willing to back and support you?
If your dreams and capabilities match these criteria, you can build a business around it and make money.
6. Am I made for this?
Steve Jobs once said, “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you, and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
It’s true. Walk down your town’s main street. Look around. People no smarter than you have opened thriving businesses doing all kinds of things. Why not you?
7. But how will I make money to sustain my fancy life?
A wise person once said, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. I found this to be perfectly true in my own journey. Dreams of a better life were constantly floating around my head while working full time for corporations. But they were just dreams until I quit my job, putting myself in a situation where I just had to find my unique ability and passion so I could make money.
At the end of the day, you will not miss all the trappings that come with a predictable salary as much as you think. You’ll have tapped into a much more valuable and sustainable resource: your own happiness and sense of fulfillment in following your dreams. And you’ll realize that you don’t need as much money as you think to be happy. If you’re fortunate enough that your passions and abilities map to a big market need, you may end up with a much more abundant future than any corporation could have offered you. And then, if you like, you can experience the true joy of helping other budding dreamers to chase their dreams.
8. What if I fail?
You might fail. So what? Most entrepreneurs are serial failures. If you look into the paths of most successful entrepreneurs, you’ll find that it’s only their last of many projects that succeeded, before they are writing didactically about how to launch a business.
It’s a cliche, but failure is how we learn. You may learn exactly what you need to regroup and make the right next step towards your dream. Or you may learn that you don’t yet fully understand your unique ability. Or that you haven’t identified a passion that you hold dearly enough to follow all the way through. You will have learned more about yourself. You will not die with the regret that you never respected yourself enough to give your dream life a shot.
9. Can I do it alone?
Never. No wildly successful person in the world can say they reached their goals alone. Everyone needs help. Even Steve Jobs had the help of Woz, his investors, and his spiritual guru. The data from over 300 investments over the life of SOSV shows that very few single-founder companies succeed, for the fundamental reason that you need a variety of thinking styles and experiences to make an idea happen.
I had significant help from all kinds of people, from peers, family, friends, ex-managers, and of course Shen Tong who gave me the opportunity to be part of FOOD-X and SOSV, for which I’m eternally grateful. But none of this help would have availed itself without me first availing myself to it… and I had to quit my job first to do so.
10. When should I start?
The reality is that you probably have what you need right now to get started on chasing your dream. Only an unrequited sense of loyalty to your corporate employer, and an unwarranted fear of crashing and burning are stopping you. Don’t deprive yourself of one of the best feelings that life has to offer: quitting your unsatisfying job, starting anew, and following your dreams.