Almost twenty years ago to the day, I got fired from a filing job at a major UK residential property developer.
I lasted four hours!
The manager called the temporary agency I was working for at the time and complained about my lackadaisical work ethic and lack of filing experience.
I couldn’t believe it. Who needs experience for a filing job? However, as I took my leave from the office and began the premature journey home to my parents’ house, it all began to make sense.
The day had started ominously. There were no pleasantries when I arrived, no shake of the hand or ‘how are you?‘. Instead, I was shown to a desk, some paperwork was dumped in front of me and I was told to file it.
Ten minutes in, I was bored out of my brain. Their instructions were vague and, I was so demotivated, I didn’t bother asking the manager for clarification. I just muddled through, making it up as I went along and counting down the hours until lunch break.
When I got the phone call from my agency, informing me of my dismissal, I was actually relieved. Despite being a little embarrassed I didn’t last a full day, I couldn’t wait to get out of the office.
The entire morning had been spent clock watching and contemplating my recent employment record. In the previous five months, I’d had six different placements. I’d been dismissed from three of them.
In the month leading up to Christmas, I’d worked in a retail store. At the time, they said I was needed for the holiday period and new year. After Christmas, they informed me they didn’t want me back.
After that, I had a two-week spell doing data entry for a local company. Again, they weren’t interested in keeping me on.
I then went to a local sign making factory and was put to work filing the steel and working in the post room. They fired me after a day.
The agency then thought it best to find me non-office related work. As a result, I was sent to wash dishes at a few different kitchens. This, I managed to complete without being fired. Although I didn’t enjoy the work, the shifts were shorter and, as a result, my boredom wasn’t as apparent.
Having managed to successfully see out these temporary dish washing contracts, the agency thought I might, once again, be ready for office work.
I wasn’t, though, and not only did the ‘four-hour firing’ episode bring an end to my time in this environment, it also brought a close to my reliance on agency work.
As I made my way back home, I was buzzing. There was a question running through my mind.
I was done with boring jobs. I knew that. I wasn’t going to spend another hour of my life sitting in an office, wasting away. However, I was also contemplating whether I needed to do anything I didn’t enjoy ever again. Could I use this huge level of inspiration I was feeling as a guide and ride it all the way to the life of my dreams?
I’ve thought about that moment many times since. In some ways, it represents a crossroad in my life. However, rather than taking one path or the other, the conventional or the inspired, I set off walking a middle ground.
I never rode the wave of inspiration and I certainly did plenty of work and tasks I didn’t enjoy in the subsequent years. However, I’ve also followed my heart and made decisions based on what inspires me.
Now, having reaped the rewards of following my inspiration, I look back and wonder whether I could have pushed the envelope even further.
What would have happened if I did? Was there any potential failure or consequence so great it would have stopped me?
I ask these questions for two reasons. 1. I like to look back to learn for the future. 2. It might bear some relevance to you.
It’s no secret that worker satisfaction levels are pitifully low. I mention in my upcoming book ‘Do The Work you Love’ that, according to 2012 Right Management survey of the US and Canadian workforce, 81% of people in employed roles don’t enjoy their jobs.
Perhaps you are one of these people. Perhaps, like me twenty years ago, you’ve wondered whether you can just walk out on your job tomorrow and let your inspiration guide you to a new life.
Is it possible?
After twenty years of tentatively following mine, here are my thoughts.
In short, my answer is ‘Yes’. I believe it would be possible to quit your job tomorrow and use your inspiration as a guide to create, and live, the life of your dreams. However, before I elaborate on my thinking, let’s define what following your inspirations means.
Following your inspiration means making decisions based on what excites you the most. For example, let’s say you’re inspired by the idea of writing screenplays. You already know that your present job, as a financial analyst, is not your dream, so you quit and begin a new adventure.
You hand in your notice (in practise, you might then have to work a few more weeks) and start working on your first screenplay the very next day.
It’s great fun. You’re learning every day, making progress and excited about the end product. You continue working away, regardless of your financial situation, because this is what inspires you. This is where the magic is at.
Months down the line, when the screenplay is finished, you begin shopping it around. Perhaps you’re successful and, only a few weeks into looking for interested parties, a studio wants to buy your script.
More than likely, you’re not and, as the months continue to pass, financial concerns start to play on your mind. You realise that, while you continue to shop your screenplay, you’re going to have to get another job. Of course, you don’t want to repeat your previous mistake and get trapped in a job you don’t enjoy, so you look for work that interests and excites you.
Perhaps you find it. Perhaps you don’t. Ultimately, you might have to take any job you can get in order to pay the bills. However, you’re still following your inspiration because you haven’t given up on your dream.
While working, you keep searching for interested studios or agents. If that continues to fail then, maybe, you shelve your first project and begin working on a second. You learn from your previous mistakes and create a superior script. Once complete, you again look for interested parties.
You keep repeating this pattern until you’re successful. Or, perhaps, you reach a point where writing screenplays no longer inspires you. Instead, you become more excited by the idea of taking your newfound writing skills and creating a health and fitness blog.
Perhaps the blog is successful and maintains your interest. Perhaps it doesn’t.
By now, you should understand what living an inspiration led life entails. You keep going and going, either being successful at making a living from your passion or, being inspired by a new idea and making a go of that.
Of course, while walking this path, you may have to do stints of paid work you don’t enjoy. Don’t worry if this is the case. So long as this doesn’t become your main focus, and is only undertaken until you’ve saved up enough money to make another concerted effort at making a living from your passion, then it’s ok. Eventually, you will hit upon an idea or a career that both inspires you and generates enough money for you to live on.
This is what following your inspiration looks like. Yes, it’s risky and you may have little money for vacations and consumer items. You may even be constantly on the verge of going broke. However, you’re alive!
You know why you’re living and every day is filled with purpose. This more than compensates for all the ups and downs and uncertainty you experience in the lead up to becoming successful.
But what happens if your inspiration is telling you to quit your job yet you don’t have a clue about what you might do? Can you still take the risk?
Twenty years ago, I had no idea what my dream might be. As I walked back home, buzzing off the combination of a brilliant song and an exciting idea, my energy levels were at a peak. However, as great as I was feeling, there was no immediate outlet to channel my energy.
What do you do in a situation like this? Can you still quit your job the next day, simply believing you’ll find something?
If you decide to take this risk then you must master your energy.
To have an inspiring idea, you must be inspired. Release all of your doubts, fears and questions. Only then will you have the clarity of mind needed to discover an outlet for your inspiration.
It might take you a week, six months or even a year. However, if you remain inspired, regardless of what’s going on around you, a path will emerge.
It’s also important to realise this path might not lead you into a new career or business idea. It may simply lead you to travel. Or, perhaps, like Gregory Howe, author of the book Chasing Points, it might encourage you to set out on a new adventure – aged 34 he decided to quit his job as a school teacher and pursue his long cherished dream of becoming a world ranked tennis professional.
Whatever the case, the longer you remain inspired, the greater the chance you’ll discover an outlet to support you in a way that brings excitement and meaning. New acquaintances that lead to inspiring work can be made while travelling. An adventure, even if unsuccessful, might develop the character and skills needed to be successful in another endeavour. (While Gregory Howe didn’t become a regular fixture on the professional tour, he was able to write a book about his experiences and make money through the sales).
Inspiration is the source through which all of your great ideas flow. Therefore, don’t worry about the temporary loss of income caused by quitting your job. Instead, do whatever it takes to stay inspired and see where the path leads you.
I don’t want to tell you what to do. Afterall, everybody’s situation is different and I couldn’t possible know your circumstances. At best, all I can do is share my experiences with you and hope that something strikes a chord.
Despite my enthusiasm, I didn’t follow my inspiration all the way to the life of my dreams. Sometimes, I ignored it and made decisions based on what I believed were financial necessities at the time. As a result, I can’t say with any certainty what would have happened on that day, twenty years ago, if I’d refused to do anything that didn’t inspire me and lived in accordance with my heart. However, having lived a semi-inspired life since then, I can offer you some insights.
I don’t think basing all of your decisions on what inspires you is a recipe for disaster. In fact, the penalties for doing so are more psychological than real. Unless your dream requires you to put your life on the line, or take long term risks with your health, there is nothing to fear.
What are the consequences of starting a new business and failing?
You might lose a substantial amount of money. As a result of this, you might have to move back in with your parents. You won’t be able to buy the things you like or go on vacation. Savings you were setting aside for your first home may have gone.
While all of these outcomes are undesirable, none of them are life threatening.
Let’s look at another scenario.
What are the consequences of pursuing your dream of being a successful actor and failing?
Again, you might lose some of your savings while you support yourself on this adventure. Furthermore, for the five or so years you were trying to make it as an actor, other areas of your life, like relationships, may fail to advance. Then again, perhaps you’ve met some fantastic people on your journey and fallen in love.
Certainly, you’ll have fallen behind your peers in mainstream work. If you were to now re-enter, you might have to bear the indignity of them being in senior positions to you.
Again, I ask you, are any of these consequences life threatening?
No, none of them are. The money can be recouped and the relationships rekindled. The only damage you might suffer is to your self-esteem and this can be protected. Furthermore, surely, you’d feel better about yourself for having tried? Theodore Roosevelt once said,
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again . . .
who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best in the end knows the triumph of high achievement, and at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
and I agree. The worst-case scenario is that you get to the end of your life and regret never having followed your heart.
Therefore, you have two options.
You can be like me, adopting a ‘dip your toe in the water’ approach to following your inspiration and take years upon years to be successful.
Or, you can plunge straight in, run the risk of enduring some scary moments and trying times, but potentially transform your life in a matter of a few years.
The choice is yours. Just don’t spend your life playing it safe, never having known what it feels like to be alive.
(image taken from LeonH photostream flickr.com)