It was an early morning, around 6 am. I was travelling from my hometown to Riga, the capital city of Latvia, to take a flight to the Netherlands. On the train, I was sitting next to the window with a couple of big bags, a one-way ticket to Amsterdam, €700, and an overly-optimistic attitude towards what awaited me in the future.
For the first three months, I slept on a mattress in the kitchen of a tiny one-bed flat. Oh yeah, the bedroom was taken by a Ukrainian family. I didn’t speak Dutch and knew very little English. I worked as a kitchen porter for 10 to 12 hours a day, almost every day. For some weird reason, I loved all of it. And it was just the beginning.
Of course, I was outside of my comfort zone and it was damn challenging – especially the Dutch language. Just the fact that they count decimals in the opposite way made me think at least three times before I’d try to say anything out loud. One example is ‘schoenpoets borsteltje’ (shoe brush) not that this word will save your life or anything, but just try to pronounce it.
I still believe that the desire to escape the environment I was in back then overrode all the very frustrating challenges I had to go through in order to achieve my goals. I also believe that every person who’s ever moved to another country to start their life from scratch has gained an enormous ability to thrive with very limited resources and learned how to become comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
Things that hold us back
Remember this Venn diagram?
This is a partially-true representation of how life works but it’s not always applicable to every person and every situation. Yes, most of us often need a solid kick up the arse to get us moving in some direction, but other times, we should allow ourselves to step back and re-write our plan.
Fears played a significant role in my life. Because of them, I achieved goals and got better at things I thought were impossible to be confident in. My fears of talking to strangers, speaking in other languages, speaking in public, quitting jobs, selling over the phone, running businesses, coaching entrepreneurs, and moving countries all opened up multiple opportunities for me to learn completely new skills and do truly inspiring things.
Elizabeth Gilbert is the woman behind the best-selling memoir, ‘Eat Pray Love’. In her interviews, she often refers to creativity as a choice and explains that if we chose curiosity over fears, it can lead us towards our passion, or can at least make our lives more interesting.
Another great author and awarded executive leadership coach, Marshall Goldsmith, repeatedly says, “What gets us here won’t get us there” – meaning we constantly need to reinvent ourselves if we want to get different results. And, as I mentioned before, we don’t necessarily need to be slaying dragons in order to grow.
Vision over expectations
A very common mistake, made by a lot of entrepreneurs, in particular, is to think that success is granted and it doesn’t require a lot of work. Whereas, the word ‘work’ often means learning new skills, taking risks, falling, and standing it up again.
Many inspiring entrepreneurs that I’ve met have the following things in common: they enjoy the process, they hold minimum expectations, and they have a strong vision for their projects. A vision most often clarifies itself when you’re engaged with something you’re curious about. Other times, a vision appears when you’re on the brink of failure or going through a big challenge in your business or personal life. But it certainly doesn’t show by itself.
The word ‘expectations’ however carries a passive connotation. There are expectations that we are not aware of. We just remember them as things that are absolutely normal, until we’re met with the resistance that comes with responsibilities.
But simply thinking about our vision will not free us from the idea that we need to choose vision over expectations. On that note, we are also not obliged to find a perfect long-term vision for our lives, just a rough picture that can trigger enthusiasm is enough, to begin with.
Learn to unlearn
One of the most important skills to have in 2020 will be critical thinking. This skill will remain vital for determining how to effectively use our personal and organisational resources to maximise potential.
There are times when our experience and knowledge, which has accumulated throughout years of hard work, risk-taking, and never-ending learning, is not valid anymore. Yes, almost everything has an expiry date, apart from my mum’s advice on what facial cream I need to use before I go to sleep. Love my mum. Her wisdom will never go out of fashion.
I’m talking about awareness. In other words, the ability to know when our knowledge isn’t sufficient enough or simply isn’t applicable anymore. Most people fear they will lose face when admitting that what they’re doing doesn’t work anymore. They simply never allow themselves to become a student again, thus they never grow.
In the summer of 2016, I was out of coaching business and, later that year, found a sales job. After coaching several dozen individuals, including very successful business people, and doing more than 60 public speaking events, I was convinced I was gonna kill it on a sales floor. Not that I knew I’d just got in a hardcore sales organisation. I suddenly felt like a little baby, surrounded by adults with an extreme sense of ownership and ability to intimidate everything that passed their sight.
Long story short, I grinded my way up for the following 12 months. I had to forget almost everything I’d learned prior to starting this job. For me, it was like chasing stability in an unstable environment in order to get myself to the point where I felt comfortable being uncomfortable almost every day.
I’ve always tried to follow something really interesting that will contribute to my growth. Sometimes, it’s just reading a book that I normally wouldn’t read and other times, it’s pursuing a bold and challenging goal. But the point has always been, and always will be, to explore new things, to challenge myself, and to live on the edge of what’s possible.
For you, it may be, and most probably is, something else. But listening to ourselves is becoming harder in a world of information and ‘expert’ opinions. Be willing to follow your voice first. That’s how you’ll start becoming comfortable being uncomfortable.