Get the Jump on a World that's Constantly Changing
By Phil Cooke
Thomas Nelson Copyright © 2011 Philip Howard Cooke
All rights reserved.
THE TIME TO CHANGE IS NOW
Let the Revolution Begin!
Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me. —CAROL BURNETT
I never realized how important the "now" of living was until I was fired from my job when I was thirty-six.
I had been working for a number of years at a media organization in the Midwest, when the president decided it was time for me to move on. I had been thinking about leaving for some time and had even booked a ticket to Los Angeles to see about the possibilities on the West Coast, but being fired always takes you by surprise. It was quick, clean, and efficient.
I'll never forget telling my wife, Kathleen. We had been married about twelve years, and although we had always dreamed about moving to Los Angeles and working in the media and entertainment industries there, it's amazing how you buy a home, have a couple of kids, get locked into your friends, and before long the dream has been replaced by the reality of everyday living.
The older you get, the harder change becomes.
We kept putting the dream on the shelf, intoxicated by the drug of a regular paycheck and a mortgage. But now, that life was over. And the slow, thoughtful transition that I had planned for moving to Los Angeles was replaced by a real jolt—the need to make a decision now.
Looking back, it was the best thing that could have possibly happened to me. I had been lulled into thinking that perhaps this was my future and perhaps "settling" for less than my dream was the right thing to do.
Great businesses have a point of view, not just a product or service. You have to believe in something. You need to have a backbone. You need to know what you're willing to fight for. —JASON FRIED AND DAVID HEINEMEIER HANSSON, REWORK
This book is about one central theme: how to live your life successfully against the backdrop of dramatic change and disruption. In today's chaotic world, nothing stays the same. Assuming that your life today will continue uninterrupted is simply a recipe for disaster.
There's a wonderful scene in the Jason Reitman movie Up in the Air, starring George Clooney. Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, whose unusual job is to fire people from theirs. He's hired by major corporations to handle big layoffs. Although he's become brilliant at the task, the anguish, hostility, and despair of the job have left him empty, falsely compassionate, and yet—strangely—loving every second of it. In a powerful scene where he and a new assistant are firing an aging middle manager, Clooney notices on the manager's résumé that he had been trained as a French chef. As the manager despairs over losing his job and having to face his wife and kids, Clooney reminds him of his original dream. He asks a remarkable question, the essence of which is, "Back when you started, how much did it take to buy you away from your dream?"
It is a compelling scene as the middle manager thinks back to the time he exchanged a steady paycheck for what he really wanted to do with his life. Now, decades later, he realizes the devastating impact of settling for second best.
Have you ever rationalized settling for second best? It's amazing how you can make it sound as if it's the right thing to do, even when your innermost being is crying out for you to follow your heart and discover your real potential.
It's a good job ...
We have good benefits ...
The kids are in good schools ...
The church is very supportive ...
The company is really growing ...
I can't take a risk with my family right now ...
All our friends are here ...
We're close to where our family lives ...
People tell me I'd be foolish to pack up and move away now ...
I have a lot invested in our retirement account ...
There are a million reasons and ways to rationalize keeping your life exactly the same, and I knew them all. I was slowly exchanging a dream for security and giving away my future for what I had convinced myself was the right thing to do.
But fortunately I had the benefit of a serious jolt—getting tossed out on the street. What I couldn't do for myself, someone else helped me do, and I will be forever grateful.
I didn't realize it at the time, but my life as a change agent was just beginning. I had always been creative, hated monotony, and loved change, but now it would become the single most important part of my life.
After Kathleen and I sat on the bed, cried a little, and realized that we were leaving our life in the Midwest behind, we immediately began focusing on what was next, and it was the beginning of one of the most exhilarating experiences of our lives.
First, we began to scale down. It's amazing what you collect after ten or more years of marriage. We had an attic full of stuff, a garage packed to the rafters,andmoreonthebackporch.ButweknewifweweretomovetoLosAngeles, we'd need to be lean and mean, so we had an immediate garage sale, gave some things away, and got our entire world down to a rental truck and trailer.
Next, we started networking. I knew that I had limited severance pay and would need all of that to help us move, so I needed some work and needed it quick. I started phoning everyone I knew in the industry, started e-mailing friends, widening the net. And it worked. An old friend at a major energy company gave me my first freelance assignment, and it began building from there.
We changed our priorities, our focus, our habits, and our thinking, and we were able to take a difficult situation and turn it from tragedy into triumph.
When asked about his secret for fabulous wealth, billionaire H. L. Hunt described it in a four-step formula:
1. Decide what you want.
2. Decide what you are willing to give up to get it.
3. Set your priorities accordingly.
4. Be about it!
How much did it take to buy you away from your dream? Whatever it was, the time to change is now. Make a commitment, take a stand, and be about it!
THE HEADACHE IS WORTH IT
The Joy of Hitting the Wall
Things do not change; we change. —HENRY DAVID THOREAU
After I was fired, my wife and I began the greatest journey of change we had ever experienced, because I had hit a wall. I had no other choice. I had run out of options, and there was only one answer—change or die.
Perhaps you've hit your wall. Maybe you've been fired, divorced, financially ruined, or have hit bottom from substance abuse, been humiliated, scared, or had a close call with death. If your life has been completely turned upside down and you're at the end of your rope, then you have it easy.
That's right—you have it easy!
When you change direction in life, the most difficult aspect of the change process is beginning. Taking the first step. Just as I did, most people will rest on their laurels, take the easy way out, rationalize their options, sacrifice their future, or diminish their past—anything—to keep from changing. If you've hit your wall and have no other options, then your decision is already made. Your choice has been decided and you're on the way up.
But if you haven't quite hit bottom yet and been jolted into reality, the choice is going to be much tougher. Your thoughts might include:
Sure I'm frustrated with my job, but at least it's a paycheck, and a lot of people are out of work right now.
Our sales aren't what I'd like them to be, but making a major company change right now would take some time.
Yeah, I wanted to be an actor, but moving to New York or Los Angeles would be a lot of work, and I'm not sure I really want to go back to living in a one-bedroom apartment again.
I'm not really drinking that much, and after all, I could really quit just about any time.
Oh, I dreamed about a different life, but that was a kid's dream. It's not really something that's realistic for me to pursue now.
There's no question that I could advance faster if I got my college degree, but I work all day, so why should I spend my evenings going to class?
I could go on and on. I don't know your particular frustration, but I'm sure you have a million excuses for why you've never begun your journey to change. You haven't hit your particular wall, so your life could easily go on for years, maybe your whole life, before you realize you've traded your dream for a shallow, empty copy.
If you're like most people, to begin the journey of change, you have to reach the place where you realize there is simply no other choice. But if you have the slightest frustration that perhaps your dream is dying, then that's all you need. There really are second chances in life, and this is yours. Don't wait until you hit bottom, get fired, gamble your life away, settle for a dead-end job, or lose your spouse to divorce. Don't wait until you're too old, too cranky, or too locked into your lifestyle.
In their book Unleashing the Killer App, Larry Downes and Chunka Mui described the Law of Disruption: "Social, economic, and legal systems change incrementally, but technology changes exponentionally" (29). It's been said that every twelve to eighteen months, the processing power of computers doubles. Technology is changing every day, but people change incrementally—and some, not at all.
But when people won't change, circumstances have a powerful way of forcing the issue. As eighteenth-century poet, writer, and critic Samuel Johnson said: "Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging." More recently, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger translated it to: "The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously."
Foresight is a marvelous thing, but the truth is, as long as we see any other way out, very few of us will muster the will to make real change happen.
The music industry is filled with the ghosts of executives who didn't recognize online music downloading as a viable business. As I write this chapter, Amazon.com has announced that e-books have surpassed the sales of traditional hardbound volumes, and just like the music industry, book publishers who didn't recognize the shift are shutting their doors. Even some who pioneer change don't go quite far enough. (Remember the Sony Walkman?)
But the good news is, hitting a wall can be your ticket to freedom because it forces you to change course and to do it now.
A friend in the computer industry saw the wall coming. He could have denied reality (the way many do) and kept moving forward until he crashed. But he made the decision to hire two market researchers to figure out what was next in his business. Their answers encouraged him to shift markets, and today he's far more successful in a completely different field.
A client of mine thought he was doing great until doctors discovered he had developed cancer of the esophagus. His illness, treatment, and recovery forced him to leave his business and literally took him out of everything for more than four years. Thinking his career was over, he nearly gave up. But when a surprise recovery jolted him, he realized the experience had completely changed his perspective on life. As a result, he's transformed his thinking about his purpose for living, and it's catapulted him to an entirely new level of success.
Whatever your wall—getting fired, losing your home, receiving the medical diagnosis you've dreaded, closing your business, bankruptcy, whatever—it doesn't have to be the end. As terrible as the wall may be, you can overcome it if you use the moment to jolt you back to reality.
While transitions are admittedly uncomfortable and disruptive ... job insecurity or loss can provide a life-changing jolt. —BECKY BEAUPRE GILLESPIE AND HOLLEE SCHWARTZ TEMPLE, ABA JOURNAL
I have a distant family member who is an ocean-going captain of some of the largest oil tankers in the world. He pilots the behemoths from port to port, satisfying countries thirsty for oil. Early in my career, I produced a video presentation for a major oil company and was amazed at the sheer size of the vessels. Fully loaded, they sink deep into the ocean and take enormous power to propel forward. Over dinner one night my relative told me that it takes up to fifteen miles to turn a fully loaded tanker. In fact, they have to plan a turn at least twenty miles out because it's just so heavy it takes that long to make the change.
Hearing that fact made me realize that changing major companies, big labor unions, or any massive organization is nearly impossible unless people realize that jolt has to happen and it has to start now.
And that's exactly where you need to be. As long as there's a way out, a second chance, or another alternative, you'll never be committed enough to change. You have to face the fact that circumstances won't change until you change. Family members won't change until you change. Your job won't change until you change. And your future will never change until you make the decision to change.
Embrace the wall. Let it help you focus your mind and face the real truth about your situation.
But how do you face the truth? Sometimes, the key lies in your past.
THE REAL TRUTH ABOUT CHANGE
Letting Go of Your Past
Disconnecting from change does not recapture the past. It loses the future. —KATHLEEN NORRIS, WRITER
Keeping score of old scores and scars, getting even and one-upping, always make you less than you are. —MALCOLM FORBES, PUBLISHER, FORBES
The third step toward jolting your life is to face the truth and let go of your past. Significant numbers of people never change their lives because they just can't let go of history. Some can't forgive people who abused them, cheated on them, lied to them, fired them, or more. Perhaps you suffered from childhood abuse and can't bring yourself to forgive and let it go. Perhaps you were cheated financially or experienced business failure and refuse to get past the experience. Perhaps you discovered something as an adult about your parents or spouse that has changed your perspective of your family.
Perhaps it's not being cheated or abused by others; it could be your own personal failures. I recently spoke to a large business gathering in Los Angeles, composed of leaders from a wide range of companies. During my talk the audience wrote questions on index cards for me to answer at the end of the event. The single most asked question was: How can I overcome a failure from my past and be successful again?
That seminar taught me just how many people live under the bondage of past failure.
Whatever your particular experience, you can't feed it, ignore it, or deny it. You have to forgive and let it go. Ultimately, when you refuse to forgive—for any reason—it only hurts you. Someone said that not being able to forgive is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. I've had things stolen from me, money cheated from our company, lies told about me, and more, but it didn't take much to realize the longer I focused on it, the more bitter I became.
Google isn't just about search, it's about reputation management. The river of information that flows online is a tsunami, and whatever failure you've experienced in your past will show up in a Google search. So get used to it. Today we need to embrace our pasts and live more transparent lives than ever. Even more important, we need to stop looking in the rearview mirror and instead concentrate on the road ahead.
I know one pastor who early in his career was forced out of a church because a leading church member felt the pastor had slighted him. It was an insignificant and completely innocent act on the part of the pastor, but the petty church member was enraged and used his influence in the church to have the board eventually dismiss the pastor. It was wrong, but the pastor was booted out of a church he had invested years into and had built from obscurity to being one of the leading churches in the city. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Jolt! by Phil Cooke. Copyright © 2011 Philip Howard Cooke. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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