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You signed on the dotted line of your employment contract a few years ago now.

Together with that agreement was an unspoken promise to absorb the culture and become a part of the team. Although many companies encourage people to “be themselves,” there would be anarchy if there weren’t some expected norms for behaviour and processes, and you soon found yourself behaving slightly differently to your natural preference. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and you told yourself that you would get used to it.

It is like when you get a new class teacher at primary school. This year’s is a little stricter than last year’s, and any spontaneity is frowned upon. You adapt your behaviour to the circumstances, but you cannot fully be yourself. In this case, the more straight-laced kids flourish, but the bouncy creative types are somewhat stifled.

So, for the last few years, you have been fitting in at work, toeing the corporate line. You enjoy what you do most of the time, and switching on your “work persona” every morning is increasingly easy as the months roll by. Except one morning you look into the mirror and don’t recognise the person who is looking back.

They say that people leave their jobs because of their bosses or because they want to take the next step in their careers. This may be right, but I think that there is a deeper reason. People primarily leave their jobs because they don’t recognise themselves in the mirror anymore – they are no longer being true to who they are. There might be many reasons for this, and a nightmare boss may well be playing a part, but essentially they have strayed a little too far from themselves.

When you let work define your life, this is a genuine possibility.

Luckily, our working lives are becoming ever more flexible. The era of a job for life is gone, and job hopping is even now seen as the pursuit of the ambitious rather than the desperate. If you have mad skills and want to move to an employer where you think that you would feel more personally fulfilled, why wouldn’t you move? Companies are so much more open about their cultures and making the “right” choice about where you might be happiest is so much easier.

All it requires is one choice. You have to choose to look in the mirror. Is the person looking back really the person that lives inside you? Is he or she really pursuing the career of their dreams with an employer where they feel at home? The answer is probably “no” as no employer offers a perfect reflection of everything inside of us, but if the differences are significant, then why don’t you do something about it?

You only have one career, and your happiness at work has a huge impact on the rest of your life. A tough workplace can taint your life for years after you leave, as unraveling the destructive behaviours takes time, so if you feel “lost” in your current job, why waste any time? At least think about what options might be out there. There are always options.

If you are not true to yourself, you are cheating yourself of a better future.

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Either to conquer or to die.

I visited the Roman Baths (in the city of Bath) with my family during the summer. Without getting into a debate about whether the Romans or Anglo-Saxons made a bigger mark on Britain, the Roman Empire undeniably played a pivotal role in our history. As I walked around the baths with my kids, it was hard not to wonder about the sort of people who used to bathe there. There was a peaceful aura about the place, but you can be sure that the lives of the patrons were far from tranquil.

When you are effecting change, you have to commit everything to your cause.

As I was walking through the gift shop on my way out, my imagination was still stuck in 200AD. I glanced at a souvenir piece of flint with some Latin writing inscribed on it:

Aut Vincere Aut Mori

My inner linguist (I speak fluent Russian and German) awoke and I immediately googled what it meant. I could have looked at the label on the back, but I wanted to solve the mystery myself:

Either to conquer or to die.

That is a pretty strong statement. There are two choices. There is no safe middle ground. The Romans who were leaving the Baths would eventually lose the battle for Britain, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t make a helluva job of conquering for the couple of hundred years that they were here. The Roman Empire (in Britain, at any rate) didn’t face a gradual decline – when it was time to go, they went.

It is a great lesson for anyone. Either give of your best, or don’t bother. Go big or go home. That is how the Romans lived.

That souvenir stares at me on my desk as I sit down to write every day. Ernest Hemmingway famously said: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I reckon that the Romans would approve.

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Can I let you into a secret? The vast majority of your ideas won’t work out.

For every task in your day, there are hundreds of ways of going about it. Many of them won’t bring the desired result, and some of them will probably make life harder for yourself rather than easier. A fulfilling life is a chemistry lesson of experimental choices – we stick with the stuff that finally works and learn from the stuff that inevitably doesn’t.

Every now and again, an idea comes to fruition, and our faith in the process is renewed. You don’t mind spending your energy thinking through the bad ideas, and maybe even trying a few of them, if it means that your Eureka moment is that bit nearer. Our evolution is predicated on solving problems in ways that have never been done before, but this is very rarely done at the first attempt.

There is a lot of crumpled-up paper in the evolutionary rubbish bin.

However, every now and again, we come up against a problem that we can’t seem to solve. No matter how many ideas we have or how many approaches we attempt, we always seem to end up right back where we started. A mental block starts to form and all of a sudden it seems futile. There is a mountain of crumpled-up ideas, and we don’t think that we’ll ever make the breakthrough. Creativity comes to a standstill.

However, that standstill won’t last forever.

It is a mathematical impossibility that none of your ideas will work. You need to give it time, and it is here where the real issue lies. One of your final ideas might well have worked out, but because you are so exhausted after your previous efforts, you give in too easily at the final hurdle.

When it seems that all your ideas are rubbish, don’t put yourself under even more pressure, just give yourself a little bit more time. If your goal is important to you, I truly believe that you will get there in the end. It might take months or even years, but the power of the right idea will come through.

As more of us live more creative and entrepreneurial lives, we have to get ready to let the bad ideas run their course on the way to the good ones. It goes without saying that you have to change something every time a bad idea doesn’t work, but it is only with time that the way forward will emerge.

I suppose that it all comes down to belief. Perseverance is one of the most valuable habits to practice, but the fuel for this perseverance is the knowledge that you have every chance of getting there in the end. You have done it before, and you’ll do it again. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, you are going to stick with it. You keep the creativity flowing, no matter how useless the intermediate outcomes.

So, when all your ideas are rubbish, don’t sweat it, go get a coffee, maybe do something else for a little while. Give your ideas just a bit more time to percolate.

===============

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Mental health is a topic with a great big stigma hanging around its neck.

It is not the sort of thing that people talk about at the school gate, it is certainly still taboo in the corporate world, and I am afraid to say that parents are nowhere near as open as they should be with their children.

It is a genuinely huge (and growing) problem for our world, but very few people are brave enough to talk about it. Why would you want to? It is not “our” problem; it is “their” problem.

Well, do you know what, it is only “their” problem when you are made aware they “they” are experiencing it. I guarantee that many of our friends and colleagues are suffering in silence, and that makes it very much our problem. Mental health doesn’t get better when it is left to its own devices. It festers, it transforms, and, before you know it, someone is a shadow of their former self.

All because they couldn’t talk about it with a friend or a colleague.

I don’t profess to be an expert, but I believe that sharing does lighten the load that little bit. You share in the hope that you will find a sympathetic audience, and to a small extent, you don’t feel so alone anymore. Loneliness is a prime cause of so many mental health issues.

So, we come to the topic of social media.

Like it or not, our lives are increasingly spent staring at these screens. Social media may well be playing a part in our increased social isolation, but it is here to stay, and we see our social media presence as an extension of our life.

The problems arrive when we don’t feel that we can be ourselves. If someone has a mental health issue, social media offers them an escape from reality and they are able to live in a parallel world. They are certain that people will judge them if they share their struggles, and they don’t tend to share their darker thoughts as everything is so light and positive.

“No one will care about me anyway.”

They are wrong. People do care, most of us care deeply as many of us have “been there” to some extent.  No, people do care.

The problem is that they don’t want to share.

What we share on these platforms is a reflection or our personal and professional identities. I am sure that some over-zealous individuals would feel that mental health is a topic for Facebook, but nothing is more relevant for our stressful modern workplace. Therefore, I would say that people would rather share a vacuous post about leadership that they would share a personal post about someone’s struggles. People who feel strongly about mental health will be avid supporters, but I reckon that the average social media user would feel a little awkward if they shared this sort of thing on a regular basis. People might think that they too have “issues,” and that wouldn’t be good for their reputation, would it?

That is a real shame.

Rather than stupid memes and viral trash, why don’t we share something that might actually make a real difference for others?

So many people are out there, suffering in silence.

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The phrase “you can do anything that you set your mind to” often comes with a whole heap of conditions that have to be met before it becomes your truth.

You can do anything you set your mind to, if….

…. you have the mental strength to see it through.

…. you have the required skills at your disposal.

…. you don’t try to climb a mountain in ballet shoes.

There are many more “if” scenarios in addition to the ones above, but the third example is one that is all too common in the entrepreneurial world. If we are woefully underprepared for the task at hand, we doom ourselves to failure before we start. Not even the most experienced Sherpa would be able to climb Everest in ballet shoes.

It is fair to say that few “normal” people would even contemplate it. If you are planning a charity climb of Kilimanjaro, the first thing that you do is research the kit that you might require. You see what others are wearing, and you use the wisdom of the crowd to inform your decisions. I suppose it could be called a sensible approach.

Why then do entrepreneurs underestimate what it takes?

Maybe the allure of envisaging success is so tantalising that it is all too easy to mentally arrive at your destination before you have thought through the journey.

I would love to be approached to write a book (you know, a book with a capital B, not just some self-published piece of toilet paper), but I am not sure that I have what it takes to come up with something worthy just yet. That would be my Everest. After five years of ghostwriting experience, I have graduated past the ballet shoes stage with my writing, but I might still be wearing the equivalent of trainers. If I took the plunge, I don’t think that I’d be best equipped for success just yet.

Maybe it will take another 1000 blogs to pull on my (writing) climbing boots?

Happily, I don’t have to write a book to ensure my survival, but this is where the difference lies for many entrepreneurs. The pressure to climb that mountain is so great that they put on their ballet shoes and set off regardless of the terrible odds (because ballet shoes are better than no shoes, right?).

So many entrepreneurs fail because they are not facing the reality of what lies ahead. The people around them have a duty to spell these things out to them. It isn’t going to happen if you stick with the ballet shoes – take them off and see things for how they are. You aren’t ready yet.

It’s not negative, it is helpful, and it will save them a lot of heartache and hurt.

===============

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Mental health suffers when you are asked to be something that you are not.

When you are constantly analysing how you should behave in order to fit in with the expectations of others, your life is no longer yours. Yes, society has to have certain norms and accepted rules concerning every aspect of our lives, personal and professional, but there is far more flexibility to express yourself as an individual than many people think.

The playground drive to “do what the cool kids are doing” has well and truly implanted itself in our consciousness, and most of us feel compelled to comply with whatever our environment dictates. Company culture is celebrated as the ultimate solution to enable people to express their authenticity, but in too many companies it ends up as a homogenous collection of clones seeking to “fit in” with each other.

No matter how much a company might hire for this “cultural fit,” it is inevitable that they will take on a huge variety of personalities, many of whom then feel that they should adapt their behaviour accordingly. We are stronger together if we all play table football and drink craft beer on a Friday afternoon.

I quickly understood that I didn’t want to swim with the crowd. I did pretty well to stay within the corporate environment for the first seven years of my career, but since then I have not looked back. Everyone is different, but I personally feel much more comfortable dancing to the beat of my drum.

Happily, I sense that the future belongs to the individual, not the changeling chameleon-like masses.

Over the past century, companies have found it easier to manage their employees if they are all looking in the same direction. Much of the work has been repetitive and operationally focused, so it has been easier that people didn’t question the way that things were done and simply got on with it. The rise of RPA (robotic process automation) and A.I. means that compliance will soon not be so high on the agenda. Robots will do all the boring and monotonous stuff, and companies will start to value the divergent and creative thinkers over the “whatever you say boss” employees of the past. People who think for themselves, stick to their guns and aren’t afraid to go against the grain will be those who will add the most value in the new age of automation.

However, here comes the potential problem.

When people are free to think for themselves, all sorts of doubts come into their minds. We are simply not used to it. When your salary (and food on your family’s table) is dependent on taking creative risks, our minds can go into overdrive. Stress levels rise, and creativity is quickly stifled. The advent of the gig economy has meant that ever more people are going out on their own, doing their own thing and building their business in their own image. On the one hand this is great, but on the other hand, it creates a whole raft of mental health challenges.

Being a chameleon is the easy option – you act according to expectations. Choosing to bring your creative and unique self to work is a lot harder, but if you can deal with your internal demons, it is so much more fulfilling.

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Not every relationship is going to work out the way you initially envisage.

From a professional perspective, we are coming into contact with ever more people who could have an impact on our success. It is important to not only cultivate those relationships which will best contribute to our goals, but also ensure that we are doing our fair share of giving to give each and every relationship the chance of getting there.

Giving without an expectation of receiving anything in return is almost a cliché, and in the early stages of a relationship, it is hard to continue for long. You take a chance on someone, you wonder how things will develop, and you understand that the “return” on your investment might be far in the future if ever at all.

But there is always a chance.

As more people take control of their destinies and take charge of their careers in the gig economy, choosing the people around us is becoming ever more important. Relationships where both parties benefit in multiple ways are the holy grail, but often a lot of trust and faith is required while you are working out how you fit into each other’s lives. If you give each other a chance, you can find common ground and build on that solid foundation.

Not every relationship is so linear.

Some of my closest client relationships have been close to breakdown in the past. One client couldn’t pay me for 9 months, so we took a break. Another client was so busy that I felt ignored and utterly unappreciated. Along with many other UK gig workers, I lost a couple of clients in the wake of Brexit. In all three cases, I chose to be patient and wait for my previous investment in the relationship to come good. These relationships have since grown stronger through the adversity, but that won’t always be the case.

Not every relationship will work out – don’t take it personally.

No matter how amazing you are at your job and how fantastic you are with other people (nope and nope for me), the relationship dice can never be fully “loaded” in your favour. Sometimes you will lose. Over the past five years, there has always been an amount of attrition in my client relationships for various reasons. I fully expect that to continue – I choose to give every relationship a chance, but sometimes you just have to close the door and use the extra energy to open another one.

I’m not sure that I would say that I have fully given up on these relationships, but if the door closes once, it is hard to decide to open it again. You have to give every relationship your maximum effort the first time, but if they break down entirely, then the reasons are often too weighty to overcome again and again.

I will give every relationship a chance, but I will not always give more than one chance. Apart from my wife, kids, and family, very few people have unlimited “get out of jail free” cards, and that is also pretty normal I reckon.

Relationships are a game of chance, but those chances are limited, so make the most of them.

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On life’s journey, intermittently pausing to assess our progress helps to readjust our sights and correct our path.

An amount of measured introspection is an essential (if sometimes painful) exercise, and how we see ourselves at any given moment in time will directly impact on our future actions. As we all live by different values (and long may that be the case), we all have slightly different yardsticks by which to judge our progress.

From my point of view, there are two particular yardsticks that are always vying for prominence.

I try to live my life by my (inner) feelings, but sometimes the (external) numbers get in the way to the extent that I can’t help wondering whether they carry more weight. It is naïve to say that unswerving positivity is more important than a healthy bank balance, but equally a healthy bank balance is no good if you are cowering in bed with depression.

Let’s be honest, healthy feelings and healthy numbers are often intimately linked, so the real question is where you place your focus. If you believe that healthy feelings lead to healthy numbers (and vice versa), which yardstick is your go-to barometer of success?

Many people would see materialistic achievements as the primary measure of their worth. So much internal effort goes into building a career, buying a house, finding a life partner, or raising a family. These visible accomplishments provide the fuel for our internal battles, and no matter how hard the emotional struggle might be, at least we get to shut our own door behind us or kiss the kids goodnight. Good “numbers” give us a tangible reason to feel better about ourselves.

How is it possible to feel good without good numbers, and do bad numbers mean that our emotional world should be desolate and barren too?

I believe that our inner self can be nourished perfectly well without the trappings of materialistic “success.” How we truly feel about our lives and ourselves is not a reflection of whether we own a house or whether our daughter has got into the A team of all-conquering netball club. Belief and faith in our purpose (whatever that might be) is stronger than where we physically find ourselves at any given moment. How we feel (and how those feelings develop) during the journey is worth more than that fleeting sense of achievement when we do get there.

So, you’ve got a new job. Tick. What’s next then?

Numbers can only be quantified when we hit certain milestones, but for the vast majority of our lives we are in that state of limbo when we are not quite there yet. At these moments we can’t help but fall back on how we are feeling about things.

Our past achievements (numbers) are in the past and our future achievements haven’t happened yet, so we have to rely on our inner strength to get us there. Without a whole host of positive feelings, we simply won’t have what it takes to “hit” those numbers.

For me, cultivating healthy feelings is what keeps me ticking along. I might achieve my goals or I might miss out on them, but as long as I am caring for my inner world, I know that I’ll get there in the end.

Whatever “there” means….

I’m honestly not sure that it matters anymore.

What matters is how you feel along the way….

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I want to hug certain clients sometimes. You know who you are.

As I seek to spend the maximum amount of time possible with my family, I have adopted a policy of not venturing out to meet my clients. Getting to know people over the phone is perfectly possible, and making copious notes is easy when you don’t have to deal with the social niceties of face-to-face conversation.

This does make for a rather lonely existence.

Admittedly, I quite enjoy my own company. However, every now and again, when the day has not quite gone as planned, I do welcome these friendly chats. Okay, I’ll be honest, I don’t just welcome them, I need them.

I sense that my clients need them too.

Having an outlet for emotions (or in my case being fed with emotions) is a crucial mechanism for regulating our mental health.

My CEO, MD and HR Director clients are overwhelmed by emotions from every corner all day, so talking to me about the things that trouble them acts like a release. I translate their thoughts into a piece of writing, helping to process further, and they release them into the world, completing the cathartic loop.

However, I suspect that I get more from these 15-minute chats than my clients do.

Even though I have many introvert-like tendencies, I need a source of external emotional fuel to retain a sense of balance. Being a sounding board for my clients not only helps them to refine their thinking, it also gives me an endless source of inspiration. For me, ghostwriting is far more about the journey than the final piece of writing. If you had one thing to say to the world, what would you say? That is the question, and the thinking that accompanies it is worth far more than the eventual answer.

That is why I enjoy talking with my clients so much, and it is what makes my seemingly lonely writer’s existence so much richer.

The clients who have been with me the longest don’t care about views and engagement anymore. That is, of course, important, but they value the chance to share their emotions with an impartial and caring listener that much more. If anyone asks me about what I enjoy most about my job, it isn’t the physical act of writing the blogs or their subsequent reception. I just love picking the brains of my amazingly successful clients, making my inner world that little bit richer with every chat.

It could be that I actually have one of the least lonely careers. I am truly blessed to play a meaningful role in the lives of my clients. They give to me, and I give back to them.

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You’ve been waiting for that moment for so long.

Maybe your whole life….

You have imagined what it feels like in countless dreams, and as the moment of accomplishment approaches, it somehow feels like an old friend. You have never entertained the possibility of letting that friend down. As the “ball” arrows towards the target, your arms start to raise in celebration. Finally, yesssss, get in there!

But then the ball rebounds off the post and into touch.

Assuming that you have achieved something before the deal is sealed is one of the cruellest of human tendencies. We want to believe in the best, but if we start to celebrate too early, there is a real danger that we will lose sight of any last-minute complications.

Just because we have put 99% of our efforts into achieving something doesn’t mean that that last 1% could make that crucial difference.

I am guilty of this, and not only about myself.

At the moment, my daughter is trialing to join one of the best junior netball teams in the UK. She has played a couple of tournaments and a few games with their A’s and has done okay. If I am honest, just getting into the B’s would be a huge step up from where she was, but I hope that she might be given her chance. The last official trial is tonight and she will then be told which team she is in.

I have already been envisaging her grinning face as picks up all those trophies (they win a lot), but she has a different attitude. She is ambitious, but she feels that if she doesn’t get into the A’s immediately, nothing is stopping her from achieving her goal a little bit later. As she pivots to take those last few shots tonight (in front of the panel of selectors), she won’t be thinking about trophies, she will still be thinking about doing her best.

I would be dreaming about trophies if I were her…. I’m glad that she is different.

You might think that after a few examples of premature celebration, the tendency would seem less appealing. Speaking from personal experience, it never quite works out that way. When you are a hopeless optimist (not a healthy approach), you will be left disappointed again and again. On the other hand, you might never have taken the shot in the first place, but let’s not complicate the discussion.

Celebrating success is an important part of life. However, celebrating partial success when you know that potential failure still lurks is no sort of life at all. If the ball is not in the back of the net, failure is always a possibility. Don’t let it consume your thoughts, but make sure that it is still in your thoughts.

Celebrating early (and in vain) can leave such a hollow feeling.

Make sure that you see through your dreams right to the end.

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