Let me describe you a friend of mine. He is 40 years old. He works as a senior finance manager in a respectable company, earning a normal salary. He’s not very passionate about his job as his learning curve slowed down and his next promotion is years away in a seniority driven corporate. When he started his career, he was bright and full of energy. Over the years, he somehow lost a bit of this personality. He always wanted to be a CFO at his current age but sort of toned down his ambition after sending out resumes to few headhunters and getting no positive response. He justified it due to the recessionary economy and his need to choose stability to provide for his family, instead of challenging his current employer or actively seeking another job.
At home, he has a loving wife and 2 young kids. He lives in a nice apartment on mortgage and commutes to work 45 minutes every day. He comes home tired, plays with the kids for a while and eats dinner. After they put the kids to the bed, he watches popular TV shows with his wife. On weekends, he likes to meet with his ex-colleague and his family and they have long brunch together in a family friendly cafe to chat about the recessionary economy, sports, the latest TV shows and to which school they plan to enroll their kids. Recently, my friend started to gain some weight due to lack of exercise. He keeps saying he needs to go to the gym but he never does. He used to read non-fiction books, but not anymore because he prefers to read articles and 10-minute long youtube videos. In his late 20’s and beginning 30’s he read many books that helped him to advance in his career before the smartphone and internet took over his life. Despite he can now buy books with one click, he says he doesn’t have time to read them. When I ask him how he feels about his life, he says ”He’s feeling content”.
Isn’t something wrong with this picture? As we get closer to our 40’s, our values change, families grow, risk appetite goes down and inertia takes over. All of a sudden it becomes inconceivable to make risky or uncomfortable changes in our life. Making side moves to accelerate our career, starting our own business, launching our own hobby club or learning a new language or sports becomes more difficult than before. As we start delaying or dropping our ambitions and dreams, we become a little lazier every day. Eventually, when we are asked about how we feel, we answer that ”We feel content”. Despite being at the prime of our lives, reaching the highest financial comfort, vocational capability and risk management abilities, we neither fulfill our potential nor have a fulfilling life. Our soul starts to die slowly and we allow that to happen in the name of comfort.
Does this sound familiar? That’s what I call the mediocrity trap. In other words, it’s losing our passion and inspiration to follow our dreams and reach our full potential. As a result, we feel ”content” instead of being ”happy”.
So here are some practical tips to avoid the 40-year-old mediocrity trap and start living your life to the fullest:
If you’re not living, you’re dying. Set yourself a meaningful goal. As any champion sportsman would tell you, the true joy of being a champion is not really in holding the cup but living the thrill of competition and beating the best opponents. The reason you don’t feel this thrill is because you got pretty much everything you wanted. Family, job, apartment, car etc. The issue is that these were natural goals you set to achieve for yourself in the first part of your life and you achieved them all. But what’s really next? If you don’t ask you don’t get. The real joy in life comes from overcoming the challenges on your way to a meaningful goal. In his famous book ”Man’s search for meaning”, Victor Frankl told the story of the Nazi concentration camps from an insider’s perspective and observed that the longevity of the inmates correlated directly with their willingness to survive, kept alive by their hope. In other words, the inmates who gave up the goal to survive, didn’t survive as they lost the meaning to live. So set yourself a meaningful goal that is deeply rooted in your passion and values. When asked, most people want to be rich so that they don’t have to work anymore. Yet, this is not deeply rooted in their passion. It’s just a reaction to the work they don’t like. In reality, what they are saying is ”I don’t like my work but I just have to do it”. So, the real question is, “What would you do with your life if you were filthy rich?” Spending more time with your kids to raise them better? Helping others to succeed? Learning new languages? Writing a book? Challenging your own potential? You see, once the mental barrier of needing money to provide is lifted off, with a little bit of soul searching, you can find meaningful goals. Despite common belief, you don’t need to quit your job or risk the things you have to follow your goals. And this leads us up to the next tip.
Use the power of ”AND” in life. You don’t have to quit your day job to follow your dream. Have you ever heard this when you were a kid? ”You can’t have your cake and eat it too”. It’s a paradigm that’s taught early on in life. Life is tough and you can’t have it all. You have to make choices, sacrifices to get what you want. While it helps to raise obedient kids, I believe it kills a big part of creativity and ambition as we condition our kids to believe that compromises are the only way to achieve things in life. I call this the ”Or” mentality which is a famous thinking error documented as ”False Dilemma”. I wrote extensively about it in my other article, yet here we’ll talk about how to overcome this mental barrier with a powerful tool called ”AND”. Yes, you can live your dream and work in your day job at the same time. It requires a bit of creative thinking, a bit of hustle and most importantly asking the right question. Let’s say you want to help others to succeed in life without giving up on your job? Then ask the right question: How can I help other people without quitting my job? Answer: Help people in your job. Start a voluntary training on what you do best, mentor young people, organize seminars or share useful articles. You want to spend more time with your kids? The right question: How can I spend more time with my kids without sacrificing my career? Answer: Re-arrange your working schedule to work 4 days a week, spending Fridays at home. While you think you might lose 20% of your income, apply the power of ”AND” and get so much better at your work, learn a new skill or get more competitive to ask for a salary raise to compensate for the loss. If your company is not flexible for such arrangement, think about reducing your commuting time to spend more time with your kids. Change your address or change your job. If none of them are practical, then wake up 1 hour earlier everyday, and come home 1 hour earlier which might give you 5 hours more with your kids every week. One of my friends, who works as a Chief Operating Officer in a respectable manufacturing company, decided to follow his passion to help other people succeed. He made a deal with his wife to take a break from the family and write for 5 hours every Saturday. Eventually, he wrote a great book about ”Managing Y-Generation at work” without quitting his job and now he’s working on the second one. My other friend, who is located in Geneva, came up with a brilliant start-up idea at the age of 40 and got early funding from an incubator company in Istanbul. Instead of relocating and disrupting his life, he chose to spend half of the week in Geneva and the other half in Istanbul to realize his dream without losing his residence. My point is, use the power of ”AND” so you don’t have to sacrifice what you have for what you want to have.
The book you don’t read won’t help. I love this quote by Jim Rohn. It’s stupid to follow your passion without a strategy. You need a set of smart strategies to move to action. Now, thankfully there is a book for almost everything. Reading the right books may provide you enormous advantages as they provide time-tested answers and give you paths to success, avoiding common mistakes. In my own personal story, I became CEO of Russia in an international company before my 40 and co-founded my own business at the age of 35. The latter allowed me to generate regular passive income to retire for the rest of my life. During my journey, every time I had a problem, I read a book about it. So here’s my book path that led me there: At the age of 33, I decided to get out of my comfort zone as a well earning white collar and identify my passion for life. I read the ”Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki and learned the importance of passive income (income other than your active salary i.e. own business, rent etc) and decided to invest into my own business yet didn’t know how to do it without quitting my job with good income in a multinational company. 2 years later, the answer came from ”Mojo” where Marshall Goldman advised to follow my passion without quitting my job. I said ”Great!” But I had no clue how to succeed in the cutthroat competition for fast track in one of the most prestigious FMCG companies in the world, while starting my own business. The answer came from Tim Ferris (4 Hour Work Week) about how to quadruple my productivity by revolutionizing the way that I manage my time to co-found my business and succeed in my career. Later on, when I got stuck in my career due to recession and got off-track vs my goal to become CEO before my 40, the right advice came from Donald Asher (Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t And Why) which helped me to make the right career jump to become a CMO in a leading electronics company which allowed me to become the CEO in another company later under 3 years. During this time, my daughter was born and she turned out to be a strong willed kid (fancy way of saying stubborn) which gave me and my wife hard time. The advice came from Robert Williams (How to raise a strong-willed child). The list goes on and on. Do you want to break the mediocrity trap? Read a bloody book about it.
Getting a mentor is the shortcut to success. What? You are 40 years old and you never had a mentor? Michael Jordan, the best basketball player of all time, had 3 coaches. Leonardo da Vinci was trained and mentored by Verrocchio even after his graduation from his studio. Charles Darwin was mentored by his Professor Henslow who later on arranged for Darwin to go on an unpaid expedition trip to South America, where he made the breakthrough discovery about the evolution and natural selection. Google Co-founder Larry Page turned to Steve Jobs for advice. Mentors play a crucial role in the making of highly successful and accomplished people yet we barely hear about them because the credit goes to the hero that they train. According to Robert Greene, the author of Mastery, mentors provide a springboard for the talent who is ready to jump. My point is, whichever passion you want to follow, there is always someone out there who might have gone through a similar path with more experience. Their advice gives you a big kick in the right direction, only if you are willing to follow. Find and connect with them. Let’s say you want to be great at work but also be a great parent at the same time. Who, around you does it very well? Go to them and ask for their advice. You want to start your own business? Do you know anybody who did it and succeeded? Go to that person and ask his / her advice. You don’t know how to find or connect with those people? Then I advise Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi to connect with anyone in the world for their wisdom.
Don’t let self-help become shelf-help. Turn your ”Shoulds” into ”Musts”. If you’ve read up to this point, chances are, you care about your self-development and you have at least some self-help books in your library or smartphone. And if you’re a little inspired to take action to follow your passion, the next thing you’ll do might be finding a book to read about it. While you might feel good downloading a book about ”fast reading”, something you have always wanted to learn, it’s useless until you take your extra time to do your exercises and read the next 20 books with the new technique you learned. In his famous Ted talk, Derek Sivers talks about why the self-momentum can be self-sabotaged by instant incomplete gratification. Learning the right strategy is absolutely necessary but it’s only 10% of the job. The tough part is to act on it which makes the other 90%. In the famous story, Cortes, in his attempt to expand Spanish Empire further into South America, sank (not burned) his own ships to stop a growing mutiny among his men. That’s called commitment. So the best way to take action today is to make yourself committed. How? By investing your resources, so you have a skin in the game. You want to lose weight? Pay for a dietitian. The real value of a dietitian is not in the advice (as you can easily get it from books or internet) but in your mental commitment to expect a return of your investment, as a result, you tend to follow the diet and go for a check. You want to start your own business without quitting your job? If you read, find a mentor, go out to connect with others and find a real opportunity, the real moment of truth comes when you invest your money in it. No billionaire started their business, without putting his own money first. As the motivational guru, Tony Robbins suggests, real commitment turns your ”Shoulds” into ”Musts”.
In the spirit of fast action, I’d like to stop here and give you the time to reflect on your passion to follow. You didn’t wake up today to be mediocre. If you’re living a life that is slowly killing your soul, it’s time to wake up. Good is the enemy of great. Comfort is the worst trap of a 40-year-old. I passionately protest and fight against mediocrity at every turn of my life and I kindly advise you to do the same to live your life to the fullest, to reach your full potential and never look back on the fake comfort that trapped you in its claws. The true comfort is to say, ”I lived a great life full of passion” in your dying bed. You can start it right now.
- How to teach yourself to be smart (Article, starbrandmanager.com – Guvenc Donmez)
- Man’s search for meaning (Victor Frankl)
- The art of the start (Book, Guy Kawasaki)
- Rich dad poor dad (Book, Robert Kiyosaki)
- Mojo (Book, Marshall Goldsmith)
- Who gets promoted, who doesn’t and why (Book, Donald Usher)
- Mastery (Book, Robert Greene)
- 4 hour work week (Book, Tim Ferris)
- Never eat alone (Book, Keith Ferrazzi)