og is such a crisp metaphor for life. If you go somewhere new when it's foggy and you can’t see what it looks like, your mind instinctively decides it's not very nice. I've never arrived anywhere new when it's foggy and thought, "I'm sure it's beautiful out there".
Our minds imagine the unknown as dull and dreary, sometimes scary, like fog. It's only when the sun lifts the fog that you realise you were wrong.
The reverse is also true. The sun can make a grotty alleyway look appealing in the way it casts shadows and electrifies colours.
It's all a matter of timing and how light shines on the world.
We must never forget that, unlike the weather, we get to control how, where and when we shine our light on the world.
Whatever you’re doing now is the consequence of decisions you’ve made up until this moment. Knowing what you know now, you might have chosen differently back then. But you know that now and the future is still in your hands so be positive, be brave, and make the most of your next move. We spend too much time thinking about the moves we did or didn't make in the past and not enough time squeezing the most out of the move we're making right now.
I like this analogy. Picture a theatre stage. When the spotlights are on, you can only see the person or people under those streams of light. But when the house lights are on, you can see the whole theatre, actors and audience, from front to back.
It's only when you cast a dim light on your life that you see the past and the think about the future. The past has gone. The future is blank. Don't waste today thinking about what you can't control. Do what feels right today, do it to the best of your ability, and let the world surprise you tomorrow.
Doing what feels right and what feels easy aren’t the same thing. Don’t shy away from hard things. You need to face them. The more something hurts, the more likely it's working because you make progress when you're struggling. It's true when you're exercising, working, and in life more generally.
I tried to reflect on why that is.
Perhaps because pain casts doubt on your abilities. You don't know if you can make it to the end, whether you have enough stamina, or the skills to succeed.
Perhaps because you really are struggling but the struggle invokes a fight. Our bodies default to lazy - it's smart to conserve energy. So we need to push them to a limit where they're tricked into thinking they need to act, to release the full tank of energy on the problem you face.
As science says; for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. When you don't put much in, you don't get much out. When you do things you don't want to do, you use more energy, which makes things worse initially but better thereafter.
Perhaps because it's new. You feel pain because your body's telling you something isn't right and it doesn't know why. If you scold yourself with hot water, it’s blisteringly painful. But if you do it day after day, it will stop hurting. You adapt, the cells die or your mind becomes accustomed to the torture.
Perhaps it's all three. It doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is we should do hard things more often.
People talk about ‘wandering’ a lot. The most famous cheerleader is Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who describes wandering as follows:
“We knew we wanted to create a culture of builders – people who are curious, explorers…A builder’s mentality helps us approach big, hard-to-solve opportunities with a humble conviction that success can come through iteration: invent, launch, reinvent, relaunch, start over, rinse, repeat, again and again. They know the path to success is anything but straight.
Sometimes (often actually) in business, you do know where you’re going, and when you do, you can be efficient. Put in place a plan and execute. In contrast, wandering in business is not efficient … but it’s also not random. It’s guided – by hunch, gut, intuition, curiosity, and powered by a deep conviction that the prize for customers is big enough that it’s worth being a little messy and tangential to find our way there. Wandering is an essential counter-balance to efficiency. You need to employ both. The outsized discoveries – the “non-linear” ones – are highly likely to require wandering.”
Wandering makes intuitive sense to me. I feel like it's right and I can’t argue with Jeff Bezos. But I've learnt something about wandering over the past year that I hadn't appreciated before.
It's really hard.
Why? Because our natural instincts are to explore but then to return home. Our lives, for very good reasons, revolve around shelter and safety - our homes. After we do anything, we return home. And that instinct – that pull towards safety - applies in business too.
I wanted to spend the past year ‘wandering’ to see what else was out there. There had to be more to life than what I had seen over the past 6 years in work. But the magnetism of what I'd learnt and knew, my comfort zone, has been strong.
I’ve spent time reading and exploring science, media, history, sport, psychology, but I keep returning back to finance. Do I think finance is the best place for me? I don't know. I find it fascinating but of all the options in the world, what are the chances that the first career I chose as an 18-year-old was the right one? Slim, I reckon, but it's what I know and for that reason it still feels like the best path forwards.
On reflection, I think wandering is the wrong term. It implies day trips through the woods on sunny days. When you wander, you do it on your terms. Generally, you do it when you feel full of energy, you know a nice area to explore, and you plan on sleeping in your own bed that night.
What Bezos and other pioneers talk about isn’t wandering. It’s the Mayflower leaving Southampton, it’s Captain Cook battling the Pacific, it’s Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary climbing Everest. Fortunately, it doesn’t require the same risk to life, but I think it needs a similar mindset. You have to accept that there's a good chance you never return home.
You have to sacrifice the comfort of what you know for the unknown because you trust that the further you go, the more you'll learn. And when the clouds roll in, and the promise of new territories and riches seem a world away, you hunker down and stick with it because there is no other way.
Necessity, as they say, is the mother of all invention.
We rarely lack the skill, creativity, qualifications or experience to succeed. We just lack the courage to lose our inhabitations.