But when you look ahead there isn’t a bread crumb in sight – there are just a few shrubs, a bunch of trees, a handful of skittish woodland creatures. You glance from left to right and find no indication of which way you’re supposed to go. And so you stand there, sniffing at the wind, looking for directional clues in the growth patterns of moss, and you think, What now?
– Ana Patchett, What Now?
Where did this thought come from…?
That success was a process of building, one after the other, step by step, block upon block and that if you miss one, you have no choice but to simply accept the fate of your tower of accomplishments being a little bit less than the others who didn’t get it wrong the first time.
Because it’s not true.
Well, okay, it is true. It’s true in the sense that most people you meet who seem to have a comfortable life have done this very thing. Worked their way up a ladder of some sort, moving companies maybe but taking their time, year on year, project by project to secure the next level of accomplishment.
I’m not talking about that sort of success though.
I’m talking about the sort of success that gets you invited to do Commencement Addresses. The sort of success that’s built from changing things or making a difference. The kind of success that on your death bed you know was worth all the effort and sacrifice.
I reckon that at least 90% of these sorts of people (note: very scientific survey done there) had at least one, if not two or more, times in their life where they were completely lost. And not just for a short time.
Ellen DeGeneres didn’t get work for three years after she came out as a lesbian.
Bobbi Brown (of the make-up variety) didn’t get started until she was 34.
Suzanne Somers (you may remember her thighs from the thighmaster) sat on the couch for a year after she got fired for asking to be paid the same as men.
We all know JK Rowling’s story…
And then there’s the famous Steve Jobs getting fired from his own company. He was also a University drop-out.
Every single one of them points to these times as the foundation of personal traits that made them successful. The place where they lost their fear of failure, learnt about what was really important in life and found strength within themselves to keep going against bad odds.
Being uncertain, unsure and insecure is not an indication of future failure.
Being lost is essential to discovering your own path.
I’m just going to write that sentence again because I need to hear it:
Being uncertain, unsure and insecure is not an indication of future failure. It is essential to discovering your own path.
Sometimes not having any idea where we’re going works out better than we could possibly have imagined. – Ana Patchett.
This moment then, this sitting alone in a cafe in a random city in Spain, feeling hopelessly lost and confused, a ball of uncertainty about the things I’m saying in (an admittedly small) public arena, an empty notebook of ignorance about life and myself reflecting an unmerciful glint into my eye, simply possessing an insatiable curiosity and a desire to be productive, to create and to contribute in some way that comes from in me instead of dictated to me is, actually…
…the very stuff Life is made of.
Follow your passion, stay true to yourself. Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path, and then by all means you should follow that.
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