It is not easy to know the inner truths of our lives. The pressures and expectations of daily life disconnect us from what matters to us.
In the early 1900’s, Leo Tolstoy, then in his 70’s, was a living literary genius. His books included Anna Karenina and War and Peace, still regarded as one of the greatest pieces of literature.
He was revered by his literary contemporaries, such as Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Chekhov and Maxim Gorky.
“When literature possesses a Tolstoy, it is easy and pleasant to be a writer; even when you know you have achieved nothing yourself and are still achieving nothing, this is not as terrible as it might otherwise be, because Tolstoy achieves for everyone. What he does serves to justify all the hopes and aspirations invested in literature.”
In 1906 Maxim Gorky invited Tolstoy to visit him at his grand estate on the Island of Capri. In his later memoir of this visit, Gorky, recounts a poignant moment.
Tolstoy was frail but liked going for walks alone every day. Gorky, 40 years younger than Tolstoy, was concerned for his welfare. So he had one of his Russian-speaking staff secretly shadow him.
One day, as Tolstoy wandered through the vast grounds of the estate, he came across a lizard sunning itself on a rock. He stopped, drew himself up and stared at the lizard for some time.
Believing he was alone, he asked the lizard in Russian, ‘’Are you happy?”.
The lizard looked back and continued to sun itself, but said nothing. Tolstoy waited. Then he said, “Because I’m not.”
Tolstoy was isolated. Trapped in a bad marriage, idolised by his peers and the public, he had no one with whom he could share his inner most feelings. In this private moment, away from the celebrity of his life, he felt safe to reveal to himself, a sad truth.
You need to get beyond knee-jerk responses to the world around you. Dig deeper. Take time. Remind yourself what you care about.
Sometimes it’s just taking time out to reflect on what’s important.
Patrick Pichette loved his job as CFO of Google. At the end of a wonderful adventure holiday, his wife suggested they just keep travelling. Patrick reminded her that he still had more to do at Google. The time wasn’t right. When she then asked ‘So when is it going to be time? Our time? My time?’, it flipped his axis.
“(I realised)…first, the kids are gone. Second, I am completing 25-30 years of nearly non-stop work. Third, Tamar and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary.”
So in 2015 he left Google.
When Patrick reviewed his life, he re-arranged what he valued in the next period of his life. Work and responsibility became less important than freedom and family. His destination shifted from time at work to timeout with his wife. It changed his options.
The deeper reasons for our choices change as we move through life and they are not the same as they were 10, 5 or even 2 years ago.
The real destination of your reinvention is based on your values, beliefs, aspirations and needs.
A future job, project, role, business or way of working, is not the real destination. That’s the ‘what’ and ‘how’. You only consider that after you know where you are going.
You don’t fly from London to New York, or anywhere else for that matter, without going off course at least seventy-five percent of the time. The weather, the jet stream, birds and other traffic affects the route.
Mike Flint wanted a new challenge. As Warren Buffett’s personal pilot for over 10 years, he instinctively knew there were many options to get there. So when he asked advice from one of the richest men on the planet, Buffett told him to write down his top 25 options and select the top 5.
When he had completed this task Buffet asked him, “So what will you do with the other 20 you didn’t select?” .
“I’ll focus on the top 5 but keep working at the other 20 as they were a close second”. Flint replied.
Buffet was adamant, “No, you’ve got it all wrong Mike. Everything you didn’t select became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things should get no attention until you’ve succeeded with the top 5.”
Like flying a plane. Successful reinvention is based on being clear and specific about your real destination – why you are reinventing yourself.
Then you select what you consider are a few of the best ways to get there. You may be wrong. You may have to correct your course to adapt to unforeseen opportunities or threats. But you will start the journey.
So take the time to reflect on what reinvention means for you now.
It might be about working in a different field, being more creative, contributing to something that matters to you, or having more flexibility and freedom in life/work.
It will vary for everyone.
How do you know if the “why’’ is the right destination? It’s simple – imagine it.
We can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what we imagine. So we find ways to match our external reality with our internal reality.
Thoughts produce the same mental instructions as action, even to the point of developing muscle coordination and strength. Thinking about playing the piano has the same effect on the brain as playing it. You get half the effect of an exercise program just by thinking about it. The stronger we imagine something with all our senses – what we feel, think, hear and do – the more powerful the effect.
If not, imagine another and keep doing it until you find one.
Then take Buffett’s’ advice, focus on the top 5 ways to get there and be ready to adapt.
It’s a good starting point to kickstart your reinvention journey.