A dear school friend accompanied me on my recent trip to Nottingham.
Through a series of ‘random’ coincidences, he has ended up as the general manager of a large event construction business within three years of graduating from university. On the other side of the world.
Over five to six hundred beers in the shadow of a castle, we were chuckling at how two boys from a coal mining town on the east coast of Australia ended up with what can politely be described as a surprising (ie unwarranted) level of success before hitting thirty.
Because there sure as shit wasn’t a business plan.
In fact, I was chatting with Jason about this via email just the other week. The rocket that was put under my media career happened less than seven years ago. I had just run completely out of money having spent the previous six months writing a (dreadful) TV pilot script. So I needed a job quick and took one in the call centre of an Auckland newspaper in New Zealand.
From there I moved into magazines, then the proper part of the newspaper, then the online team, then I acquired a bunch of sites for a network we were building, then there was a bit with Myspace back when it was still cool, then the BBC, then Discovery Channel and now a global events/mobile media company. The big jumps all happened in the space of two and a bit years.
All because one day I took a crappy job in a tiny call centre at the very edge of the civilized world.
That is one black frikking swan.
It’s a black swan because I am not special. I drink and eat too much. I get grumpy and histrionic which you would think had something to do with being gay but actually I got it from my dad. I’m above average in the brains department but it has been repeatedly and conclusively proven that intellectual ability has absolutely zero impact on your ability to become a high earner. (It may help but one in no way guarantees or implies the other.) My teeth will never be Halle Berry white because I used to be a smoker. I’m a little bit pretty when I am at my ideal weight which I am never at for long enough because of the drinking and eating and sitting.
You would not single me out in a ‘most likely to succeed’ line up.
But do you know what my friend and I -as well as most of my heroes it turns out- have in common?
We know how to say “fuck it”… constructively.
- I said “fuck it. sure I’ll move to NZ without knowing a single person and with no money. Why not?”
- I said “fuck it. I’m going to take six months out and be poor and write a terrible, terrible TV pilot.”
- I said “fuck it. I vaguely know how advertising works because I did a film degree a few years back. I can work in a call centre.”
- I said “fuck it. I’ll move to the UK even though there is a slight risk of recession. What could possibly go wrong? It’s not like the world will collapse.” (August 2008.)
- I said “fuck it. Sure. Send my resume to Discovery Channel. I won’t get the job but maybe it will provide a bit of laughter and brighten up their afternoon.”
This is the secret magical power of “fuck it”. You can’t use it as an excuse not to try or to do a half-assed job. You paint it on your standard, you lift it high, you rally yourself around it and you jump the fuck in.
Using risk to change your life
1. Don’t put your life on hold
What is this rainy day everyone keeps talking about? I love the rain! Just do everything and do it now. The rest will work itself out.
2. Create your own opportunities
Your situation is never hopeless. Here’s a story about my former employer, Sir Richard Branson. His flight home from a vacation on a particular Caribbean island was cancelled and he had a meeting he had to get to in London. Everyone in the terminal was complaining because they were going to miss their connecting flights home. He walked across the airstrip, inquired how much it would cost to charter a private plane, booked the plane, then went back into the terminal and sold out every single seat on the charter flight to pay for it. (I haven’t read the book, I got this from the induction. Additional details from those who have are welcomed.)
3. Always look for the upgrade
Never stop improving yourself. Always look for something that will get you outside what you are used to. This could be a new language or it could be volunteering at a retirement home. (Hopefully it’s a new language.)
4. Stop whining!
Risk takers don’t whine. They do. Complaining does nothing but gives everyone within earshot a much lower opinion of you. If you don’t like something, change it, change yourself or move on.
5. Choose your own saints
Fun fact. Sir Richard isn’t actually one of mine. But instead of having one metaphoric bracelet with WWJD engraved on it, have ten. What Would Ari Gold Do? What Would Kylie Do? What Would Seth Godin Do? What Would Captain Jack Sparrow Do? (That last one I ask myself a lot.)
6. Back yourself
Adventure requires 100% belief in yourself. You need to know that no matter what happens after you say “fuck it” you’ll be able to roll with it. Win or lose, you’re Captain Jack Sparrow. (See how easy it is?)
7. Don’t settle!
This isn’t your lot. You don’t even have a lot. Spare me your karma talk. If you think karma has something to do with the fact that your lot is failing to move beyond McDonald’s Drive Through Operator then I would suggest that you haven’t grasped either the concept of lots or the concept of karma. Productive risk is about seeing what you have, seeing something you want and deciding that the gap between them is unacceptable.
What about magic?
Where is magic in all of this?
Magic comes second. First the risk. Then the magic. If you’re not saying “fuck it” then your magical results have no choice but to manifest along the small, familiar, unspectacular lines you are already used to. Don’t enchant to be a millionaire and then sit back down on the couch.
But… If you are saying “fuck it” then suddenly the universe has a whole lot more options to work with.
When I say magic comes second I mean practical magic comes second. The philosophy of magic comes first. The philosophy comes even before “fuck it”. To practice magic, you have to maintain the view that the universe -at least in part- is in some way your plaything. That is your secret weapon and your hidden advantage. So use it.
What does all this have to do with the images of the ships in this post, then?
Well, I caught an old episode of the West Wing the other day and I base these images on a quote from the show. A quote that I am going to end on:
“A ship is safe in the harbor… But that’s not what ships are built for.”