Recently, I was having a skype call with a mentor of mine who lives in Dublin, Ireland. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to connect and a lot has transpired in both of our lives.
My mentor, Blair, is someone who I look up to very much. He’s the kind of person who always challenges what you think is true and forces you to look at things just a little bit differently than you did before you got into the conversation.
This call wasn’t any different.
As we were catching up, talking about the exciting (and sometimes challenging) changes that have happened in both of our lives, I started to talk to Blair about something that I’m slowly working on for my own personal and professional development: a personal advisory board.
The idea of a personal advisory board is something I’ve heard about a few times, most memorably from my friend Dev Aujla.
But that’s another story.
As I was talking to Blair about this, I asked him “Blair, I’d like to ask you to be on my personal advisory board. I’d like to check in with you from time to time and make sure I’m on the right path.”
“The Right Path.”
How many times have you thought about that? How many times have you asked yourself, “am I on the right path? Am I heading in the right direction?”
Whether its in our work, our relationships, or in Life, how often do you ask that question?
It’s a question that’s important to us. Because when we know that we’re on the right path - when we feel it - it makes all those negative feelings, those thoughts of self-doubt, and the feeling of failure seem a bit more tolerable.
We can tell ourselves that it’s just a few hurdle in the road to our success.
It seems that everyone cares about being on the right path - making sure that we’re making the right choices, taking the right steps, and doing the right things to ensure that we’re successful both personally and professionally.
But what if success in life has nothing to do with being on the right path?
As Blair tends to do, he gave me something to think deeply about.
Blair says to me, “Matt, I’d be more than happy to be part of your personal advisory board, but I want to talk about something you just said.”
Blair went on to share with me something I wasn’t aware of. He told me that by trying to find the right path, I’m suggesting that there’s a wrong path. In fact, by suggesting that there’s a path, I’m suggesting, unknowingly to myself, that there are a limited number of ways I can reach what I call for myself, “Success”.
As we went deeper into this conversation, Blair shared with me something that I’d never really thought about.
What if, instead of thinking about success as being on the right path, we looked at it as a river?
A river has a current. At times that current will be calm and the water will be flowing calmly and smooth. It may carry us in the direction we want to go.
At other times, that river may be raging. The current may be working against us. It may require us to work hard, with everything we have, to fight that current because where we’re heading isn’t where we want to go.
Maybe, in order to get to where we have to go, we ask ourselves “are you in the right river?” Are you in the program, the relationship, or the job that is right for you?
This conversation has changed everything for me. Once I become aware of this, I recognized that all challenge in my life comes with choice. I can choose to ask others if I’m “on the right path” or I can choose to dive into the river that will allow me to live like water and find my flow.
I’m not sure exactly when my invisible fire started. Sometimes I think that it started in high school. If you asked anyone who knew me in high school I think you’d find, with the exception of a few close friends, that most would say I was a pretty normal kid, had decent marks, was liked by most people and teachers and that I was pretty involved in extra curricular activities like Rugby, volunteering and being on a few different councils.
That was how I wanted everyone to see me. I didn’t want people to see how my life really was. I very rarely had any of my friends over to my house. I never had parties. My life at home was one that was filled with a lot of anxiety, frustration and yelling. I fought with my parents more often than not. To me - at that time in my life - my home life was a disappointment. I would compare my home life to those of my friends and it would make me angry. I expected my parents to act a certain way; I expected a certain amount of support from them; I expected them to change who they were to fit my expectations. For a long time I hated who they were and I hated who I was. I was resentful for the amount of control I felt my parents were trying to have over MY life.
When high school ended I couldn’t wait to get away from my house. I was heading to University and I was ready to live my own life away from my parents. No rules, no yelling, no stress. Everything was going to be different and it was all going to be better…
First year of University went by and I had my challenges just like everyone else. I had to learn time management. There was no one telling me when to get up, when to go to class and worst of all…I had to do my own laundry!
That summer I decided that I’d go back home to Orillia to work and make as much money as I could. That’s what’s important right? I needed to make as much money as I could so that I could buy things…like…ok I can’t actually remember anything I bought…I know I paid for gas and to fix my ’87 Jetta with power windows and a crank sunroof! That’s about it…
So that summer things returned to normal: fighting, yelling, me punching a wall or a door
When I was in my second year of University the doctor told me that I had anxiety. I had already known but having a doctor tell you makes it that much more real.
For the next two years I battled with negative thoughts about what I was doing with my life, all the things that I was unhappy with and where my life would end up. I started taking medication and eventually went into group Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
The medication helped for a while. I’m not sure if it really was the medication itself or just knowing that I was taking medication and told that it was suppose to make me feel better. Regardless, it calmed me. When I would have panic attacks I would just take a little extra. But it was learning to control and understand my thoughts that really changed my life.
Without getting too much into the details (which are kind of boring) CBT is a form of psychotherapy based on modifying everyday thoughts and behaviors, with the aim of positively influencing your thought and emotions.
I finally realized that I controlled my thoughts and they didn’t control me.
It didn’t happen overnight though; I had to tell myself this many many times. I wrote it down and placed it at eye level by my door with tack so that I would see it every time I left my room.
I was able to step outside of myself and really think about what was important to me and when was I most happy.
I was most happy when I was helping other people.
I was most happy when I could help my friends get through their problems by sharing my own experiences.
I was most happy when I felt as though I was making a difference in someone else’s life
My anxiety went away when I spent my time doing things for other people and didn’t focus all of my energy on myself.
As time went by I got out of the big “emotional ditch” that I had been digging and life became a whole lot more meaningful for me!
It's been years now since I've felt the kind of anxiety I did during that time. That invisible fire that burned inside of me is still there, but it's less of a fire and more of a little flame. The big thing is that I control it now. I don't feed it and I don't focus on it.
I focus on the positive. The Good. The things that I can do to help other people. I've learned that through the seemingly simple act of helping others, you actually end up doing quite a lot to help yourself.
Matt Tod is an international speaker, leadership facilitator, writer and lover of all things Zombie-related.