I have made my share of stupid decisions. Some turned out to be stupid decisions right until the end, and there was no upside. However some things that seemed stupid at the time, or ran contrary to every piece of career advice you’ll ever hear, actually turned out to be good things.
You’ll learn as much or more from adversity than you do from success, and no one will inflict adversity on you more effectively than the man or woman in the mirror.
Here are a few ways I’ve inflicted adversity on myself, and what I learned or gained from it.
1. I started hating myself.
As a young adult I had no direction. I was lost. I was an underachiever. The best—and really only—thing I had going for me was really nice hair. My weekends were spent drinking Keystone Lights in the passenger seat of a police auction Ford Crown Victoria a friend had bought specifically so we wouldn’t get pulled over while drinking said Keystone Lights.
Then one day I started hating myself and the person I was becoming. I kept up with the self-hate until it pushed me to get an education, find a career, and make something of myself.
Loving and accepting who you are is good, unless who you are is not good. If that’s the case, let the hate in, and let it push you to become someone worth loving.
2. I took on crazy levels of responsibility and pressure.
Halfway through my bachelor’s degree, while sharing an income-controlled apartment with a friend, I married my wife and simultaneously became a father to her 4-year-old little girl. I was not prepared, emotionally or financially, to be a father.
But, I met those two women and loved them almost immediately. I had to figure out how to be a dad, how to be a grown-up, and how to provide for a family just two short years after spending my leisure time drinking a 12-pack of “‘Stones” in a Crown Vic.
It wasn’t easy, but nothing will motivate you faster than responsibility and pressure. Try it sometime. Maybe you can’t or don’t want to add another mouth to feed, but nothing motivates you to pitch more clients than a brand new car payment (trust me, I just did that, too).
3. I job-hopped.
I’ve had a couple of very short stints at places. I’ve left jobs before I should have. I might have a better resume, or less explaining to do, if I would have made different decisions.
That said, I learned so much from those short stints. I learned how to notice red flags. I learned how to do some things the right way, how to do some things the wrong way, and what types of things I really wanted to do to pay for those car payments and children I have responsibility for.
Don’t be afraid to take a chance and make a change. It might not work out. It might take some time to recover from it not working out. Just make sure you actively try and learn something from your mistakes.
If you do that, it can make a mistake one worth making.
4. I left job security and healthcare behind.
I had a good job with a high salary, with healthcare provided for my entire family. Then (with the full support of my amazing wife), I left it. I started my own consulting and strategy firm. It’s a huge risk. Most of the time it terrifies me. Even when it doesn’t terrify me I still have to cope with big changes, both logistically and emotionally.
I’m scared, and I’ll probably be scared for a while.
But I’m also a lot happier. I control my own destiny, and I can see a much brighter future for my family. And even if that future turns out to be a mirage, I’ll always know that at least one time in my life I had the courage to go explore the horizon, and to see if what I think I see is actually there.
You’ll hear a lot of “what not to do” in your life.
But don’t put a lot of stock in those lists.
If you do you’ll never know if what you saw on the horizon was just a mirage, or something more.
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