In a world where the pressure to conform is all-consuming, how do you discover what you want, and then maintain the strength of mind to carve your own path? Natasha shares how to create the mindset shift you need to break the mould and stay on track for a career (and a life) you love.
"He who knows himself is wise.
He who triumphs over others has strength;
He who triumphs over himself has great power." – Tao Te Ching
A train station in a major city. 8.30 a.m. The train pulls in, the doors open, and there bursts from within an enormous surge of suited bodies: churning rapids of grey and black.
The power of such a surge is impossible to ignore; whether you intend to or not, you're swept along with it. At this time of the morning, after half an hour of sitting silently in a crowd of strangers, you don't question the direction of the flow, the movement of your legs, or even the chatter inside your own head. You're on autopilot, surrendering your journey to the stream of your fellow travellers.
Should you wish to cut across the flow of people – to take a look out of the window, for example, or to intercept a long-lost friend – you're up for a battle.
It's the same in life. It takes enormous commitment, self-awareness, and a good sense of mischief to interrupt the status quo. I call it the Renegade Mindset. It takes practice to build up and maintain, and it's essential if you're going to make a major change.
The journey to true strength of mind and integrity is incredibly personal, and staying true to what you want and believe is really, really hard work… but this is your LIFE, kiddo. It's all you've got.
It's time to take it back.
Challenge everything you know to be true
"Put down the pen someone else gave you. No one ever drafted a life worth living on borrowed ink." – Jack Kerouac
Who's in charge of your life right now?
Do you drink coffee because you love it? Or do you drink it because your careers advisor at college told you that you should try a graduate scheme and you listened, so you found yourself in a job that forces you to work 16-hour days and you simply cannot make your body function any more without pouring caffeine into it?
Do you spend your days swaddled in clothing that makes you feel hot and itchy and stifled because you feel good when you wear a suit? Or do you wear one because somebody told you that your worth was determined by the money you make, and now your tie is so tight around your throat that you can't even squeeze out a whisper of the voice inside your head, screaming: "I don't want to be here!"
What if 'normality' is simply a conversation that everyone has with each other, without knowing why? What if this conversation isn't just going on in people's words, but in their actions and lifestyles, too? What if a 'normal' and 'acceptable' life as we know it (university, job, mortgage, marriage) was just an arbitrary idea someone had one day and everybody joined in?
What if you're living a life that doesn't honour who you are and what you're capable of, simply because someone once told you a lie and you believed them? (Wouldn't that be ridiculous?)
The Renegade Mindset requires that you go back to basics.
The story of your life is the story of your choices. Not necessarily the dramatic ones, but those that seem to be made in the blink of an eye. So what do you do if your story thus far has been made of choices based on fiction?
You start with a blank slate. Stop believing anything to be true – greet yourself afresh – and take up the pen. Take authorship of your life. Begin writing something new, something engaging, and something uniquely yours. Because it's all smoke and mirrors anyway, honey. You get to say.
Only by noticing your decision-making habits and being radically honest about your desires will you be able to stay true to them.
- With every decision you're presented with (no matter how small), question your motivations. "Why am I making this choice? What does it tell me about who I am? Is it good for me, or am I just rolling with the punches?
- Fill in the blanks in the following sentences:
- "I'm just not a very ___________ kind of person."
- "I need _____________ in order to be safe and happy."
- "People are basically ______________."
Stop asking for permission
"You should banish any thoughts of how you may appear to others. If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment." – Marcus Aurelius
Ladies and gentlemen, your childhood is on the phone, and it's asking for its handcuffs back.
Once upon a time, you and I couldn't even go to the toilet without asking someone for their blessing first.
Then we left school, and most of us are still doing it. Not asking permission to go to the toilet (one would hope), but to do every other goddamn thing in our lives.
We ask our friends what they think of us going to a dance class, and don't go because someone at the table sneers and likens salsa classes to a cheap cattle market.
We call our parents and tell them we're going to start volunteering. But they say we'll be too distracted from our jobs and "Won't you just get tired of it, like you did the last time?" So we hang up the phone and go back to the couch and watch another episode of the series everyone's watching, and wonder what all the fuss is about, and watch another one after that anyway, and the application form finds its way onto the coffee table and then into a drawer and then we move house and put it in the bin.
We ask for permission from imaginary people, too. We stay in jobs that don't fulfil us because apparently Society doesn't allow people like us to live the lives we dream of. Well, I've never met Society, but based on the way I hear people talk about him, screw him. He sounds like an ass.
Somehow, we've cuffed ourselves to the opinions and fear-filled diatribes of people whose lives are not our own. They have no idea what it's like to be us – to be in the constant company of a soul which is shrivelling like a walnut. But still we sacrifice our happiness and fulfilment to keep them happy.
A Renegade Mindset is about honouring yourself as much as (if not more than) others. You matter. What you want matters. How you feel when you wake up every morning matters. Stop bowing down to someone else.
- In your quiet moments, when your friends and parents and lovers and Society are elsewhere, and the course of your life gingerly makes its way into your mind, what do you wish for it? What do you hear when their voices are quiet?
- Take yourself on Secret Dates. Take yourself to places you'd love to go, but wouldn't dare ask for company. A dance class. A workshop in Basic Meditation. An erotic photoshoot. A meetup for entrepreneurs. Tell nobody. Thrill yourself. Woo yourself. Practice making yourself wildly, unapologetically happy. And screw the naysayers.
Chase your tree frog
"A ship in a harbour is safe, but that's not what a ship is built for." – Unknown
In the north-western corner of the Amazon lives a tree frog known locally as the kambô, which releases a highly toxic, waxy slime from its pores when under stress.
Local tribes use this slime for sacred healing rituals and as a rite of passage into warriorhood, rubbing it into fresh burns on their skin. The poison stings madly, and raises the recipient's heart rate and body temperature until they vomit violently. The process culminates in an intense experience of cleansing, enlightenment and purification.
Kambô is traditionally used for healing, hunting and luck, and for the removal of 'panema', an indigenous term used to describe multidimensional negative states, physically manifested and felt as laziness, apathy, and depression.
The Kambô ritual is a short, drastic, and unpleasant experience that awakens the participant to a new state of being.
In career change and in creating a Renegade Mindset, this is often exactly what's needed. A brief, painful rush into something new and uncomfortable can be utterly life-altering; whether it's moving to a new country, ending a relationship, quitting a job, or simply stepping outside our comfort zone long enough to change our perspective on what we're capable of.
And yet, we lean on what we perceive as 'normality' as though it is inevitable, and as though it will somehow do us good. We create a little mantra of desperation, telling ourselves that the sting of boredom and stifled dreams will somehow be soothed by routine if we can just hang on long enough.
Unlike the pain of the kambô poison, however, the 'panema' of a banal existence will not be followed by its own healing properties. This kind of agony does not herald its own relief.
- Think about where your tree frog might lie. What uncomfortable, drastic change could you make in your own life to alter your perspective? Note: this absolutely does not require you to quit your job and hop on the next flight to Brazil (although you're welcome to do so if you like).
- Busk on the streets. Spend a week wild-camping, alone, with your phone switched off and your laptop at home. Move to a different part of your city. Get out of that crappy relationship. Call the woman you deeply admire and ask if you can meet for a coffee. Ask her to be your mentor. Stand on the tube with a sign that says "I hate my job and I want to do something I love but I don't know how" and see who comes up to talk to you. Push it. Get seriously uncomfortable… and then see how you fly.
You can't be what you can't see
"Your outlook upon life, your estimate of yourself, your estimate of your value are largely coloured by your environment. Your whole career will be modified, shaped, moulded by your surroundings, by the character of the people with whom you come in contact every day…" – Orison Swett Marden
We are what we surround ourselves with. Jim Rohn famously said: "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." When you've spent years in the company of people who do what they're told, doing your own thing can seem like a lonely path. How will you figure out everything on your own? Will it really be worth it?
The good news is, you're not alone. We Renegades have a rich and awe-inspiring lineage. History books are populated by nothing but Renegades. The best works of fiction? All about free thinkers and mischief-makers. And out here, in the modern world? We're all over the place. Seek out others who are forging their own paths. Use them for inspiration. Connect with them. (If you can, marry them).
- Read the biographies of adventurers, entrepreneurs and artists. Follow the blogs of entrepreneurs, personal development experts and travellers. Send them love letters. Go to meetups. Come and meet the Careershifters team. Ask for a coffee. Find a mentor. Invite them into your consciousness and your life. Even if they were known for something you'll never even try, they'll infiltrate your ways of thinking to make you curious, adventurous, and brave. Renegade.
Quit whining. Get real.
"Yesterday we obeyed kings and bent our necks before emperors. But today we kneel only to truth, follow only beauty, and obey only love." – Kahlil Gibran
At some point, you have to stop blaming other people for the state of your life. And, at some other point, you have to stop burbling miserable noises into the bottom of a pint glass every Monday night and start making the changes you crave.
Here's the deal, Renegade-style:
Whatever's stopping you from living a life you love is stopping you from living a life you love.
That’s a big deal.
Being miserable is not OK.
Floating through life as a diluted, washed-out version of yourself, constantly wondering what could have been is not OK.
Cowering in the shadow of other people's opinions, navigating your life carefully around the edges of their shadowy, disapproving outlines is not OK.
Being woken up at night by a cacophony of voices-in-your-head like a goddamn basket case (you know the ones: they're slagging off your intelligence, your haircut, your computer skills, your courage or lack thereof, and every choice you ever made) is not OK.
It's really, really painful, and it doesn't have to be this way. It's time to shine a bright spotlight on everything that's in your way and kick it out of the park.
- Study the world of work around you. Recognise an education system and work culture keeping thousands of people on a treadmill of fear and suppression. Use the emotion of truly seeing what's going on to drive you forward – and celebrate every little step you take as a beautiful testament to everything that life could be. Treat your renegade life like a joyful two-fingers to everything that ever made you miserable.
Relax into the journey
"If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans" – Anne Lamott
Ultimately, Renegades know that life never, ever works out the way you plan it to. So, rather than clinging on to a preconception of how things 'should' be, consider yourself an explorer of your own life.
Stop chasing 'the answer' all the time, and just see what shows up with each new bend in the road. Honour each new curve with integrity, and honesty, and gracious respect. Do the right thing for you without hurting anyone else.
There are no answers. There is only what you do, and what you don't do. This moment. And now, this one. This is how you find your way. You don't notice the changes as they come. You just wake up one morning, and you realise that you are there.
What suggestions do you have for cultivating a Renegade Mindset? How do you stay true to what matters most? Let me know in the comments below.