In Greek mythology, the Phoenix is a fiery bird that not only lives a long life but also has the miraculous ability to die, burning up as it does so, only to be reborn from the same pile of ashes to start the cycle of life anew while retaining the cumulative wisdom of all its previous incarnations. As such, it’s no surprise that today, the phoenix is often used as a symbol for self-improvement.
We may be only human, but we too have the capacity to lead the equivalent of several lives in a single lifetime, rising from the ashes after every defeat, or alternatively, gradually evolving and growing until we reach the state of mind necessary to advance to a new level. We can then take the final step by settling our past life ablaze, thus obliterating our old selves, only to be reborn as a new, better, stronger individual capable of tackling life head on.
Changing your life, making it brighter, freer, more interesting. Meeting and sharing life with your ideal partner. Doing what you love professionally, and making good money for it. Living life to its fullest, and travelling around the world. All these and many other dreams manifest in the mind of every active human being and tend to require considerable life changes to achieve.
Many of us aren’t content with our lives as they are, including our personal level of happiness, relationships with our partners and family members, the level of respect we command, the conflicts we endure, our income levels, our lack of faith in our own goals, and so forth. With each year, our overall level of dissatisfaction with our lives grows and eventually reaches its peak.
It’s at this peak that some people make the hard decisions and are reborn, like the phoenix, allowing them to change themselves and the reality around them, while others continue going with the flow, floating down the river and unable to change the direction of their lives.
Guess how many are in that first category. If you happen to be an optimist, you probably guessed about half. Unfortunately, the reality is that only a mere 7% of people are capable of truly changing their lives and improving their state of being, while the remaining 93% never manage to do anything to divert the path life has chosen for them, even when faced with clear and present worsening of circumstances.
However, given the simple fact that you’re reading this book, there’s actually a good chance that you fall into the first, smaller group of those individuals who actively seek out and find ways to change their lives for the better. I firmly believe this, just like I believe that you have it within you to enact the change you so desire.
In old age, people tend to look back and realize, through the benefit of hindsight, just how many opportunities to change their life they had, had they only done two things:
We’ll cover the first point plenty throughout this book, so let me first get into the second point, about forks in the road of life, by recounting a story from my own life.
Every one of us faces such pivotal points in our lives, when we have the opportunity to categorically alter our lives. Most often, this kind of moment manifests in the form of a tough choice.
So you end up standing at a fork in the aforementioned road of life, forced to choose either the left or the right path, and sometimes, there’s also a third option that allows you to continue straight ahead. Each path has its benefits and its downsides, and each has its own peculiarities. So which path do people pick most often? Of course, we tend to choose the one with the fewest obstacles, so that when we walk down said path, we won’t be as afraid, won’t need to put in as much intense effort, won’t have to learn and change ourselves in any considerable way, and won’t end up bearing increased responsibility upon our shoulders.
The issue is that every individual lives in their own reality, with which they’re perfectly content, in a shelter of their own making, their own version of reality, where it’s nice and comfortable. Sure, things aren’t all that incredible, perhaps even less-than-desirable, and yet…
We calm ourselves down with all sorts of rationalizations. After all, everything could be worse, right? “At least I’m living a calm, measured life, not bothered by pesky things like responsibility, and with plenty of free time to dedicate to… things. In a steady relationship too. So what if we don’t see eye to eye? So what if my partner is a couch potato? At least I have someone, unlike the neighbor next door, all alone every holiday — now that’s a real problem.”
Here’s a bit of wisdom truly worth remembering:
You and only you are responsible for shaping the world around you. This isn’t about “attracting” good things, but about directly creating them. Only you are responsible for what you have in life and how you live that life. Not your circumstances, not your government or head of state, not your relatives. Only you. And that is a crucial thing to realize, as only after doing so will you have the power to achieve real change.
Now back to our forks.
I’ve encountered my fair share of such pivotal points in my life, just like everyone, and I’ve managed to make tough decisions that radically altered my life more than once. Let me tell you about the latest such case, which embodied one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make.
Three years ago, at the ripe age of 33, I suddenly realized that the life I was leading no longer satisfied me, at all, not even slightly. This was at a time when I was living what would generally be considered a normal, stable life, working as a high level executive at a large company and bringing in solid, stable income. On top of that, I also owned part of a modest private photo studio enterprise.
So what was wrong? Well, it’s just that I spontaneously came to the conclusion that, at my very core, I was severely lacking personal freedom. I was quite literally suffering from the planning and the tightly scheduled meetings, many of which didn’t even require my presence. I also found it demeaning having to go through lengthy negotiations (read: begging) to take a much needed vacation once a year. It got to the point where I was angry at having to clock in when arriving at work. It felt ridiculous that some automated system was responsible for the size of my paycheck. But most of all, from the bottom of my heart, I wanted to work towards my own goals, not those of other people.
The photo studio business wasn’t all smooth sailing either. I wasn’t content with the simple but infuriating reality that making good money through photography required constantly working weddings. After a dozen rituals of holy matrimony went by, I came to two conclusions: that weddings were all the same, and that they simply weren’t the line of work for me.
For whatever reason, it was at exactly 33 years of age that I suddenly came to terms with all this. I guess 33 is the new 22? Now, I make decisions quickly, so it didn’t take long for the answer to ripen in my mind.
I don’t want to live like this anymore! I want to work on my own projects! I want to manage my time as I see fit! I want my own dream team, and to work by my own rules!
That was me in the summer of 2011. It was then that I truly decided to start building my own business and rather quickly came up with an idea. So I started developing a network of “local” online marketplaces, where anyone could buy or sell items within the confines of their city.
As 2011 went on, I took the first steps towards building this business by gradually putting together the team I needed to make it a reality. First and foremost, I invited a top-notch programmer I’d worked with previously to join me as a co-founder. Together we began developing the product I had envisioned while still holding on to our day jobs.
Things were going fairly well, and we were making progress, but fate had other plans and hit me with a huge surprise, an enormous trial, and a major dilemma all at once.
I was suddenly put in a position where I had the opportunity to secure a job at the local branch of one of the world’s largest oil companies. This wasn’t just some small specialist role either. I was being offered the position of Deputy Director at the company’s training center, the only one of its kind in the region.
In other words, I had a direct path towards a high level executive position at a major corporation in the highly lucrative world of black gold. This was the kind of opening that doesn’t just come rolling your way every day, the kind you won’t find published on online job portals or in newspapers. The pay alone was at a magnitude surpassing any amounts I had made before. Then there were the benefits and the upward mobility with incredible prospects. In short, this was the kind of opportunity that would solve all the major problems we tend to obsess over throughout our lives.
And yet, it was still a cage. A golden, diamond-encrusted cage, but nonetheless. Inside this new cage I would find the same time tracking system, except even less forgiving. Five minutes late? Strike one. Three strikes, and you’re out.
I certainly had a tough time. Family and friends immediately adopted a strategy of well-intentioned pressure. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Not going for it would be downright stupid! This is what lucking out looks like! What’s there to think over? Go for it!”
But all I wanted was to be free…
I was utterly torn. Should I take the plunge into the unknown? Or should I make the simple, rational choice? After all, there it was on a silver platter: a life of success and financial stability, devoid of worries and grave problems.
I decided to go through the interview process and take the opportunity to investigate the place from the inside. The very first thing that jumped out at me as unsavory was that many of the interviews were held on Saturday and Sunday. Yet the company’s loyal staff were there, toiling away, because that’s the normal thing to do. Right?
I had a total of seven interviews ahead of me, with each of the following people:
Every single interview was a chance to fail. With that in mind, I went in anyway. The entire affair lasted over two weeks.
From the start, I decided to take a balanced approach. I wasn’t going to bother preparing for the interviews. And I wasn’t going to dress up in full formal attire in the middle of summer, like every other candidate did. Of course, I didn’t attend the interviews in a t-shirt and slippers either, instead opting for a semi-casual-leaning-casual approach with a short sleeve button down shirt and summer-friendly trousers.
I figured I’d just speak freely and say what’s on my mind rather than what I presume the interviewer wanted to hear. Chances are, I figured, that with such a relaxed approach, I’d receive a negative response after going through no more than half of the meetings. Then I’d be able to just shrug and inform my immediate social circle that I tried but lady luck just wasn’t smiling on me. And after the charade was over, I’d be able to finally get back to my own plans for life.
That’s when things got wild. I made it through the entire interview process.
The last meeting was with the Director General, with an emphasis on “general” — there’s quite a parallel between top level executives at this caliber of organization and those at the top of the hierarchy in the military. When I entered his office, the director was sitting in a large, comfy executive’s chair behind his table. His office was huge and luxurious, drowning in plant life. The company he headed was truly prosperous, and his underlings respected and feared him in equal measure, all of which pointed to his prowess. Yet as I looked upon this imposing figure of a man, I couldn’t help but think that despite all the grandeur of his position, he was neither free nor happy. Though chances are, his wealth and power did a damn good job convincing him that he was.
And then I made it. Somehow, my balanced approach got me the job.
Friends and family alike were ecstatic and immediately got to celebrating. All the while I remained in an uncomfortable state of uncertainty. I knew at my very core that I was at a threshold, where something vague but important was slipping away from me, probably for good. I knew that I was at a crossroads where I had to make an extremely important life choice.
So I chose freedom. “Thank you for your time, and this place is really great, but I’m going to have to decline the offer, since I believe the right choice for me now is to pursue my own projects.” That was roughly how I worded my final response to the Director General.
The news of this spread quickly down the corporate ladder, and the entire organization exploded in a torrent of emotion. No one could believe that I was sincerely turning away such an opportunity. I was even given some time to think it over, but I had already made up my mind.
My family definitely couldn’t understand my choice then, but in time, they accepted it.
Now, years down the line and with the benefit of hindsight, I can say for certain that I chose a path with quite a few more obstacles but one with a greater abundance of freedom and personal fulfillment.
I formed my own company. I gathered up my own team. I set my own rules, with a flexible schedule for everyone, and without those ridiculous, punishment-oriented time tracking systems. Seems counterintuitive for someone who’s worked in the corporate sphere for so long, but this approach resulted in increased overall productivity. Such is life.
However, in doing all this, I also picked up onto my shoulders the hefty weight of true responsibility, but I accepted it, and my life changed entirely. Despite what seems at first like a massive new burden, I began experiencing a constant state of happiness and fulfillment, the likes of which I simply hadn’t experienced before.
At this point, you might be wondering why I bothered recounting an all too common corporate-to-startup story. I did so to illustrate in detail a single, crucial point.
True change means taking up personal responsibility, for your life and for your choices. We all constantly try to avoid that responsibility, since it exists outside the bounds of our comfort zone. Yet there is no other way. Regardless of your position on any given ladder, be it professional or personal, life can and will face you with a trial that will truly put to the test your will power and how honest you are with yourself. And these situations happen more often than most of us realize.
So if there’s one thing you take away from this book, make it this: never forget that you always have a choice, your choice, which remains as valid as ever regardless of what anyone else may claim.
Of course, my story is but one of many, and you don’t need to copy my example by quitting your job, becoming an entrepreneur, and so forth. That was my path in my life. Your path may be different, with different aspirations and a different image of a happy life. Just make sure that you understand the vital difference between being comfortable and being happy, because as my experience and the experience of so many others goes to show time and again, those two states of mind can easily be at odds with one another.
Whatever you do, take the time to picture your ideal future in vivid detail, and then take action.
I firmly believe that this book will help you in this undertaking over the course of 90 days by detailing a series of principles and laying out recommendations to guide you through what is oftentimes the most tumultuous journey you will undertake in your life, a journey through the depths of your mind.
The 3-Month Guide to Change is currently available for Amazon Kindle.
© 2015-2017 The Phoenix Codex by Sergei Borodin
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