It sounds so obvious doesn’t it?
A simple instruction: ‘Follow you.’ Two words that sum it all up: to follow your heart, go where’s right for you, be aligned with who you are.
Easy, right? But actually, it’s often not easy at all.
Finding out the hard way
Here’s one guy’s story. He’s a funny and creative kid who grows up into a confident and independent young man. He knows what really matters. He knows what he stands for. He has opinions. He cares about politics, music, writing and photography, and gets involved passionately in all these things. He follows his teenage dream and against the advice of “those who know better,” gets the job he wants in an industry he adores.
By the age of 30, our man is — on the face of it — a success. He’s a managing director in the creative industries earning a good salary. There are lunches and dinners in Soho’s finest restaurants. Working hard at one end and playing hard at the other. But it’s a facade that’s concealing his unhappiness. His career has taken in a direction at odds with who he really is. He becomes ill and unable to cope. He writes one of the hardest letters he’s ever had to write: to quit. He decides to go it alone.
But going freelance is no happy ending. Not immediately anyway. For many years he takes on projects that pay the bills, but are often ones he doesn’t enjoy. At times, though the money is good, he feels he’s bartered his soul just to survive. He isn’t choosing the work that energises him. He isn’t making the most of a flexible work life. What’s he doing, replicating the problems of his corporate life? He perseveres however and starts to see possibilities, that he can begin to re-frame the concept of success and what it means to him. His independent career gives him the confidence to build a work life around who he really is. Then he gets an opportunity to stand on stage and tell the real story of his journey to here. Owning up and telling his story helps him see who he is. He reconnects with that spirited and passionate teenager he used to be, and always was, deep down. He finds the clarity and vision to just follow who he truly is.
OK, so it’s no great reveal: that guy is me.
Having the guts to turn up the volume on the real me, who I am and what I stand for — that was my breakthrough. It took me many years to be comfortable carving out a work life that reflected the real me, where my creative spirit, sense of independence and curiosity were present every day. Where I could finally throw off those shackles of the old world of work.
I’d broken through all the old rubbish I’d been convincing myself was the truth and I began to put myself in my work.
Now I stick like a magnet to who I really am and use that as a compass.
The shortcut to finding yourself
So, how to Follow You?
I’ve taken what I’ve learned and now apply that to help others do just that. For five years I’ve been taking people on walks around London, helping them navigate their careers and find their future path. I call it Fuel Safari.
Most of those walks start at Seven Dials in London’s Covent Garden, where seven streets converge. I choose this spot for a reason: in life we often think we have a binary either/or choice, whereas the reality is we have many more paths available. Seven Dials is a literal exploration of that.
There’s usually a point in the Fuel Safari where there’s a ‘reveal’. An aha moment, when the penny drops. A moment where we reflect on what we’ve talked about and I wonder out loud whether “surely isn’t this the answer?” And all I’m doing is holding up a mirror to what they’ve said, or shining a light on what they already know.
Instantly, they’re energised. It’s as if the fog has miraculously evaporated and they can see clearly. And mostly, those reveals are just about tuning into their innermost thoughts or feelings. I give them the permission they’ve been waiting for: to Follow You.
Of course, they don’t need someone else’s permission. But when our desires and wants have been hidden by layers of expectation, and when life as we think it should be gets in the way, it’s not so easy to allow ourselves to be the person we want to be.
At the end of the three hour walk, we return to where we started. At the centre of Seven Dials is a 30-foot high stone column, a giant sundial. As we make our way back to the beginning, we slow down. I remind my guest to always ensure they keep heading towards themselves, to have that metaphorical sundial in their sights as their North Star. This way, they’ll be able to ensure they make career and life decisions aligned with who they are, what they stand for and what makes them tick.
I lacked the vision and clarity for too many years. That’s why I’m passionate today about helping others find — and follow — their true selves, giving them a short cut, providing them with all my learnings from a career of not-following, and then following, myself.
Getting on the right track
With the beautiful benefit of hindsight, I can see where I went wrong. When I didn’t follow me. When I made decisions that were at odds with who I am and what I stand for. When I took the wrong paths.
And I can look back and see those times when I did follow me. Those are the stories, moments and experiences where I feel most energised, happy and healthy. The Follow You path might not always be straightforward and without challenge, there may be bumps and potholes along the way — but it’s a road that will lead to you being comfortable in your skin, clear on where you’re headed, clear on what you’re doing and why. You’ll be confident you are on the right track.
So I am here to tell you you don’t have to take the main road, that there is another path. Not necessarily an easier path, but a truer path. A path where you don’t have to dilute who you are and what you stand for.
A path marked You. One that leads to a more authentic, happier and more fulfilling life.
So how about you?
If you want to get started on your own journey, here are some journaling questions to consider:
- What makes you feel alive in your work life?
- What did the naysayers tell you NOT to do?
- What do you want your legacy to be?
- What do people say they love about you?
- What does success mean to you?
- Do you feel free or fettered?
- What does it mean to be the real you?
- When are you in your element at work?
- Are you living your life true to who you are?
- How can you incorporate the Real You into your daily work, not only what you do and why you do it, but also how you do it?
Finding and taking the path starts with each of us taking positive action. Getting better at being ourselves. Bridging the disconnect between who we are and how we lead our work lives. Can you start this today? One step on the right path for you?
I’ve just started writing a book to help you find your way to you. It’s at an early stage but I hope to get that published in 2021. If you want to receive updates on that and get inspiration for your career or work life, sign up to my newsletter here