17 Apr I Made Millions in My Business – And I was Miserable.
How to avoid the trap of assuming financial success brings fulfilment.
By the time I was in my early-20s, I’d achieved “success”. I’d followed my passion for filmmaking and evolved my work to take in advertising and marketing. My wife and I lived in a gorgeous home, had all of the latest gadgets, and plenty of money. We travelled a lot and I was even the president of my local Chamber of Commerce.
I should have been so happy. But I wasn’t.
In achieving my “success” I’d lost sight of my vision. I wasn’t working out of passion anymore. Instead, I dedicated myself to something that took me further away from my vision.
I felt so disillusioned that I torched everything in my life. Within six months of my realisation, my marriage had ended and my “successful” business was in tatters. I was back to square one, and from that place, I realised I needed to refocus on my passions.
My misery paved the way for my eventual fulfilment. But I did it the hard way. I had no idea what the Hero’s Journey was, or how to go about aligning my life to my vision. Now, I do, and I am driven to share this with other entrepreneurs.
What to Do if My Story Describes Your Life Situation
I imagine that many of the people reading this feel the same. They’re unfulfilled in their lives and work. You may have achieved all of the success you thought you wanted, but something’s missing.
Thankfully, the years since my own deconstruction have helped me to figure out what I should have done differently. I’m now going to describe a few steps for you to take if you want to feel happier in your work, life, and relationships.
Step #1 – Learn About the Creative Process
Despite working in a creative field, I wasn’t really conscious about the process behind my work. As a result, I didn’t respect the many small achievements that go into creating something new.
It’s not just about the idea and the end result. There’s an entire creative process that goes into your work.
Author, filmmaker, and composer Robert Fritz outlined this process with his own framework. His process focuses on the psychological aspect of creating, rather than the artistic. In particular, he distinguishes between being creative and having a creative process.
Being creative means you have ideas. You can free your mind to come up with these ideas, but that doesn’t mean you’ll do anything with them.
The creative process is how you make those ideas a reality. According to Fritz, it’s about aligning two key data points:
- Your current reality
- Your vision
Fritz also makes the argument that everything we see in the world comes from the creative process. Take the tablet computer that you may use to read this article as an example. Somebody came up with the idea and then developed it via the creative process. They figured out what components the tablet needed to exist and brought that information together to create an end product. In doing so, they turned their vision into the current reality that we have now.
Start by clarifying the difference between your current situation and the outcome you want to achieve. This creates something that Fritz calls a “creative tension”.
Then, figure out what you need to do to bridge the gap between the current reality and your vision. This bridge outlines the actions you must take to make your vision a current reality.
Using this framework, you prompt your mind to focus on the creative tension. Your brain naturally wants to relieve this tension, so it starts coming up with solutions. It’s all about achieving equilibrium between the idea and the end product.
I have an exercise that simulates this process. Follow these steps:
- Write down ten things about your current reality.
- Write down ten things about your vision.
- Imagine your current reality is your left hand, and your vision is your right.
- Stretch an exercise band between your two hands.
This creates a palpable tension in the band that represents your “creative tension”. The further your hands are apart, the more difficult it is to reach your vision.
The temptation is to simplify your vision to relieve the tension. In my example, you may just bring your hands together. This may lead to success, but it also leaves you feeling unfulfilled. After all, you’ve done nothing to relieve the creative tension the band creates.
Instead, recognise that you need creative tension to create the best solution. Embrace it and use it to help you create. You’ll feel more satisfied with the results than if you took the easier way out.
Step #2 – Start With Why
Entrepreneurs always think that they have clear visions for what they want to achieve. I thought I did. I wanted to make films and build a successful production company. Upon achieving those goals I kept going. As I mentioned earlier, my work evolved to the point where I was dealing with marketing and other work that wasn’t part of my passion.
I’d lost sight of why.
It’s all about connecting your business vision to what you want to achieve with your life. This means finding a motivation other than financial success.
Here’s the mistake I made. For a while, I disconnected from my filmmaking vision while in pursuit of the trappings of success. I made a lot of money, but I didn’t know why I was doing what I was doing anymore.
Apple’s Steve Jobs is an excellent example of starting with why. He became one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, but that was never his why. Jobs loved elegance and simplicity, which are key qualities that all Apple products embody. His why was to make a complicated technology accessible to as many people as possible. Achieving that goal meant that he found fulfilment beyond the money and accolades heaped on him by others.
I think that every entrepreneur should do the same. Your why shouldn’t be some future vision of richness and traditional success. The studies I mentioned above show that this isn’t the key to your fulfilment.
Instead, make your why something that you’re truly passionate about. Whatever you do should mirror who you want to be in the world. It’s when you start straying from this purpose that you’ll start to feel as I once did.
Once you know your why, you’ll unleash something that I call “supernatural aid”. It’s not as strange as it may sound. Supernatural aid is that extra bit of motivation, that extra push, which keeps entrepreneurs going through the tough times. When you have true passion for your why, you’ll feel fulfilled when you achieve it.
Step #3 – Create a Dream Poster
Now that you know your why, it’s time to create something powerful that will push you towards it.
I’m a big fan of using dream posters for this. Think of dream posters as a visual to-do list. You collect a bunch of images that represent your vision and create a collage out of them. I enjoy using Pinterest for this. This social media site offers access to thousands of inspiring images. Pin the ones that mean the most to you to a special board and you have your dream poster. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with creating a physical poster either.
Once you have your images, prioritise them. Place the pictures that resonate most closely with your vision on the poster’s prime locations. The most important image goes right in the centre, with everything else building from it.
I want to share a personal story about my experience with dream posters. My wife, Michelle, and I decided to create a dream poster to help us reach our goals. For six months, we collected images in a folder that resonated with our whys. Then, one day, we decided to just go for it.
The process started with us removing the images that weren’t essential to our visions. I call these the “like to haves” rather than the “must haves”. This whittled our images down to those that resonated with our vision. After that, we worked in tandem to select the images that resonated with both of us on an emotional level. It’s all about your connection to the images. If they don’t inspire an emotional reaction, they won’t help you to reach fulfilment.
It took four hours for us to create our dream poster. In the process, we had a bunch of deep and interesting conversations that helped us to clarify our visions further.
Over the next seven years, we kept the poster nearby. Over that time, we collectively achieved many of the goals that the dream poster represented. I had created films I was passionate about. Michelle wrote her own book. Together we went on many adventures together.
Everything on our dream poster became a reality at one point or another. Use yours as a constant motivator that offers clarity of vision.
Step #4 – Visualisation Using Your Dream Poster
I mentioned how we used our dream poster to visualise our goals. Here are a couple of examples.
My wife and I had never really discussed having a family before. At the time, we’d dated for about a year and weren’t ready for children. Yet we both collected family-related images during the six months prior to creating our dream poster. We also decided to keep these images when whittling down our selections.
As a result, we both discovered that having a family was something we visualised for ourselves. It may not have been the most important goal right now. But putting it on the dream poster meant that we both recognised it was part of our collective future vision. We now have a son, meaning that vision became a current reality.
An even stranger example relates to a picture of a scooter. My dream poster contains a picture of a scooter leaning against a pillar that’s part of a house’s veranda. I’d never put too much thought into that scooter. It was the house that was part of my vision.
But a meeting with a client showed me just how powerful the dream poster was as a visualisation tool. She pointed to the picture and told me that my own home had a scooter resting against a veranda pillar.
This wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. Yet, I still had exactly what I’d visualised on my dream poster.
Here’s the point. Your dream poster is a visual representation of your vision. Using it as inspiration allows you to mould your current reality into what you visualise for yourself.
Step #5 – Write a Magazine Article
Writing is just as powerful a visualisation tool as a dream poster. I recommend writing a magazine article to help you to align your vision with your current reality.
Here’s the trick. Imagine that you’re a journalist who’s interviewing a version of you from five years into the future. The story your journalist character creates will appear in your favourite magazine.
Think of the questions the journalist might ask and how you want to be able to answer them in five years’ time. Use this information to write the magazine article. Focus on your achievements in business, your relationships, and your life.
This exercise in future fantasy can help you to put a concrete focus on your vision. It outlines what you hope to achieve, meaning you can put the processes in place to get there.
Read your magazine article after writing it. Like your dream poster, it tells you what you really want to achieve beyond the traditional idea of “success”.
The Final Word
You may not know it but these are five crucial steps on the Hero’s Journey. By following my advice, you’ll do the following:
- Understand the importance of creative tension in helping you to attain fulfilment
- Figure out the why that gives your life and work purpose
- Visualise the specifics of your vision
- Bridge the gap between your vision and your current reality
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