If you’re reading this right now, there’s a good chance you might be feeling overwhelmed, anxious, stressed out or just plain stuck.
Maybe you’re thinking about working for yourself, but don’t know how to get started. (I’m curious to know what’s holding you back.)
Maybe you feel like you are losing control over different aspects of your life or you have absolutely no idea what you want to do for work. Worse, you might even feel alone in how you feel.
I felt that way for most of my 20-year career. I experienced all different kinds of success, but was always left feeling unfulfilled, unhappy and depleted.
I was doing everything I thought I was supposed to do, but my feelings weren’t matching up. I kept asking myself, “Isn’t there more to life than this? There has to be a better way to work.”
Ever since I was laid off on Election Day in 2000, I’ve been on a mission to find alternative ways of working from the way I was taught to work.
In that time I have interviewed 500+ people in various professions, read 200+ books, attended several conferences and conducted countless lifestyle design experiments.
During my research, I became most fascinated by people who successfully transformed their lives around their unique purpose, needs, motivations, abilities and values.
These people work on their terms. They get paid for being exactly who they are.
Not only were they comfortable in their own skin, it was the secret to their success.
You know why the rest of us are stressed out? We’re working out of alignment with ourselves!
How we’re being asked to work is out of sync with our values, personal productivity needs, abilities and natural motivations.
We’re working against the grain of who we are, instead of flowing with it.
We’re also being robbed of the basic life skills needed to adapt to our dynamically changing economy.
Then I began to wonder, “How did these people find a way to work on their terms?”
I started looking for common patterns in how these individuals designed their lifestyles around the work they’ve always wanted to do. Lo and behold a core set of life skills kept popping up over and over again.
I call them the Life Skills That Matter. (Download the complete list now.)
These are the skills that can get you unstuck, so you can work on your terms.
These are the skills that can help you find your purpose in life when you have no idea what you want to do.
These are the skills that enable you to do the work you’ve always wanted to do.
These are the skills that enable you to work in alignment with what makes you personally productive.
These are the skills that can make you self-reliant in our chaotic economy.
These are the skills that help you find the courage to be yourself.
These are the skills that weren’t taught to you in school, but have everything to do with your happiness and success.
These are the skills that finally got me unstuck!
They are the skills I wish someone taught me 20 years ago and I would love to share with you now.
If you want to transform your life to work on your terms, you need to change your habits. Your life is the sum of your habits.
To begin changing your habits, you need self-knowledge. You need to learn about yourself by identifying your patterns through a process of self-experimentation.
The Life Skills That Matter are the skills that will enable you you learn more about yourself than ever before.
What I find most exciting about these skills is their ability to transform multiple aspects of your life simultaneously without you even having to think about it!
Ready to get started? Read on to learn more about each skill.
1) Tell Your Story
Start reframing your identity by telling the story about the work you’ve always wanted to do.
It’s a simple action, but it takes a lot of courage. I believe it’s one of the most important life skills because practicing it helps you finally commit to your true self.
You are defining your purpose. It is the spark that begins the transformation of your lifestyle. It reframes your mindset. It gives you permission to change your habits and align them with your purpose.
What do you say when someone asks, “What do you do?” Most of us respond by telling them what we do for work right now even if it’s not the work we want to talk about. It’s the response we think we’re “supposed to give.”
When you start telling people what you really want to do, you begin to take on a new identity (your true identity). You stop being afraid of who you really are and embrace what you want to be.
The more people you tell about the work you really want to do, the more real the possibility becomes.
2) Purge Your Life
Make space for the big life change you want to make by getting rid of anything that might be unknowingly holding you back.
Here’s the truth: the vast majority of your possessions, obligations, relationships and digital content no longer serve a valid purpose in your life. They are holding you back, so let them all go.
Any resource that does not make you feel positive in the pursuit of your purpose needs to be removed from your life or minimized immediately to optimize your personal productivity and happiness.
All your stuff has the potential for draining your attention, energy, money and time away from your purpose.
Purging will help you let go of your mental clutter, the real cause of what’s holding you back from what you really want to do.
3) Practice Self-Awareness
Track your behaviors, thoughts and reactions to learn more about yourself than ever before.
The practice of self-awareness involves observing your actions from a third-person perspective for a more honest assessment of the motivation behind those actions.
It is the most important life skill because it provides you with the foundation for developing all the other life skills.
It’s about finally calling yourself out on your excuses for why you aren’t working the way that is most satisfying to you.
Many of us have no idea how we really want to work because we’ve never given ourselves permission to ask the question. . . .
How do I really want to work? Why?
The only way you’ll ever find out is by starting a self-awareness practice.
We don’t make any time for self-reflection in our overscheduled lives. We have been taught that self-reflection is either a waste of time or self-indulgent.
This is a shame because self-awareness is the foundation of lifestyle design.
Lifestyle transformation begins by studying your habits to clearly understand what motivates you, makes you productive and makes you feel fulfilled.
You can only change your habits with self-knowledge of your behaviors, tendencies and preferences. The most effective method for accessing that self-knowledge is through a practice of self-awareness.
Few people do accept themselves as they truly are. Once you do, however, you’ll discover new possibilities only you are uniquely qualified to pursue.
4) Build Community
Hang out with like-minded people to dramatically build momentum for the change you want to make in your life.
Turns out your mom was right. You are the company you keep.
There is probably no bigger factor determining your ability to achieve your goal than surrounding yourself with people who want the same change as you.
We are a social species. We evolved to work together and to help each other. Most people never make a big change in their life all on their own.
When you recognize possibilities in others, you start to recognize them in yourself.
Your loved ones will always care about you. They just might not always understand what makes you truly happy or get why you want to make this big change in your life. They are comfortable with who you are right now and are afraid of the unknown.
It’s important to seek out people who can provide you with positive support, constructive feedback and the belief that the change you want to make is possible.
5) Self-Direct Your Learning
Teach yourself new concepts, skills, methods and knowledge to achieve your goal and to continually increase your value.
Learning doesn’t stop with formal education. Unfortunately too many of us stop learning because we were never taught to be “self-learners.” It’s a very different skill than sitting in a classroom.
Many of us don’t have a love of learning because we don’t know how we like to learn, what can make it enjoyable or what even motivates us to learn on our own.
Not only do you need to figure out your learning style, you need to learn how to set ongoing learning goals to become a lifelong self-learner.
Each time you acquire a new piece of knowledge or a skill you increase your value. People who don’t keep learning decline in value.
Our schooling also didn’t provide us with the mindset, knowledge, skills and freedom to meet the creative demands of the 21st century. Today’s economy is so dynamic and fluid, the constant acquisition of new skills is paramount.
When you are constantly learning, you are constantly engaging with your purpose, connecting with like-minded people and increasing your personal value.
6) Align Your Habits
Align your habits with your purpose.
Your life is the sum of your habits. I’ve come across research showing that as much as 40% of our daily activities are the result of habits, not decisions. They are automatic. They require no thought.
Evolutionary biologists believe the brain formed habits as a way of conserving energy. It takes a lot of energy to think and make decisions. (By 8pm I’m useless when it comes to making decisions.) Putting a chunk of our daily actions on autopilot saves energy for new challenges.
If you want to transform your life, you need to transform your habits. Changing habits takes a lot of energy. It takes effort. That’s probably why so few people go through with it.
It’s definitely not the easy way out, but once your new habits are in place you can live and work more effortlessly in alignment with your purpose.
As you begin to assess your life you might be surprised to discover how some of your daily habits are counterproductive to the change you want to make in your life.
On the flip side, there are also many of your existing habits that can help you work toward your goal if you take the time to strengthen them.
7) Reframe Your Mindset
Adopt a growth mindset, so you can see new opportunities.
When you want to make a big change in your life, you need the ability to see new perspectives. Sometimes you are your own worst enemy.
We all have “limiting beliefs,” stories we’ve told ourselves about what we can and cannot do. Sometimes we’re completely unaware of what they are or where they come from! They prevent us from seeing new possibilities.
Reframing your mindset involves challenging your limiting beliefs by rethinking all your assumptions about work, life and your needs.
Preserving a “fixed” mindset prevents you from seeing new perspectives, opportunities and solutions. You were born with certain personality traits, preferences and tendencies that make you view the world in your own unique way, but they don’t have to hold you back from defining your potential.
A “growth mindset” is a view of the world that considers a variety of perspectives. It views setbacks as learning opportunities, not failures. How you pursue new opportunities defines you, whether or not you succeed. Your actions say more about your potential than your nature.
You need the courage to explore your limits, so you can pursue your own version of success. Instead of relying on your default thoughts, reactions and behaviors, you need to make yourself aware of alternative responses that might be more productive to your transformation.
8) Plan Your Actions
Understand your “why” for each of your actions to reduce your anxiety, increase your self-confidence and conserve your energy.
Effective planning is a balance. Too much planning and you get paralysis by analysis. Too little planning and you don’t even know where to start. Either way you aren’t making much progress.
There are more choices than ever before about how we work and live. That’s exciting, but it can also be very overwhelming.
To make effective decisions about the multitude of choices before you, you need to have a plan. You also need confidence in your plan, so you can sustain your motivation for achieving your goals.
My personal secret for effective planning is to constantly ask yourself, “Why?”
Understanding your “why” is how you define your purpose. It is the foundation of all your decision-making. It enables you to live your core values in every action you take, giving you more confidence in your decisions, as well as helping you conserve your energy.
Your “why” also gives you the confidence to understand when your plan needs to stay the course and when it needs to adapt to changing circumstances.
Planning is all about making the best use of your limited resources: time, energy, money and motivation.
Those resources need to align with your purpose, your “why.” If you don’t have clarity of purpose, all the planning in the world is useless.
I’m all for taking imperfect action, but when done right, planning gives us pause, so we can take action on our terms.
Schedule a weekly appointment with yourself to review the previous week and to set goals for the upcoming one.
9) Embrace Discomfort
Take consistent, imperfect actions. It’s better than taking no action at all.
We all “think” about the big changes we want to make in our work and life. Some of us even take the next step of “talking” about it.
But that’s where most of us stop.
We never take “action” because it’s uncomfortable. It’s hard. We don’t like failing.
Here’s something you might not want to hear, but our species is hardwired to learn best when it’s hardest. That’s how we remember. Challenges help create more connections in our brain.
Each failure adds another piece to our puzzle of success.
Paradoxically, we’re also hardwired to avoid almost anything that may cause discomfort.
At one point in our evolution this made loads of sense to protect us from a constant stream of physical dangers, but nowadays we’ve successfully eliminated the majority of natural threats from our environment. Embracing discomfort today almost never results in physical harm.
Personal growth comes from embracing discomfort, not avoiding it.
When you are challenged you grow and learn about your potential. Step outside your comfort zone and level up on your normal risk tolerance. You are either moving forward or falling behind in life.
Change is a constant, especially in the 21st-century economy. That change can either be on your terms or not. The choice is yours.
10) Manage Your Energy
Manage your energy, not just your time.
I once thought productivity was always about doing more in less time. As I begin to work for myself and had to direct my own schedule, I learned quickly that was a fool’s errand.
Personal productivity is all about conserving your energy. It’s about doing what really matters with your limited time plus your available energy.
The average American is working almost 9-hours a day now, but you aren’t creating high-quality work during every hour of that time.
From my own personal experience and research, I believe the average person only has about 3 to 4 hours a day to produce their best work. That’s it. I call it your “peak performance period”.
The biggest change I made in my life to feel more energetic was getting clear on my purpose and how I wanted to work. It has also given me the confidence to honor my peak performance period (which is approximately 7 am to 12 pm), the time when I have my sharpest mental focus.
I have designed my work day around my peak performance period, so it’s used for my most important work: writing. I save all other work tasks for the remainder of the day.
I’ve discovered that instead of trying to boost my energy artificially, making more effective use of the natural energy already available to me has made me more productive than anything else I have ever tried.
Ready to Start Practicing the Life Skills That Matter?
I hope you now believe, as I do, just how crucial the Life Skills That Matter are to your happiness and success. Maybe you were luckier than I was and already have more experience with them than I did 17 years ago!
If you really want these skills to have an impact on your life and work, reading about them isn’t enough. You need to start practicing them. Take small, consistent action on them each day.
To get you started, I’ve design a series of weekly Self-Assessment Challenges to help you get to know yourself better and to prepare you for the self-employment lifestyle by practicing The Life Skills That Matter.