The other day I had lunch with a guy I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years. We were both young executives back then. Now he’s CEO of a company I know well. When I asked him how he got the job, he said, “Well, I’m a turnaround guy and I got a call …”
Suddenly, everything sort of clicked into place. After all, he worked at IBM during Lou Gerstner’s famously improbable turnaround of Big Blue. Now the guy’s got a few under his own belt and five-point plan that sounded pretty darn reasonable to me.
I wouldn’t quite say he turns a crank and a turnaround happens, but still, he’s definitely got something there. My hat’s off to him. Not because he’s got a formula for fixing certain troubled companies, but because he found himself. More specifically, he found something he loves to do and is very good at it, a combination few of us ever manage to achieve.
Now, if I told you I had a formula for how you can do that – find something that you’re very good at and love to do – I’d be lying. Yes, I know there are self-help books that promise that result, but, well, how do I put this gently? Let’s just say they’re full of it. And that’s the truth.
Still, what I can do is give you some genuine insights into what it takes, sacrifices you have to be willing to make, and pitfalls to avoid.
Don’t try to be someone or something you’re not. That never works. Leopards can’t change their spots. Companies can’t really change their DNA. And people can’t change who they really are. So don’t try. Instead, think of it as trying to become the best version of you that you can be. If that sounds like new age mumbo jumbo to you, then you’ve definitely got a lot of work to do, starting with this:
Take risks that terrify you. You know the old saying, “No guts, no glory?” Well, if you were somehow able to get inside the heads of all the people who never found their place in this world, you’d find a hell of a lot of fear, because that’s what stopped them. Let me put it this way: if you haven’t found what you’re looking for yet, then you have no business staying within your comfort zone and not putting yourself out there searching for opportunities. No risk, no reward. No kidding.
When something clicks, go with it. When you do come across an idea or an opportunity that seems to resonate with you, that gets you excited like you’re a little kid again, that has your mind racing with thoughts you haven’t had in, well, forever, then you need to go for it like you’re on fire and it’s a giant freaking pool of water. In case you don’t know what that means, it means jump in headfirst and don’t worry about the rocks below.
Ignore that negatron voice in your head. There are very few true adrenaline junkies among us. People are all control freaks, to some extent. We like to be in control and know where we’re heading. We don’t like change and we don’t like the unknown. Every so often, you’ll hear voices in your head, voices that will caution all sorts of things. That’s your inner control freak. It’s also the voice of fear. You need to ignore it. That’s right, just talk to someone you trust, have a few stiff drinks, get out in the great outdoors and go for a run, whatever works. But do not give in to that voice.
Don’t worry about the money. I don’t care if you have to work for free for a while. That’s okay. If you find something you love to do and you’re very good at it, the money will come. Really, it will. There’s just one caveat. There has to be a market for it. I’m sorry, but that’s the one thing you simply can’t ignore. What can I say; reality trumps everything.
One more thing. If you need encouragement, watch this Stanford University commencement speech by Steve Jobs. It’s probably the most inspirational speech you’ll ever hear. This part really spoke to me, not because I wanted to believe it’s true, but because I knew it to be true:
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something--your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle."
It worked for me. It worked for my turnaround friend. And it worked for Steve Jobs. That’s pretty good triangulation. It’ll work for you too.
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.