Which YOU Will You Be?

Image thanks to Digital Octopus

There are moments in life when you find yourself having to make a decision. Left or right? Stay or go? Step up or step off.

These moments are our tipping points in life. The decisions we make become the actions we take and the future we create. We make these decisions without the outcome being known; some people see the opportunity, others feel the fear.

I’ve had enough of these experiences in my life to be able to understand the value of these tipping point moments. And it boils down to this: every decision we make that determines a direction we take in life…is right. There’s a very practical reason for this. We will never know the consequence of choosing any other option!

I want to focus more on the decision making process, because that is what determines where we go, what we do, who we entangle ourselves with and what shape our future takes. Our decisions determine which ME I will be.

One of the biggest decisions I had to make in my professional career came when I had just turned thirty. I had spent the previous three years working in a book store on a part-time basis while concentrating on my screenwriting. I had ditched my career as a radio copywriter to pursue my dream of writing films. It was a productive three year period, but I had racked up quite a lot of debt and the feature film I had written was looking like it wasn’t going to pay off anytime soon. The thought of going back to full time work wasn’t on my radar but that doesn’t mean the universe isn’t conspiring against you and your plans. I had been forwarded an email from three separate friends over a period of ten days, each saying ‘Chappo, this job is perfect for you’. When the first email arrived, I saw the subject line ‘Creative Solutions Director, Malaysia’. I didn’t even open it. The second same email arrived and I scoffed at the coincidence. When the same email landed in my inbox from a third friend (different social group), I felt a tap on the shoulder. It was the universe telling me to open the bloody email. So I did. The job, as it turned out, was a perfect fit for the radio creative Me, but it was a diversion for the screenwriter Me. My interest was piqued, so I contacted the guy who was currently occupying the role. His name was at least familiar (the Australian radio industry is pretty small) so I reached out and asked Andrew for some details – about the role, Malaysia (never been) and the lifestyle. Four weeks later I was sitting at the end of my bed in an apartment in downtown KL wondering what the hell had just happened. My twelve month contract was underway. The rational Me had won. I needed the money and while I wasn’t able to see it at the time, I needed a circuit breaker from my penniless existence as the broken-hearted, bookish and reclusive guy I had become. It wasn’t me – I’d turned myself into that romanticised poverty-stricken writer in the pursuit of living a dream. I drank the struggling artist coolade.

I’ll tell you what happened as a result of that decision to move to Kuala Lumpur shortly. But first, another tipping point story that I am currently in the thick of. This time, I don’t know the outcome (yet) but I can tell you what happened to get me where I am right now.

For the past seven years, I’ve been working as a digital strategist and more recently the GM of a content agency in Melbourne. I was a co-founder of the business in Australia and enjoyed seeing the agency grow from a one page business model into a multi-million dollar business. The brand also grew throughout our global network and at last count is in 16 countries around the world.

I loved the entrepreneurial side of the business but I was struggling with the day-to-day machinations of running a start-up agency in a global network. We were a hard working team of talented individuals, many of whom I admire and respect as professionals and friends. But there was something missing. I felt like I was treading water. I felt that my vision for the agency was hamstrung by the environment in which the agency existed.

In the back of mind, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always had the idea of running my own agency. I loved the idea of being my own boss, working to my own rhythm and doing things the way I thought they should be done. This is the Me I always wanted to be. But every time I thought about the idea, like a star, it glistened and sparkled but from a great distance. The concept of leaping out of paid employment into the great abyss of self-employment was to bold. Too brash. Too risky. Then came a day last July when a question popped into my mind that would change my future direction.

“Which Me will I be?”

It’s a simple question with profound consequences if you answer it honestly. It’s a question that can influence your direction. Your purpose. Your why. I didn’t like the Me that I was at that time. And so I had to discover the Me I wanted to be.

The good thing about this question is it takes the emphasis off the variables (what ifs) and keeps you focused on what you can control: your self.

I love a good Pros + Cons list. It’s so literal. But I don’t ever trust myself to fill out each column entirely without prejudice. Or unconscious bias. But by reframing the decision-making process as a question rather than a list, it makes you think beyond the rational and delve deeper into the existential. Which Me will I be? requires the thinker to be visionary instead of practical. It demands a longer term view of where you want to be and what you want to be. It asks you to choose your own adventure by visualising yourself beyond the big decision you have to make.

On that day in July last year, having just finished a useless and frustrating meeting (the fifth such meeting that day), I felt like I had to get out of the office. As I walked to the cafe, the question came to me. In fact, it stopped me in my tracks. It was so clear to me that the time had come, in that cobblestone lane, to answer the question “Which Me do I want to be?”. The voice resonating in my head was “not this one!” Of course, that’s not an answer, it’s a reaction. But over a strong flat white, sitting in the corner of the cafe with a pad and pen, I wrote down the Me I wanted to be. And I was amazed at the clarity of my answer.

Without giving my soul away, I can tell you that the desire to do my own thing, to be my own boss and the engineer of my own success was the decision I made that day. By August I had resigned and by October I was the Me I wanted to be. Or at least on the way towards it!

The Me I wanted to be was very easy to articulate. In fact, I drew a stick figure and wrote out who that Me was – a combination of what I didn’t want to be (frustrated, stressed, unhappy, resentful) and what I envisioned myself being (passionate about my work, confident, a fun and engaged Dad, a better husband, and creative… once again). I knew I couldn’t be the new Me in the physical and mental environment that I found myself in at that time. That day, that coffee, that stick figure was a tipping point. I walked back to the office knowing what I had to do.

I don’t want to over-simplify the process. The clarity and certainty I had in the cafe was a revelation a long time in the making! It was the result of years of brooding over the thought of one day breaking out and doing my own thing. I played out the scenario hundred of times in my mind. Perhaps subconsciously I had also been sowing the seeds for my departure from the agency for months prior to the decision being made. Because once I made it, it seemed the right opportunities came my way at the right time. It felt like it was more than just pure coincidence. The opportunities were waiting for me. All I had to do was make the decision.

Which takes us back to that scene of me sitting at the end of my bed in a 4 star apartment room in Kuala Lumpur. I had made a decision to move there to get myself out of debt and out of a rut. I was way out of my comfort zone and feeling physically dizzy as I stared into the empty black screen of the television perched on the wall. “What the hell have I done?” The question looped in my mind.

What I had done was jumped in the deep end. I had extricated myself from a situation where I was floundering and gave myself a fresh start. A new opportunity. I changed the Me I wanted to be (albeit without knowing it at the time). And here’s the net result of that one big decision:

  • In the first three months I had paid off my debts
  • In the next six months I had saved $15,000. Impossible in my previous scenario.
  • At the end of 12 months in KL I had made life long friends and chose to accept a 12 month extension on my contract.
  • After 24 months I returned to Australia, moving into a senior creative role at Austereo.
  • One year later I married a girl I met in KL. We now have a 2 year old boy who has brought me more joy than anything I have ever known.
  • I’m also best mates with the guy who posted the ad looking for his replacement!

That one decision, made with a bit of dutch courage one night in a Fitzroy pub back in 2004 changed the direction of my life in ways I could never have imagined. And therein lies the lesson. It’s not about the possible consequences of your decision. Any decision you make will take you down an unknown path so don’t sweat the what ifs. It’s how you make the decision that counts.

Unhappy with your job? Feeling stuck in a rut? Not sure whether to take on a new job? Trapped in a toxic relationship? By all means write out your pros and cons list, and seek counsel from friends and family who want the best for you. But do yourself a favour and ask the simple question: “Which Me will I be?”

Draw yourself some stick figures and breathe life into your future self. Draw yourself in your current position in one years’ time. And then draw the other you that you want to be. The answer might just reveal itself more clearly than you ever could have imagined. (I’m shit at drawing, but even I could see the resemblance of myself in that stick figure and I liked what I saw…drew…scribbled).

Tipping point moments, whether in your personal or professional life, require big and important decisions. That can be scary. You can tie yourself in knots trying to figure out which direction to take. But just remember, any and every decision you make will take you on a journey that you cannot imagine right now. So work out which You you want to be first – and you might discover that your decision has already been made.

By the way, since October last year I have established my own creative consultancy, earning more money than ever before, happier than ever before, more engaged with my wife and child than ever before and loving life in a new city closer to family. This is Me.