It’s not your own life if it is too planned and predictable.
One and a half years ago, I simply decided to move to Iran. It was in the aftermath of the nuclear deal, and I thought that I could build a marketing agency in the Iranian market.
My plan was to service all those European companies that would flock into the Iranian market by providing them with local market insights and a network of service providers.
In order to get my visa, I applied for a master’s degree in Iranian studies. That way, I could study the Persian language, learn something about the market environment, and spend the rest of my time working on developing my company.
That plan was a complete failure.
First of all, the rush of European companies never came.
The opportunity of tapping into a $500 billion market with high spending power and a love for European products? Companies preferred to choose the wait and see approach. Especially because of the uncertainty around the sanctions.
Secondly, I simply wasn’t ready for this challenge.
I had never built a company before. And here I was, trying to build a company in an environment defined by a high degree of uncertainty and without a sufficient understanding of local market conditions.
Thirdly, fear kept holding me back.
I had heard a lot of stories of European companies entering the market and failing miserably due to a lot of different circumstances. For that reason, most European companies no longer send foreign representatives to Iran.
Instead of placing the risk on a foreign national, they put all the responsibility in the hands of a local employee. In doing so, employees of these companies mitigate the risk for themselves, while at the same time dooming their success in the Iranian market from day one.
And still, the fear that I would become one of these failures was affecting me deeply.
Every decision brings something positive with it
Even though I no longer plan to establish a company here in Iran, I do not regret my decision to have moved here at all.
People keep saying to me: “if you can survive in Iran, you can survive anywhere in the world”.
This is nonsense.
Living in is Iran is not particularly more difficult than living anywhere else in the world. Of course, there are some some problems which are somewhat unusual. But if anything, these problems are more annoying than anything else.
As a simple example, it is still very difficult to transfer money from a bank account in another country to an Iranian bank account. That really makes your life complicated at times, but it is not a hurdle that can’t be cleared.
But the point is this:
Even though living in Iran neither has brought me the commercial success I was aiming for, nor am I even doing any work which is related to Iran, I nonetheless perceive my time here as a success.
Because my stay here has led to an enormous shift in my worldview. It has taught me a lot about human nature. It has taught me a lot about the effects of society on individuals. And, most importantly, it has taught me a lot about myself… in terms of what I believe in, what my strengths and weaknesses are, and how I want to live my life.
There is nothing more powerful than a shift in one’s worldview.
Now, I am trying to organize my life around experiences that have the capability of having an enormous impact on my worldview.
Sometimes, this means that you are actively seeking out new experiences. Sometimes, this means simply going with your gut-feeling when some opportunity arises. And sometimes, this means that you are doing something for no particular reason other than your own curiosity.
… but it always means that you need to believe in the process as opposed to knowing where it may lead you.
When I moved to Iran, I had some sense of what I wanted to do there; some general ideas of how I wanted to make a living. But mostly, it was just curiosity to explore what seemed like “undiscovered land”, that was driving me.
Moving has also had some unexpected benefits. For example, the fact that I couldn’t establish my company here, has forced me to focus completely on internet-based work.
This has allowed me to channel all my energy into building my career as a writer, instead of getting distracted by opportunities that look good on paper, but are simply not the right thing for me personally.
In fact, I probably always knew that focusing the majority of my energy on building a company wouldn’t be the right thing for me.
I simply love the process of doing creative work and developing content too much. But before moving to Iran, I didn’t have the courage to focus exclusively on my writing because I thought that it would be extremely difficult to make a living in that way.
In other words, the restrictions that I have had in Iran in terms of work have actually proven to bring much more focus into my life.
Letting go of expectations
Expectations tend to be the what society has ingrained into your mind as the things that you need to achieve by a certain time or age. They tend to be materialistic in the sense of things that you need to own, or hierarchical in the sense that you need to a achieve a certain position in the societal order.
None of these things are ever going to make you happy.
Because they are not your dreams and aspirations. They have nothing to do with your own life path. All they do is to make you look left and right and compare yourself with the people around you.
When you are following the conventional path, you are competing in a race whose goal is nothing but an illusion. You are running in a never-ending circle that is simply not going to lead anywhere.
Seemingly random decisions are the way to break out of this circle.
Decisions where people are going to ask you: “why the hell? Everything is going well in your life… and now you want to do that? What do you even want to achieve with that?”
Nobody can ever understand these decisions, except for you yourself.
Something is pulling you towards them like an invisible force. It is telling you that you simply have to do this and that you will regret it if you do not at least try.
Unfortunately, making decisions like these is very hard. There is option A which is supposed to lead you towards predictable results (a career as a doctor) versus option B which has nothing objective to offer besides quieting your curiosity.
Besides everybody thinking that you are insane, you yourself will quickly start doubting that these ideas are ever going to lead you anywhere.
A powerful cognitive bias also plays a large role here: loss aversion.
We are much more afraid of loosing something, than we are excited about winning something. Even if the risk of loosing something is very small and the risk of winning is high, we tend not to take the risk.
And, of course, the risk of making a random decision actually seems quite high compared to following the conventional path.
Call to action: make a decision and let go.
Is there something that you have wanted to do for quite a long time and that you were unsure about? Something that really makes you scared? Something that other people have been dismissing for a long time, but that your mind has kept coming back to?
Make the decision to just do it. Make it today. And then simply let go.
No philosophizing about where this is journey might be taking you. No fear about loosing the opportunity of getting that next promotion. No constant moving back and forth between doing it, or not doing it.
Have faith in your ability to make the most out of anything that may come out of a random decision.
You have the control to make that decision, but you don’t have control over what happens next.
This is why you are afraid.
Where this journey is taking you depends on so many factors other than those that are in your personal control.
Therefore, it simply doesn’t make sense to worry about what happens next. You can’t predict it. You can’t control it. You can’t influence it. But you can make the most out of those developments, learn from them, and grow.
Transformation happens when you put yourself in unpredictable situations, live through them, and use them as opportunities for reflection.
What random decision are you making today?
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Tim Rettig is a writer on intercultural communication. You can find more of his articles at www.timrettig.net.