When I was 15 I received career wisdom from a career adviser at my school. They told me I should be an engineer as I was great at making things, liked to take things apart and rebuild them and was always trying to put mathematics into real world situations. I actually preferred computers and electronics, though I was told to get a real future as a mechanical engineer. I took this advice as I didn’t know any better and my mum was just happy that I’d be able to use my brain and earn money at the same time (we were a low income single parent family).
I dutifully became an apprentice engineer, went to college twice a week, studied mechanical engineering and believed those around me when they told me (in different terms) that being a cog in the machine is what we are in life.
I’m grateful I stopped believing that, though it was a few years until I learned my mind was elastic and I could choose my life story. This realisation came to me from 2 powerful books. First as I crossed over the teenager milestone trying to seek answers on how to change my life. I found myself browsing a secondhand bookstore where I discovered Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Secondly when I was 23 and given a copy of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly effective people.
Reading Meditations showed me I could choose my thinking and Stephen Covey gave me a framework for action. After this realisation, I spent a large chunk of my twenties travelling around the world, sleeping on beaches in Asia and volunteering in the depths of Nigeria. Those experiences changed me forever, I realised success wasn’t what people thought of me, it was how I spent my time with people and whether I was continuously learning and choosing a path that made a positive difference to others and myself.
I returned to the UK and joined the video game industry, where I began a career spending much of my time with some of the smartest, most likeable people I’ve ever met, I continue in that industry today.
I still read Marcus’ meditations regularly and it receives frequent mentions on a few of my favourite podcasts (Stoicism is more popular than ever). I actually have a smaller well read copy I take with me to work every day and whenever I travel. It’s my preferred translation by Gregory Hays, my original secondhand copy was the A. S. L. Farquharson version from the 1940’s (a more difficult read).
I’m now a bit older and still consider my self a work in progress, a student who’s avidly curious and always learning. I don’t know what I don’t know and this guides my experiments and explorations in life.
None of us have to be a cog in the machine. I work for someone else like a lot of other people, though I don’t let this limit my dreams. I’ve taken risks with career moves and changes to my life, each one to get me closer to working with others who share my beliefs on wanting to make a positive, meaningful dent in the universe.
This may not have resulted in what society commonly deems successful (I don’t earn millions and I still have a mortgage), yet I’m grateful for my life and the people I spend it with.
You own your story, you’re the author, design your life.
For more inspiration and resources in this area I recommend Debbie Millmans Design Matters podcast and Carol Dwecks Mindset book (TED talk here)