Let me indulge you with a short story.
I’ve just finished my lunch at an awesome Vietnamese take-out place in Barcelona after checking into my hostel. I’m looking out to a typical street where locals go about their daily routines and tourists obliviously block traffic, both in cars and on foot.
As usual the women here are gorgeous. In this district, the men always seem to look sharp. I need a haircut. Or a tattoo. Or both. I love this city!
My friend who also lives in Andorra drove me down. He’s in his early 40s, is part owner of a safari camp in Kenya and grew up in Barcelona.
In the car was our early 20’s friend from Ukraine who has been living on his own in Barcelona since he was 16. His parents wanted him to study abroad to give him a better future than he could have at home.
It’s only a quick visit; 2 nights to connect with some other entrepreneurs, learn some new things, be challenged and meet some quality people.
Since my wife isn’t joining me on this visit and I’m not actually “doing business”, I’m staying at a relaxed hostel. It’s not so much the cost of accommodation, more the feeling of homeliness I stay there for.
When I walk through the door I’m met with warm, familiar faces, happy to see me. I haven’t seen these people for 9 months and one says “Jase! I was just thinking about you last week, and then I saw your booking!” Damien was born in Barcelona but his wife is from Slovenia.
This random collection of people, places and events is my life nowadays. I know it’s different from most people’s norm, but it is normal to me. It’s my new normal.
I’m Really Lucky
Unbelievably privileged! Born to an (at the time), probably lower-middle-class family in Australia, my parents spent money on the important stuff – a house in a good area, sports gear and education.
My parents wanted me to be different, but in a “don’t get so drunk on the weekend and get yourself a good, safe job” type of way. Not in a “move around the world, start a business and get lost in the mountains” kind of way.
That small dream, solid values and, what I always consider “winning the passport lottery” (being born in a developed country), has given me a huge amount of opportunity.
This wasn’t the life that was prescribed to me, yet here I am.
During the times of change, it has felt uncomfortable, scary, and at times – wrong. Of course it’s also been exciting, rewarding and I have experienced some incredible things. But given time to adapt, these incredible things become somewhat normal again.
Just Doing My Thing
“What are you up to at the moment?”
“We’re in Taiwan right now, flying out to Singapore tomorrow. Will be there for about a week then fly on to Australia to see friends and fam.”
“How’s things dude?”
“Yeah alright, just walking home from the gym. Been working loads, weather is a bit average.”
Few people like that guy. But the reality is, I am that guy.
If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d be living in a Catalan speaking country of 70,000 people, deeply experienced in technical SEO, investing in websites and regularly flying or driving around the world, there is no chance I’d believe you. I am worlds apart from the human being I was a decade ago.
Significant Change Is Scary
I realised this when my wife and I went on an extended honeymoon that involved a working holiday in Canada.
After flying in and waiting for hours in immigration for our visa, we realised we needed:
- somewhere to stay
- a bank account
- to do food shopping
- to work out how to get money from an Australian MasterCard in a Canadian ATM
- all sorts of government numbers
- mountain bikes (obviously)
- clothes that actually keep you warm
It was as if we were starting our life from scratch. And it was… scary. “What do you mean they do resumes differently over here?”
Hey so, do I actually need to be concerned about the bears?
But you know what? Things get easier as time goes on. 15 ATMs later, you actually get some cash out. After the 4th server glaring at you for not tipping, you realise that Australian charm doesn’t count for a thing in Whistler.
A house, a job and a sweet new bike later, you’re pretty much sorted. It’s just filling in the gaps now. A year on, it’s your new normal.
18 months or so later we returned to Australia and were met with dozens of people telling us how “I wish I could go and do that”. I’d call them out on it, “uhhh, dude I was in dumb science at school”. But, they’d have an excuse as to why they couldn’t actually do what they claimed they wanted. In most cases it’s because other things are more important to them, but in just as many it’s because they’re scared of trying.
It Snowballs Though
Call it what you want; the compound effect, the snowball. What is one seemingly impossible goal gets much easier as time goes on.
It’s how the kid that used to steal your bag literally every damn time you were in computer class managed to start a Vietnamese restaurant in Thailand.
It’s how your mate managed to finish an Ironman despite injuries going against him.
It’s how your sister manages to stay sane while raising 4 girls all born within 6 years of each other.
Somehow we end up in the deep end and take a few gulps of water, but manage to stay alive. Persist and not long after, we learn how to stay afloat – it might look ugly but we’re not dead. Sure, it might take a lifetime to be a competitive swimmer, but that’s okay – it still gets easier with time.
I’m convinced this is why some people seem to keep doing more and more incredible things.
It’s why so many people leave their home country for a 2 year contract, and 30 years later return “home” to retire.
It’s why people say “the first million is the hardest“.
It’s why those few household name entrepreneurs seem to just keep building more and more incredible businesses.
It’s why professional athletes “retire” from their first conquest, only to end up being a champ in another sport.
For these people, the seemingly incredible stuff they are doing is their “normal”. It’s just what they do.
My buddy Oscar, who gets around in a wheelchair can ski way faster than me and still rides his motorcross bike like the (actual) champ he is!
Outside of the pool in our comfort zone, we watch others swimming.
I was a classic example of this. When I was 5, I’d somehow convinced my neighbours to lie on the ground so I could jump them on my bike. As I grew up though, the social rhetoric had sunk in – “that’s dangerous”, “you might hurt yourself”, etc.
In my mid-20’s I was a competent mountain biker, but involve jumping a bike and I’d panic and freeze in mid-air. So I set about doing what many of us do when we’re faced with a challenge – I read about it. When I’d read everything, I watched videos on it. It turns out, neither of these things helped. You know what helped? Trying.
Trying, having some close calls, trying, crashing, and trying some more. As time went on, I began to feel more comfortable in the air.
Whether it’s business, sports, socialising or something else, trying produces feedback that you otherwise wouldn’t have if you were standing outside the pool watching everyone else try.
This is why you regularly hear entrepreneurs making the suggestion to “fail fast”. The quicker you can fail, the quicker you can try again, with the knowledge that you gained from the last failure.
Your New Normal
I’m sure if you think about it, something major has changed for you in the last 5-10 years, that is now completely normal.
Maybe you graduated from school/university/college and got a job. Or maybe you got married or had a child. Did you take up a new sport and take it seriously? Maybe you changed your diet in a significant way?
Whatever it was, I bet at the time it was new and scary and exciting and a whole heap of other emotions. And today? Probably pretty normal, right?
The reality is, whatever seemingly major change you make today will contribute to your new normal in a few years.
Armed with that knowledge, doesn’t it make sense that you try that new thing today instead of put it off?