A week ago, I told you that I had an awesome post coming out.  The more I worked on it, the more passionate I became, and suddenly a 1,200 word post blew up into a 5,000 word snowball of awesomeness.

So I’m breaking the post up into a series, of which this is the first installment.  I’m calling it The Ultimate Guide to Owning Your Life, and it is going to help you kick ass in your life and business by taking personal responsibility for your success.

A brief intro (or “how I hit rock bottom and bounced back”)

This series is deeply personal to me.  If you’ve been around The Tao of Rob for any length of time, you’ve probably read about my “rock bottom” experience about a year ago.  Back in November of last year, I started losing control of my life.  I felt like I was a victim, I believed that the world was my aggressor, and I allowed myself to be consumed by my work.  It made me miserable.

Because I wasn’t taking care of myself like I should have been, I found myself slipping into a deep depression.  A month later, the girl I was dating at the time decided she had enough of my crap and moved out.  Needless to say, it sucked.  On top of that, I had $2 in the bank, and I was ready to throw in the towel.  If there is a “rock bottom,” I was convinced that I had found it.

Photo by spaetz.

One afternoon, I had an experience that changed my life.  Rent was due and I was broke.  I pulled myself up off the couch and stared across the room at the 1979 Gibson Les Paul ES-347 guitar that my grandfather had left to my mother after he died.  It looked magnificent hanging on the wall, 24-karat gold hardware gleaming in the harsh January sun that squeezed through the cracks of my miniblinds.

As I gazed at the guitar, I thought to myself, “If I pawned the guitar, I could swing a month’s rent.”

And that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  It was time to change.

Why you should keep reading (and how to keep on top of the story)

This series of posts is my story of how I climbed out of that rut and took control of my life.  There are a few reasons why you should be interested.

  • If you have a deep, nagging feeling that you could be doing more with your life, this series is for you.
  • If you want to take your business to “the next level,” but you don’t know where it is, read on.
  • If you believe that you can be more successful, but you feel like something is holding you back, pay attention.

If any of the statements above resonate with you, I am going to do my damnedest to help you rise above them.  Drop over to my email updates page, enter your email address, and join my mailing list so you can stay up to date.

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The first step to owning your life is to get behind the wheel and drive.

No matter what you want to accomplish–starting a business, running a marathon, finding a job, getting out of debt–your first step is to take responsibility for getting there.

When most people run into problems in life, they blame them on outside factors.  In psychology, we call this having an external locus of control, meaning we feel that the situation is steered by some sort of external force. Often, these outside factors are things that we can’t control, like the economy, our bosses, or our customers.

This results in a victim mentality.  If you place the control in some outside force, you can’t be the captain of your own ship.  Instead, you’re stuck in a rowboat that’s being swept downstream by the current.

This is not reality. Once you become an adult of legal age, your well-being is solely your responsibility.  This isn’t the government.  No one is going to bail you out.  You have to step up to the plate and make the choice to improve your condition.

I, too, fall victim to this trap.

I’m guilty of this, too.

May 2009 marked the beginning of a new chapter of my life.  I had just graduated college and moved in to a new apartment in Raleigh, NC with my girlfriend at the time.  When I did, I shifted my focus from school to building my consulting business.  I spent a lot of time learning new things, meeting new people, and developing new ideas.

Naturally, I was the brightest social media marketing nerd in town (or so I thought).  I couldn’t figure out why no one wanted to work with me.  It made me angry.  I was brilliant!  Why isn’t my phone ringing off the hook?

I blamed everything but myself.  I blamed my prospects.  I blamed the economy.  I blamed my “competition” (though there is no such thing as competition).

And then I realized that it was my responsibility to be great.

Smarts weren’t enough.  Albert Einstein didn’t become a world renowned physicist by sitting around waiting to be discovered.  He became great by doing hard work and solving problems that no one else could solve.  He became great by stepping up and taking control of his destiny.

Neil Armstrong.  John F. Kennedy.  Martin Luther King, Jr…  Do you think that any of these people became household names by closing their eyes and wishing really hard that they would walk on the moon, change a nation, or change the way that our country treated an entire race of people?

Let me answer that question for you.  Hell no they didn’t. They became great because they took control of their lives and made a concerted effort to make something happen.

Armstrong dedicated his life to aerospace engineering.

Kennedy spent years travelling the world, studying politics, and writing theses on international affairs at Harvard before he took charge of the Cold War, built the space program, and founded the Peace Corps.

King stood in front of 200,000 people and spoke his famous words, “I have a dream.”

Heroes don’t get lucky, nor do they rely on divine intervention.  I don’t believe in “the secret,” or that if you think really hard about a new Mercedes that one will appear in your front yard.

Instead, heroes create their own luck.  They get behind the wheel of their lives and they drive.

It’s not going to be easy, but here’s how to get back in the driver’s seat.

It’s not like I can help you change by giving you a magic pill and dropping some self-help mumbo jumbo about your “infinite potential.”  For me, it took hitting rock bottom before I could stop deluding myself and take action.  There are a few things that you can do, though, that can put you on the fast track to success.

1.)  Take a break and calm down.

When I realize that I’m losing control of my well-being, my first step is to move as far away from the issue as possible.  Recently, I’ve realized that my work on The Lifestyle MBA was consuming my thoughts.  This is dangerous, for if your thoughts are not clear, your judgment becomes clouded and you lose your focus on the path that you should be taking.

And so I literally walked away from it for a week.  I took a ride to the mountains of rural NC to visit family.  I watched the entire Star Wars anthology (except for Episode I, because it sucked).  I got together with a friend who I haven’t seen in a long time and drank beer together and talked about the most random things that you could imagine.

When you’re calm, you can take a look at the situation from an outside perspective.  We’ll talk more about panic and how to overcome it next week, but your first reaction when you feel like you’re losing control is to start grasping for some sort of hold on your life.  Your fight or flight response kicks in and your reptilian brain takes over.  Conquering the reactive response is mission critical to getting back in the driver’s seat.

This step was a critical step toward climbing out of the rut that I dug myself into nearly a year ago.  The first time I lost control of my life, I let it build up for months before I chose to accept it, and it took me several weeks to get back on my feet.  Now I can usually recognize it more quickly and get back into the swing of things after a few days–and sometimes it’s just a matter of hours.

After you’ve stepped away from the situation, take an emotionless, objective look at why you allowed yourself to lose control.  As a starting point, examine your money situation and your relationships with friends, business colleagues, or loved ones, because fear of losing any of these things can drive you mad with desperation.

Do you feel inferior, or unsuccessful?  Are you afraid of losing something?  Are you desperate to gain something?  All of these can put you in a position where you relinquish control of your life in order to have whatever you feel like you’re lacking.  Whatever you do, don’t let yourself give in.

2.) Know exactly what you want to accomplish.

Once you can take a rational look at your situation, decide on what it is that you’re trying to accomplish.  If you can’t communicate this, you have no direction, and if you have no direction, you can’t take action.

In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill calls this “definiteness of purpose.”  If you know what you want to accomplish, and you know the first step to getting there, the rest of the path will become evident as you go along.

Alternatively, Simon Sinek says, “start with Why.”  When you know why you’re in action, how you can get there and what you do naturally follow.  For example, I know that with everything I do, I believe in helping people reach their full potential.  I do that by helping them build better businesses, live lives of freedom and abundance.  I also happen to have a blog, and a coaching/consulting practice, and I’m building a series of products.

All of your actions will be directed by that “why,” or your definiteness of purpose.

If you need help coming up with your why, get in touch with me via my contact form and I’ll help you figure it out.  I’m pretty good at getting to the root of things.

3.) Identify the first step.

Knowing the end result is important, but starting at the end isn’t going to work.  With any project of significant value, the magic isn’t in the result; it’s in the process.

Just recently, I learned this the hard way when I set about creating The Lifestyle MBA program.  I knew that I wanted to create a course that would help solo entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level, but I skipped a lot of steps in making it happen.

Time and time again, I advise my clients to define a target market, to learn what they need, and then to offer them a solution.  But with The Lifestyle MBA, I started with the product and tried to sell it before I knew what the heck it was going to be.

Since I skipped steps, I found my job much harder than it should have been.  I found myself trying to sell the product–in fact, I may have turned some of you off to it because of how hard I pushed it, and if I did, I apologize.  One part of this series is going to talk about outcome independence, and how clinging to a particular outcome will ruin you.

All of this was a hard lesson to learn–it cost me upwards of $10,000–but it was an important reminder in identifying the first step and moving in the direction of the destination.

Identify what that first step is in moving toward your goal.  Otherwise, you’re going to find yourself wandering and covering ground with no clear direction.

4.) Go with the flow.

Once you have the first step identified, you’re good to go.  Last month, I wrote a post in which I shared why too much planning is not an advantage.  Once you start taking action, you gain new information that you didn’t have when you started and you learn that even the best-laid plans are incomplete.

Taoist philosophy has a concept called wei wu wei, which means “action without action” or “effortless action.”  Rather than working hard on a project and trying to bash through brick walls like I did with the Lifestyle MBA, slow down and don’t be afraid to change directions.

Like a river flows from the mountains to the sea, you may not be able to move in a straight line.  A river follows the path of least resistance, guided by the terrain, but always moving forward and always finding its destination in the sea.

Lao Tzu says, “Why is the ocean king of a thousand streams?  Because it lies below them.”

I firmly believe that the ultimate predictor of success is not intelligence, not planning, not resources…  Instead, it’s forward motion.  If you’re not moving, you cannot succeed.  If you’re moving in accordance to a strict plan, you may succeed, but it’s going to be much more difficult than you had expected, and the payoff will be less great than you would like.

Practice wei wu wei.  Teach without words.  Work without doing.

Next week, we’re going to talk about panic and outcome dependence, and how they can ruin you.

There’s particular danger in letting things get out of control…  Once you lose control of one aspect of your life, it’s easy to lose your grip on the others.  Personally, when I lost my focus on my work, I panicked and let my feelings of discontent bleed into my relationship with my girlfriend (you’ll read more about that in the next couple of sections).  This is why I believe that taking charge of your own life is not only a good idea, but necessary for your success.

UPDATE – Wasn’t this post awesome?  You can find Part Two by clicking here: Keep Cool and Focus on Your Goals.

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