Have you ever felt stuck in a job or career? One that keeps you from following your dreams?
It’s an awful feeling that sits in the pit of your stomach. And no matter what happens in life, you always seem to feel its presence.
You wake each morning exhausted at the thought of repeating the process. You travel to work in disgust, or worse, anger. And you wish, hope, or pray things change.
Well, I know the feeling, and I also know it doesn’t have to be that way.
How do I know?
Not only have I followed my dreams, but I’ve coached people to follow theirs too. And on top of that, there are endless examples of individuals throughout history who made the leap.
In this article, I’ll give an uncommon example of a man, Michel de Montaigne, who took the leap several centuries ago and impacted the world of literature forever. He did so by hanging up a passionless career to follow his dreams.
And though you may have not heard of him per se, you’ve likely heard of those he influenced; Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Friedrich Nietzsche, and even William Shakespeare.
If you’ve ever felt stuck in a job or career, or you’re there now, pay close attention. The following nine lessons from Michel’s life can teach us how to leave the rat race to pursue work we love, work that matters, and perhaps work that can impact the world.
1. First and foremost, you’re never stuck.
During the 16th century, when life expectancy was 35 years old (think plague), at age 37 Michel decided to vacate his position as magistrate to write full-time. A bold move to say the least. Today, it’s relative to someone embarking on a new career just before retirement.
What Michel taught us is that you’re never stuck. No matter how deep your roots are in life, work, or both, you can change directions. You can reinvent yourself at any time. And by doing so, you may give rise to the best version of yourself the world has ever seen.
2. It begins once you make a deliberate decision.
Michel made a deliberate decision to renounce politics. He didn’t just fall into becoming a writer. It wasn’t a misstep he made the best of. No, it was a deliberate decision.
Everything in your life begins with a decision. You decide to make a change, whether it’s out of disgust, anger, fear, or a number of emotions, it’s a choice. And once you deliberately choose, make sure you “burn the boats” with no intention of ever going back.
3. Find, or create, a new environment.
In the case of Michel, he created a library in a tower close to his chateau. He didn’t attempt to work in a familiar place. Why would he? It would only bring more of the sameness he was distancing himself from. Instead, he created a new environment designed to drive fresh thoughts and ideas.
It’s extremely important to upgrade, or simply change, your environment. You want something to support your direction. Something new and unfamiliar. Why? Because just as Michel found, new environments drive fresh thoughts and ideas.
4. Expect the unexpected.
After settling in his new environment, Michel found the calmness of it all made him quite anxious. He wrote once that his mind, “bolted off like a runaway horse.” It was unexpected, and knocked him back a bit. Thankfully, he stayed the course.
Admittedly, nothing suggests he “expected the unexpected,” but from his accounts, he was caught off guard. With this in mind, expect your new direction will come with a unique set of twists and turns. You can plan to leap when conditions are perfect, but inevitably unknown variables will arise. As such, expect that the unexpected will happen and your shock factor will be reduced when it does.
5. Be financially responsible.
Let it not be lost that Michel was blessed to have a family fortune, allowing him to change career paths and write full-time. However, the point is that he was financially able to make the change.
There are few things worse in life than not being financially prepared to follow your dreams. Many individuals, like myself, didn’t have family fortunes. Instead, we fought for every dime and made sacrifices each and every day. Perhaps this is you as well.
The payoff of being financially responsible is doing the work of your dreams. For some it’s the path of entrepreneurship, for others its taking a pay cut to break into an industry where their passion lies. In any case, make sure you’re financially capable of making the leap.
6. Tragedies will come (and go).
In a five-year period, Michel lost his best friend, father and brother. Their deaths were attributed to tragic accidents and medical problems. Such tragedies shaped his thinking and writing. In some cases, they propelled him forward and inspired his work.
Our lives inevitably will be filled with tragedies. They will come, and they will go. However, it’s how you deal with these tragedies. If you use them to fuel you, it creates a level of energy rarely matched. Never let anything, not even a personal tragedy, hold you back from your mission. Just remember, dark times always pass.
7. Relinquish your fears.
One day while Michel was horseback riding, he was flung off and knocked unconscious. It brought him face-to-face with his fear of death. Strangely, his account of the accident was that of being calm and serene. What he learned was after his fear of death was gone, he was incredibly inspired.
We all have fears. Some worse than others. The fastest path to doing the work you love is standing face-to-face with your fears. You don’t want them holding power over you. And though it’s cliché to say, “face your fear,” it’s amazing how many people neglect to follow through with this.
My advice, and what I tell clients, is plan on beating your fears. Yes, plan. Make a commitment and schedule exactly how and when you’ll overcome them. Place them on the calendar, like anything else important in your life. Whether it’s a single day, or an entire month, work up a strategy and follow through.
8. Fulfill all your prior commitments.
Prior to his new direction, Michel fulfilled all prior commitments. A writing assignment for his father and one for Etienne de La Boetie. By fulfilling his prior commitments, he was mentally free. Nothing could tug at his attention or attempt to distract him from his mission.
When you choose a new direction, close out your prior commitments. Don’t allow them to linger. They will eat at you night and day. You’ll try to hide from them, but they will find you and cause mental anguish. Close them out and be free to channel all your attention on your new direction.
9. Work until the magic happens.
Over the course of 20 years, Michel gave some of the greatest contributions to literature the world has ever seen. He’s been regarded as one of the greatest writers of the French Renaissance. And he accomplished this by getting past the early stages of doubt, misfortune, and continued working until the magic happened.
The final lesson can’t be stressed enough. It’s imperative you work until the magic happens. Keep the following in mind during your beginning stages, humans are classic under-estimators in terms of forecasting timeframes. This is detailed in the planning fallacy.
Things will take longer than originally imagined, so just keep working until the magic happens. Don’t give up early. Follow through like your life depended on it, because it does, right? Whether it takes one, or ten years, keep moving forward. Whether it takes the rest of your life to follow through with the work you love, keep moving forward.
There you have it, eight lessons to change the course of your life and pursue the work of your dreams. What I can promise you is this; it’s not easy. Simple? Yes. But definitely not easy.
Though one thing is certain in my opinion, nothing worth doing is ever easy. And personally, I live by what Bruce Lee said anyway, “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”