What will you devote yourself to this year?

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As we enter 2014, and the Earth moves around the Sun one more time, I have found it invaluable to reflect on the past 12 months in order to learn lessons and move forward in the coming year.  The New Year is as good a time as any to ask ourselves: What shall we devote ourselves to? What will be the focus of our time, enthusiasm and energy this year?

In my first blog of 2013 I wrote about looking for inspiration from my Heroes, in their calling, their choices, their determination, their attitude toward obstacles and their incredible achievements (link). As this New Year begins I have to ask myself – Was I brave? Was I bold? Did I face my fears? Did I have faith in myself? Did I embrace adversity? Did I find my calling? More on this later.

My call to action

12 months ago, I had my own ‘call to action’. I left paid employment and entered the uncertain world of self-employment in the hope of spending more time with my family. I was clear that I wanted to spend more time in the next 5 years with my wife and children than I had managed in the previous 5 years. It is so easy to take family for granted, even though we know that they are our greatest source of happiness in life; family doesn’t offer the immediate rewards, recognition and feedback that our careers do.

Clayton Christensen explains it well – “The priorities in our life are determined not by our words but through the hundreds of everyday decisions about how we spend our time, energy and money. With each of these decisions we make a statement about what really matters to us.”

As I entered 2013 I knew the most important job that I needed to do right now was to be a better husband and father. I have felt this many times before and even made countless resolutions in the past to re-address this balance, but 2013 was the first time I was actually going to do something about it. This felt like a moment that might define who I am, that might give me an opportunity to use my talents and to fulfill my purpose on Earth.

However, I hadn’t figured out how I would support this new lifestyle, what kind of work I would do to sustain it and how I could earn enough to cover our expenses. In this vacuum I found myself transported back to the year 2000 when I was trying to decide between earning a living by pursuing my passions and doing something I was good at or a career that were in demand. All sorts of ideas, long forgotten dreams and possibilities filled my head – I could finally become a schoolteacher, author, film director, innovation guru, entrepreneur, etc.

I read a book about “How to find fulfilling work” that just made my predicament worse. I was torn. On the one hand I wanted to be like Leonardo da Vinci – a wide achiever – and pursue many interests all at once. On the other hand I knew I have a tendency to spread myself too thinly and then struggle to do anything well. After much mental wrestling it dawned on me that my biggest successes and achievements in life have come when I have immersed myself in one field and focused all my efforts in one direction, blocking everything else out.

Self-employment and self-discovery

It took so much effort to not get distracted and I had to keep reminding myself of the work-life balance I was trying to achieve. I decided to develop a one man consulting business where I could choose to take on interesting projects during term-time to ensure I was free for school holidays.

I attended a one-day Penna course on ‘Setting up your own consulting business’, I set up a limited company within an hour – Mitesh Sheth Consulting Ltd was born – it all seemed surprisingly easy. Getting clients, however, especially ones that would pay proved to be significantly harder. It took me 3 months to get a handful of clients, from different industries, offering me a broad mix of projects. It took a while though to figure out that I was better off earning my income through the industry I know best – pensions & investments.

Throughout my life I have always thought that there is nothing better than your own boss, but this year I have realised that self-employment is not for everyone (the lack of cashflow visibility at least in the initial period is difficult) and also working on my own was not for me (I’m an extrovert and it felt pretty lonely).

2013 has been a  year of self-discovery for me:

  • I found out that, whilst I loved being at home with my family in the mornings and evenings and during the school holidays, I didn’t like sitting around at home for long periods of time.
  • I realised that I am very ambitious, I love challenges and get tremendous self worth from achieving things.
  • I am also naturally inquisitive and love learning (I’ve read over a dozen non-fiction books this year – link).
  • I like people, especially being surrounded by smart people that challenge me. I am also a rule breaker and disruptor and needed to find a way to channel this constructively.

Finding my ‘Tribe’

The concept of ‘Tribes’ was popularized by Seth Godin in his bestselling book of the same name. He explained the concept as follows:

“Everyone has an opportunity to start a movement – to bring together a tribe of like-minded people and do amazing things. There are tribes everywhere, all of them hungry for connection, meaning and change. And yet, too many people ignore the opportunity to lead, because they are “sheepwalking” their way through their lives and work, too afraid to question whether their compliance is doing them, their family, their company and the world any good.”

Enter Redingtonhttp://www.redington.co.uk – an award winning disruptive pensions and investment consultancy co-founded by Dawid Konotey-Ahulu and Robert Gardner 7 years ago to ‘solve the pensions crisis’. I realised that this could be my working home as soon as I heard Rob’s 100 year vision to help people around the world feel confident about their financial future (link). My initial engagement with Redington started with RedStart, a groundbreaking programme that offers free financial education to young people at school. I then got involved with the Manager Research Team and have recently accepted a permanent role as Director of Strategy.

The more time I have spent with Rob, Dawid, Pete and the rest of the Redington team the more it has become clear that I have found my ‘Tribe’ – this is a group of talented and smart people who are ambitious and altruistic in equal measure, blending rigorous analytical discipline with creative flair.  Having spent Christmas at home with my family I am really looking forward to going back to being part of this Superteam (in the words of Khoi-Tu).

Final reflections

Back to those difficult questions I was asking myself earlier. In 2013 was I brave? Was I bold? Did I face my fears? Did I have faith in myself? Did I embrace adversity? Did I find my calling? I am pleased that for the first time in many years the answer is a yes to most of these questions, with the exception of the last one.

I have not found my calling yet, but I found my tribe, which has to be the first step.  For 2014, I want to make a commitment (not just a resolution) to continuing on this path of self-discovery, seeking to understand  where to focus my energy better and what to devote myself to. 

2013 was an amazing year for me on so many levels, even though it did not feel like it along the way. I will always remember it as my year of self-discovery. I want to share the key to unlocking this internal exploration: daily introspection and journaling.

My resolutions for 2014

I am 14 years from turning 50, I don’t have the luxury of time to waste by just re-living the same year over and over again. If 2013 was the year of ‘self-discovery’, 2014 will be the year of ‘devotion’ for me.

Over the past couple of months my wife and I have started a 5am routine: We wake up and do Surya Namaskar (Yoga & Pranayama) for 20 minutes, then we both write a Journal (reflecting on the previous day and our goals) for 20 minutes and finally we read something (thoughtful or inspiring) for 20 minutes. This routine has been invaluable in helping me deal with this year’s uncertainty, embrace adversity, adapt, understand myself and retain focus on my priorities.

  1. This 5am routine continues to feature front-and-center of my plans for 2014 (‘Daily routines of rock stars’ link).
  2. In 2014 I am looking forward to helping Redington grow with new clients, in new channels and new markets.
  3. After reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and learning about the massive differences that are forged between children over the school holidays, I have committed to spending school holidays at home with my children.
  4. I will use my free days but to write more this year. I started writing a blog for the first time in 2013 and I have really enjoyed it. I have written 19 blog posts and had 7,865 views. I really love writing. I am going to do more of this in 2014.

I’d like to thank all of you for your advice, guidance, support and encouragement throughout 2013. I wish you and your families a very Happy New Year.

For 2014 I offer you the gift of introspection, and journaling in particular, and leave you with this final question:

What will you devote yourself (your time, your energy and enthusiasm) to this year?

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