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Nothing is wasted!

How to create the life of your dreams and make every experience count

My stepson is 23. He’s just finished uni and on the hunt for a job. He’s a delightful young man but a bit deluded. He sees me, waving my son and husband off in the mornings, sipping coffee in bed, typing away on my laptop in the cafe, or flying around to exotic locations delivering a keynote at conferences.  It all sounds (and looks) very enticing.

He says, ‘I want what you’ve got.’ I say, ‘You can have it, but you’ve got to earn the right to have it. You’ve got to pay your dues.’ He says, ‘You mean like, work?’ ‘Err, yes,’ I say, ‘At things you may not enjoy, for longer than you ever thought possible, or necessary.’ ‘But why work at something you don’t want to do, or don’t like?’ he says. ‘Because to get to do what you want to do, you have to do a stack of stuff you don’t want to do.’ I say. ‘That’s what ‘paying your dues’ means.’

My stepson, god love him, has no idea what it’s taken, and cost me, to get to the point where I can actually do more of the things I want, and less of the things I don’t.  Most people don’t know, and that’s okay. In my experience, people who appear to ‘have it all’ have done a stack of work behind the scenes to ‘get it all’. In short, if you want to have an interesting life that is filled with purposeful work and pays well, then you’ll probably need to wade through a fair few unpaid, unpleasant, and/or stressful work experiences to get it.

Now, when people ask me my advice on landing the job or building the lifestyle of their dreams, I can look back and join the dots and see what it was that led me here, and provide some insight on how to get more of what you do want, less of what you don’t want, and get paid well to do it.

The key to success starts on the factory floor

Know, and I mean truly believe, that nothing you do, or experience, is wasted.  None of it.  In fact, cherish it, as it may come in handy later. I speak from experience.

  • At 19, I got a job on the production line at Holden’s car factory. It was the worst, yet best, job of my life. Why? Because it taught me something that no parent could every convey: if you don’t want an awful job, you’d better work really hard to avoid needing one!

The very act of walking into a factory the size of the MCG and having 200 workmen start whooping like monkeys (I’m not joking – apparently it was a signal to let the other guys in the plant know a woman had walked on site) was enough to make me realise I should really get a degree and find a way to avoid a future that involved high vis vests and factories filled with men.

  • At 29, I left a well-paid job in advertising to go to drama school and learned skills that would set me up financially for decades to come. I didn’t realise then that spending three lean years learning the hard graft of stage and film performance would one day provide a lucrative pathway to teaching Australia’s top executives how to prepare for public speaking events.
  • At 49, I couldn’t know that taking one (unpaid) year out of my life to write a business book could be the most profitable decision I’d ever made. Desperate to avoid the dreaded mid-life crisis I’d seen my friends have on turning 50, I asked myself ‘what would make me feel at 50 I’d achieved something of value?’. Writing a book was the answer.

On trust – writing a new chapter

But what book should I write? I decided to write one that would help me discover the secrets to building a successful online business. I had an online business myself and wanted to know how I could do it better. I knew that no one would pay me to write it, so I just rang up those I admired and asked to interview them.  It worked. Within six months, I had enough material to start a book. A year later, I woke up one morning to see Secrets of Online Entrepreneurs listed in the Sunday Age’s Top 10 Business Books.

The cost of pursuing a dream

When I started the book project, I had no concept of how much I’d have to sacrifice to write it.  I spent hundreds of hours tied to my desk, and a result, missed out on many things I would rather have been doing – nights out with the girls, reading bedtime stories to my son, watching Netflix with my beloved, (I think I am the only person in the world not to have seen Game of Thrones) and much more.

But the success of my book led to a series of side benefits I could never have anticipated.  Things like speaking engagements that paid more for one hour of my time than most people earn in a week, introductions to some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and lucrative ghost-writing book contracts for people I met when I wrote the book. The ‘life of your dreams’ may not appear overnight. In fact, it may take many years to manifest. For example, the ghost-writing contracts came in five years after my book was published. In the interim, you need to trust that the work you do, the unpaid work, the back-breaking, soul-destroying, sleep-depriving work that most people don’t see, will one day, someday pay off.

My stepson is still coming to grips with the concept that nothing we do is wasted. That sometimes the best course of action is to take the hand that’s offered, knowing that at some time in the future, the experiences we gather from the fabric of a life that’s worth living. So, keep going. Keep doing what you’re doing. Trust that even if the payoff isn’t immediate, it’s not what you do that defines you, it’s who you become in the process that really matters.  Nothing you do is wasted.