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The Question That Changed My Life

“It’s been said that we don’t recognise the significant moments of our lives while they’re happening.” – Nathan Scott


I was crying. I didn’t know what to do. Life was throwing all these stupid problems on me, and I didn’t know how to fight back. So he just smiled, looked at me, and asked me the question that would change my life.

“Your happiness will depend on the answer to this one question,” he told me.

“It’s the most important question you can ever ask yourself. Only you know the answer. You might not know the answer yet, and the answer will change all the time. But you need to keep asking yourself – what do you want?”

Interestingly, I’d never thought about life that way. I’d always thought about what my parents wanted, or what my girlfriend wanted, or what my boss wanted. But I’d never really asked myself what I wanted.

That day was a powerful moment in my life. I realised I was in control of my own happiness, and any unhappiness I experienced was a result of my own choices. It was the most logical thing in the world, yet I needed to hear it from someone else before it registered.

So I started to ask myself, what do I want? Do I even know? At that very moment, I didn’t. But I decided that when I did, I would make it happen. I would take what I wanted, completely and unapologetically. I didn’t care what anyone else wanted anymore. If I didn’t start living for myself today, when would I? Tomorrow? Five years from now? Ten? Would I even still be alive then?

One month after that conversation took place I set off on my journey around the world. My parents wanted me to keep focusing on my career. My boss didn’t want me to quit. My girlfriend had wanted to get married. But what everyone else wanted didn’t matter anymore. I knew what I wanted, and I was going to get it.

You might be thinking, “that’s just selfish.” And you’re right, it is. But I want to tell you it’s okay to be selfish. If you don’t look out for yourself, if you don’t carve out the life that you want, who will? If you died tomorrow, your boss will replace you within a week. Your girlfriend will find another guy to marry. Your friends will cry and then get on with their lives. Are these the people you’re living your life for? No. You need to be living for you. And when you live for you and chase after what you want – that’s when the world becomes yours.

I want you to think back to your childhood. Maybe you were five or six, and your friend told you to throw a water balloon at your neighbour. You knew it was wrong, but you did it. You never liked that neighbour anyway.

Then your mother came and smacked you across the face and the first thing to come out of your mouth was “John told me to do it.”

Staring at you with devil eyes, your mother would scream, “If John told you to walk off a cliff, would you do it?”

“No.”

Yet every single day, we all walk off cliffs. Our days are spent doing crappy things, and we do them not because we want to, but because John told us to.

“If John told you to work a shitty job, would you do it?”

“If John told you to study some boring ass thing at university, would you do it?”

If John told you to wear a dorky looking suit and tie, would you do it?”

Even though our mothers taught us to say no, we always, always say yes.

Well, today, I’m your mother. I’m the one slapping you in the face. But instead of just scolding you, I want you to ask yourself why you keep doing these things. What’s stopping you from doing what you want? What’s the real reason your dreams are stashed in the bottom drawer?

I’ll tell you.

The answer is fear. You’re afraid.

You’re afraid of being in control. When you work a shitty job and you hate your life, it doesn’t matter because you have someone to blame.

“I didn’t have a choice – it’s what my parents wanted.”

“I wanted to do something else, but my wife wouldn’t have approved.”

“I couldn’t get time off work. My boss wouldn’t let me.”

I get it. You’re a victim. Other people were responsible for your misery. You didn’t have a choice.

Wanna know something? That’s bullshit. It’s a bullshit excuse and you’ve been hiding behind it your whole life. You don’t need to do these things. You don’t need to listen to these people. The reason you follow this path is because if it all goes to shit, it won’t be your fault.

If you quit your desk job and travel the world, start a business, become a monk or open a yoga school, you have nobody else to blame. No one told you to do it. John didn’t tell you to walk off this cliff. You did it all on your own and that means if you fail you’ll have to stand up and admit to the world that you fucked up.

You’re afraid.

Guess what? I am too. These days, I spend my time travelling, working online, living a somewhat unconventional life and earning a lot less money than I used to. I see all my old colleagues in their fancy suits earning six-figure salaries, getting married and buying up houses. Do you think I’m not afraid that one day when we’re forty I’ll be clipping coupons and living in a straw hut while they’re sitting by the pool with their feet up? Of course I’m afraid. I feel fear just like everyone else. But I don’t let my fear drive me. I let my dreams drive me. If I succeed I will look back with pride, and if I fail I will stand up and admit that I fucked up. Either way, I’ll have no regrets, and you shouldn’t either. In the words of a very wise man, it’s better to die standing than to live on your knees.

So if the first question that will change your life is “what do you want?”, the second question becomes “what are you afraid of?”

It might be dying from some tropical disease, or going bankrupt and losing everything you’ve worked for. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. You can be afraid of a million things and it doesn’t change anything.

Why?

Because everyone feels fear. It’s normal. Fear is good. It keeps us aware. It tells us something big is about to happen.

Cus D’Amato, one of the greatest boxing trainers of all time used to say, there is no difference between a hero and a coward. They both feel the same fear. The only difference is that the hero does something, and the coward doesn’t.

Fear can be our greatest enemy or our greatest inspiration. Only you can choose if you want to run from it or overcome it. If you want to run from it, close this blog post and go back to whatever you were doing. If you want to overcome it, ask yourself a third question.

What’s the worst that can happen?

If you packed it all in and went full speed towards a dream today, would you die? Would life be over? If I failed tomorrow, the worst that would happen is I’d come home, tail between my legs, and I’d return to my old career as an accountant. If I started a business and went bankrupt, I’d pack it up, put my tie back on, and go back to working as an accountant. But that’s exactly what my life was before I left home anyway. When you define your worst case scenario, you may find you have very little to lose. You may, in fact, be living that worst case scenario already.

The coward walks off cliffs. The hero walks where he wants.

You need to decide which side you’re going to be on.

Do you want to change your life?

Decide what you want.

Overcome your fear.

Come and get it.

See you on the other side.


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23 thoughts on “The Question That Changed My Life

  1. Amazing post, I wish I had read a post like that earlier in life! I have just started to live the life I want about one year ago and I feel like I’ve lost so much time before that, doing things that other people thought would be best for me.

  2. Love this, Bren! You’ve been an inspiration as I’ve planned my escape to travel for a while. I just put in my notice at work last week, and you’re totally right, my boss is already looking at resumes and scheduling interviews to fill my position as we speak. It’s been very liberating and I’m so excited to be out doing what I want rather than sitting at a desk all day trying to fill the hours until 5:30. Most surprisingly, people have been really supportive about the whole thing!

    1. Hi Rachel, I remember the day I put in my notice. Felt awesome. You have an adventure in front of you know and I’m sure you won’t regret it one bit. Keep in touch and let me know what you’re up to out there 🙂

  3. You always manage to inspire me Bren. I actually have your post ‘What People Are Doing When They Travel To “Find Themselves”’ saved as a bookmark and I refer back to it constantly. This post will also be saved! People are so concerned about making other people happy they never think about themselves. It’s not selfish to chase your own happiness, it’s the only thing that makes sense!

  4. Hey Bren,

    A little off topic but quick question. I’m an accountant in training, and had an idea and wondered how realistic it was, and and seeing as you’re a former accountant, you might know the answer. I’m graduating in a year or so, and I wondered if I were to go work for a smaller firm instead of a bigger firm, is there any chance they’d be able to set up a temp-work arrangement down the line where I only come in for busy season, save them for money, but leave myself the other 6-8 months to travel the world? Crazy, or potentially do-able? I haven’t actually worked in an accounting firm yet so I’m curious on your thoughts on this.

    1. Hi Boris, it’s totally possible, obviously will depend on what branch of accounting you’re in, but many smaller firms get an influx of work and need help during the busy season. Will be a special situation, and depend on your relationship with your boss and the clients. Also will depend on how good you are at your job – you’ll need to be excellent. Good luck.

  5. This is just what I needed! I was meant to leave in March, then June, then September, then November and now I’ve finally set a date of December.

    See you in some awesome new country!

  6. I really want to quit but then I will have to pay back my scholarship, and I have no money to pay it back *Sigh* Hope I can somehow earn money to pay it back, and start living the life I want.

  7. it’s amazing how you can describe whats going on in my head, the stuff you write down is my inspiration. haha, i can say this right here is my bible.

    thanks my man, for waking me up. you pushed me in the right direction, not because you tell me, but because i want to. i need to face my fears.

    it’s mind blowing.
    cheers.

  8. Crying because this post describes EXACTLY how i felt like when i had just been going through the motions in life. It scares me how everyone goes through the same shit in their own ways.

    1. Hey Sher, thanks for reading. Yes, often problems are universal. We’re all searching for the same thing in different ways. Keep pushing.

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