Remember, you can have anything you want if you will give up the belief that you can’t have it.
—DR. ROBERT ANTHONY, AUTHOR
A QUICK question: What do you think the purpose of this book is?
It’s a simple question, and I ask a similar one at seminars around the world: What’s the purpose of our time here today?
So what is it? After all, I know why you picked up this book—it’s because something is wrong. Now I want to know how you think this book will help. What’s its purpose? What do you expect from it?
If you’re like most first-time participants in one of our training events (the veterans know better), your answer will likely be: To learn something. It’s a natural response—most people think that the purpose of a book or a seminar is to learn something. To gain knowledge.
Well, most people are wrong.
The vast majority of what happens in great seminars, and in great books, is unlearning. Those aha! moments you feel in a great training program or during a particularly enlightening passage of
a book? They don’t happen because you learned something. They happen because you unlearned—that flash of insight was realizing that something you thought you knew just wasn’t true.
I’m not talking about unlearning facts. Discovering that a tomato is a fruit and not a vegetable won’t change your life much. The unlearning that matters for your pivot is much deeper. It’s not about changing your knowledge.
It’s about changing your beliefs.
Facing the Truth
When I was working as a full-time attorney, profoundly unhappy with my life, I began reading books like the one in your hands right now.
The most fundamental shift in my life happened not when I began to lead transformational training programs or head a company that was aligned with my heart but when those books helped me stop believing things that weren’t true.
I had always believed that the “American dream” was my ticket to fulfillment. I believed that if I put my head down and worked hard at any well-paying profession, I would be happy.
Yet there I was, living the American dream—and miserable.
When I faced the reality that my beliefs weren’t serving me and were in fact hurting me, it was impossible for me to reconcile the paradox. I could no longer believe that the path I was on would lead to happiness, when it so clearly did not. I simply couldn’t believe what I believed any longer.
Faced with that truth, I became unsure of my earlier choices, and I began to truly consider the prospect of pivoting seriously. That moment of “un-believing” is where my journey actually began. And it’s where yours will, too.
You Are What You Believe
To appreciate how profoundly your beliefs affect your life—in fact, to accept that your beliefs create your life—it may be easier to begin with a phenomenon that we’ve all experienced: the placebo effect.
The placebo effect is a benefit we get from a medical treatment that doesn’t actually have any active medicinal substance. A sugar pill for a headache, for example, will often give pain relief. Fake surgeries can outperform some real ones in providing relief, for instance, from knee pain. Just seeing the Apple logo sparks more creative thinking.
The placebo effect is a remarkable thing, and new research shows that we can get benefits even when we know something is a placebo.
Think about that for a moment: I can give you a sugar pill, and I can tell you it’s a sugar pill, but as long as you believe it will work, there’s a decent chance that it will. And by work, I mean that taking that sugar pill will create almost the exact same neurochemical changes in your brain that a real aspirin does. Your body’s biochemistry is changing because you expect it to. Your pain is going away because you believe it will.
Despite decades of study, we still don’t really have a good grasp of how the placebo effect works. But there’s no denying that it does. It’s real, scientifically accepted evidence that what you believe has the power to change your reality.
New and Old Beliefs
If a belief can take away pain or deliver the same results as surgery, what else can it do? Knowing that beliefs create your reality gives you a whole new starting point for beginning to pivot, and that is to stop believing things that don’t serve your reinvention.
Our first step in that process is to drag those limiting beliefs—the pain-inducing, life-limiting myths you might believe—out into the light and expose them for what they are.
The tricky thing about beliefs, though, is that it’s often difficult to even realize we have them. We’ve been conditioned over time to accept things without ever consciously deciding, This is what I believe to be true.
For example, right now you may think:
Entrepreneurs are extroverted.
I have my mother’s hips.
Once you’re past fifty, it’s too late to start again.
These are all beliefs. They’re things that many people choose to accept as fact, but guess what? They aren’t facts. Lots of entrepreneurs are introverts. There’s a mountain of evidence that your genes are not your destiny. And plenty of people reinvent themselves after age fifty. I see it happen all the time.
But, true or not, beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies. And that means that everything that is part of your life is there because a belief has supported its existence. A person in an abusive relationship may believe that she is not worthy of love or that he deserves to be punished for reasons going back to childhood. A person who loses money may believe that rich and successful people are greedy or unhappy. A person who works at a job or business she dislikes may believe that she doesn’t have the talent or time or money to be successful in another career.
But beliefs aren’t facts. They’re a choice. You get to pick the ones you want. Why choose ones that don’t serve you?
Before we look at instilling new beliefs—a process you’ll go through during the 21-Day Pivot Plan at the end of Part II of this book—there’s enormous value in taking an inventory of the things that are consciously or unconsciously holding you in place. And although everyone’s life is unique, there are some limiting beliefs that are common to many pivots.
For the six myths that follow, consider how each might be affecting you. You don’t need to “fix” them. You can begin by realizing
that beliefs are nothing more than conditioned thoughts you have received through the influential people and experiences in your life.
Myth No. 1: Pivoting is for other people.
I have witnessed more personal transformations than most people will see in a thousand lifetimes. It’s one of the most profound gifts of my own pivot: I now get to watch as people reinvent themselves and come alive.
Of the millions of people who live with the mediocrity of their routines or jobs every day, most back away from facing it. I am fortunate enough to work with people who, instead of retreating, chose to do something.
Guess what’s special about each of them?
That’s right. Nothing.
Without exception, the multitude of pivots I have witnessed are executed by people who are just plain normal. They’re not freakishly lucky, intelligent, or beautiful. They’re not Ivy League, upper-class, or megarich. They’re just . . . normal. They’re so normal that their stories would be boring but for the fact that they have transformed themselves so dramatically.
Plenty of people with less time, money, charm, and savvy than you have pivoted. Like you, they had “normal” lives, and they chose to reinvent themselves. Were they scared to pivot? Yes. Did they have financial challenges? Yes. Time pressures? Yes. Kids, mortgages, careers, car payments, and more? Yes! But they did it anyway, and so can you.
And therein lies the simple secret of reinvention: Those who pivot aren’t extraordinary. They become extraordinary when they decide they will not tolerate the circumstances of their lives for one moment longer.
Does that mean that your obstacles aren’t real? No—broke is broke, a mortgage is a real contract, and your kids are yours (even if
there are days when you might wish differently). You don’t need to pretend that your bills aren’t real.
You do, however, need to stop pretending that you aren’t good enough.
Let go of the idea that living the life you want is for someone else. Someone richer, smarter, more talented, or luckier. It’s nonsense. Pivoting isn’t a privilege, a genetic windfall, or a birthright.
Pivoting is a choice.
PIVOT POINT: You don’t have to be special to pivot. You become special when you decide to.
Becoming extraordinary isn’t a pivot requirement; it’s a result.
Myth No. 2: It’s too risky.
My visit to the emergency room was an incredible stroke of good luck. Many other pivoters have had similar experiences—they’ve experienced an epiphany that has changed the course of their future. For some, it was a car accident; for others, an illness.
But many have not been so lucky. For every person who has a brush with death and wakes up to change her life, there are many who don’t wake up at all.
Maybe you haven’t had your own “ER moment.” Maybe the heart attack or the divorce or the breakdown hasn’t happened.
Don’t wait for it.
If you’re telling yourself that pivoting is too risky, be sure you understand the real risk. Be sure, before we go any further, that you understand the stakes. Because this isn’t about “Wouldn’t it be nice if . . .” This is about watching the life you could have had get further and further away, until it’s so far gone you can no longer see it.
This is about regret. And there is nothing more painful.
Those are the stakes, and they’re real.
Did your stomach just drop? It should have. This is your life we’re talking about. But that’s the best part. It’s your life. You get to change it.
What you’re feeling is normal. That voice urging you to start anew is normal. The myriad signs and conversations and ideas that happen too often to be coincidental—all of that is normal, too. Because the stakes are high. The real risk is in not changing.
You have a chance for a different life. You can have a “second act” in life. Hell, you can have a third, fourth, or fifth act! Have as many as you want.
Have as many as you need. Because that’s the truth about pivoting. You don’t just want to. You don’t just get to. You need to. Because what’s the alternative? Staring into the abyss between you and what you once dreamed you could be? The bitter taste of regret? It’s just not an option.
Do you have any idea what’s at risk?
PIVOT POINT: The real risk of change isn’t that you might try and fail. It’s that you might not try and you’ll regret it.
Myth No. 3: You have to burn the ships.
Some five hundred years ago, when Hernán Cortés reached the shores of what is now known as Mexico, he faced some very real, very serious obstacles. Conquerors had attempted to colonize the Yucatán before and failed. Cortés, who had only six hundred men and had never actually led anyone in battle before, was behind before he even started, and there was already talk of mutiny. With the odds stacked against him and his men’s morale ebbing, Cortés destroyed his fleet of ships.
“Burning the ships” is what economists call a “commitment device”—a way of overcoming our short-term desires in favor of longer-term ones. When you have money automatically deducted
from your paycheck or bank account for retirement, you’re using a commitment device to overcome your short-term desire to spend, for your own long-term good.
Today we don’t really burn or sink ships in a literal sense, but the idea is still with us. Poker stars go “all in” in the hope of crushing an opponent. Athletes give “110 percent.” Entrepreneurs “put it all on the line” or “bet the farm.” We “go out on a limb,” because it’s “all or nothing.”
It’s a pervasive, and persuasive, idea. Over and over we’re told that in order to succeed, we have to (a) take enormous risks and (b) commit completely to our dreams by abandoning our old lives. The idea is reinforced by books, movies, stories, documentaries, and news coverage of people who “risked it all” for fame, fortune, and love.
The trouble is that the idea is nonsense.
It’s not that the stories we hear aren’t true, it’s that they tend to be outliers—the rare “daring-risk” successes that make for great Hollywood tales. In fact, the vast majority of happy, successful people got there by gradually working toward their goals. If poker were the best way to get rich, casinos would be out of business.
Still, the myth is a compelling one—we love the rags-to-riches storyline. But the danger of the myth isn’t that it leads us toward the gambling risk of “all or nothing.” The real danger of the burn-the-boats myth is that it gives us an excuse to stay put. After all, what responsible person would risk everything for a dream? The myth gives you permission to stay right where you are because you’re “doing the right thing.” You’re keeping the food in your kids’ mouths. You’re keeping a roof over your heads. To pursue your dream? To pivot? Why, that would be just plain irresponsible.
And there’s the trap.
In fact, pivoting isn’t about sudden radical change. It’s about:
• Envisioning a realistic way to change your life
• Preserving the parts of your life that serve you
• Creating a clear plan for making sustainable change
Pivoting is not an extreme sport. It’s a real way for real people to change their lives. To view it any other way isn’t part of pivoting—that’s just unnecessary risk.
When I decided I needed to leave the practice of law, and find and follow my true purpose, I didn’t stop being a lawyer the next day. I had a family. A mortgage. Bills to pay. I had responsibilities to staff and clients. To ignore all that and burn the ships would have been disastrous.
Instead, I started exploring what I called my “Purpose-Driven Plan B.” I began to gradually create a bridge from Plan A—the practice of law that I was currently doing—to Plan B, which was to help people find and follow their true purpose.
As that bridge strengthened and grew, I gradually began to dismantle Plan A. I reduced my commitments over time to my clients as I began to grow and learn and develop my skill in Plan B.
Eventually? Plan B became Plan A. No burning of ships or betting of farms required.
The burn-the-boats fallacy might be the most devastating myth because it’s the one that keeps the most people trapped. Are you convinced that you have to quit your secure job to pivot? Spend your life savings? Abandon your friends or family? If you believe those things, pivoting seems impossible. How can you allow yourself to think clearly about changing your life if you feel that you have to risk everything? The answer is that you can’t. As long as you believe that pivoting requires taking extraordinary risks, you’ll never take action.
PIVOT POINT: Pivoting is not an extreme sport. It’s a step-by-step, realistic way to change your life.
Later in the book we’ll look at when using commitment devices in larger quantities is useful, and how best to do it.
For now, know that the either-or decision is a false choice. You don’t have to give up everything you have now in order to move toward what you want tomorrow.
Myth No. 4: What I want is unreasonable.
It’s easy to think that your desire to pivot is frivolous. Unacceptable. You might have been raised to think that dreams were just that—dreams. You might have been told “Life is supposed to be hard” or “Not everyone can have their dream job.” If the people around you are unhappy with their lives, you may feel that your desire to change your life is somehow frivolous or unethical. That it’s too much to ask. That it’s wrong.
Want to know what is wrong? I’ll tell you: slowly dying from the inside out. That’s wrong.
Teaching your kids, by example, to live in mediocrity? Wrong.
Wasting the life that you’ve been given by being unhappy? Also wrong.
Yes, most people are unfulfilled. A Harris Interactive Survey found that 55 percent of the workforce is hoping to change careers. Eighty percent of people are not working in their “dream” job.
If you’re unhappy with your job, your relationships, your health, or your finances, you’re not only not alone, you’re part of the herd. You’re packed into a crowd bigger than a thousand Super Bowls.
Because most people aren’t content. That’s the real state of the union.
But that’s not the problem. It’s sad that most people are unfulfilled. But that pales in comparison to the tragedy that you are unfulfilled and you think that it’s somehow okay. That it’s unreasonable for you to want more than you have.
That is not reasonable. Not at all.
PIVOT POINT: It’s not wanting change that is unreasonable. It’s tolerating unnecessary misery.
Myth No. 5: Everything I’ve done so far will be wasted.
Many people are afraid to pivot because a voice inside them says, “This invalidates everything you’ve done.”
Changing careers doesn’t make your previous career a waste. A new relationship doesn’t mean your last decade was wasted. Starting a business doesn’t mean your 401(k) is lost or that the twenty years you spent on the corporate ladder were a waste.
First, you’ve learned a lot. You may not believe it, but that uninspiring decade you spent at your desk wasn’t without purpose. You might not realize it, but you have skills, self-knowledge, and experience that are going to serve your pivot. There’s a good chance that what you learned while you were unhappy is going to keep you from being unhappy again.
Second, pivots require a frame of reference. You can’t pivot to something better if you’ve never been somewhere worse. You need the reference point of the poor health, the lousy job, the bad relationship, the abandoned dream, in order to know what you’re leaving behind. Whatever it is that you’ve done so far in life—the good and the bad—is setting you up to be able to both pivot and appreciate it. Because a pivot without gratitude? That’s just jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Finally, your past is a clue to where you should be. As you’ll discover later, all of the experiences and incidents in your life so far are clues to what you are truly committed to.
The past is never wasted. Pivot is about making sure you don’t waste your future.
There’s a name for our tendency to worry about how much we’ve invested in something: the sunk-cost fallacy. Whether it’s a job, a home renovation, or a business investment, we hate the thought of walking away from something we’ve put time, money, or effort into,
so we keep investing in those things, even when it no longer makes sense.
But the sunk-cost fallacy is just that—a fallacy. It’s an irrational argument. Only, in this case, your focus on the past isn’t just causing you to spend more on that bathroom renovation than you should, it’s keeping you stuck in the life you have.
PIVOT POINT: The past is never wasted. Pivoting is about making sure you don’t waste your future.
Myth No. 6: I have to wait for . . .
Everyone on the planet has fallen for this myth at one time or another.
Once the kids leave home, I’ll start a business.
As soon as spring comes, I’ll start exercising.
Once it slows down at work, I’ll have some time to start painting.
They all share one thing in common: They’re variations on someday: Someday I’ll write a book. Run a marathon. See Italy.
And what do we know about someday? It never comes. Years later the book isn’t written. The college degree you always wanted isn’t any closer. The furniture-making business is still just a few dusty tools hanging in the garage.
In fact, even our well-loved (and chronically unkept) New Year’s resolutions are just a variation on the same theme. “I’m going to start working out on January first.” How many times have you heard (or said) that? And how well does it work? Even when we disguise someday by giving it a date, it doesn’t work.
This myth is about believing that you need to wait. For some thing, some day, some person, some event, some sum.
You don’t. Waiting is the antithesis of pivoting.
Oh, I know why you’re waiting. You want change to be clear, easy, and risk-free. Unfortunately, change often isn’t any of these. But it can be easier than you think. The risk can be low. The steps can be small. The price can be affordable. But it can’t wait.
Do you have to pack it all in and fly to Italy tomorrow? Of course not. Pivoting is a process. And you get to control that process. You don’t have to quit your job or fly to Italy tomorrow. You can pivot in the smallest baby steps, over whatever time period you want.
But you cannot—must not—wait.
PIVOT POINT: Waiting to change is the same as not changing at all.
I Can’t, Because . . .
Any one of the six myths is an obstacle to achieving clarity and beginning your pivot. Each is a barrier to clarity.
Which ones do you need to un-believe?
Pretend for a moment that this is the last page of the book. Based on what you know now, you need to begin your pivot tomorrow. Imagine, for example, that you need to begin to become an entrepreneur tomorrow morning.
At this point, you’re likely to feel some resistance. But, you think, I can’t start tomorrow because I have to go to work.
Did you hear that?
You’re hearing your false belief at work—the belief that pivoting is an either-or, zero-sum game. That you can’t follow Path B unless you abandon Path A. Many people—including those in this book—became entrepreneurs without quitting their day jobs.
The problem is that our beliefs are really habits. They are patterns of thinking that we follow without, well, thinking. The vast majority of our lives is run by these types of habits, and until we
drag them out into the light where we can see them for what they are (things that aren’t true), our lives run on autopilot. We go about our lives believing the same things, day after day, and nothing changes.
Think about your pivot and about the idea of change. What is the first barrier that comes to mind? Fill in the blank below.
I can’t start tomorrow because . . .
There it is. You just dragged it out into the light, kicking and screaming.
Now put that one aside. Whatever your answer was—your day job, your spouse, your finances, your kids, your pension, your job security, your bills—set it aside.
Now ask the question again.
When nothing else comes up? Those are your limiting beliefs.
Suspend Your Disbelief
Your beliefs weren’t formed overnight. And erasing them may not happen overnight, either. It can take time, particularly for your most emotionally charged beliefs.
So, in the meantime, suspend them. Open your mind to the possibility that what you believe might not be true. After all, what do you have to lose?
It costs nothing to believe that reinventing your life is possible.
It costs nothing to believe that things can change.
It costs nothing to believe that you are enough.
What do you have to lose by believing something different?