Take a risk. Start something. Poke the Box.

Photo by Danielle Macinnes on Unsplash

Late last year, less than 6 months in to an exciting new role, my contract came to a sudden end. I’d sensed something was up – someone let slip in a meeting that there was a budget review taking place. Later, when I asked my client what that meant for our programme, she couldn’t give me any reassurances. This weighed on my mind for the next week whilst I was on holiday, and the day I returned, my fears were confirmed. I was put on notice and soon after, I left the firm’s swish central London offices for the last time.

I was feeling pretty down. It wasn’t far from Christmas and the chances of finding a new role at that time of year are slim, even when the economy is roaring. But last year the job market faced the combined headwinds of uncertainty relating to Brexit and new legislation relating to contractors. I estimated I’d be out of work until at least the spring, which was a grim prospect.

On the positive side, I thought about all the things I could achieve now I was free from an intense job and a long commute. After the kids went to school I figured, I’d have so much free time that I could build the app I’ve been designing in my head for years, find a co-founder to launch a business, start writing a blog, and more.

But reality bites hard. There was a backlog of household chores, then the Christmas holidays arrived and I was lined up as full-time daddy day-care. I had some free time, and I know enough about effective time management that I could have prioritised my life to free up an hour or so each day. But as the weeks passed, I had to face facts, I was making no progress. I’d gone nowhere near an idea in weeks. I was hanging out with my old buddy procrastination.

Photo by Pedro da Silva on Unsplash

I’ve always struggled with procrastination. If I can’t see exactly what the outcome might be, or what short term gain I’ll receive, I can lack motivation. Or I’ll come up with excuses. I have a close relationship with excuses. A wardrobe full of them, something for every occasion, tailor-made for me.

I don’t do this at work, but somehow allow myself to get away with it in my personal life. Ideas come and go and enthusiasm in new projects wanes. I think everyone’s like this to some degree or another. But now, with no work for the first time in 10 years, I couldn’t afford to let anything get in the way.

And then I found ‘Poke the Box’.

Seth Godin, the author of Purple Cow, founder of the AltMBA and serial blogger produces great content and has a view on work which I subscribe to. He thinks of his career as a series of projects, not jobs.

I’ve read or listened to a few of Seth’s books, but had always overlooked Poke the Box. The book is a manifesto on initiating. Start something, Godin says. Try, fail, it’s OK. Just start. Godin reads the book himself on Audible and his enthusiasm is infectious, as is his empathy. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to a virtual arm around the shoulder. And a kick in the pants at the same time.

Poke the Box gave me the encouragement and the reality check I needed. Here are 3 things that stood out for me.

Feeling scared? You don’t want to start a new project, or contact someone in your network in case you feel ashamed or embarrassed? You might be linking risk too closely to failure. Sure there’s a chance of a bad outcome, but you won’t know if you never start, and won’t benefit from any upside. This fear of failure might also cause you to resist positive change in your daily life. Don’t be afraid. Don’t allow yourself to be stuck where you are.

Can’t see the road ahead? Don’t want to start the journey because the sat nav won’t safely guide you? ‘Opportunities lie in pursuing your curiosity, not in following maps’. Everyone else is on the well-trodden path. Create your own and see where it takes you.

No-one’s giving you the opportunity? Not choosing your CV for interview? Not giving you a promotion? You’re delegating responsibility to someone else. Why do we do that? Don’t wait to be picked. Initiate something and choose yourself to do it.

This all hit me like a truck. What’s up with me, I thought? I’m a 40 year old guy with a bunch of achievements under my belt, and I’m worried about making a fool of myself? This book had called BS on my excuses, and I felt liberated.

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

So what next?

Well, for a start I did something. I met an old colleague to discuss setting up a consultancy. We didn’t pursue it, but it helped me focus and see other opportunities I’m still considering. A really good exercise.

I started work on a blog, learned to build a website and am at the point where I’m writing (and you’re reading 😊) this today.

And I became more proactive about networking, which led to a couple of job offers to choose from after Christmas.

Progress was slow. Inertia is hard to overcome. But this was powerful for me. Over the last 6 months I’ve put new challenges to the side in favour of work and home schooling through the lockdown, but the ideas in Poke the Box have been simmering away and I’m ready to initiate more.

I challenge you to grab a copy of the book and see where it takes you.


Thanks for reading this far. At just over two hours, Poke the Box is one of the shortest titles on my Audible book shelf, but one of my most tagged. I think the ideas in here are worth sharing, so I’m giving away 5 copies to people who are out of work and looking for some inspiration. Hopefully it’ll give you a boost like it did me and encourage you to start something.

And if you like that idea, why don’t you do the same?

#pokethebox #opentowork #shareabook #procrastination

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