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Outsmart the Hustle

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If you could be living in your zone of genius, meaning you’d wake up every day with a rush of gratitude for doing the work you feel called to do… What would that look like? How would that make you feel? What would people say about you?

For 14 years I was a software sales executive. I chose that career because I was interested in tech, it gave me a certain amount of freedom and flexibility and the money was good.

It was a career that I (mostly) enjoyed. 

I had an expense account, elite travel status with airlines and hotels, I received a regular paycheck every two weeks, I was paid a commission for solving other people’s problems, my 401k was matched, I had great medical benefits, and my co-workers were mostly good people.

So why did I leave it all behind to become a coach?

Because I wasn’t operating in my zone of genius.

How did I know this?

The same way we know most things I guess. I felt it.

On a subtle level, things just felt ‘off.’ On the outside, everything looked great but if you had sat me down for a beer and asked me how things REALLY were, I probably would have said something like; “You know, I’m not sure how much longer I can fool myself that this is the greatest use of my time and energy.”

And with so many people re-evaluating their careers and realizing that life is passing too quickly, I thought I’d share more about my journey to doing more meaningful work.

There are FIVE things that led me to switching careers and pursuing work that made me come alive.

1) I had the experience of working with a great coach.

In the earlier part of my career, my company paid for me to have a sales coach. I worked with a guy named Peter who lived in Toronto, Canada. 

Peter was a great sales coach but he was an even better purpose builder. Peter changed my life. He challenged me to perform at my best and surpass my sales quota with ease. And he also saw what was possible for me before I could see it for myself. 

Peter helped me quit a job and find a better one. He helped me nurture good friendships and let other ones go. I became a better version of myself with Peter’s support and wisdom

I am eternally grateful to Peter for his coaching expertise, his direct communication style, his challenging questions, and his ability to see my inherent strengths.

Peter is a big reason why I’m a coach today. I remember thinking to myself, “Wouldn’t it be a miracle if I could get paid to do what he does?”

Because of Peter, I’ve hired and worked with coaches since 2004.

And now I am one.

2) A book came along and changed my life.

Someone suggested that I read a book called ‘The Big Leap’ by Gay Hendricks

Once again, my life shifted. 

The core premise of the book is that we all experience upper limits and it’s our job to be able to see these upper limits ahead of time and move beyond them. 

Easier said than done but it was the first time I’d thought about how to overcome the invisible habits and patterns that were operating in the background.

The author introduced a now popular framework called the “zone of genius.” It’s essentially a way for us to determine which of four zones we’re currently operating in.

Zone of Incompetence = the learning zone where others can mostly do things better than you.

Zone of Competence = the space where you can do things just as well as others.

Zone of Excellence = the space where you’re extremely good at what you do and you can make a great living at it. (This is where others want you to stay and where most people get trapped)

Zone of Genius = This is the work you were born to do. It represents using the set of activities, skills & talents that you’re uniquely suited to do. This is where you are drawing upon your inherent gifts and strengths to make a positive contribution to humanity while also making a great living.

After reading the book I realized that I was stuck in the Zone of Excellence and I began exploring ways to move towards my Zone of Genius.

This book started me on a very uncomfortable and disruptive journey that led me to where I am today.

3) I accidentally attended a conference that opened my eyes to new possibilities.

My wife is a yoga teacher and she had a student mention that he was hosting a conference for people that were interested in living an unconventional life. He invited her to attend and my curiosity peaked.

“What the hell is an unconventional life?” I thought to myself. FOMO got the best of me and I attended the conference. It was called The World Domination Summit and I spent a weekend meeting and talking to some of the most interesting people I’d ever met.

I remember thinking to myself, “where have all these people been hiding?” It felt like a secret society that I didn’t even know existed. 

To be fair, many of the people I met that weekend were wantrapreneurs – they had grand ambitions but seemed a little shy on execution. 

But others I met with doing things I’d never heard of. They were getting paid really well to be travel hackers, finance bloggers, podcasters, coaches, app makers, and the list could go on for pages. 

These were people that seemed strangely excited about their direction in life and the work they were doing. A far cry from the sales conferences I attended where everyone was far more interested in the amount of alcohol they could consume.

Attending this conference flipped my worldview and opened my eyes to new possibilities that I’d never considered. 

I ended up collecting names and business cards from a few of these interesting people and I followed up with most of them. I was so intensely interested in how they were creating a meaningful life and business that I invited them to coffee, Skype calls, or just about anything that allowed me to ask questions and be curious with them.

The conversations that followed from this conference shaped my life in ways that I could never have predicted. In fact, I’m still in touch with many of those people to this day. And they all played a role in influencing my perspective around what’s really possible when it comes to crafting a career that feeds your soul.

4) I got laid off.

Back in 2013, my software sales career was all systems go and I’d just turned in my best sales quarter in almost four years. That’s also when I was informed that our entire software division was being consolidated with another group and that I was no longer needed.

That felt like a gut punch for so many reasons. I felt like I’d worked extra hard, logged thousands of air miles, and sacrificed time with family and friends that I would never get back.

The hardest part was knowing that I’d invested so much of my life energy into this endeavor, only to have it stripped away by someone sitting in an office looking at numbers.

Fortunately, I had been coaching a few people on the side at that point but I hadn’t really planned on leaving my job until the following year. But I had thought about leaving my job so at least I’d gone through some of the emotional hurdles of leaving my career to pursue more meaningful work full time.

Reflecting back, I can now see that the timing was perfect. It’s just hard to see it that way in the moment.

If it weren’t for getting laid off in the summer of 2013, who knows when (or if) I would have had the courage to step away from my career to pursue the work I really cared about.

5) My transition to becoming a full time coach.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought building a coaching business would be a breeze. I mean, I had been selling complex software solutions to enterprise companies for years. How hard could it be to find a few coaching clients?

It turns out that it can be really hard, especially when you’re selling something as personal as coaching and you don’t understand the nuances of building that kind of business.

To keep a long story short, it took me just under two years to replace the income I was making as a software sales executive. It took way longer and it was way harder than I would have ever expected. 

You can read more about the specifics of how I made the leap from corporate employee to full time coach and you can also read about how I started and built a rewarding and profitable coaching business.

Here I sit almost 8 years later, doing the work that I feel called to do. I’m grateful for all the hard lessons, all the “no’s” from prospects that I thought would become clients, all the experiments that were a complete flop, and all of the naysayers that thought I was crazy for giving up my zone of excellence for my zone of genius.

If the five things above had never happened, I’m not sure I’d be sitting here right now, writing this to you. 

And I almost certainly wouldn’t have started my day by walking the dogs with my wife, followed by a client call and then a Peloton workout at 11:00 AM. And now sitting here writing these words to you on a gorgeous summer day with the doors of my office opening to the back yard and hearing the fountain trickle with some chill East Forest playing in the background. 

Life isn’t perfect but it’s pretty damn great! 

I can say with 100% congruence that I am living in my zone of genius as a business coach + purpose builder and I get to help emerging entrepreneurs build potent, purposeful businesses that allow them to contribute their greatest gifts to humanity. 

I believe that no mission is too big or too small. I’m here to call bullshit on the status quo and to ensure that ethical business builders have their say while creating a life and business that feeds their soul.

If you’re someone that feels stuck or trapped in your career and you’ve got an idea or a project that is calling you forward, it’s time to explore the work you were born to do

Live Bravely,

Michael

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