There is very little in this old world that’s truly finite. In most things thetre is scope and opportunity to prevaricate, delay and procrastinate, always with the one-size-fits-all excuse that you need to get your ducks in a row.
Here’s the truth: they never will be.
Even the most industrious and committed among us can find a reason not to start, just as the future always holds a better – and usually mythical – time to begin what you instinctively want to put off.
You’ll buy the dress or the suit or the bathing costume – but you’ll do it when you’ve lost a stone or you’ve toned up with the gym membership you bought on January 2nd but have never used.
You’ll pay off those debts, but there’s a good chance you’ll be getting some extra work in a couple of months, so there’s no point in starting to pay them down until then (even though they’re costing you more money than you can afford).
You’ll take the plunge and start your own business, but there’s just this really good course that would allow you to be much more successful but it doesn’t start until the summer (believe me, an obsession with courses can often be a sophisticated and expensive stalling defence mechanism).
You’ll take the round the world trip you’ve dreamed about, but maybe after the kids have grown up and left home. Newsflash: they never truly leave, just as you will never relinquish the self-appointed role of their protector.
And the list goes on and on and on: paint the house when the weather’s warmer, sort out the loft when you’ve hired a skip; give up smoking after your holiday …
Often, the best things happen by chance, when life decides to blindside you and put you in a position where you don’t have the time to prevaricate.
The weird circumstances that led me to this point are a good example of this.
At the time I had a job as an office manager in the music advertising industry, working for a man an HR professional might choose to describe as ‘a challenging character’ (as I’m not an HR professional, I’ll call him what actually he was: an arsehole).
Full disclosure here: I should never have been an office manager, as anyone who knew me at the time would happily tell you. But I was doing my best and trying to learn. My boss cut no slack and slowly my life turned into a daily hell of relentless criticism and evaporating self-confidence.
Inevitably, the less confident I became, the more I screwed up and, just as inevitably, my boss fired me. When he did, he asked what I really wanted to do with my life.
At the time, I’d been taking weekend hypnotherapy training courses, so I said I wanted to be a hypnotherapist.
He actually sniggered. Like I say, he was an arsehole.
Life had thrown me a curveball, but not in the way I first thought.
I was young enough (and still immortal enough, as all young people tend to be) to not be terribly concerned about my financial security (though I was slightly concerned that my then-penchant for cocktails and shots might be temporarily curtailed); but I was upset and angry about losing my job and resented life for kicking me in the teeth.
But life hadn’t done that at all.
I was in a job I hated, doing it badly, being picked on and subconsciously waiting for the inevitable arrival of my P45. Not a day passed when I didn’t want to be anywhere else but there.
I was just waiting to get my ducks in a row. Waiting to do it on my own terms. In my own time.
Life just got fed up with waiting, planted a boot into my backside and forced me to make some decisions that I couldn’t put off until after the next payslip arrived.
Life then did me the double honour of putting a man by the name of Dr Keith Hearne of the European College of Hypnotherapy on a collision course with me.
He was the person who oversaw my exams with for the first part of the course and he asked me a simple question.
Him: How are you?
Me: I just got fired.
Him: Oh well, why don’t you fast track the rest of the course then and do the intensive hypnotherapy diploma?
Me: I don’t have the money.
Him: Oh, don’t worry about that. Do the course and pay me back when you have it. But there’s a condition. You have to promise me that when you finish the course, you put an advert in the paper (this all happened back in the age of the Tyrannosaurus Rex) and you begin immediately. You’re a natural and you can do this.
I did the intensive course and qualified. I was completely – and I mean completely – terrified to start, but I was more terrified of reneging on a promise I’d made to someone who had been kind enough to believe in me.
I put an advert in the paper and I was so scared of someone I know seeing it I didn’t even use my real name.
The ducks? Not only were they not in a row, they hadn’t even started queuing.
But here’s the thing: it worked anyway. Someone called, I booked them in, the session was a success they booked again and then more people came. Everyone around me was really surprised, but no-one was more shocked than me – I’d just assumed it would turn into another Clews-shaped disaster.
If you have no fear it doesn’t mean you’re courageous. It means you’re brain-dead.
Courage is being terrified – but doing it anyway.
If things work out, it’s not because you’ve got all your ducks in a row. It’s because you worked hard and you made your own luck.
You don’t have to be perfect to start. Perhaps surprisingly, you don’t even have to believe in yourself to start. But you do have to start, and then the rest comes. My self-belief didn’t arrive until a long while after I started.
Today? Self-belief and self-confidence have become part of my DNA. But that was years in the building.
It’s more important, actually, to have someone else who believes in you.
My ex-boss wasn’t the only person that laughed in my face when I said I was going to be a hypnotherapist. It was probably fair enough, given who I was at the time, but it wasn’t exactly encouraging.
That’s why I always aim to be that person for my clients. Sometimes you just need someone to hold your vision of success for you until you can do it for yourself. Think of it like having stabilisers or starter wheels.
Accept that there’s always going to be loads of competition, whatever you decide to do; but you have to ignore the white noise and the little naysayer whispering in your ear and just crack on.
So thank you, Dr Keith Hearne of the European College of Hypnotherapy. What you gave me was so much more than a loan, and I can say without any doubt at all in my mind that without you I sure as hell wouldn’t be where I am today.