Do you still want to make your dream career a reality? Every college grad has big plans for their life, but most of us don’t accomplish those plans. Geoff Blades, author of Do What You Want, knows that working harder is not enough when your career isn’t working out for you.
In today’s episode, he’s going to show you how to cast aside the work you hate, establish a new system of success, and take control of your career once and for all.
Why Geoff Blades Left Wall Street for Writing
Geoff Blades: I was in Menlo Park, California, for Goldman Sachs. I loved it. I thought I’d be there for the rest of my life, and I had no reason to question my career at all.
Then everything changed.
On March 10, 2000, when we’d been at the top of the NASDAQ, the internet bubble burst. The business started to tank, and over the course of the next nineteen months, half the office got let go.
I stepped back and said, “What do I really want? Is this in the career and life that I truly want?” I drew out a pie chart with my life with this tiny sliver labeled “not work,” and I asked myself, “Is this is the life I’ve dreamed off as a kid?” Is this is what I truly want? I had no idea.
“That question became the next ten years of my life.”
Over that time, I read thousands of books and kept making moves in my life. Then I woke up morning and realized that for ten years I’d been focused on this. These topics overcome my life—the notion of how we create the lives we want, how we build the careers we want, how we become the person we dreamed to be.
It had become so important in my life that nearly everything else had faded.
I resolved at that point to leave Wall Street and go share all these ideas, even though I had no idea how. That was really the transformation point for me.
Charlie Hoehn: How did you begin figuring out what you wanted?
Geoff Blades: I kept reading, and I kept reading. I’m an obsessive personality, so I was working 80 hours a week on Wall Street and spending all my time reading these books. I actually have one of them in front of me—one of the earlier books I read, called Ask and It Is Given, by Esther and Jerry Hicks.
The truth is that I’d never picked up a self-help book to get to Goldman Sachs. It was formulaic, “Put your head down and work hard.” That attitude, that approach had taken me from working class nowhere Australia to the only job that Goldman Sachs offered in Australia.
I thought success was actually quite straightforward.
The hard part came when I’d run that track out. What do I want now?
Reading Until it Became Clear
Geoff Blades: New age self-help led me to go deep into Eastern philosophy. That led to a lot of other esoteric literature over the years, and then I came back and filled in a lot of the other pieces, the old school self-help, the more traditional success literature, autobiographies and whatnot. But I was seeking an answer that I didn’t expect to find in any one book. How could I aggregate all of these clues and try and figure it out for myself?
“I just kept reading until I literally woke up with an answer.”
From the first day I started reading books, I resolved to make changes in my life, and those changes permeated the way I drove my career, the way that I thought about the world, the sorts of things that I did, the people I associated with. It really created two tracks for me.
The first track was: what do I want? The second track was: how do I get it?
One of the early realizations I made was that no matter what I wanted, it was only going to come to me one way. It wasn’t going to come from me sitting around gazing into the space, imagining an amazing life.
It was going to come through action.
I needed to drive my career from where I was, because all of my opportunities would be created through that. So I focused on the theoretical. I also made it very, very practical. “What specifically can you do today to keep advancing in the right direction?”
Charlie Hoehn: What did you want?
Geoff Blades: What I recall as waking up was just this massive epiphany, and I even feel it in my body going back into it now.
“‘I’ve got to share this stuff.'”
That was it. I’ve got to share it. I’ve got to go out and take all these things that I’ve researched for myself and share it with other people, because this had become the most important and interesting and fun and cool thing in my life.
All the other things didn’t really matter so much to me. It was just this clear instruction, if you will, from the unconscious or from some other part of me that said, “You’ve been searching this long. Now, go share this. This is what you’re here to do.”
Why Do What You Want?
Charlie Hoehn: Why do you think it matters to know what we want?
Geoff Blades: A lot of my work today is about rewiring, which is the rewiring the biology, the social conditioning that mostly keeps us in a place of discontent. How do you change that? How do you find that contentment every day?
My answer to that is: ultimately, rather than seeing at life like an endpoint, like somewhere that we want to get to, find that thing that you want to do every day. The thing that you love and enjoy doing? Just do it.
Over a decade of all that research, I realized we actually don’t need to know what we want. I’m not even sure that many of us will ever know. In fact, one of my realizations was that question in itself is what traps a lot of us.
In some ways it’s an excuse.
We say, “Well, I don’t know what I want.” Honestly, nearly everybody does. Most of them don’t believe they can have it, so they block that answer or they’re not willing to do what it takes.
It’s More About the Question
Geoff Blades: The question itself becomes the governor, when you don’t need to answer that question. If you read all the literature of self-help and success and whatnot, they start from the idea that you’ve already got a goal, versus that’s what traps a lot of us, that we don’t know what their goal is. The way that I frame it these days is that you don’t need that answer.
“Your life is the process of discovering that question.”
In many ways, that question—what do I want?—is a call to yourself, to challenge yourself. As you keep asking yourself, “What really matters to me now?” Are you going to follow it? As you follow that and it opens up new ways of thinking, do you keep living and evolving that question or do you choose something and stay stuck for the rest of your life.
Charlie Hoehn: Does this fit with Buddhism?
Geoff Blades: Personally, I don’t bind to any one philosophy. I don’t want the labels. The notion of Buddhism—that life is suffering and therefore train yourself so that you can live a full life—is a very powerful idea.
If you come back to the notions of grasping or drivenness, if you come back to it on a very simple level, it’s an energy. Desire isn’t the problem. Wanting isn’t the problem. The problem is if you take that brain, if you take that conscious mind and convert it into an energy that makes your life worse.
It’s not the desire that’s the problem. It’s the energy, the stress, the anxiety, the fear, the grasping. That’s what screws us all up.
Charlie Hoehn: How did your days change?
Geoff Blades: You’ve reminded of one of the most fascinating phases of my life, which led me into the hardest time in my life. I said, “Alright. So I’m going to go out and share this with the world. What does that even mean?”
I started to write.
Short form, long form, future blog posts. I started to flesh out what I thought would be the first book. One of my buddies was a good web designer. He started building a website for me. We literally just started spinning it up, and we did that for about nine months.
That was the timeframe when I knew I was going to resign from my job. Many people who know Wall Street know that it’s a bonus-driven business. When I made that decision, I said, “After my next bonus, I’m going to leave and go do this.”
The Struggle Behind Doing What You Want
Charlie Hoehn: Why don’t more people working on Wall Street do what they want?
Geoff Blades: A lot of people on Wall Street love the profession. They love the business. I think your question is exactly the right one: what keeps people in places that they don’t want to be in?
If you had to put it into two big buckets, you would say one big bucket is uncertainty. The brain is not set up to deal with uncertainty. We’re certainty-making machines.
“A conscious mind needs to be certain.”
The second big bucket is fear. Ultimately there are only two energies, two ways of being. You can either live in fear or you can live in love.
Even that word love just seems small, because I’m not talking about an individual love for a person. I’m talking about an energy: what is your overall energy in life? Do you live according to fear—stuck and trapped and worrying about what people think or what might happen in the future? Or do you truly tap into that feeling that you know is you, and then unlock it?
There’s nothing about what I do that’s easy, and that’s why it’s not for many people. What I do is for certain type of person. I like to be able to deliver it to as many people as I can, because I believe we all want to do what we want.
“We all want to unleash ourselves in life, but very few people are willing to go on that journey.”
The Joseph Campbell Monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey is a great metaphor for life. The Hero’s Journey by definition is scary and dangerous. Five or six years after I started reading these books, I resigned from Goldman Sachs. It was the top of the credit market. I was very well positioned, and all my bosses said, “Why are you leaving?” The only answer I had was that I don’t know what I want, but I know this isn’t it.
“If this isn’t what I want, then I have to leave to go and explore what I do want.”
I would tell you, by that way, that 18 months later, it didn’t lead me to an answer. I thought, “I’ll leave. I’ll have time. I’ll figure it out.” It didn’t lead me to that.
That decision to leave fundamentally changed who I was. That period fundamentally shifted the way that I thought about the world, but it didn’t solve it for me. It didn’t lead me to an answer. It just enabled me to keep progressing the search.
Stretching Your Limits
Charlie Hoehn: Where would you say you are versus where you started?
Geoff Blades: Writing that first book broke my mind.
I’d been writing all this stuff, we’d been setting up the website, and I was ready to push go. Then I started to print stuff out and read it.
It was unreadable.
That was when I started to get what I called the chest feeling. The chest and stomach feeling someone might label anxiety. It was just sheer terror. I thought, “This writing is awful and I’ve been at it for months and months. I can’t do any better than this.”
But I had already decided I was leaving. I had already decided this was my path. This was the mission I was going to do in the world.
I had to go to rock bottom. I had to break my mind.
“That was the anvil from which I forged Geoff Blades.”
It needed to be that hard. It needed to force me to become the person who could actually do this job.
I got very lucky, because I had no idea how to write. Once I wrote a book, I didn’t even know what to do with it. It took me more than four years just to get that first book to an editor. Then it took me another year to even be willing to put it out, because I still wasn’t comfortable having a public brand and having a public profile and what not.
When I left Wall Street, friends of mine started coming to me and asking me, “Well, do you think you could help me do this? Or do you think you can help me do that?” So I started taking on clients, which I had never even anticipated. That client business very quickly became a real business.
I’ve set it up in a way where I only work on retainer, and I work according to value. So I was able to set up a great business that enabled me to keep figuring out the books, to keep writing, to keep getting better at that craft.
“I went from having no idea what I was doing to having four books out.”
This is a manifestation of creating the life you truly want.
Principles from Do What You Want
Charlie Hoehn: What can listeners of this show can do right now?
Geoff Blades: The one thing that’s very specific to all of my work is that it is highly practical and highly systematic.
I read obsessively, and I love to accumulate knowledge. The challenge that I found in nearly every book that I read was it didn’t give me a systematic way to do it. For instance, I’ve read hundreds of books on mindset and the mind and what not, but when my brain really went into that negative spiral after I left Wall Street, I didn’t have any tools or resources to actually change it.
What I needed to do at that point was to get better tools and then to systematically figure out how to use them. That led me over years to build what I call a system for your limitless mind.
“How do you condition your mind to do things that are really hard for you?”
In my Do What You Want books, there’s a five-step system that I’ve built over many years of reading other books and writing thousands of pages of my ideas. In my view, all of this needs to be simple, because it’s hard to do. You need your processes and your systems to be so simple that you can just focus on doing what you’re doing every day.
Charlie Hoehn: What are the first steps?
Geoff Blades: The goal is simple. Get to the heart of what you want and then build a custom system around it.
The first step is to define it. We know that we have to have a goal. We have to have a target. The problem with that is that many of us just don’t know what we want. If you have to wait till you figure out what you want before you can actually take action, you get stuck in that negative loop. You don’t take action. You don’t make progress.
“There are two very simple processes to set a goal.”
The first process is just to visualize it. You just imagine what you want. It doesn’t even need to be when. It doesn’t even need to be specific. It’s just this general overarching feeling of, “This is the life I imagine myself living.”
Do What’s in Front of You
Geoff Blades: Then you bring it down to the second step: No matter what life you want to be living in 5, 10, 20 years from now, the only goal that matters is the one specific goal that’s right in front of you.
So if I’m at Goldman Sachs and I’m dreaming of doing what I want every day, all I need to be focused on is the next step at Goldman that enables me to keep expanding my options.
Charlie Hoehn: Could you give a specific example?
Geoff Blades: Let’s go into writing a book. Why was writing a book so hard for me? Because I still had ways of seeing things in the brain that made it very hard. Some people can just jam out a book. If you go to one specific program in the brain and to go back to Eastern philosophy for a moment, it’s outcome dependence.
The challenge is that the brain grasps the outcome of write the book. Then the book becomes this big thing. For me, that was thousands of pages of mess that I developed over 10 years that I needed to then turn into a book.
Every day I woke up saying, “Got to write this book. Got to write this book. Got to write this book.” Versus, “Hey, I’m just going to write for five hours today.”
“If you write for five hours today, you’re going to get that book written.”
If you sit back and dream about and think about writing the book, you’re unlikely to even take any action. That only drives overwhelm and anxiety and fear and gasping and all that other stuff into the brain.
Charlie Hoehn: What is the one thing that we can do today to move forward?
Geoff Blades: Chunk [goals] down into a week. Chunk it down into a month. You can chunk it down into a minute, right? What’s your minute-to-minute focus?
There were times, when my brain was still stuck in bad patterns, that I literally lived to minute-to-minute.
If I can just stay in the book for the next three minutes, great. That would pull me into the next three minutes. That would pull me into the next three minutes, and so on.
Do What You Want Reader Takeaways
Charlie Hoehn: What is the next step for readers?
Geoff Blades: Step back and say, “This is my goal. What does it truly take to win at this?”
If you go deep into all the stuff out there related to success, you’d get a lot of noise. Drive a straight line through it with the Pareto principle—the 80-20. A small number of things truly drive the success you want.
“Get smart and thoughtful about what it truly takes to win.”
All my work is incredibly systematic. “Getting it” chunks down [further] into three steps. The first step is to role model it. This is very common in NLP and the world of top performance.
Find someone who’s already really good at it and figure out how they went at it. What did they do? Find examples of people who are already good at stuff, and then get very systematic about what is it that they do that leads them to success.
Why does Amazon win? You see a number of strategic decisions they’ve made over the years that have had a massive impact on their competitive position.
Then, understand the principles. This is where I got stuck reading thousands of books. There are far too many techniques out there. What you really need is what all those tips and techniques aggregate into. They always aggregate into principles.
“You only need five principles to master anything.”
The key to getting it is to know what those principles are. For instance, I designed principles over many years on Wall Street. One is performance. Now, that’s a big bucket in itself. Part of getting it is to know what truly leads to top performance in your environment.
If you’re a sprinter, top performance is running faster than everyone else. If you’re in a career environment, top performance could be a whole mix of driving a commercial business, building the right relationships inside your firm, building external relationships that fuel your career.
The key to that principle is to understand what measures performance and how to deliver it.
Charlie Hoehn: What has been your favorite case study of a reader or a client who’s used your steps to transform their life?
Geoff Blades: One of the things that I have in my daily exercises, which is a way that I train my mind, is that I remind myself everyday of why what I do matters to me and why it matters to the people who I do it for.
“My clients have had extraordinary results.”
Absolutely extraordinary results, and that in itself is very fulfilling. But the ones that I pay attention to when I go back through my notes are the random emails that I get from people.
I got an email where a guy said to me, “I was at the end of my rope. I had no idea what to do. My life was spiraling out of control, and your book helped give me a sense that I can do this, that I can take these ideas and actually keep creating the life I want.”
To be able to do what I do and have that impact on people is very meaningful to me, because that was what drove me to share these ideas, to spread this mission, because I believe that we all need it.
Charlie Hoehn: What is a parting piece of advice you have for aspiring authors?
Geoff Blades: The cheesiest line—Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
In my case, writing the book broke me. If I could do it while not able to write—my writing was awful—you can.
“If that book is in you and if it matters to you enough, keep going.”
Commit yourself to it and create a process, even if it’s just sitting down and writing two hours every morning. Find that time.
Because if you are serious about it, if you have that will, there’s always a way.
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