Figure Out What's Next

The ONE Question You Need to Ask Yourself to Avoid Being a Zombie

career change motivation motivationfinder peter axtell purposeful living self-assessment Jun 08, 2018

by Peter Axtell

drawing by Peter Axtell

This question can help you avoid wasting years of your precious life that you can never get back

If you feel stuck in your life or job and want to make a change but are fearful of making a mistake, then this post is for you. This ONE question might help you clarify what is truly important and what you are willing to risk for the chance of a life worth living.

My life as a zombie

Many years ago, I forced myself to get out of bed and go to a job I hated. I spent most days bothering people on the phone for two hours while watching the clock and waiting for the torture to end. I spent the rest of the day counting the hours slowly tick by and waiting for the time I could go home. Sound familiar? If so you are among the 92% of people in the UK and about 70% of people in the US who are disengaged at work. The walking dead I would say. We are disconnected, disinterested and dispirited at the place where we spend the majority of our life.

I used to dream about how I might escape the nightmare that had become my life. I didn’t realize how over time; my motivation and life energy were draining out of me. I remember the first day I had to bother people on the phone. When my penance was up, I went to one of the office veterans and shared my despair about how much I hated the work. I remember his words to this day. He said, "what else are you going to do? You've got no choice so keep pounding, and it will get better." 

It's never been my nature to be a "pounder," and it never did get better. I might not be a pounder, but I am tenacious and not inclined to give up. Tenaciousness is an excellent quality if you're on the right track. Sadly, I was on the wrong road. 

The longer I stayed, the more my world closed down, and I couldn't see a way out. I used to daydream about becoming a filmmaker or an executive coach or an entrepreneur or a writer and lied to myself that I'd try someday. The truth is, I was too scared to leap. Before I knew it, 15 years went by being one of the walking dead at work.

What is the ONE question?

It’s five years from now, what will be your biggest regret that you didn’t do or didn’t try?

I hope that you take this question to heart and think about it.

I asked a guy in Düsseldorf, Germany, this question. He said, “I kept my head down and worked and worked and worked for 30 years. One day he woke up and asked himself “is this all there is?” and realized with regret that he couldn’t get that time back.

I asked a woman in Denver, Colorado, the question. She said, “I had some dreams when I was younger, but I was too scared to try for fear that I would fail. I wish I had tried to become a writer, even part time but I listened to the advice of friends that said I wasn’t being “realistic.”

I asked a lawyer who has $300,000 in student debt the question. He said, "I never questioned if I actually liked the law. When I first started law school, I didn't like it at all. Something inside me didn't feel right, but I ignored the message. I told myself, ‘the money and prestige will motivate me.’ It never did. I used to dream of being an entrepreneur but decided it was too risky. Now I wish I had tried." 

Michael Bungay Stanier, author of Do More Great Work said, “inspiration is when the past suddenly makes sense.”

My wish for you is that you don’t wait for the past to find the courage and inspiration to make a small leap and begin to escape the zombie life.

Here are a few nudges:

  • What small group of people could you serve right now with something you enjoy doing?
  • What course could you take to acquire a skill you enjoy? Try the fantastic Udemy for super affordable classes on just about anything that you can take in your own home.
  • What is it that truly motivates you? Take the MotivationFinder self-assessment.
  • Take the courses Discover your Purpose and Discover your Values on WhatsNext.
  • Read a good book like Robert Greene’s Mastery or Seth Godin’s What to do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn)


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