In August 2008 I was fat, unfulfilled and full of fears.
I was a headhunter for hedge funds and investment banks in Hong Kong, a cog deep in the corporate machine.
I sat alongside a team of hustlers in suits and tie, on the 36th floor of a skyscraper, and talked shit all day long.
I was pretty good at it.
In my quest to find, cajole and impress these highly paid bankers, I would meet them in the bars of 5 star hotels and trade industry secrets and juicy gossip.
I would reel off mildly impressive sounding sentences, laced with trader jargon that I didn’t really understand, but had absorbed into my lexicon, (such as lexicon, quantum and binary.).
In simple terms, I said the right words, in the right way at the right time to convince people to move jobs, so they could make more money, my client could make more money, and I could make more money.
But to be fair to myself, there was more to it than that: being a good headhunter is all about developing emotional intelligence so you can read the subtle psychological quirks, unseen insecurities, fears and hopes that most people do their best to conceal.
I hustled hard, learned how to bend the rules and beat the competition.
Everyone wanted something, and honest communication was not the currency of choice. You had to be cunning.
Under the tutelage of a master manipulator/ operator, I became a deal-closing machine. I had great fun for a time, in a hedonistic kind of way.
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When you are 26 and you close the biggest single deal in your companies history, and earn for yourself over a 1/4 of a million bucks in one day… it’s an interesting, exhilarating feeling.
But something just wasn’t right.
In fact, something was very wrong
As you may have picked up, no one around me actually gave a flying f*ck about anything, except money.
Yep, there was fear, loathing.. and greed in Hong Kong.
And London, New York, Tokyo, Singapore, Sydney.. and every city in the world with a finance industry full of people simply trying to squeeze the system for all they could, in a global market reaching bubble bursting point. (and boy did it burst in 08/09)
I remember having the wankiest, vacuous, painful conversations with big-shot bankers. Topics of conversation went across this range:
- Who makes the most money
- Which banks pay the most money
- Which desk/ team/ hedge fund is going to implode and lose the most money
- What stocks/ currencies/ derivatives I should buy to make myself more money
- On what yacht, chateau, Ferrari should I spend all my money
- What $50k watch should I buy with all my money
What effect did all this have on me?
Well surprise, surprise I began to care more about money.
I was making more and more of the stuff, and I was literally surrounded by people who were obsessed with the stuff, living in a city that is fuelled by the stuff.
I changed the way I talked, dressed, spent and felt about money.
Previous to this strange career, I was a best described as a travelling hobo, adventurer type, who read eastern philosophy, wore baggy jeans and puffed joints on ski lifts.
I was more likely to end up selling coconuts on the beach in Hawaii than souls to banks in Hong Kong.
My job before the Hong Kong headhunting gig was selling surfing and snowboarding holidays.
Before than I taught English to kids in Japan.
Before that, I was a ramen eating uni student who read about Buddhism and enjoyed riding his skateboard to lectures.
I had clear dreams that involved specifically NOT wearing a suit or working in an office, so I could spend 8 months surfing, 2 months snowboarding and 2 months learning epic shit every year.
All I wanted to do was explore new places, and have new experiences.
I had never, ever yearned to be rich.
But here I was, plunged into this crazy, intense money-driven, urban snake-pit.
Did you know that fear is contagious? You absorb it from the environment you are in. It leaches into you by osmosis.
I soon began to see the world as a place with scarce, finite amounts of resources and wealth. I began to see life as a dog-eat-dog fight to keep as much of the wealth for me as possible.
Even though I was killing it on the outside, I felt increasingly fragile and fearful on the inside.
I remember when the fears first kicked in hard
It was when I became aware of how much money some people make.
When you are a 5 year old, $20 is an outrageous sum. $100 is beyond comprehension.
When you are a 21 uni student, $50 is enough for an all-night bender, and $500 in the bank feels like abundance enough to do something crazy, like take your girlfriend on holiday or buy a shit car.
When you are a 25 year old headhunter in Hong Kong, surrounded by guys earning millions each year…. all of a sudden the scale is all f*cked up.
You quickly begin to feel very insecure about your diddly base salary.
Like a fog into a valley, the fears about not having enough money crept in silently.
Soon, I was thinking like the rest of the bankers I was surrounded by.
I remember very specifically talking to my mate Dale, about how I was going to stick with headhunting because I did not want to get to the age of 60 and wish I had made more money.
“I don’t want to look back with any regrets”, I said with earnest. I actually remember feeling so sensible and mature saying these words.
But I wasn’t maturing, like a tree growing towards the sun. I was rotting, like a tree with no roots.
I was becoming conditioned with THE FEAR of not having enough.
Never before in my life had I projected 35 years into the future to pretend I might know how 60 year old Jiro would feel about money and security.
I’m pretty damn sure old Jiro would have given 25 year old Jiro a swift uppercut to the jaw (and then a hug), and said “go climb a mountain, you kook!”.
I began to think obsessively about investments, interest rates and pension funds. $100,000 of savings felt like $100, and my mind was focused on making millions.
It honestly felt like I needed millions of dollars stashed away to be happy, feel successful and have a good life.
A wake-up kick in the nuts…
came this one day in Hong Kong, when I awoke with a stinking hangover/ comedown and an strange intense feeling of shame- yeah, more than standard hangover/ come-down shame.
Earlier that week I had been window shopping for watches with a colleague of mine: I was pretty keen on dropping a breezy $20k on an IWC watch. The “aviator” model if I remember correctly.
Lying in my bed, in a sweaty, writhing mess, I had a jolt of awakening. My old self gained some traction in my mind, and gave me a solid talking to:
“What the f*ck are you thinking, you egotistical twat…. You really think having a fancy watch, and wearing expensive clothes and having loads of money in investments is really going to make you feel happy? You’ve got it now… Do you feel happy? Do you feel as happy as when you were care-free and jaunting around the world on a wing and a prayer, $50 in the back burner, on a mission to enjoy life, eat sushi, surf waves and grow as a human being?“
As you can see, this was a very profound deep and meaningful between myself and myself.
I carried on hustling, but the seed was planted.
Every day, I would come home, roll a big joint, and turn on the TV to watch the NatGeo Adventure channel. I would vicariously feed off the thrill and adventures of other people climbing snowy mountain peaks or discovering new surf breaks in Madagascar.
“That’ll be you one day, Jiro”, I would lamely try to convince myself… as I felt my dreams fading away.
Every single night I would lie awake, the flashing red light of my blackberry casting weird vibes in my bedroom, thinking: “Is this it? Is this what I was put here to do?”
Do you know the feeling of watching your dreams fade away? It really hits you in the tender bits.
Its like that scene in Back to the Future II when Doc is holding the photograph of Marty’s family… and the faces of his kids are fading away before him.
It is gut-wrenching stuff.
One day, in August 2008, I reached breaking point
Sat on my couch overlooking the skyline in Hong Kong, I made the call to face up to my fears.
All the fears flared up as I agonised over the decision to walk away from this safe career, on a pretty steep upward curve.
People thought I was nuts to walk away from what I had built up. I couldn’t tell my family- Mum and Dad wouldn’t have understood.
But even though I had fear, I also had self-belief. I had a knowing that I could design my life, and I could design something more fitting for me than this.
I handed in my notice the next day and set about planning a quest… a proper wisdom quest (with loads of surfing and snowboarding thrown in).
I tried to destroy my Blackberry in a symbolic gesture that screamed: “F*ck you system of greed- you nearly had me, but not quite. hahaha!”.
I took my girlfriends stiletto shoe to it, of all things. Damn thing was indestructible. Picture me raining down fury on a Blackberry smart phone, with a size 5 stiletto, with zero effect.
Not my finest moment, but I ended up throwing that thing into the ocean. (I’m sorry mother nature).
So I was free. Sort of
I had broken out of the system. I was the master of my destiny. I could choose how to spend my time, and I spent it reading philosophy, surfing, learning from masters, practicing yoga and meditation. For 18 blissful months I lived in flow.
When I look back now, of course I wouldn’t trade in any of those hours sat in the skyscraper, talking shit to clients.
All of it has made me who I am.
I had to feel limited, so that I could appreciate limitlessness.
I had to feel fear, so I could appreciate flow.
Was that the end of fears, struggle and self-limitation?
Did I transcend into enlightenment like Buddha under the Bodhi tree and become a surfing Bodhisattva? Haha :). Yeah right.
That breakthrough from corporate cog in Hong Kong, to wandering surf-bum in Bali was just the beginning.
The interesting thing about freedom, is that you can only see what is immediately in front of you.
You think freedom is quitting your job. So you do that and eventually find yourself unfree again.
Then you think freedom is travelling the world. So you do that. Then you feel unfree again, so you end the relationship your are in. Then you feel unfree again after a while… and so on.. until one day you realise its your mind that imprisons you.
As a wise man called John Kabat-Zinn said:
“Wherever you go, there you are”.
You keep on peeling a layer away, only to find another layer of the psychological onion… not to infinity, but until you get to the root of all limitation: The innermost core of who we are, where yin and yang collide, and ego and soul dance.
Well, this was Part 1, the story of my first breakthrough from fear and limitation to flow and abundance.
Thanks for reading, and if you take one thing from this, let it be this:
Regardless of the crap our culture brainwashes us with, it is the state of our inner world, that will determine how happy and fulfilled we feel.
No amount of external stuff will fill that void.
Oh, and one more thing about fear: You have to actually FACE THE FEAR you have, if you want to grow through it.
Being aware of the fear is a start, but ultimately awareness without action does sweet f*ck all.
You have to do the scary thing. You must cross the threshold. As Joseph Campbell apparently said:
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
Find your treasure by following the map laid out by your fears. I guess that’s the real lesson from this story.
I’ll send you Part 2 soon, about how I faced and conquered fresh new fears as I entered the world of entrepreneurship. Make sure you are signed up to receive emails from me, if you want to read it.
ps. If you want to learn more about HOW to break free from fears and anxiety, AND you are an entrepreneur, I’ve created this program for you.