When I was eighteen, I took a gap year between school and university. Partly it was because I had many ideas about how to get involved in the world of business, and wanted to get some of them started. But equally, I had another reason, and jumped at the opportunity when my college told me they’d be happy for me to take a year out.
I’d not had to do much studying during my first few years at school, but towards the end, as I was getting ready to apply to university, I upped my game and did twice as much as what was required – 6 A-levels instead of 3. The mindset I forced myself to have, in order to achieve this, was based on a temporary struggle focused on a specific result, so that once this was achieved I could then treat myself.
I’ve written about how awful the ‘treat’ mentality is before, and this was a prime example. Receiving my acceptance letter and realising I would finally achieve my lifelong ambition to study mathematics at Cambridge, I felt that it was time for a treat – to spend a year recovering from all the studying. At first I read a lot, and then started my first company and my rental property portfolio which provided a passive income. But soon I realised that expanding this would be a slow process which didn’t require much of my input, and my mind turned towards trying to make my life as easy as possible – the opposite of how it was at school. I figured I had one year before the pressure would pile back on, and this was my chance not to have to deal with it.
It was 2002, and the early days of online food shopping, so I began by organising a weekly food delivery so I didn’t have to go to the supermarket to buy food. This may seem reasonable on the surface, but I lived in a huge block of flats which sat directly on top of a Sainsbury’s, so not only did it take two minutes to get there, but I could even take a trolley straight up to my flat it I needed. But that wasn’t the point – I was instituting an efficient way of living.
I then procured the first ever robotic vacuum cleaner, the Electrolux Trilobite, and no longer had to worry about cleaning the floors. All lights and electronics were controlled by a highly amateur smart-home setup, with IR controls bouncing on walls, all so I didn’t have to pointlessly walk around to various parts of a room. TV was being recorded by a brand new invention called TiVo, so there was no longer a need to be in front of a TV at a specific time to watch a programme. I even installed a fingerprint scanner so I didn’t have to worry about remembering to take keys with me.
At first, this seemed very exciting. Efficiency is something I’ve always had a personal sense of appreciation for, and this was pushing it to the limit of what was possible a decade ago. But soon the process started taking on a life of its own. I was suddenly able to survive for weeks in the flat, without being forced to do anything. My time was available to me, to do whatever I wanted, and everything necessary for survival was handled automatically. I’d reached the epitome of what I was aiming for.
Having faced many painful life-changing events throughout my childhood, I’d decided that if only I could plan for everything, and make my life perfect, I would never have to face such difficulties again. And as I thought I’d finally achieved this state of living, a fear crept in of what would happen if I let it go. Every day, I’d consider doing something, and then decide that it would unbalance this precarious and carefully calculated way of living, and that the risks involved weren’t worth it. I may be exaggerating, but I think at one point I spent a whole month in the flat, leaving only for one reason – to see my mother.
Thinking back on it, I can clearly see what a vicious circle that attitude put me in, and how so many people around me are trapped by the same, completely wrong, mindset. I thought that by not facing life head on, I wouldn’t have to deal with all of the problems it kept throwing at me. In the same way, people everywhere are trapped in jobs they don’t enjoy, careers they are not happy with, relationships with people they do not love. When they talk, you can tell their decision to stick with these is underpinned by the same fear – what if making a change just makes everything worse..
But hiding only gives an illusion of a peaceful life. The bad stuff come anyway – illness, death, these are all things that are inevitable for each of us. Every person in the world makes their own decisions, and there is no way of knowing how they will affect us. The general randomness of life is always ready to strike – sometimes positive and sometimes not. But the good things – these we have to make happen ourselves.
There is nothing wrong with trying to make life as efficient as possible, but the reason behind it should be to spend all the newly found time going after every opportunity around us. On each day, there is a chance that something awful will happen, and our life will suddenly get much worse. But with every day that we wake up strong and healthy, we have a gift that allows us to make our life better. If the good days outnumber the bad ones, then we are winning, and it comes down to each of us to get out there and make this happen. No entrepreneur complains of not enjoying life – even one who has nothing but a string of failed ventures behind them. And that’s because once you stop being afraid, start making changes, and start taking chances, it’s you who becomes in control of your life, and it’s you who ultimately decides where it ends up going.