A couple of weeks ago I went to Westminster to interview a member of the Cabinet. I know what you’re thinking… Well okay maybe I don’t – I’m not a mind reader. But apparently that’s the kind of thing I do these days, which surprises me daily because I never tried to get into politics.
In the last few months I’ve put questions to Nick Clegg, Natalie Bennett, and now actually interviewed a minister in person, with potentially more to come. It’s amazing and I’m really lucky, but I have to ask… why do these things happen to me? As part of this blog’s catalogue of Matt Bowen’s Secret Imperatives for Prosperous Ascendency, I wanted to share with you what I think are some of the sources of my luck.
My friends sometimes ask me how I wrangle stuff, but most of the time I’m tempted to just kind of shrug my shoulders – hell if I know why I get to do cool things. In this particular case, a campaign to encourage students and young people to vote sprung up around me. I didn’t explicitly “join” it, I was in the right place at the right time.
But given that I did stumble into this campaign, I’ve been doing bits and bobs here and there for it, and over time the people in charge started asking me to do these really cool things. So I got to have an adventure going to the Lib Dem party HQ and quizzing Norman Lamb on mental health!
I remember the feeling when I was asked if I wanted to do it. I hesitated because I’d never considered doing anything like it. But that’s a defining moment right there. That’s a fork in the road. Which path would you pick? I honestly think most people would have said no. I even felt like saying no. The very thought of doing something like that on camera gave me the butterflies. Being seen by tens of thousands of people! And to ask questions about mental health, a subject I know next to nothing about. But I said yes anyway because, well screw it!
It’s moments like that where you get to look your future in the face and demand it to be fun and amazing. You get to look it in the eye and really shake it up! And just like that, and without thinking too much about what I was getting myself into, I typed, “I’ll do it!”
That’s one of the things I think I’ve learnt to do. People set false limitations on themselves all the time and think that things are too difficult. I’ll tell you a secret: they’re not! You can do almost anything you want to. Genuinely. The biggest barrier is just deciding to do it.
Usually, if I want to do something, I merely decide to do it, even if it’s scary or difficult. That’s why I’m moving to Japan. Of course quitting my job, selling my stuff and uprooting my existence to live in Tokyo scares the hell out of me. But it doesn’t matter if something’s hard, or if it’s uncomfortable – if you admit to yourself you want to do it, most of the time I think you probably should. That’s how to walk the path of fewest regrets.
Not to mention, it’s not actually that difficult to decide something either. People put so much effort into deciding things, but it’s usually way more than they need to. If you have a really tough decision and you can’t decide, just flip a coin. I mean it! Want to decide whether to sell your house or not? Flip a coin. The very fact you’re struggling so hard to make the decision means the options are pretty equal anyway.
Some people say that when you flip a coin, as the coin spins in the air, suddenly you realise which way you really want it to land. That’s never happened for me, but you do get a pretty cool story about how you decided to sell your house on a coin toss.
You want to know the real secret though? It’s active engagement with the world. The reason I get to do cool things is because I try a lot of things. Sometimes things grow out of them, sometimes not, but I always feel glad I’ve done them and they’ve always improved my life in some way.
People say you shouldn’t wait for opportunities to come and knock on your door. I say: sort of. That’s not a complete answer. There are lots of opportunities that require you to look for them, but there are also a lot that go knocking. So absolutely actively look for opportunities, but also move your door! Don’t keep it in the same place for years on end. Put your door in a place where opportunities will find it. And when opportunity does knock, for God’s sake answer it! That part’s crucial.
That’s what happened for me. Because I was already doing volunteering in a related thing, the opportunity came knocking, and when it knocked I answered. I said hello and how do you do. It would have been easy to say “no thank you, that’s not the kind of thing I usually do.” But no. It was a chance to do something new and exciting, and if I screwed it up, oh well, there’s always a risk of that, but I believed I was worth the opportunity.
That’s what all of this really comes down to, and that’s what governs my behaviour. I genuinely believe I’m worth whatever opportunities life offers me. I’m worth training in Japan. I’m worth interviewing a minister about mental health. I’m worth the work placement I did at CERN. And you are too. You have to believe you’re worth it, that you can do it, or you’ll never even try. Give yourself a chance!