“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference”, are the key lines in Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken”. Thirteen years ago, I experienced a magical Eureka moment that made me leave the well-trodden path and continue my journey through life and my professional career along the path less traveled — and that has made all the difference.
Today I want to inspire those of you who feel unfulfilled on the well-trodden path to look for your success and happiness on the path less traveled. I share with you three stories and related lessons that I learned on my path. I also offer you three mantras to help you harness these powerful lessons.
1. Are you on the right path?
In my previous career, I was a proficient but dispassionate banker. I worked in a job — first to fund my studies, later to make money. But in my innermost core, I was not a banker. I preferred to think, work, communicate, live and even dress differently than a typical career banker.
Nowadays, I feel completely at ease with who I am and with what I do. Mahatma Gandhi said: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” I am happy, because I am true to my real self. So who am I now?
I am a leading international creativity and innovation expert. I am not doing a job anymore — I am on a mission to create innovators. I set-up the Asian innovation company Thinkergy and created four systematic, integrated innovation methods. I have written two groundbreaking innovation books that —with a bit of luck— will be published by Wiley and put Thinkergy and me onto a global stage within the next 18 months. Could an “uninspired misfit” have written earth-shattering books about banking? Or succeeded in setting-up a bank?
- Lesson 1: Be true to yourself and travel the path that feels right for you. How? Affirm and whole-heartedly believe in this mantra: “I love and accept myself completely as I am.”
2. Do you dare to believe in your path?
In 2005, Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford commencement speech: “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
How did the dots connect on my journey? When I turned 20, my trouble-free life changed suddenly when my beloved father passed away. Lacking the funds to follow through on my study plans, I signed up as a bank trainee. I also started running in earnest, probably to race away the pain of my loss.
Three years later, I became a regional running champion, and had found a way to begin my studies in management. Because of my sport successes and my banking background, Deutsche Bank created a special part-time work arrangement for me that gave me funds and time to work, study and run. While I didn’t make it to the Olympics as I had hoped, I competed in the European Cross Country Team Championships in Portugal in 1993, an event that got me noticed by my favorite professor.
He trusted in my capabilities and offered me to become his Ph.D. student. Only because of my Ph.D. studies, I experienced a Eureka moment (of course, while running) that gave me a breakthrough idea that saved my doctorate. One Eureka moment led to a second one five years later, which made me realize who I am and what I should do with my life: Become a creativity and innovation expert.
- Lesson 2: Believe! Believe that the dots connect. How? Affirm and whole-heartedly trust in this mantra: “Everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that can happen to me.”
3. Can the path be the goal?
When I started working at Deutsche Bank, it used a motivational slogan: “Der Weg ist das Ziel”, meaning “The path is the goal”. At the time these words felt hollow, empty and meaningless to me, since modern business is obsessed with achieving —often short-term-oriented— goals and key performance indicators.
Nowadays, Der Weg ist das Ziel is a maxim that I live by. Every day, I look forward to starting my creative work. Every day, I enjoy the journey without being obsessed about the destination. Why? Knowing myself and trusting all the dots connect frees my mind —even in times of adversity— to fully focus on enjoying the moment on my path.
In the past decade, I’ve had the great privilege to share my passion for creativity and innovation with thousands of people on four continents; I’ve loved creating and fine-tuning proprietary innovation methods and tools; and I’ve greatly enjoyed the process of building an innovation business. I don’t know exactly where the path will take Thinkergy and me going forward, but does it really matter? What matters is to happily enjoy our journey moving forward and upward.
- Lesson 3: Life is a journey, not a destination. How can you live up to this saying? Affirm and whole-heartedly trust in this mantra: “Now I am enjoying everything that I am doing.”
Conclusion: When you arrive at the next crossroad on your journey, consider continuing on the road less traveled. Use my three lessons to guide and energize you on your path: (1) Be yourself and trust in your path. (2) Believe the dots connect. (3) Life (and your career) is a journey, not a destination.
If you aspire to become an authentic creative leader in the innovation economy, you need to continue your career path on the path less traveled by. This is because most of those cognitive mindsets and action routines that made you rise to where you are now in your career won’t allow you to realize your genius and become an authentic creative leader. Contact us if you want to learn more about our creative leadership method Genius Journey that teaches you how to discover your genius.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. This article is published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 3 March 2016.