By 25 I felt like I’d ticked all the boxes – I was cruising through life, unconsciously striding British society’s well-lit path. I’d exceeded expectations at school, swanned through sixth form and loved my university days – all I needed was a job that paid a half-decent wage and I’d just landed it! It really was as simple as that.
However, once the initial excitement of my employment and a pay cheque or two wore off, I began to feel that something wasn’t right. “It was something that would pass,” I told myself. I had everything a mid-twenties young professional could desire right? As the months passed, my feeling of uncertainty didn’t. On the rare occasion that I was on my own alone (I didn’t like being alone!), these thoughts of frustration would appear. Relentless voices in my head saying “you’re not fulfilled, something isn’t right”.
‘My world was turned upside down’
On reflection, perhaps I didn’t give these voices any space to be heard. Old “survival” habits I’d carried over from university were seeing to that – dance floors, a heavy social drinking habit, and a sport watching obsession. Distractions enough to keep those voices down and out of the way, safely in the depths of my shadows. Little did I know the gold that lay beneath.
Things suddenly shifted. In a matter of week's I broke up with my girlfriend, moved out from home and received news my younger sister was to be facing life-threatening cancer. My world was turned upside down. I’d been confronted with the realities of life, of the mortality that is our human experience. I’d no longer ever take tomorrow for granted.
Spending more time alone in self-reflection, my inner voices were finally heard. As the truth surfaced from the darkness I could see I wasn’t getting quality or fulfilment at the deepest levels of my life. I didn’t have my “Why?”
Confusion naturally followed. On one hand, I had all I’d thought I’d ever wanted, though here now, I realised that was all on the surface and underneath I was in the opposite state, I was lost! I craved change, I was hungry for inner exploration and external action to understand what was happening to me so I could get clear on where the hell I was going – and why.
Being an analyst by trade I was going to start collecting data for a very personal piece of work, my own self-diagnosis. To begin I set up a folder on my laptop called the “life project”.
The internal work would be done in the external form of Journaling. This was the qualitative data set I would utilise to review, analyse and identify patterns. With structure I would self-stage regular monthly reviews, then in time full year reviews. Within these sessions I’d list key successes, note patterns (e.g. an inability to say “no”, leading to tiredness) and areas I wished to change/improve.
I studied goal setting. Setting myself regular goals, underpinned by self-accountability to weekly and daily tasks. This process generated quantitive data which when coupled with the qualitative results from my journal gave me a rich picture of where I stood and where I was consciously heading. Working holistically, inside and out, I slowly began to unpack and rebuild my life, making changes for a new version of myself, connected with who I was at the core and who I wanted to become.
My “life project” had identified a desire to teach and by taking action, I landed a secondment working as a youth team leader, supporting 16 to 24-year-olds for The Prince’s Trust charity. The charity supports young adults to re-engage in either full-time employment or education. Completing this work uncovered a natural aptitude for coaching and motivating groups in a classroom environment. Another identified desire was a deep need to travel, which with hard graft and a goal mindset, became a dream come true – backpacking around the world for a year.
‘Don’t drown the pain or ignore the questions’
On my return from my global adventures, I knew needed the support of other men and found it in the form of Kenny Mammarella D’Cruz’s MenSpeak men’s groups. This inspired me to continue my work with groups incorporating coaching – this time with men, creating The MAP. Today I have my challenges, but I am fulfilled. I’ve found my “why” in the form of coaching men to “walk their talk” as piece-by-piece I serve and develop my practice.
For anyone who may be experiencing this time in life, my advice is not to drown out the pain or ignore the questions. Keep asking, keep testing and maybe start a “life project” of your own. For a long period I chose to go it alone, but in hindsight engagement with others at an earlier stage would have helped me to realise what was happening within me and make some required changes sooner.
If you need to take action, engage with one of the MAP services here and start “walking your talk”. For a safe place to talk, groups such as Kenny’s enlightening MenSpeak groups are well worth a try.
My mid-twenties crisis was a challenging, confusing and very lonely time in my life. I now consider it my great teacher, a gift in terms of giving me insight into my purpose, passion and personal potential. Next step – live from my “Why”, serve others and become the best coach I can possibly be.
By Clive Maxheath