When I was nineteen years old I worked in a bar in Brussels, Belgium.
It was a gritty place with Albanian doormen, Moroccan thugs and assorted beggars, spivs and passport-dealers as patrons.
The pianist played jazz classics every afternoon until he passed out from sniffing ether.
There was a fight every night without fail. Bottles were broken, shivs were unsheathed and blood was spilled.
We were forbidden from using the phone to call ambulances because of a call-out fee, so we’d wave to the all-night convenience store across the road and they’d run to the payphone in return for free drinks.
My shift was from 7pm to 4am, six nights out of seven.
I decided, about a week into my employment, that it was an exciting and dangerous place and represented my future. I needed to tool up if I was going to survive.
So I did what any clueless public-school kid would do, and went out and sourced an entirely ineffective weapon on the black market.
My weapon of choice?
I kid you not. I’d walk around with two sticks on a chain stuffed down my pants, on the understanding that if anybody gave me grief, I’d be ready to whip out my weapon, wave it around with the alacrity and nonchalance and leave my opponent quaking in fear.
A couple of days after I’d started wearing this ridiculous device down my trousers, I met a girl in a bar after work.
“Why don’t you sit down?” she asked.
I told her that I couldn’t – I had a broken broom handle under my belt preventing any movement from the hip.
“But why?” she asked (I sensed that I’d blown my chances of any romantic encounter as soon as I started my explanation).
I told her that I worked in a dodgy place and that there were frequent fisticuffs and that nobody played fair.
“Then you need a different place to work, right now,” she said, entirely correctly.
And that was the last day that I worked that job. I hung up the nunchucks for good.
Sometimes we respond to the environment that we find ourselves in, and sometimes that’s a mistake.
Often, the best course of action is a complete change of environment, or a change of circumstances.
If you’re finding solutions today to deal with your current reality, try asking yourself “what if this didn’t have to be my reality?”
What if this wasn’t your normal? What if there was a new normal right around the corner?
A normal where you don’t work late into the night, where you put up with clients you don’t like, where you don’t try to squeeze your square ass into a round way of doing things like other people?
I’m noticing a trend in my own career, and in the careers of my clients, which is that saying NO and “I won’t do this any more” and “I won’t be with YOU any more” is at the very core of a business full of fun, freedom and flow.
If your neighborhood is getting you down, get a new neighborhood.
If your income is getting you down, get a new income.
If your Facebook feed is full of politically partisan one-upmanship, get new friends.
Say no so that you can say yes.
If you need help in crafting a new normal, there’s no better guide than Ash Ambirge’s The Middle Finger Project.
Buy a copy or two.