March 16, 2020
You Can Get Your Life Together Again
“Where are you working nowadays — still in finance?”
It was an innocent question. I hadn’t worked in finance for over a year. It was the kind of question that doesn’t lead you to realize you finally got your life together.
I spent most of my life living in a dungeon. The world looked dark. My mind had completely twisted reality. But it’s not like I was lazy. I’d tried networking events, going to the gym, googling my issues and trying to understand what the hell was going on. The answer was always the same: you’re broken.
When you feel broken, your life never seems to feel together. Everything you do ends up becoming a mess. Every new hobby you try blows up — spectacularly. Whoever you date dumps your ass and you don’t know why.
You feel scared some days. Alone on others. And sad for no reason, most of the time.
I would roll up to work, pretend to smile and then go home sad again. Late-night visits to 7-Eleven to get a slurpy were my only escape. That and watching endless Hollywood movies, trying to imagine what it would be like to live someone else’s life.
In 2014, I started to get my life together again. It didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t click my fingers or read a magic quote that changed everything. It was more subtle than that. It didn’t feel like ‘getting it together’ at all.
It felt uninteresting, small, and not much different.
Here’s what I did.
End the Stories
I was walking around telling myself stories every day.
These stories were incredibly cruel and they shut down every opportunity in my mind before it had a chance to stand alone and be observed. The stories always went like this:
- “You can’t do…”
- “You will never do…”
- “You need such and such before you can…”
- “You are not like them…”
Every one of the stories was demotivating. The stories I told myself literally sucked the life out of me. I didn’t really care what happened.
My career was a joke. My body was a joke. My hobbies were a joke. My love life was the biggest joke.
I learned that the stories we tell ourselves shape our reality. Shortly after, I slowly began to change my own story.
Vote For Yourself
Every goal starts with you.
I never gave myself a single vote. I always asked everybody else to vote on my ideas first. People always told me what I couldn’t do but never what I could do. Every time I asked for votes, I got disappointed.
People thought my ideas were crap because they never had any evidence or effort to back them up.
If you ask someone whether you should become a Formula One Driver, they’ll probably laugh. If you ask someone the same question and then show them your race logs that show you’ve been racing cars for over a decade and achieved some results, they might take your idea seriously.
My life started to come together when I believed in myself first.
Give a Gift
Each of us has a gift we can give somebody else. When we do, we become slightly more externally focused and a little less internally focused. This little change in perception sets off greater changes later on.
If all you do is worry about yourself, your life is going to feel incomplete.
You’ll always be chasing the next rainbow by yourself and wondering why everything feels off in the process. That off feeling is because you’re not giving any of yourself away.
In my case, I started to give a gift I didn’t know I had. A guy from Australia named Joel Brown suggested I write on a blog. He didn’t give me a reason and it seemed pointless. It’s where I discovered that perhaps writing could be a gift for strangers.
I didn’t get paid a dime, so there had to be another reason to do it. Every so often people would say a blog post was helpful. Most of the time it was complete silence. Giving that gift developed into a hobby, then a habit, then an obsession and then a career.
The transition was subtle from one to the other. Like I said before, none of this happened overnight, but my circumstances did change quicker than you might think.
What skills do you have — or could you acquire — that would become a gift you could give?
Show Up Like You Have it Together
If you look like a mess you’re going to feel like your life is all over the place. Part of the change in me was to treat myself slightly better.
I ironed my shirts, did my hair and tried harder to look like someone who had their act together and didn’t just get off the floor in a puddle of tears.
While I don’t wear suits now, back in 2014 I did. I went to a tailor and got my first tailored suit. I bought some cuff links, got a few nice ties, and selected a pair of dress shoes.
Each day I would roll up to work like somebody who was meant to be there and knew what they were doing. I treated people as though I was the CEO instead of a call centre worker. I was the only one in the call centre, except one older gentleman, who wore a suit and tie.
With a suit on and my headset over my head, I made those phone calls and acted like someone who was on four times the money.
It’s kind of funny looking back on that era and seeing the photos of that guy. He’s not me anymore but in a way, he’s part of the result.
Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself
One of the reasons I ended up in a call centre was because I walked away from a business that meant a lot to me.
It was the only option in my mind to get me out of the house and make sense of the mess that was everywhere. I went from startup hero to white-collar worker on minimum wage overnight. People who knew me in the glory days of startups thought I’d become a loser.
They deleted my phone number and stopped taking my calls. None of them ever spoke to me again. Except one.
He went from being worth $100M to homeless. He found his way to me and we became friends back in those startup days. I didn’t judge him and he didn’t judge me. Our friendship grew over the years because we both had big dreams. We would chat on the phone at nighttime after work and talk about all the huge ideas we had.
We’d roleplay the day we’d sell our startup to an investment bank and how we were going to ask for BMW M3’s before we took their cheque and cashed out.
To this day, we’re still friends. We don’t talk about cars anymore. Life has shown us both more important things to care about.
Taking that job in the call centre stopped me from feeling sorry for myself. I learned again what it was like to make a living and start from nothing. It ripped away my sense of entitlement and forced me to sell everything I had.
There’s so much power in not feeling sorry for yourself and just getting on with the job.
Take a Small Risk
You hear stories every day about people taking huge risks. Huge risks are overrated. Small risks will help you get your life together.
I took a small risk to try and figure out why I was always anxious. The hardest part was telling one person about what was happening. It was embarrassing but it was my story. I took a risk and told someone what was going on.
To my surprise, they didn’t think it was a big deal. Months later I finally got professional help. The advice was simple: “You’ve got to take small risks towards proving your anxiety to be a liar.”
It involved me coming up with a list of small risks and trying each one. Here are a few:
- Go up a lift, thirty-five floors
- Get on a plane and complete one return trip
- Get up and do public speaking
- Ask out a person I have a crush on
- Do a job interview for a role I’ll never get
Each of these risks was a challenge. I started with the easiest one — going in a lift, up thirty-five floors — and then worked my way down. Every time I took a risk and it paid off, my inner strength got 1% stronger. Taking a lift, now, feels stupid and small. Back then, it was like rock climbing up the El Capitan without any ropes.
Your life starts to come together when you take a few small risks and expose your fears for the lies they are. Because you can do anything you want. And that’s the idea you need to get your life together again.
Treat People Differently
In my head, if you cut me off in traffic, you deserved to crash into a light pole and have your family see you die. That’s how badly I used to treat people.
A guy once came into our office asking for donations. I was having a bad day. So what did I do? I took it out on the volunteer. I laughed at him. Ridiculed him in front of the office staff. Told him to get a real job. I showed him. Later, he showed me.
It might be an innocent remark or a sign of impatience. But how you treat people matters. Getting your life together happens much easier when you treat people well. You end up with a cheer squad, silently in your corner of every tough situation, cheering you on.
People help you get your life together. They give you opportunities. They give you feedback. They introduce you to people.
Treat people well and your comeback is going to be easier. It starts with a smile or a small thank you. Become obsessed with how you treat people.
There’s no hero moment. Just small steps towards feeling like everything is loosely together again. Until life tears it all apart once again and you have to put your life back together. At least this time, you know how to — roughly.