Back from the darkness — how I stood up and changed the trajectory of my life
Someone takes you by the hand and drags you in an unknown direction. He claims that it is the right direction and you blindly trust and follow him into the unknown. Not knowing your guide’s values, emotions or aspirations. Imagine opening up your eyes one day and realising that the place you have arrived has nothing to do with who you really are. That your entire life you have been following the wrong guide. Getting to such a realisation in 10 or 15 years would be painful, wouldn’t it?
Now imagine that this fake guide is yourself. There is a possibility that if you don’t take time to understand your values, your innate potential and emotions ruling your behaviour you might one day end up in a personal and professional dead end. I feel that I have spent a large chunk of my life on such an auto-pilot, directed by powers that controlled me. In the worst times I put my relationships, mental and physical health and career at risk. I went through depression, times that I was lacking sleep and overweight, overused different substances and got involved with the wrong people.
Somehow I managed to improve in most of these areas with the help of great people. I would like to describe the steps of my journey from darkness to relatively comfortable and functional self-realisation. Maybe some of you need it today. I don’t claim that I know the only right way nor that I think I have already achieved my best. I would just like to make sure that you understand my intention. It is to inspire you to self-assess where you are and find your way to a more comfortable space of total integrity and optimal self-growth. Take the first step.
To start with you may want to have a look at the following list of situations:
- You want to lose weight, but honestly you don’t know why you want to and if you really want to, as you do nothing to change it.
- You overreact in certain relationships to an extent that you later regret or you never react in painful situations and feel frustrated.
- You experience self-doubt when faced with a challenge in your professional life eg. you want to leave your well-paid job to do something else, but you are anxious about it and postpone it for years.
- You are constantly surprised that some tasks that others find easy are dreadful for you. You spend a lot of energy trying to rewire yourself.
- You feel that you want to replace your habit, but you lack an example or inspiration.
Does any of the above seem familiar? All of them have happened to me and sometimes still do. Let me share with you my stories and the way I dealt with my challenges. Stories I have never shared publicly. I put forward the solutions that have worked for me in an order of finding to applying.
1. Traumatic experience that catalyses habit change
I have gone to an extreme with a number of bad habits in my life. I will describe the least embarrassing and traumatic. As a teenager I used to be quite fit and worked out on a regular basis. When I went to work at the age of 19 all I cared about was my short-term performance, not my general wellbeing. I tended to spend over 12 hours a day at work and a few times even stayed for a night if we had a packaging design or advertisement deadline. During this period I did not work out at all and used to eat KFC and drink Coke on a daily basis. To make it even worse I partied often and slept around 5 hours a day. At some point I realised that walking up the stairs made me huff and puff. As funny as it may sound — one day I realised that I could not fit in any branded trousers. That was the tipping point. My weight reached 108 kilos (almost 240 pounds) at the age of 21 (I’m 183 cm / 6 ft tall). I felt embarrassed and scared when thinking about what will happen to me if I keep my lifestyle. I felt so bad that I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror and took action. I went on a (very stupid) 1500 calories diet and lost 23 kg (over 50 pounds) in three months. Many years later I read in Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” about the idea of increasing the behaviour that you want to eliminate to the extent that you just feel so fed up or embarrassed. Want to quit smoking? Maybe smoking 10 packs a day will make you never want to smoke again.
2. Psychotherapy that helps understand the pains of upbringing
At some stage of my life I realised that all my relationships with women ended up the same way. As I got to know later I was always getting into a position of a “rescuer” who tried to help the other person. This doesn’t seem like a partnership at all. While experiencing frustration in my relationship with no clue what to do I decided to get help from a psychotherapist. Some people say that one must have some serious problems to visit a shrink, they can associate searching professional help with being “crazy” and claim that “their case is not as bad”. I think it is never a waste of time to invest in understanding emotional patterns behind your feelings and behaviours. My 18 months long therapy did not save my relationship but seriously changed my life. I dug around my childhood and relationships with parents and friends to understand some destructive patterns that I followed without even knowing it. Realisation was the first step to monitor behaviours and in the long run led to readjustment of my expectations and filters that I had applied to potential partners I met. I believe that this step taken years ago led to me being ready to meet and build a wonderful relationship with my wife.
3. Coaching that helps to manage practical changes
Back in 2012 I felt that running an advertising agency was not a fulfilling role for me anymore. Although it was providing me with good income, I did not feel fair to my partners, team and clients running it half-heartedly. But leaving my baby (it was my first business) and cutting myself off of the regular income without a clear vision for the next steps seemed suicidal. This is when I met Miłosz Brzeziński who became my coach. For those of you who have never tried coaching — it is a process that consists of 9-12 meetings taking place every 3 weeks. At those meetings the coach asks you questions that help you use your potential to enable whatever career change you are willing to make. I owe Miłosz a lot — he empowered me in my times of change and I found courage to leave my safe haven and pursue the unknown. Today I can’t imagine making a better decision. Actually this amazing change I experienced encouraged me to learn more about coaching and become certified as an International Coach to ask better questions and be of more help to people I work with.
4. Psychometric & personality tests that help in identifying strengths
As an entrepreneur bootstrapping my business, like many of you, I had to be an all-in-one company. Paperwork and some repetitive tasks were always causing my mind to boggle. I tried very hard to fall in love and become very good in things I wasn’t inclined to. Looking at it from this perspective – I spent too much time, even when the company was big enough for me to delegate tasks, focusing on eliminating my weaknesses instead of building up my strengths. What opened my eyes and gave me time to reflect were multiple personality assessments. They helped me in a few dimensions. Firstly I realised that it is highly unlikely to be good at everything and offered inspiration in which roles I can really excel with my skill-set. Secondly it showed me black on white that people have different abilities and it’s worth investing time in understanding them to support their growth and build effective, diversified teams. Some people are very suspicious about those tests and think that the results are biased. I have different data from many sources. I wouldn’t treat any results as the one and only truth, but as every model may be 80% true, which is much better data then no data at all. Tests that I used and recommend are: Gallup Strengths Finder and Meyers Briggs (MBTI). You may want to use one of the following as they are quite similar: Thomas, ExtendedDisc, SDI. It’s an inexpensive way of improving your self-awareness.
5. Literature & people that provide you with examples of functional patterns
Every now and then I feel in doubt. Whether the life or career path I have chosen is reasonable and optimal. Most recently I was seriously doubting whether I can offer any value with my writing as it seems that everything was already said in the history of humankind. During a great event — two12 in Denver — I had an opportunity to personally ask this question to great entrepreneurs and authors such as Tim Ferriss, Noah Kagan and Mark Manson. They encouraged me to tell the same story in an authentic manner, in my words, as it may be interesting. They also admitted to sometimes face doubt despite all the success and splendour. I realised that reading and meeting people who are more experienced in what you do (often called mentors) are an invaluable source of power. I see at least two ways they can empower you. First is by offering inspiration or guidance that can bring new dimension to your projected path. Second, which I have found recently, is the emotional encouragement that you can get observing great minds (that you meet in person or whose biographies your read) facing similar challenges or choosing similar paths to yours, which eventually led them to success. Investing in meeting mentors and reading books has always paid off for me.
These are just five examples of self-intervention that I enforced on myself. As you can see the cycle is simple. Each time I get to the point when I feel frustrated with a destructive behaviour or face a road block in my development I ask around for a solution at test a few. Sometimes it is tempting to just postpone intervention forever, so I always make the first move when the idea arises, before overthinking and getting in doubt. Somebody suggested to me once that I should try coaching, so I booked it right away, before rationalising why it is not the right time. I know it is unpleasant to expose one’s weaknesses or face your own vulnerability, but learn to just swallow it like a bitter pill as it pays off in the long run.
I am aware that with this text I have just touched the surface of a wider problem that can be explored in depth. There is so much more to be said and so many tools to be used.
To put it shortly. A small adjustment of your course made today, one small step — temporary discomfort of making an unpopular decision — can change the trajectory of your life and pay off multiple times in the time perspective of 5 or 40 years. Just imagine yourself in 5 years and go for it!
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