When you’re struggling in life, it can feel like you’re in a long, dark tunnel with no way out. There are many reasons why you might stop and ask the question:
“What Am I Doing with My Life?”
Sometimes this deep question arises when we have reached a crossroad and we are faced with a big decision. For example, we might be contemplating whether to burn the boats and pursue our passion, or to quit playing games and follow a more traditional route.
At other times this question arises after we have experienced one failure after another, when we are no longer sure of what we are doing, and when we have truly started to wonder if everything was just a waste of time.
If you are feeling like this at the moment - take heart - there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But rather than trying to prove this through a complex and philosophical discussion, let’s learn from the stories of people who felt the same way, until their lives completely turned around for the better.
The experiences of the following individuals can teach us a lot about the level of perseverance and patience that is needed when figuring out own our path in life:
If there’s anyone who knows something about dealing with rejection and frustration in life, it’s Jack Ma.
Jack Ma grew up poor in China, failed his university entrance exam twice, and was rejected from dozens of jobs, including one at KFC. He eventually was hired as an English teacher, making about $12 a month at a local university.
Ma ended up starting a translation company, and it was during a business trip to the United States in 1995 that he first discovered the internet. Ma had no experience with computers or coding, but he was captivated by the internet and decided to found an internet company for China. However, this too failed because the government didn’t want to work with him.
Four years later, with an unwavering determination to succeed, Ma gathered 17 of his friends in his apartment and convinced them to collaborate in building an online marketplace he called "Alibaba."
By October 1999, the company had raised $5 million from Goldman Sachs and $20 million from SoftBank. Alibaba’s continued growth eventually earned Ma the title of the richest man in China.
Lesson? There will be times when everything you keep trying - keeps going wrong. Maintain your enthusiasm and don’t give up. Keep in mind this quote from Jack Ma: “Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.”
Harland David Sanders was born on September 9, 1890, in Henryville, Indiana.
When he was six years old, his father passed away, and Sanders became responsible for feeding and taking care of his younger brother and sister. In seventh grade, he dropped out of school and left home to go work as a farmhand.
Throughout his life, Sanders failed in just about every endeavor he was involved in, getting fired from his jobs as a streetcar conductor, railroad fireman and insurance salesman. It wasn’t until age 40 that he first started cooking chicken in his roadside Shell Service Station in Kentucky, during the Great Depression.
When he was 65, a new interstate highway diverted traffic away from his restaurant leaving Sanders with only his secret fried chicken recipe and a meager $105 monthly pension check.
Worried about how he was going to survive, Sanders set out to find restaurants who would franchise his secret recipe—he wanted a nickel for each piece of chicken sold. He drove around, sleeping in his car, and was rejected 1,009 times before finally finding a partner with whom he built the KFC franchise powerhouse.
Lesson? Most of us have a mental timeline of how our lives should progress. Certainly by age 60, most people are expected to have accomplished most of what they wanted in life and are ready to retire. But not so for Colonel Sanders.
It’s almost crazy to think that one of the most famous chicken companies arose as a result of the last efforts of a man’s survival tactics. We can imagine the Colonel asking himself at various points of his journey: What am I doing with my life?
Have you been rejected or disappointed time and time again?
Let the Colonel’s story energize you and remind you that there’s not a specific age where you have to ‘have your life together’. Try different things and don’t be afraid to fail.
Every flower blooms in its own time.
Before she became a media mogul and the queen of daytime TV, Oprah Winfrey suffered a tumultuous childhood.
Born to an unmarried teenage mother, Winfrey endured poverty and sexual abuse during her youth. She later became pregnant and gave birth to a child at age 14, who passed away just two weeks later.
Oprah persevered through her struggles, going on to finish high school as an honors student, earn a full scholarship to college, and eventually get a job at a local radio station as a co-anchor for the local evening news.
Still she faced disappointment again when she was fired from her job, after being told that she was too emotional and “unfit for television news".
Shortly after, she started to host ‘AM Chicago’, an early morning talk show, which soon became the most watched show in America. Later, it was renamed as ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’. Since then the household name has won various awards and accolades for her work, including an Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.
Lesson? Be patient, you never know what this period of your life is leading up to, or preparing you for. Winfrey's seven and a half months in her co-anchor chair amounted to the first and worst failure of her TV career. Yet, it was a necessary part of her transformation. Oprah relates:
"I had no idea what I was in for or that this was going to be the greatest growing period of my adult life. … It shook me to my very core, and I didn't even know at the time that I was being shaken."
Tony Robbins is a world renowned performance coach whose clientele has included individuals such as Bill Clinton, Oprah, Princess Diana, and Leonardo Di Caprio, to name a few. But his life wasn’t always this glamorous.
Tony Robbins grew up poor with a troubled childhood. His mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and was physically abusive, leaving Robbins to look after and protect his younger siblings.
At 17, Robbins worked as a janitor after school and helped people move furniture on the weekends to make extra money. It was during a move that the landlord on site told Robbins about a seminar by Jim Rohn that had changed his life.
Excited by what he heard, Robbins saved a week’s worth of pay to attend one of Rohn’s seminars, which Robbins explains turned out to be one of the best investments of his life. Robbins approached Rohn to work for him and soon became his protégé, going on to make an impact on millions of lives through his coaching.
Tony Robbins learned an important lesson from Jim Rohn:
He learned that for things to get better, you have to get better.
You get financially compensated when you understand how to become more valuable in the marketplace.
In order to become more valuable, Robbins became obsessed with finding ways to do more for others than anyone else was doing, in less time. It’s a principle that’s driven his whole career.
Lesson? Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job. By working to improve yourself, you create long-term impact. When you become more valuable, you add more value to the lives of others, and other rewards, e.g. financial, will naturally follow.
Today, Jim Carrey is known as an extremely successful stand-up comedian and actor, but he didn’t have an easy time getting there.
Carrey was once homeless at 12 years of age when his father lost his job and the family was forced to live in a van.
He got his start as a stand-up comedian at 15, when his father drove him around Toronto to perform at comedy clubs. Carrey’s impersonations bombed, which gave him doubts about his career path.
At 19, Carrey headed to Hollywood - but still struggled to find success. In 1985, broke and depressed, he drove his old beat-up Toyota up the Hollywood hills. While sitting there, overlooking Los Angeles, Carrey made a bold decision - he wrote himself a check for $10 million for "acting services rendered," post-dated it 10 years and kept it in his wallet.
The check remained there until it deteriorated but Carrey eventually made it: he earned millions for movies like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber.
Lesson? Don’t let rejection pull you down. In 10 years your life can be so different from what it is now. Continue to envision a better life for yourself and work towards it.
If you’ve ever watched the film The Pursuit of Happyness, you’ve come across the inspiring story of Chris Gardner - the homeless man who became a multi-millionaire investor.
Gardner grew up in a troubled environment. His father was living in Louisiana during his birth, and his stepfather (Freddie Triplett) was physically abusive to both his mother (Bettye Jean) and his sisters.
On one occasion, Triplett reported Chris's mother to the authorities and had her sent to prison for working while receiving help from Social Services. During that time, Chris and his siblings were temporarily placed in foster care. They later returned there for the second time when their mother was convicted of trying to kill Triplett by burning down the house while he was inside.
In the early 1980s, when Gardner was 27, he and his toddler son were homeless for a year in San Francisco. Garder was enrolled in a low-paid internship program at a stock brokerage, and earning only $1,000 a month, he didn’t have enough money to pay rent.
Gardner often scrambled to place his child in daycare, stood in soup kitchens and slept wherever he and his son could find safety - in his office after hours, at parks, and in the toilet at a railway station. Meanwhile, none of Gardner's co-workers knew of his situation.
Gardener’s breakthrough came at the end of his training period when his firm, Dean Witter Reynolds, made him a full employee. After a few years his career took off, and in 1987 he opened his own investment firm, Gardner Rich & Co.
Now Gardner travels the world as a motivational speaker, and sponsors a number of homeless charities and organisations that combat violence against women.
Lesson? You can change your life if you are driven and determined to maintain a positive attitude. Gardner believes he disproves the theory that we are all products of our childhood environment:
"According to that school of thought I should have become another alcoholic, wife-beating, child-abusing, illiterate loser."
But he didn't become that. He says:
"I chose light, from my mother, and from others with whom I don't share a single drop of blood, and I embraced it."
Hopefully you’ve been able to draw inspiration and comfort from the experiences above. These individuals were all in situations where they really did not know where their life was headed. They were at times disillusioned, desperate, and in despair. However, they all found that life at the end of the tunnel - they figured out how to be more valuable and subsequently brought value to the world.
If you ever find yourself wondering what you’re doing with your life - you too can gain control and confidence, no matter how lost you feel. Creating a personal development plan is a good way to get organized and get your life on track.
A personal development plan can help you:
I’m a big fan of personal development - that’s what this site is all about - and I’ve made available a free personal development plan template for my readers to use and benefit from.
You can download it below:
I hope you’ll use this template and derive as much value from it as I have.
Here’s one final thought:
“Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.”
Be willing to grow and change, and be willing to start today.
All the best,
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