Exactly 5 years ago, I had a rough time during this time of the year. My career and life felt stuck. I had no idea what to do about it.
From the outside, it looked like I was doing well. I had my own business, a decent apartment, and a nice car. But I didn’t have any perspective. I still lived in my hometown and frankly, I was bored with my life.
Does that sound familiar? You have an okay life, and yet, it doesn’t feel right. It’s the ultimate challenge of the 21st century. Our lives are safer than ever, and yet, we feel empty.
By the end of 2013, my frustration was building up. I started blaming everything and everyone for my lack of growth.
Looking back, I must admit that I was very dramatic about my situation. But every person who’s ever felt helpless, it’s the feeling that counts. When you feel like you can’t do anything about your life, you won’t.
And that’s what happened to me too. I felt down—, especially during Christmas. I was also single, so that didn’t help.
On New Year’s Eve, I went to my parents. And I was being a total party pooper. I didn’t feel like doing anything. And when my family tried to help me, I yelled at them to leave me alone. I went to a different room, sat down, and started feeling sorry for myself.
My self-talk was something like this: “Look at everybody having fun. And I’m sitting here like a loser. I hate my life.”
Shortly after that moment, I snapped out of it. I realized that I was being a crybaby. If you don’t like your life situation, you change it. You don’t complain. You don’t talk. You take matters in your own hand.
Set A Goal. Work On It With All You’ve Got.
I can think of only one way of taking control of your destiny: You set a goal and decide to work on it every single day. You won’t complain anymore. And you won’t stop until you achieve your goal. Then, you set a new goal and repeat the process.
There’s nothing more to it. I’ve been doing this every year since 2013—with gradually more success. In 2014, I moved to London and worked for a major IT research firm. In 2015, I published my first book. In 2016, I reached almost two million readers. In 2017, I published my second book—which has sold more than 15K copies. By the end of 2018, my articles are reaching over half a million people each month. And I appreciate every single reader.
Every year was better than the year before. All because I worked on my goals. In the past 5 years, I also became physically stronger, read more than 400 books, bought an apartment and a small office building, built a decent index fund portfolio, and still saved roughly 30% of my income.
I must say that I’m not an exceptional case. I’m not a billionaire or particularly gifted. My parents are immigrants, and I grew up in The Netherlands. I’m lucky I grew up in a safe country with a good education system. But apart from that, it’s been all work.
What I’m trying to say is that every person with reasonable circumstances can work him/herself into a good position. What’s a good position in life? Here’s my definition:
You have developed solid skills that you can build a career on. You have invested in your education and network. Hence, you will not worry about being out of a job. You also earn an above-average income. That gives you more freedom to enjoy life—without stress.
And finally, you want a good private life: A good relationship with your family, friends you have things in common with, and a partner you love. Even though I’m in a relationship, I also think you can be happily single.
But to me, ultimate success in your private life means having character. You want to become the person who YOU would want as a spouse, brother, sister, parent, friend.
“How Did You Do It?”
Here are a few things I learned about improving your life:
- First, set ONE goal for every area of your life. I divide my goals as follows: Learning (what skills do I want to improve?), Career (what do I want to achieve in career?), Money (how much do I want to save and earn?), Relationships (what type of person do I want to become?). Set a goal that’s ambitious enough but at the same time is also reachable within a year. Aim high. But don’t make it impossible for yourself.
- Second, create a plan. How are you going to achieve your goals? Focus on things you control: Basically, yourself.
- Third, reflect & adapt. At the end of every day, look at your goals, and reflect on your day. What did you do today that will help you to get closer to your goals? Did you work out? Read a book? Work on your character? Do your work? If not, why? What can you improve? Are there things you might need to change? Track your progress precisely. If things are not working out, adapt.
The process is straightforward. The effort, energy, and focus that it requires to pull it off, however, is not. It’s not easy to achieve ambitious goals. And we all know why that is. If it was easy, everybody would do it.
Decide to be different. Set a goal and actually work on it. Year after year, your life will be better. What if you fail to achieve your goals? Don’t overthink it: Set a new goal. Then, get back to work.