The only constant in our lives, besides death and taxes, is that we are going to be confronted with challenges. Some may be small, and others may be enormous in magnitude. Some may be resolved with relative ease, and others may weigh on us like a truck. Some of the challenges in our lives will have answers that will need to be solved, whereas others will appear to have no end or resolution in sight. We are all going to be confronted with challenges in just about every area of our lives. The question should not be, “What are we going to do IF we are faced with a challenge?” The question should be, “What are we going to do WHEN we are faced with a challenge?” I want to share the top five challenges I have had to overcome throughout my life. The reality is there are more than five major challenges I have had to face, and any of them could have made this list, but these are the five that have created the biggest lessons for me along the way. Let’s get started.
“Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.”
― Anne Wilson Schaef
To many people, this may seem like a gift, and it can be, but much of the time it felt like a curse. To expect perfection in life is a recipe for unhappiness, heartache, stress, and disaster. I remember, when I was a kid, I could not stop studying until I knew everything I had to know, and then I would still review the information because I was afraid I would forget something and would not make a perfect score on the exam. It was to the point where I had a hard time sleeping or eating due to stress. I let it affect my friendships and my fun. I was never satisfied with anything less than a 100%. Even scores of 90% were disappointing for me. Not only did I expect perfection in my studies, but I also expected perfection from myself in every area of my life. I though the only way people would like me was if I portrayed the image of perfection, whatever that was: the perfect person, the perfect friend, the perfect athlete, the perfect student. I had the expectation that everything was supposed to work out perfectly in my mind, that I had to be better than everyone at everything and anything less than that was unacceptable. Any challenge, any negative feeling, and anything other than the image of being Superman, minus the weakness from kryptonite, meant a negative self-image, negative self-worth, and low self-esteem. You can see that if you create an image of perfection where nothing is allowed to happen outside of exactly the way you want it to, then you make the game of life UNWINNABLE. That was exactly what I was doing. I was creating an unwinnable game of life. Due to this, I was a straight-A student and star athlete who seemed happy and fulfilled, yet I was torn apart and miserable inside.
The most powerful thing I did when it came to this struggle with perfectionism, which if I was being perfectly honest, I have not completely overcome, was when I made a choice to change the rules of the game. No longer was my definition of perfect to be better than everyone at everything. My new definition was to every day be better than I was the day before, and the way I became better was if I learned something new and grew from each experience. My new definition no longer compared me to others but instead compared me to previous versions of myself. I no longer defined being perfect as coming off as a Superman who never made a mistake and mastered everything in life. Instead, I strove to be open, genuine, honest, and vulnerable. Rather than striving to look good, I strove to connect with others and look for ways to make an impact on other people’s lives.
As I redefined what perfection means, cultivated the art of vulnerability, and looked for ways to serve others, my life began to change in a powerful way. Yours can too.
“Healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?”
― Brené Brown
2. The Ending of a Relationship
“Like some wines our love could neither mature nor travel.”
― Graham Greene
We all know there are few things more painful than the ending of an intimate relationship. I had a couple of long-term relationships that ended, and at the time, it did not feel as if a chapter was closing in my life but more like an entire book was being smashed on my head. At the time, it felt like life was ending and there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Following the breakup were long, miserable days and sleepless nights. I let my passion for life and the things I enjoyed die along with the relationships, and I realized some really powerful lessons with each one of them.
One, when we tie all of our self-worth, joy, and fulfillment to a single relationship, we put an extraordinary amount of pressure on our partner. We begin to expect them to make us happy. We must derive meaning, joy, and passion for other things independent of the relationship. Then we can get to the point where we are in a relationship as a choice to express love rather than an unhealthy need for a companion to make us happy. A relationship should not be about what you can get but rather what you can give to your partner. A relationship is an opportunity to give and to grow together.
Two, it is important to have a rock-solid support system in your life. You need people in your life that are going to be there to love you, support you, and even challenge you when you need it most.
Three, it is very important to be vulnerable and experience the dark emotions and feelings, but it is NEVER good to live there. You want to learn to feel emotions deeply and fully, and then you want to extract the lesson that you can learn from the emotions and situation to grow and move forward. Living or staying in that state does not serve you or anyone else around you. This is where it is helpful to have a powerful support system around you to remind you of that. Take the time after a breakup to meet new people, have new experiences, read new books, ask for help, travel, subtract things from your life that no longer serve you, and add things that you thought you would never do.
One of the greatest things you can do to know you are growing is to challenge yourself with adventures you would have never done if you were still the “old” you. If you’ve been stuck in the same geography your whole life, move to another country. If you have been afraid of heights, go skydiving. If you have a fear of public speaking, take a Toastmasters class. If you have always wanted to learn how to cook, take a cooking class. The greatest feeling in the world is coming out the other side of a major challenge like a breakup and realizing you are a different person than when you left the breakup. Healing takes time. The time is going to pass no matter what. Why not make the most of it?
“To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.”
– Lao Tzu
3. Financial Ruin
“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.”
– Ayn Rand
I still remember the conversation as if it were yesterday. I was 21 years old and in my first year of graduate school. I was always a great student and a hard worker, so I applied for and received a great scholarship for graduate school. It covered the tuition for my first year and left me with some extra student loan money in the process. I have always worked hard my entire life to earn money. My parents have always cultivated an entrepreneurial spirit in me. When I was 7 years old, I would join my mom at the flea market and sell handmade bracelets made out of colored pipe cleaners to anyone that would purchase them. It was an exciting time, where I got to earn money for my hard work, and it is a value I have carried with me every since. When I was a little older, I would go door to door washing cars and pulling weeds in our neighbor’s gardens to earn money. The value of working hard was even instilled in me when I got my first television. My first television set as a kid was on consignment. I earned a few dollars every time I washed a car and a few dollars every time I mowed a lawn until the television was paid off. I continued mowing lawns and working in videography on nights and weekends all through high school to earn extra money. I spent my summers in the blistering heat of South Florida doing construction cleaning, which consisted of scraping paint off windows and cement off of floors. All through college I went to school full time and worked with what little time I had left over. By the time I entered graduate school, I had a bit of savings put away, along with the extra student loan money I was getting due to the scholarship I received, which I still had to pay back.
It was that first year of graduate school when I was offered an opportunity to be a part of an amazing investment opportunity in the area of property development. I must remind you this was 2006, and we all know what transpired over the next couple years in regards to the housing and property development industry. At the time, the offer seemed fantastic. I took everything I could get to drop into this deal. I cashed in the mutual funds that I had had since I was a kid. I took any amount of student loan money I could come up with. I emptied my back account of everything I had earned growing up from mowing lawns, pulling weeds, washing cars, and doing construction. I put all my eggs into this one basket, so to speak.
To make a long story short, I lost everything. I did not just lose 25% or 30% of my money. I lost 100% of my money. Over the next 3 years, I came to the point where I lost everything I had put into this investment and finished school with over $150,000 in debt. When I graduated, I could not even afford a down payment on a used car. I would have loved to take some time off of school and travel before I started working, but I literally would not have had the money to get through the month.
It was heartbreaking for me when I lost all my money. I had lived my whole life placing so much value on the accumulation of money that it was such an emotional experience to lose it all. There were some really powerful choices that really helped me through this process.
I was looking at the experience of losing all my money as the end of the world. All I kept thinking about was how many hours of blood, sweat, and tears I had put into accumulating all the money and now it was gone. I was looking at the situation from what had been taken away from me rather than what I could learn from the situation. I realized that there are things much more important than money: my health, my relationships, learning, growing, and fulfillment. Before then, I actually put earning money over all those things. It gave me the opportunity to grow as a human being, which I would have never received any other way. For that, I learned to become grateful. I asked a mentor of mine, who lost a fortune in the market collapse around 2008, how he kept positive through all the hardship. He replied, “I ask myself if the situation is going to kill me. I ask myself if my relationships and my family are OK. If the answers are no to the dying and yes to my family being OK, then I release it and get to work making my life better.”
#2: We learn more from our mistakes than our successes
Unfortunately, many times we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. I know we all wish that wasn’t the case! I really learned to be smart with my money. I learned to only invest in things that I understand and know very well. I learned that money will come and go, but what is more important than having money is knowing I have the ABILITY to create money. And the ABILITY to make money comes from value creation. As long as I could contribute value to people’s lives, there would always be money to be made. These lessons have earned me back the money I lost hundreds of times over. It turned out to be a very VALU-ABLE lesson!
#3: Do whatever it takes
I could have sat back on my ass and complained and given up, or I could have picked myself up and got to work. Giving up does not do anything to serve you or the people around you. Giving up does not earn your money back or get you back on your feet. I learned that I needed to have a “do whatever it takes” attitude. I became willing to walk door to door, wake up early, stay up late, invest money in learning and growing, give up weekends, put myself in uncomfortable situations, and give up time watching television in order to reach my goals and make sure I turned that unfortunate event into a blessing.
Many of us will at some point in our lives face financial hardship. The question is, “Are you going to let it get you down, or are you going to use it as an opportunity to grow expand your life to a newer and greater level?”
“I think the key indicator for wealth is not good grades, work ethic, or IQ. I believe it’s relationships. Ask yourself two questions: How many people do I know, and how much ransom money could I get for each one?”
― Jarod Kintz
4. Parental Divorce
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
– Winston Churchill
I was 3.5 years old when my parents split up. I was way too young to make sense of anything that was going on, yet when I look back on my life, I realize that, even at such a young age, I knew something was not right. Unfortunately, many families nowadays have to navigate the waters of a split household. With numbers approaching well over 50% in the category of divorce, it has become commonplace and, in many instances, expected to have to navigate these un-chartered waters as children. While I had very loving parents, who were totally committed to my brother and me, it is impossible to avoid the emotions and even the mental impressions that occur in the mind of a child when going through that experience, let alone multiple times, as I endured. After going through multiple divorces as a child, how do you grow up believing in love? How do you grow up honoring commitment in an intimidate relationship as well as in regard to work, friendships, finances, and hobbies? It is a challenge that I believe many children and young adults have to explore on their own, or they are destined to follow in the footsteps of their parents.
This is a struggle I had to explore on my own. I realized I wanted something very different from what my parents had, but I just was not sure how to create that. I found myself traveling down the same path and failing into the same traps that they had fallen into. Each time that would happen, it would reinforce that fear of creating the same outcomes my parents had created. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a very powerful yet simple realization that everything changed for me. If you want a different result, you have to make different choices along the path. When you make different choices, you continue to build evidence that you are destined to create a different outcome than your parents did or the people before you did.
Let me give you an example. I noticed there was a pattern my parents had when it came to relationships. It was probably a pattern they had learned from their parents. I found myself also following that same pattern and getting the same result. I would then emotionally beat myself up for following the same path as them. That would turn into helplessness at the thought that I could not change the destiny that lay before me. At least that is what I thought! I realized, if I just made different choices, I would get a different outcome. The more I made those “right” choices, the more evidence I would build for myself that it was totally possible for me to create a different outcome. The more evidence I created, the more my self-confidence grew. The more my self-confidence grew, the more I was empowered to continue to make those choices down an unchartered path. This became true for my finances, my relationships, my business, and every aspect of my life.
It is all right to become emotional about an experience or a situation. It is all right to feel helpless, but only for a moment. Then it is very important to look at the situation and discover what you can learn from that experience so you can grow as a person. It may not come to you right away. It may take years to figure this process out. It may be a lifelong journey for you to navigate these waters of self-discovery and self-improvement, but that is part of the fun in the game of life!
As we learn, grow, and build evidence that demonstrates our ability to lead a different path than our predecessors, we take powerful control of our life, and instead of being a victim of our destiny, we become creators who make our own destiny!
“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”
– Vince Lombardi
5. Uprooting of Your Life
“The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire; the size of your dream; and how you handle disappointment along the way.”
– Robert Kiyosaki
There are two types of people whose lives gets uprooted: those who choose to uproot their life and those who are forced to uproot their life. There is one thing in common between these two groups – the challenge of leaving the known for the unknown. Some people are forced to uproot or totally change their life due to a relationship breakup, financial hardship, or an unforeseen deportation, as was the case with one of my best friends, who I will get to in just a moment. Other people choose to uproot their life to either avoid the pain or stagnancy of their current situation or in pursuit of a hopefully pleasurable alternative. My best friend’s situation was the former, and my situation was the latter. Both scenarios had their fair share of challenges!
Let’s start from the beginning. The decision to uproot my life unknowingly had its genesis way back in graduate school. I was in a bookstore with one of my best friends, who was actually the one who got deported about 5 years later from Indonesia, but that is a story for another day! We were studying for some big exams, and it was imperative that we break up the time between 8-hour study sessions with conversations and perusing books completely unrelated to the subject matter at hand. I peered up at one of the instances and noticed my best friend, Matt, reading a travel book about Iceland. Immediately, I was intrigued. I’m not sure it was so much a fascination with Iceland as it was an opportunity to stop studying for a short while. I joined him on his side of the table as he flipped through the travel book and showed me all of the places he was going to visit. Now, this distraction had instantly turned into an obsession with this beautiful and mystical place. I was totally in and booked my tickets that evening to join him on a two week adventure backpacking Iceland. If you have never been to Iceland, I highly suggest the trip. It was a mind blowing experience. A couple months later, we left for a stunning adventure through the Icelandic wilderness. I was stung by the travel bug; it is a bite that will last forever. After that trip and 11 more countries over the next year and a half, I decided I wanted to travel and work overseas. Over the next year or so, I established a great relationship with a doctor in Europe, whom I was going to work with when I graduated, but unfortunately that opportunity fell through at the last minute. I looked into an opportunity in Asia, but that fell through at the last minute. I was actually finishing up my last internship for graduate school working at a hospital in the Sichuan province in China when I was feeling very stuck. I decided to put my dreams of living abroad on hold and went back to my hometown in South Florida to work. It was a great opportunity to work in one of the top offices in the state with a person who had been a mentor of mine for years. I was a bit disheartened that my dream of being overseas had not worked out, but my future back in the USA was looking very promising. It turned out to be a great experience. I had great mentors, a great job, and an opportunity to make good money. There was not anything bad about the experience, which sometimes is the hardest thing because an unknown with the potential for good or bad is scary when you are currently in a good situation. It is easy to stay in your comfort zone when there is a big scary world out there! The next year and a half was great. I learned a lot and grew a lot, which is exactly what I was looking for at the time, but I felt myself yearning for more. At that time, I was in contact with Matt, who had happened to lock down a job practicing chiropractic with a company in Indonesia. Every day we would chat about his experience over there, and he kept trying to get me to come over and live abroad. I was torn. My current situation allowed me to either stay in a very comfortable situation working in an established practice or opening my own practice in a community I knew and understood very well. My other opportunity brought me to the unknown world of SE Asia with a tremendous amount of variables, all of which were foreign to me. I needed help working through this.
I sat down with my mentor and boss at the time. He helped me make some very powerful insights. The same insights I would encourage all of you to seek out. Number one, he asked me what it was I wanted. Not what it was that my parents wanted for me or what I thought was going to impress my friends the most or what I even thought he wanted for me. He asked me what it really was that I wanted for myself and for my life. At that point, I narrowed it down to opening up my own practice in my hometown or traveling and living abroad for a few years. I had been struggling with this for the last few months. I told him I had no idea and that was why I was talking to him! He asked me a final question that changed my life. He asked, “Fifteen years from now, are you going to regret not opening your own practice a few years earlier or are you going to regret not taking a few years to live abroad and travel around the world?” Wow. That was it. I immediately gave him my decision: I was going to take off. I still had no job yet overseas or even had a conversation with the company I wanted to work for, but when you relinquish any alternatives except your major focus, you create no other option than for you to succeed. I went through some major challenges on the way to success. I fought leaving my family, friends, and everything I knew with a couple of bags and a dream to travel to literally to the other side of the world by myself. I did not even have a permanent place to stay when I got to Singapore. I spent the first month sleeping on the floor of an abandoned house. I worked 12–18 hour days for 29 of my first 30 days in Singapore. I even spent one night sleeping in the office because it was easier than going back to the place I was staying at for just a few hours of sleep and then having to be back early the next morning. The thing that kept me going was the knowledge that I was following a dream and the belief that, as long as I was learning and growing, this experience was going to be successful one. Fortunately, it turned out better than I expected; however, it did not come without challenges.
We will all get to a point in our lives where we feel stuck or where we are forced out of our current life and propelled into the unknown. Some of you may be experiencing this currently. If not, you most likely will someday! If you are not experiencing this now, there is no better time to prepare than today.
As my mentor did for me, I would encourage you to answer some very powerful questions. Number one: What do you want? Simple in its words yet profoundly complex in its meaning. Number two: Fifteen years from now, what would you like your life to look like? All you need to do is reverse engineer it from there. Another simple question, yet profound in its meaning. As for those of you who are forced to uproot your life due to a breakup, hardship, or other challenge, the questions are the same, and the answers will lead you down the path to self-discovery and personal fulfillment.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain
There you have it! My top five challenges and how I overcame them. As I said earlier, there were dozens of other challenges I could have added to this list, but I believe these were the most impactful on my life, and my sincere hope and wish is that my struggles and challenges will inspire you to take your life to a new level. My hope is that you continue to learn and grow and challenge the status quo while going against the grain of conventional wisdom and culture. If you want an average life, follow the herd. If you truly want an extraordinary life, you must see things that others don’t see, believe in things that others don’t believe, and make choices that others don’t make. You must take the challenges in your life and, instead of using them as barriers on your path, use them as steppingstones to greater things. It is through challenging times that our biggest opportunities for growth and learning take place, and we are only truly living when we are learning and growing.