Five years ago, I was a sad human being.
I was an alcoholic working at T-Mobile with zero prospects and nothing promising going on in my life.
My days consisted of training (which I would schedule around my drinking), making $10/hr selling phones and drinking the nights (and a lot of days) away. I was 27 years old, and I was a fucking loser.
Had I continued on the same path, I’d probably be dead or in jail by now. But I’m not. Just five years later, I am sober, a military veteran, a college graduate, and an author. I’m in a relationship that brings me happiness. I’m in a position to be an inspiration to others and I’m very optimistic about my future.
My life used to be a mess, but I turned things around. If your life is a mess, you can too.
Note before we get into the rest of the article:
Because I’m very open about my past, people in similarly desperate situations regularly approach me wanting to talk about how they can fix their own lives. And because this is so close to my heart, I’m extremely generous with my time. If I can help just one person get out of the depths of despair, I’m happy.
But the truth is this: 99% of people never take action. Fixing your life is difficult, painful, and requires that you make some radical changes in how you spend your time and energy. Most people don’t want to fix their lives badly enough to do that (some do, though).
Most people would rather just keep seeking out advice, because it makes them feel like they’re doing something.
And at the end of the day, I can’t make anyone do the work. If you want to improve your life, you’ll follow the advice and recommendations I lay out in this post.
If you don’t, you’ll soon look back on your life with nothing to be proud of; no happiness, no legacy — just wasted potential.
It’s up to you. The clock is ticking and time is running out.
1. Be honest with yourself
The first step is the most painful:
You have to admit your life is fucked up.
We all want to believe that we have things under control, and that we’re just going through a temporary rough patch. But in all actuality, we’re living by the wrong principles, our values are destructive, and our habits are counterproductive.
It’s not a rough patch. It’s the wrong road entirely.
You know that your life is fucked up when you repeatedly find yourself in the same stupid ass situations. The first time, you’re just unlucky. The second time, you’re stupid for not learning your lesson the first time. The third time, you need to address the underlying issues.
When I kept getting “surprised” by bills and needed to borrow money, I thought I was just unlucky.
When I kept getting into stupid drunken fights, I thought people were just too sensitive.
To outsiders, it was obvious that I had some serious problems that I needed to address. This is equally obvious to me looking back now. But for the longest time, I refused to admit it to myself. That’s why I wasn’t making any progress in life:
Before I could fix myself, I had to admit to myself that I had a problem in the first place.
2. Grow up and take responsibility
You are responsible for your life.
It doesn’t matter where you were born, what your parents did, your race, gender, or how much of a dick your teacher was. You must look in the mirror and accept that you are where you are in life because of what you’ve done.
This seems obvious, but people who can’t get their lives together make excuses and blame everyone but themselves. They tell themselves they were unlucky, or were dealt a bad hand in life.
While that might be true, it’s not an excuse. However shitty the hand you were dealt is, there’s someone who’s had it worse than you and still managed to excel.
I spent a lot of time angry at my mom for having me and my sister when she was poor and living in the projects. I felt like this set me back in life. I blamed my problems on my mother’s life decisions and growing up poor in a shitty neighborhood.
While growing up the way didn’t help, it also didn’t rob me of my ability to make decisions. Blaming my problems on my childhood didn’t make my adulthood any better. It only served as a crutch to keep me from doing the hard work of becoming respectable, productive, and creating a life to be proud of.
Personal responsibility is hard and it takes practice, but you can’t take control of your life unless you claim full ownership of it. Take inventory of your problems and failures. See how you made choices that allowed each of them to happen.
3. Will a better life for yourself
The material circumstances of life are easy.
In fact, they’re so easy that you don’t need to try very hard to have a passable existence.
In the American city where I live (Pittsburgh), a monthly income of just 1,000 dollars (about $11/hr after taxes) will cover your rent and utilities, while leaving you with just enough money to eat shitty food, watch Netflix, and drink your misery away nightly.
The most dangerous part about this lifestyle is that it looks enjoyable if you started at the very bottom. I grew up dirt poor in public housing. Compared to how I grew up, this miserable existence seemed like heaven.
For most of my twenties, I defended my shitty lifestyle by telling myself I didn’t really want anything better. I didn’t mind living the lifestyle of a drunkard service employee making just above minimum wage, as long as I had enough money for the bar and occasionally catching a movie or eating out.
One night I really wanted to go out with my friends, but I had to make excuses for why I couldn’t. The reality was that I couldn’t afford it. I had just gotten one of those “surprise” bills (monthly car insurance), and after I had paid it, even a happy hour beer was too expensive for me.
This was a reality check for me.
While I was glad that I had enough food to eat every day, and a comfortable home outside the ghetto, the truth was that I wanted more out of life. I wanted to be more than some guy whose greatest achievement in life was “not living in the ghetto”.
It took me a while to come to terms with this, but once I did, I could finally start taking meaningful action. Today, I have my finances in order and am able to invest in myself without worrying about making rent.
A lot of people are afraid to want more out of their lives because they fear they’ll be let down. Don’t fall into this trap. Once you decide to be better, nothing can stop you. It may take longer than you want, but once you commit to improving your lot in life, the result is a foregone conclusion.
4. Seek out tough love
People say they want to change things. What they really mean is they want things to change. No one wants to change themselves: they just want things to be different without effort.
But life doesn’t work this way. Your habits and mindset have to change before your environment follows suit. You are not a product of your environment so much as your environment is a product of you.
You must prove to yourself that you really want to change.
The first test of your commitment is obtaining perspective from an outside party. Self-awareness is important, but introspection will only get you halfway. Others are much better at judging us truthfully, and in self-improvement, the truth really will set you free. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s necessary.
I remember the first time I was confronted by the nature of my drinking and I learned about how bad of a reputation I had developed. Not only was I in denial, I actually got frustrated with the people who thought so poorly of me. I figured it was their fault for not being understanding enough.
Whatever your problem is, you’ve likely ignored people who offered you advice. And if you didn’t ignore them, you were probably argumentative or defensive when they tried to help you. I actually had a good friend of mine recommend I get sober — he was sober too — but it took me two years to listen to him. That’s two years of my life that I wasted because I was too proud.
If you’re guilty of this behavior, it stops now.
You’ve already admitted to yourself that you have a problem. Now it’s time to prove to yourself that you’re serious about fixing it.
Ask your close friends and your most bitter enemies to give you their opinion of your life and what you should do to fix it. Some people have already said it to your face. Others have kept their mouths shut for various reasons.
You need to invite them to criticize you. You may even have to give extra reassurance to your friends that you can handle their honesty. If you want to change for the better, it is crucial that you get their feedback.
5. Clean up and fix your appearance
Regardless of what’s wrong with your life, you must always look like you give a damn.
You have to get in shape, fix your personal hygiene and grooming, and dress well. There are two reasons why this is so important:
Firstly, taking care of your appearance requires discipline. Dressing well, eating healthy, and working out are habits of discipline. For many people, improving their personal appearance is the first act of self-discipline they’ve performed.
Secondly, it’s a quick win. Compared to the other changes you’ll have to make, your efforts will have visible effects very soon. You will immediately get positive feedback from your surroundings in terms of compliments and positive attention.
Improving your grooming and fashion is instant. The changes in your weight and body shape will be evident within a couple weeks. The quick wins keep you going as a self-sustaining source of motivation. You will witness, first-hand, that it’s possible to change something about your own reality.
6. Eliminate the negatives
Before you can fill a bucket with water, you have to fix the holes.
If you don’t, all your efforts will be wasted.
Every time you feel yourself getting ahead, you will encounter “bad luck”. This “bad luck” makes you feel like the universe is working against you. The truth is that the universe doesn’t give a damn about you. The only thing holding you back are the loose ends and holes in your life:
Your bad habits, faulty mindset, and degenerate environment. That’s what’s holding you back. If you don’t change these, you will never get ahead.
No matter what you do or how much progress you appear to make, you’ll always fail when one of these things catch up to you. This is the same reason that many lottery winners go broke. The lumpsum gets them ahead, but they still have the same habits, mindset, and environment.
If you want to fix your life, you’ll need to correct deficiencies in these areas. If you aren’t sure where your holes are, rely on the feedback you got from seeking out the tough love then get to work immediately.
If you know that you need to stop drinking so much, stop drinking. If you know that you need to learn a skill to make more money, learn the skill. The most difficult part of this step is also the one that will yield the greatest result: changing your environment.
While I don’t believe you can move away from your problems, many of your bad habits are triggered by the people and places you spend the most time around. There is no easy “life hack” to avoid this. You must simply distance yourself from the environment and people that reinforce the worst in you.
7. Develop a monetizable skill
A major reason why your life is a mess is because you’re broke. You’re broke because you lack marketable skills. As a result, you’re forced to take low-paying, dead end service work with lousy conditions and that isn’t interesting or challenging. It’s the type of work a monkey could do.
Not only does it affect your personal finances, but your emotions and self-esteem take a hit as well. It’s a special kind of hell to work most of your waking hours to have just enough money to be broke. It makes you hate life, yourself, and it kills your motivation to do better.
Hitting the gym was tough when I was drinking heavy. But even tougher than that was hitting the gym when I worked at T-Mobile. At the end of the work day, I was exhausted, frustrated, and didn’t feel like boxing. I felt trapped, and this sapped my motivation in all things.
This feeling of hopelessness is what ultimately drove me to enlist in the military and start developing skills to make myself more valuable. If boxing didn’t work out, I didn’t want to be stuck working as a customer service rep for the rest of my life.
If you want to improve your life, you need to develop a skill. It doesn’t have to be fancy, elaborate, or rare. It could entail working on a side business or learning a trade. The specifics don’t matter, so long as you’re learning something people are willing to pay money for.
Not only will you earn more cash, but you’ll also boost your self-esteem.
You’ll finally develop the unique confidence that stems from knowing you will always be able to put food on the table and pay your bills.
8. Learn from your past
For most of human history, the minimum requirement for survival was the ability to learn from your past. In fact, one of the things that set us apart from other animals is that not only can we learn from our own past, we can also learn from others’ past.
You’re equipped with the most sophisticated learning mechanism in the world, and yet… You keep doing the same thing, each time expecting a different result.
Start learning from your mistakes. No one gets it right the first time. No one expects you to get it completely right the second or third time either. However, each iteration should be a dramatic improvement over the previous effort.
Part of the learning process is self-reflection and analysis. You must be able to break down and dispassionately explain to yourself where you went wrong and what mistakes you made.
Additionally, you need outside input. This is why I stressed the importance of tough love earlier in this post: other people will have valuable insight and advice for you, and you need to be able to absorb it.
Make sure you treat all things in your life this way.
You should be constantly learning from your past — both your successes and failures. If you make the same mistake twice, you didn’t learn your lesson the first time.
Failure to learn will prevent you from changing anything substantive in your life.
9. Have specific goals
Aiming to accomplish something specific forces you to confront whatever is holding you back. Trying to achieve a specific goal also galvanizes your actions and mindset toward a particular task.
This is important for two reasons:
It forces you to be disciplined. You’ll have to consider how each thing you do — or don’t do — will help you get closer to your goal. The mere act of pursuing a clear goal forces you to be proactive rather than reactive.
It replaces the bad habits which ruined your life. By taking deliberate constructive action, you make it difficult to behave self-destructively. Every time you work out, save money, or hone your skills, you’re spending time which would otherwise have been wasted eating junk food, blowing your money on bullshit, or drinking the night away. Even if you don’t reach it, merely pursuing a goal keeps you from doing shit that will ruin your life.
10. Let the right kind of fear drive you
Many of us live in fear of what will happen if we fail in our efforts. We fear others will ridicule us, we fear we will feel silly, and we fear we will end up even worse than our current position.
This can be paralyzing.
To our monkey brains, maintaining the status quo feels safer, more predictable. But we ignore something important:
If you don’t change, the best case scenario is that you’ll grow old and die as the exact same person you are today. The more likely scenario is that your bad habits continue to escalate, making your life worse as time marches on.
This desire for change is a powerful motivator, but even more potent is the fear that you’ll grow old as the exact same person you are today. Even if you remain stagnant, you’ll degrade because human behavior is subject to inflation. If you’re doing the same things at 33 that you were at 23, you’re a failure.
Do you want to suddenly wake up when you’re 60 or 70, only to discover that you’ve wasted your life away?
To me, that’s a terrifying prospect.
Fear is a far more powerful motivator than the desire for change. Each day that passes without change leads you further away from the good life. Each day your bad habits gain more momentum, making them more difficult to change.
The sooner you get started on the hard work of fixing your life, the easier it will be.
These are the steps required to fix your life, whether you’re in deep shit or you’re just generally dissatisfied with your position in life. They’re the steps I took to go from an alcoholic loser with no prospects, to a truly productive member of society with a fulfilling life.
You have the roadmap. Will you take action, or will you choose to remain a loser? It’s up to you.
Good luck and talk soon,