When I was at the university, I considered myself good at playing tennis. The truth was, my backhand sucked. I hated my practice partner for always exploiting my weakness and hardly ever playing the ball to my strength. Hold that thought.
In 2019, I lost my dad. I was thousands of miles away when I got the news and couldn’t get to his funeral on time. Life seemed to have hit rock bottom. I had barely recovered from the shock when one year later, I lost my job.
In the middle of the pandemic – a crisis the humanity had not seen in over a hundred years, I found myself orphaned and jobless with a gaping hole in my income statement and zero savings. I was the only income earner in a small household. On the phone, my ears went numb to the legal jargon that followed the declaration; “Your position is being eliminated due to the pandemic…” That was exactly 14 days after I and my family had moved to a new house and two days before my first mortgage payment would come due. A two-minute phone call was what my seven years of blood, sweat and tears had amounted to in the end. So, there I was, back to square one, nearly two decades after starting what seemed like a promising career.
More importantly, I was at a crossroads; I could either start applying for jobs once again and find myself among thousands of candidates counting on the hiring manager’s charity to get that prized interview call, or I could chart a different path for myself – one that would be less disastrous for my self-esteem. I had no time to waste. The very next day following the ill-fated call, I had made up my mind. I decided to take the red pill.
I knew that the path to emancipation was going to be rife with uncertainties, disappointments, betrayals, and a ton of self-questioning. But that was fine. I was mentally and physically prepared to take the unsettling, yet inevitable roller coater ride no entrepreneur can fight shy of. The only emotion I refused to feel was regret.
Since the day the news broke out, I found my cell phone mostly silent. There were no calls and no texts. People who until a week ago were eager to get a few minutes with me on the phone stopped picking up my calls. The newcomers to Canada who I had helped find work during the past eight years stopped replying to my texts. My emails to my ex-colleagues landed in a bottomless pit. Most relatives and friends suddenly got too busy to have a conversation. But that was fine too.
In fact, it was better than fine. It was amazing! I felt relieved to have learned the cold hard truth early on. I could finally move on; and I did. For the next one year, my interactions got limited to a select few people. It was mostly those who I hardly interacted with since I moved to Canada almost nine years ago, like the random acquaintance someone had once introduced me to and the guy I had met only a couple of times at events and get-togethers.
While the dark clouds of economic uncertainty loomed over my head, I would work 14-hour shifts at my kitchen table to create a business from scratch. Fighting the temptation to apply for jobs similar to the ones I held in the past, was harder than I thought. Sometimes, I would take a nap for just a couple of hours a day, eager to get back to work. The sound of the ice cream truck outside would remind me that I had not eaten for hours, and I would head into the kitchen to grab a quick peanut butter sandwich. I was the CEO, CMO, CTO, COO and the janitor all at once. I was over the moon. By the end of the first four months, I had created and enacted the business plan, I had set up the company, opened offices in three countries, had key international partnerships going and started getting paid clients. I was able to do all that with virtually zero investment.
My international education business was now ready to roll with direct and indirect partnerships with over 1,500 schools in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Australia, a team of licensed immigration consultants and certified English language trainers, and sales support in three countries, complete with an awesome website, workflow application, IVR system and buzzing social media presence. Finally, after one year of keeping my nose to the grindstone, I had some semblance of economic normalcy in life and was well on my way to grow my income past the old levels.
I’m telling you all this because there are lessons in this for all of us. In hindsight, I had gotten an experience of a lifetime. Today, I value my failures more than my successes. What I have learned over the past 12 months far outweighs everything I learned over the last whole decade.
In a way, nature had played to my weakness. God wanted me to pay attention to my blind spot and practice that pitiable backhand I was too arrogant to admit was my weakness. In nature, I had finally found the best partner to play with, and I was grateful. So, as I continue working on my shot, here are ten lessons I would like to pass on to you:
1. There are no guarantees in life
It is human nature to only expect good things when you are in your comfort zone. No one prepares for the rainy day, no one cares about creating a second source of income or getting an extra insurance. Whether or not you are prepared for the worst, know that there are no guarantees in life. And it is not a sad story. Regardless of how prepared or unprepared you are, life will knock you over when you least expect it. When it happens, get ready to practice that backhand.
2. No one owes you anything
It was wrong of me to expect anything from anyone. Maybe I didn’t know anything better to do than to talk to those I had considered friends. Maybe I was weak. But the truth is, no one owed me anything. I am not saying you should not knock on the door and ask for help when you need it. That is the smart thing to do. At the very least, it helps you know who your friends are and who are not. But do not expect people to answer your call for help when you have nothing to offer them in return. Even better, to save yourself from a debilitating heartbreak, do not expect anything from anyone.
3. High rewards call for taking high risks
There are no shortcuts in life. Most success stories you read about were in the making for years; the rest are a product of privilege. There is no joy in playing small. It is a waste of the talents you have been given. So reach for the moon and give it all you have. In doing that, you might be risking everything that has kept you confined to your comfort zone for years – a good salary, roof over your head, food on the table, savings in your bank and more – do it anyway.
4. It is never too late to take the leap of faith
The world seems to be obsessed with rewarding young achievers. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that but it has gotten to a point where achieving success later in life is played down if not looked down on. That can be a dangerous precedent to create for anyone, young or not. For example, most private and public start-up funding is focused on youth and there is a dearth of support for people transitioning to another career or business at an older age. This discourages many to even think of starting a half-ambitious venture in their late 30’s or 40’s. On the other hand, there are a ton of success stories that inspire us to take the big leap of faith regardless of the life stage you are at. The key is to shut your eyes and mind to the systemic prejudice based on age and leverage whatever strengths and opportunities you have at present.
5. Who you rely on is completely your own choice
Life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. There might be people out there who are jealous of your success; some might even wish you would fail. In fact, if you have done anything significant or meaningful in life, odds are that there would be quite a few people who don’t like you. However, if in your infinite innocence, you decide to call them and tell them you are struggling in life, it is likely they would react in ways that might surprise you. Wish them well and move on. Do not get hung up on their lack of empathy.
6. If you stick it out long enough, things will work out in the end
Keep your eyes on the prize and be flexible about how you get there. You have come a long way and you are not sure how long you can go on. Things do not seem to be working out. I get it. I have been there. Often times, you do not know how far or how close you are to your destination. Know that all it takes is hanging in there and seeing it through, and you will eventually be glad you did not give up. Focus on your micro successes and be grateful for the opportunity to move forward, even if you are just taking baby steps. Keep going.
7. Do not go after the bling
The most unglamorous things are usually the most important ones in any undertaking. Do not get disenchanted by a bunch of boring stuff on your to-do list. Instead, get done with them as soon as possible so that you have a good foundation to move to sexier things. A fancy house without functional plumbing is worthless. It might attract onlookers, but you are unlikely to be able to sell it, let alone fetch a good price for it. Put your head down and work to build something of value and the bling will come.
8. Finding your niche is finding yourself
Do not get overwhelmed by a million ideas. It will paralyze you. When you are looking for purpose in life, look no further than inside your heart. Find your passion; something you will do without caring for the money. Paradoxically, that is exactly the thing that will help you make money. Just try and come up with the best way to convert your passion into something practical that people will care about. It might be something specific to your expertise, interest and aspiration. If it helps solve a problem for enough people, you will find hoards of like-minded folks that care about it.
9. Be willing to give up part of today for tomorrow
It takes years to achieve overnight success – that is years of missed picnics, parties and fun. You should be willing to give up instant gratification and build discipline in life to achieve a higher goal in the future. If you are unwilling to sacrifice something of value today to achieve something of greater value tomorrow, you do not want it hard enough.
10. Find positivity and be grateful
Look for people who stand by you and do not hold grudges against those who don’t. Trust me, it is not worth it. People will disparage you, doubt you and want you to fail. When you are trying to do something worthwhile, it comes with the territory. But if you stick it out long enough, the people who love and support you will far outnumber those who let you down. Your time and energy are better spent doing more of what created that love and support instead of seeking vengeance. So look for positivity around you. Find people who believe in you and show them your utmost gratitude.
Facing these challenges has been an uplifting experience psychologically and spiritually. In fact, it has been enlightening on so many levels; it has opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibility. It seems like nature hit the reset button in my mind to bring about a paradigm shift in the way I see the world and my place in it. Compared to a couple of years ago, I care less for outcomes and more for doing my part. I care less for achieving success and more for creating an impact. I care less for things and more for people. It took losing my father and my career in middle of the pandemic to rediscover myself, and I am grateful where it got me.