Stop Sabotaging Your Life, 3 Steps To your Full Potential
Not long ago, I was just like you: stuck, bored, without passion. On paper, I had it all. At thirty years old, I’d long since made the right turns off the dead-end, one-way street I’d started down during my teens. I’d found my way into the corporate fast lane at Johnson & Johnson, outsourcing global IT services to India, and I earned decent money. I worked hard, but my stripped-down life—I lived in a hotel room for two years—left me with a lot of down time.
I filled that free time with a self-help crash course of my own design, devouring self-help books and videos that promised me success, wisdom, and wealth: the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, the One-Minute Millionaire, Principles of Success. I chewed my way through a buffet of business, psychology, marketing, and inspirational works—timeless standbys like How to Win Friends and Influence People and In Search of Excellence, and neoclassic must-reads like The Tipping Point and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.
I wasn’t looking for ways to add money to my life so much as value. I’m far from the first, and I won’t be the last, to search for the elusive “meaning of life,” and I think the meaning is different for each of us. All I knew was that I found myself pacing the halls of Johnson & Johnson thinking that there had to be more to my life than just resetting the bar every time I reached a goal, gathering titles and raises until I could “safely” retire.
The traditional model was not for me. There was just no way I could buy into the nose-to-the-grindstone theory of success. I wasn’t afraid of hard work; I just didn’t want to put off enjoying my life while I worked my assets off until “retirement age” (whatever that is). So I searched for answers, convinced that by crunching together all those magic numbers— 4-hour work-week, one-minute management, seven habits of highly effective people —I would learn what to do and how to do it.
I did, but I didn’t learn it from reading. I learned it by observing—and then by doing.
Now I’m sharing it with you.
Never Say Never
When I was fifteen, my parents decided that the family should leave downtown Toronto and move about an hour north of the city. Their intentions were good, but from my perspective, it was a total disaster. Maybe it was hearing one of my new teachers say, “You’ll never amount to anything,” and maybe it was just having to leave behind everyone and everything I knew and start over in suburbia, but for whatever reason, I just dropped out of school.
My dad screamed at me that I’d never get a high-paying job and never be a success, and I didn’t argue. I just took the first thing I could find, working in a hotel restaurant, and didn’t think much about the future. My dad was wrong about the success, but right about the pay. In just a few short years, I was managing a busy downtown restaurant—not bad for a nineteen-year-old kid—but it was pretty clear that at most I’d top out at maybe $30k a year and have nowhere to go. So, I did what I saw a lot of other smart kids my age doing; I enrolled in vocational school, thinking I’d pick up a few computer skills and become just another high-tech millionaire.
Once again, I quit. I just didn’t do well in a school environment. I did, however, learn enough to talk a good game, and a friend from the restaurant got me an interview with the computer company where she worked part time. Amazingly, I got the job. For the first time, I started thinking I could do anything, be anything, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself—until I showed up the first day for work. I found myself staring at a blinking DOS prompt while a man with a pocket protector tried to walk me through the details of the job. My eyes glazed over and I broke into that classic “flop sweat,” certain I’d be revealed at any moment as a fraud.
I was saved by the phone.
A tech support call came in, and I stood in the background while the man patiently and methodically helped someone troubleshoot a problem. The minute it was lunchtime, I bolted and headed straight for the restaurant. Not to work—it wasn’t my shift yet. I made a beeline for the bar. I was a loser. I was a fraud.
I was still there two hours later, trying to decide whether to tell the computer company I quit or just never go back, when my cell phone rang. It was the director, wanting to know when I planned on returning. Cornered, I took a deep breath. “Never.” I braced myself for the screaming. It never came. Instead, the director invited me to come to his office.
When I slunk in a short while later, he waved me into a chair. Instead of staying behind his huge walnut desk, he came and perched on the edge, gazing down at me. I had expected him to be angry, but instead, all I saw in his face was concern and compassion.
“What makes you think quitting is the answer?” he asked gently.
“I can’t do the job.”
“Can you answer a phone? Can you read a screen? Have you ever used a computer?”
“Of course, but . . .”
“Then you can already do a big part of this job. As for the rest, you haven’t given it a chance,” he said.
“Sure I did!” I told him. “I arrived this morning at 9 a.m. and I left at noon. I tried for three hours. I gave it a chance.”
He shook his head. “Bruno, giving a job like this a ‘chance’ means trying for three to six weeks, not three to six hours. You have no idea if you can do this job or not, because you didn’t really give it your best effort,” he said. “You just gave up.”
“I was wrong to take the job,” I said. “I’m not qualified.”
“You don’t know everything—yet. But if you quit now, you’ll always be a quitter.”
“So what am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know what kind of life experiences you’ve had, but clearly someone took away your power to choose for yourself. I don’t know who or what convinced you that you can’t think for yourself, but if you keep on thinking you have no control, you never will. If I were you, I’d challenge those beliefs—take back control. Otherwise, you’ll put yourself in a small box and live there for the rest of your life believing you are not ‘good enough, smart enough,’ all that. You are more than capable of doing this job, or else I wouldn’t have hired you. Now get on out there and make it happen.”
I thought about that for a minute, remembering both my teacher and my dad telling me essentially that I was a loser and always would be a loser. I had believed them.
“How do I take back control?” I asked.
“Challenge yourself. You can do this. You think I would have hired you if you couldn’t do this job?”
In two minutes, he erased all those negative tapes I’d been playing back in my head—the ones that told me I’d never amount to anything, never be a success, or make a good living. Until then, all I’d heard, and repeated back to myself, was that if I couldn’t do something perfectly, I shouldn’t even try. Here was someone saying exactly the opposite: never say never.
It changed my life.
I went on to write the company’s support desk training manual for new hires, all of whom came in as I had—not knowing everything, but knowing enough to get started, and ready to learn.
That one conversation gave me the push I needed to go from just showing up to actually taking part in my own life. I used that momentum a few years later when I accepted a three-month contract position at a pharmaceutical company that’s part of a huge family of companies. My job was to manage the pharmaceutical company’s computer assets—literally, to keep track of the physical locations of all the firm’s laptops and PCs—while the person whose job it was normally was out on sick leave, which meant learning and using someone else’s tracking system.
Actually, to call what the company was using when I arrived a “system” is to glorify the overwhelmingly complicated paper-based procedural nightmare. What they used was nothing more than a name and a serial number on a packing slip from the vendor—nothing at all electronic. I was only supposed to be there for three months, and I was just supposed to keep things moving until the real manager came back to work. So of course, I immediately started making changes.
I’ve already confessed that the amount of time and effort I spent at CDI, the computer school I attended, was brief—just seven months, although I did learn to code in C++. But while I was there, I also learned enough about Microsoft Access that one of the first things I did at the pharmaceutical company was scrap the inefficient paper-based tracking system and develop a computer-based asset management program. I was savvy enough about how things worked to include a depreciation field in the interface and make it easier to keep tabs on various vendors’ pricing plans.
One of the first things I noticed when I got the system running was that one of the vendors had been routinely overcharging the company, getting three times the usual amount for a notebook and not passing on the manufacturers’ global pricing. I called the vendor and asked him if he knew about this. He seemed to have no idea what I was talking about. I asked if he would be willing to come in so we could discuss my concerns and figure out how we could fix things. As we talked, I decided that it probably wasn’t a case of his company deliberately trying to take advantage but, more likely, that his company’s tracking system was just as inefficient and unwieldy as ours. So I told the vendor that effective immediately he needed to start passing on the manufacturers’ discounts to us, and that on top of that, he owed our company a rebate retroactive to the beginning of the year. The vendor was a little taken aback that I would be so assertive, but he did agree to the new terms. We shook hands and parted on very friendly terms.
That afternoon, I got an angry phone call from my IT director summoning me to his office. I sat there shaking while he slammed a stack of files on the desk and turned various shades of red. I braced for the onslaught. “I just got a call from my friend at this company,” the director said. “He told me that some smartass new kid here made some changes, and that although he would cut a check today for the rebate, he was not at all happy.”
I stared at my shoes and said nothing.
The director took the top folder off the stack—the notebook vendor’s file. He shook it at me. “You’re that smartass kid. And you’re just a short-timer, a contractor.” He scowled. “Who gave you the authority to even speak to a vendor, let alone call him in and tell him he’s been overcharging us for years?”
“No one, sir. I . . . I just did what I thought was right.”
“No one gave you the authority to do this. I could have you fired for a stunt like this, you understand?” He dropped the folder in his hand onto the stack of other folders, which I noticed were all vendor files. He leaned forward. With a conspiratorial grin, he shoved the whole pile toward me. “Now get out of here—and go do it again with these guys.”
I wasn’t fired, but hired.
Let me help you help yourself
Okay, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Great, not another guy with a rags-to-riches story about overcoming adversity and reaching for the stars and every other supposedly inspirational cliché. So he made some good connections, lucked into the right place at the right time . . . how’s that going to help me?”
It’s not. You are going to help you. I’m just here to guide you. This book is not a cure-all. There is no secret formula, no magic pill that will make you happy, productive, and successful. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I’m on a mission. I want to see you living up to your fullest potential, a place where you have found happiness and discovered your true self. Some people try counseling and end up trapped on the therapy treadmill. Other people never see a therapist, but still end up in a tiresome process of navel-gazing that never leads to personal fulfillment. I’m tired of seeing people stuck like this, and I’m going to do something about it.
I won’t promise you that what I have to teach you will work in exactly ten weeks, or make you 99 percent happier, or triple your income, or give you washboard abs. I’m not offering a superficial makeover but a life change. Together we can bring about major emotional changes in your lifestyle and attitude that will let you step away from that therapy treadmill and set off on the path of healthy mental and emotional independence. My method, which I call the “Tri-Commitment to Success” (TCS) program, does work—providing you recognize that the key word is commitment. I can prove that it works. There’s a reason that I am well on my way to becoming Canada’s foremost life coach. I’ve been using the program myself for six years, during which time I have tuned it, tailored it, and tinkered with it to make it practical, more efficient, realistic, and lasting.
My goal is not to replace the never-ending cycle of therapy with a never-ending reliance on full-time life coaching. No. I want to coach you down off the therapy treadmill and onto the right track, teach you the proper warm-ups and stretches that will keep you limber, and run with you until you’ve found your rhythm and can keep pace on your own. Does that mean I will abandon you at the end? Absolutely not. If you want a life coach in your life for a week, a month, a year, or a lifetime, that’s up to you, and I am a firm believer in the wisdom of frequent reassessments. But the best reward you can give a successful life coach is a pink slip. When you no longer need me, I’ve done my job well. But I’ll always be there if you stumble and need someone to ease you back on track.
But enough talk. Time to get to work.