I got a question from a mother who is going through tough times on multiple fronts. If you join my email newsletter, you can reply to an email with your question, and I will try to help you.
As the title of this article hints, she realized that she’s not doing so well in many areas of life, even though she once was doing fine. Let’s call her Dana (not her real name).
I don’t tend to address issues like this because it requires professional help or something beyond my expertise or it attracts people I can’t help (or even if I want to). My content is focused on high achievers who can execute. But this time, I was compelled to answer (and post this with her permission) because it was emotional, genuine, and relatable. I started my journey in self-growth because I also was unhappy and subpar in many areas of life and wanted to get better.
There are occasional Reddit or Quora questions like this that have a theme like this, with “I’m overweight, depressed, broke, no friends, etc. what do I do?” It’s hard to fathom giving a good answer to that given how dark and hopeless it can seem, but maybe I can give some insight that will help them move in the right direction at least a little.
I’ve posted a shortened version of Dana’s question and my answer.
I’m 55 years old and a single mom of 3.
I have been divorced for just over 11 years. My oldest son has Aspergers. So this had kept me home for a good portion of his upbringing. He is now 21.
When I was younger, and I mean in my 20’s, I was confident, assertive, happy-go-lucky. I was a pursuer (head flight attendant on international flights for a prominent airline), I could make decisions quickly, without a second thought, no second guessing. And I never doubted myself. I always knew what I needed to do or wanted to do. No matter what it was in regards to. My life, health wise, relationship-wise, financial, family, etc.
I grew up pretty much alone. Living on my own since I was 16. I married at 28. My ex-husband was an alcoholic and emotionally abusive. This was the initial decent into depression for me.
I lost all my friends because I was not allowed to see anyone, in a round about way. We only hung out with his friends, or family.
So after a time, my friends stopped coming around.
Anyways, after years of emotional abuse, and becoming permanently disabled myself at 40, I divorced him.
I was so happy to be away from him. Having taken my kids away, to a happier place. It was a fresh start. But I started to realize I had no friends, most my family was in other areas of the country. And since I was disabled and with no money, well… it started to take its toll.
I am unable to work outside the home, so I didn’t have as much opportunity to meet people for friends or romantic relationships.
After one severely failed relationship, my depression started to spiral even more so. It’s hard to always be alone. And no matter how positive you try to be, when no one wants to be in a relationship with you because they are older and do not want younger children, especially someone else’s or they want a newer model (what I call younger women) and most women my age (for friendship) are too busy with their own crap.
So not only am I depressed, I have no one to talk to, I have lost all my friends, and I have no one in my life relationship wise, and the way I see myself and life has changed dramatically.
I am no longer the positive, quick thinking, know what I need to do person that I use to be. Half the time, I cant figure out what to wear every day. Or what to make for dinner.
My kids don’t talk to me, and have little or no respect for me.
So Will, if you can write an article about taking a person from the dumps and building them up to at least feeling some semblance of happiness and confidence again, I would very much appreciate it because I honestly don’t know where to start.
My Response (Updated for A More Complete Answer)
Thanks for the heartfelt message. Wow. I’m no miracle worker, and this seems to be a tough, complex situation. But I can try my best to help guide you (at least a little) towards the right path in some tiny way, shape, or form.
- emotionally distraught.
- socially awkward and super shy.
- earning close to minimum wage.
- frustrated and resentful about the world and women.
- feeling like I didn’t have any friends I can hang out with on a regular basis.
- physically unhealthy with a poor diet and horrific sleep schedule.
- lacking much of a social or dating life. I was invisible to most women.
- lacking much fun in my daily life outside of what the Internet could provide me.
- confused and lost with what to do for a career because I still didn’t no what my passion was and didn’t feel like I had any skills I could use to find a job I liked.
If you put it all together like that, it looks bad. It was a dark time. And now, I’m happy, healthy, fit, have a career I like, and have more friends. I’m still not “there” yet, but I’m content, grateful, and I’ve come a long way. I was fortunate enough to not be so screwed up that there was no point of return.
First, it’s great that in the past, you had your life and happiness together. Scientists have discovered that people have a happiness base set point, which they’ll generally come back to despite negative or positive life events. This governs 60% of your happiness, which you can’t change. That’s a sign that your setpoint, at least originally, was high.
You had your life together at one point, which is some hope since you’ve done it before, so maybe you can do it again (or at least get close).
Another thing is that you have an ability to make friends. Sure, bad life events (your husband) may have unfairly taken that opportunity away from you in the past. But you were able to naturally make friends once upon a time, which many people aren’t able to. You have the innate ability within you. And now, you’ve made the choice to part from someone prohibiting you from having friends, which gives you the opportunity to make friends again and reconnect with old friends via Facebook and other means.
The first thing I recommend is to find what you can be grateful for and what you can control. We tend to over focus on the bad and forget all the good stuff we’ve accomplished. I definitely do. During this time, I forgot about the things I can control. I was also:
- kind and friendly.
- always a harder worker than 99% of my class.
- had moments where I made my fitness and sleep schedule were on point.
- achieved success in school.
- cheerful and positive to others I interacted with most of the time.
You get better at this the more you learn about the world. After reading about history (Sapiens is a must-read) and what’s going on right now in third world countries, you realize that by almost every metric, entertainment, pregnancy, longevity, food access, death, poverty, war, disease, etc., we have it better than the richest people on earth a few decades ago.
I can lecture to you about it, but it’s more real if you find out about it on your own. These are some suggestions: volunteering, using the Internet, watching documentaries, talking to people struggling locally, try it all.
It definitely seemed like you were on top of your game in your twenties. I fully believe that you can reach that state again. It also seems like you’ve had some unexpected challenges later in life.
Brian Tracy has a great quote for this. He says that unsuccessful people don’t plan for the challenges that are bound to always come and if they do, they try to avoid them. It’s not that successful people expect to avoid all challenges. They simply expect them to come and deal with them appropriately.
That brings me to my second point. Surround yourself 100% of the time with podcasts, audiobooks, videos, and articles from successful, positive people. I can’t list out all the mindset shifts, ideas, and positive mental benefits have come out of years of doing this because there are so many. But it’s so worth it.
You get new perspectives, like the one I just mentioned with Brian Tracy. Thanks to that one idea. I now expect bad things to happen to me in the future. I know they will happen at some point no matter what. I’m ready and prepared for them. In the past, I used to hide for them.
I remember spending my nights alone at a $10 per month Planet Fitness. Those nights were lonely and sometimes, I felt hopeless. I knew I was young and had my life to turn things around but the emotional side of me still wouldn’t believe it.
Listening to success-themed podcasts at that time helped so much. What’s funny was it sometimes wasn’t even the content. The simple positivity that came out of Pat Flynn or Russell Brunson’s voice during podcasts helped me from getting down on my self. I think it was because they gave me hope that I could one day live a happy life like them.
There are plenty of free podcasts to choose from where they interview millionaires and people who may have started worse than you. There’s Mixergy, Entrepreneur on Fire, Eventual Millionaire, Addicted 2 Success, The School of Greatness, The Art of Charm, and many more.
Learn from people who are where you are (or worse) but got to where you want to (or better). Then, do what they did. Gary Vaynerchuk says everyone can find someone like this, which should destroy all excuses they have. I wouldn’t say this is always true (The Rock said he didn’t know a blueprint of previous Black Samoan wrestlers trying to get into Hollywood), but you can find people who are at least similar if you search.
One person who may help a lot is James Altucher. He’s gone through the ringer as well and come out on top. He’s made millions and lost it all numerous times. He’s been a psychological wreck. He’s been severely depressed. Yet he’s made it through it all and he’s back on top, wealthy, and happy. His book Choose Yourself was made for people like you. There are some great stories and exercises that can boost your mood and happiness right now.
He felt like a wreck and realized even if you think you have nothing, you have something to give. He started helping people. He had time and a healthy mind.
Give as value as to others without asking for anything back. If you do this with people worse off than you or people who are successful and can help you later in life, you start realizing the blessings you’re taking for granted, you start feeling better, and you get more of what you want later down the line.
His blog and podcast aren’t bad either. You can find those at jamesaltucher.com.
Don’t turn disability into an excuse. Helen Keller was blind and mute, yet she had her mind. She changed the world despite her obstacles.
These two articles were written by a blogger called Jon Morrow, a man paralyzed from the face-down who had to go through the most painful events imaginable in a hospital growing up. He overcame that to become a multi-millionaire business owner. He breaks down how he did it with a list of actionable, surprising tips:
His interview on the James Altucher podcast also shook me to my core with other stories and reminded me that there were people that were worse off than me:
If you want an article from me on similar issues, I wrote one on Steven Aitchison’s site..
After hearing hundreds of stories of people who were worse off than me and went on to do better (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Slyvestor Stallone, etc.), it changed my attitude. I also learned to see all the things I was grateful for but took for granted (being born in the U.S. rather than any of the other hundreds of countries out there).
As far as dating goes, The Mating Grounds podcast helped a lot for me. It’s for males, but there are many episodes with advice applicable for females too.
For example, they taught me about compromising and mate value. Rather than to have ridiculous over-the-top standards based on what you can offer, it’s sometimes important to compromise slightly.
In one episode, a man phoned in who was divorced and already pretty old. They told him that you have to sometimes compromise in life. Maybe he couldn’t get the 20 year old women he wanted but he could get an older woman who had a child. Or he could move to a city with better demographics (a better mating market) and improve what he had to offer (his mating value).
For you, it may mean compromising on who you can get in a competitive dating world. We can’t all get beautiful supermodels or superstar husbands. But that doesn’t mean we have to stoop to an abusive relationship. Perhaps, it means settling for a man who is a bit older and is divorced but a great guy. The podcast goes into more detail, but they suggest creating a strategic plan (What are my strengths? What type of guy do I want? Where will guys like that hang out who value my strengths? Then, go there.)
Focus on what you can control and take action now on improving those areas; don’t worry about what you can’t do.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. – Theodore Roosevelt
For example, if the only thing you had to start trending in the right direction was time and your body, why not start exercising? Start with one minute a day of walking. Then, turn it into two minutes over the course of the next month. Then, three.
You never know, you may eventually become a role model in fitness. You may even run a marathon. People you bump into may even ask you to coach them. Heck, it may even turn into a fitness empire. You never know. It’s happened before and it’s not the craziest thing to occur.
Maybe none of that will happen but you’ll still be healthier, more attractive, and more focused than you were before. You’ll at least be trending in the right direction.
Never underestimate the power of persistence. You may have more years in your life than you think and you never know what may change in your favor in a complicated world with many factors you didn’t consider at play.
Elon Musk was asked if he would have given up after his last rocket ship attempt. He had put all his money into this last attempt. His response? Never. He would only stop if he were dead or completely incapacitated.
“Defeat is a state of mind; no one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.” -Bruce Lee
To give you an example of this mentality, if I could only stay in my room and the only thing I could do was improve my writing, I would do everything I could to become a master of writing, then leverage the internet and social media so I could help as many people as possible.
Stephen Hawking and Helen Keller are great examples that physical limitations don’t hold people back as much as they did in the past. Helen was blind and mute and Stephen can’t move.
And you may argue that they were geniuses and you’re not. But I’m not asking for you to change the world (though I think you and most people can if they want to). You can do things a little bit better than you currently are though. Baby steps. Will Smith says you don’t set out to build a wall. You just try to lay the most perfect brick possible first.
It may be as simple as spending two extra minutes to list out what you’re grateful for. You can turn your life around.
There are countless Quora questions of people in worse situations than us.
I don’t believe I can really help these people much or want to. From personal experience, it requires a Herculean amount of work to help someone else out of it, let alone myself. I feel like I was able to hold on and get moving because at my core, I was still a sane, positive, ambitious person. Some of these people could be so mentally unhinged or down in a hole that there is no return. I’m not sure.
But I couldn’t help but respond and try to give some guidance just this once.
You may forget everything I just said. But the one tip I hope you remember is to just take one tiny step forward every day that improves your mental health, happiness, physical health, or wealth. Just focus on the next step forward. One tiny step at a time. And when you can do more than one thing, do two.
Just slowly start trending in the right direction. I have a whole article on happiness you can draw from.
In conclusion, I would crawl and work on fixing one small thing at a time. You may want to start with something like making friends, since social relationships are a keystone to success and happiness in many other areas. It can be as simple as taking twenty minutes to go to a hiking group you found on Meetup.com once a month. Then, when you’re comfortable, expand it to once a week. And then, maybe start exercising for ten ten minutes or eating healthier. And slowly but surely build from there.
You never know. Before you know it, you could be a lot more attractive, fit, sociable and comfortable.
For some of your deeper problems, I suggest seeking professional help. A good psychiatrist can do wonders. There are also plenty of great books on depression, social anxiety, and dealing with negative thoughts.
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale
- Hillbilly Elegy
- Man’s Search for Meaning
- The How of Happiness
- Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis
Conclusion (I’m Not Saying You Should Just Watch Positivity Porn)
If you think the only tip that came out of this article was to surround yourself with positivity or unattainable heroes, you skimmed this article and missed some major points.
Here’s some of what was missed:
Dwelling on the past or worrying about the future only matters if you use it to change what you can in the present. The present is all you can influence.
Yes, surrounding yourself with positive, successful people while avoiding negative people helps. It’s what prevented Jon Morrow from falling into the abyss of hopelessness that his peers who had the same disease he did were trapped in. But I’m not saying the only step you should take is to sing kumbaya alone.
Start doing. Regardless of your disability, you can do a lot more than you think right now to change your situation. Stephen Hawking, Helen Keller, and Jon Morrow are just a few examples. If you can type with your fingers, that’s better than only being able to twitch your face. What a time to be alive. Thanks to technology, there’s so much possibility if you’ll stop feeling sorry for yourself and start looking.
Use the tips linked — by everyone I talked about: James Altucher, Jon Morrow, and so on. There are science-backed happiness exercises we can all take right now to improve our well-being.
I had one day woken up to find myself in a rut in many areas of life, happiness, social relationships, personal life, dating life, health, fitness, and career. But I refused to give up because that was the easy, loser’s way out. That was what the negative people in the world want. I chose to slowly crawl towards victory and prove the world wrong. You can live the life of your dreams.
Dana Followed Up With A Surprising Status Update
After I responded to Dana, she thanked me and said she was already doing some of my advice (mainly listening to podcasts) and will do some more of what I suggested.
“Sometimes when we are alone too long, we forget the strength we have and what we can actually do until someone reminds us and gives us that courage to move forward.”
I didn’t think I would hear much from her afterwards because words can only do so much and it’s up to her to take action on them. But she surprised me! She wrote in a couple months later telling me how she is executing on her goals and in a much happier place! I am so excited for her. Here’s what she said:
A while ago you reached out to your readers, asking what they would like to see you write about.
Although at the time, I had not heard of you, I had stumbled across you through Michal Stawicki who was very impressed by you so I took a look. And happened to send you an encapsulated (notice I didn’t say brief? Lol) version of part of my life. (Disabled, 3 children, depressed?)
And you responded to me, which to be quite frank, I was surprised! I am sure you are very busy, and to me, this shows immediately the type of person you are. I try very hard not to judge a book by its cover.
I just wanted to tell you that even though I am always very busy and have much work to do on myself and my life, I am doing much better.
For the first time since long before my ex and I divorced, I can honestly say I almost do not feel depressed. If at all, it’s very slight. And even though I would like a companion in my life, I am very comfortable in my shoes right now, and HAPPY!
I have joined a group with people my age for just women and one that’s coed.
I also bought my first pair of hiking boots and poles and am intent on hiking, even if I fall flat on my face! (Partially paralyzed leg? If you don’t remember…lol) I will be with a group that is pretty forgiving about that!
So I just wanted to say thank you, for taking time to sit down and give advice to someone you have never met, to reach out, and not let me give up.
I didn’t… I just wanted you to know you were a part of that.
I am so happy that for once in her life, she is feeling different and moving in a different direction. A social hobby is the best of many worlds because by doing one thing, you are expanding your social life, dating life, passions, and doing something you’re interested in. Plus, if you choose a fitness related hobby, like hiking, you can also improve your physique and health. All at once.
She has been keeping me updated with more follow-up emails on her progress. Other than her ability to take action, I think Dana is improving while others aren’t because she believes she can have a better life. She has some shred of hope left that there’s untapped potential in her to live a better life. And she understands that your thoughts and beliefs make up who you are and what you can become.
She sent me a quote I want to share:
“I am aware that I am less than some people prefer me to be, but most people are unaware that I am so much more than what they see.” -Aysayako
In Dana’s words, she said:
We are what we make of ourselves. We only have to believe in ourselves (and sometimes need just a little help from a friend).
I truly believe that we all have massive untapped potential to live incredible lives earning a lot of money, loving what we do, having incredible relationships with friends and lovers, and being incredibly good at a craft. We just never get close to reaching that potential because we don’t have take the right actions or have the right mindset. That’s what this blog and personal development is there for — to guide you.
I’m still patiently crawling through my obstacles and it’s tough some times. It’s challenging. There is darkness. But hopefully, I can share some of what I learned to work along the way that may help others.
Never give up and put one foot in front of the other. Do one tiny extra each task each day to improve my problems and reach your goals because it will start to snowball, especially if you choose something that hits multiple areas at once. It can be reading a few pages of a book on psychology and dealing with trauma. It can be just going to a social event I didn’t want to go to. It could be going to a gym.
Dana responded another time with a Thank You letter I am so happy about:
I appreciate your positivity and support.
It’s surprising how much the smallest kindness can do and how far it can go. You probably had no idea that simply listening to me, by validating what was going on in my life by responding and taking time out of your busy schedule to offer not only a friendly word of advice, but some guidance in where to go and what to do (something that certain people I had always considered friends were even unable to do or did not do for that matter.)
So as you can see it meant a great deal. You may not know how much something like that can affect someone when you have been emotionally abused and made to feel as if you are worthless and undeserving.
I am continuing on with my growth. I also volunteer at the cancer infusion center by my home. This has given me great joy. It’s something I have always loved doing. Volunteering. The people are amazing. It is all relative Will, we are what we make of ourselves. We only have to believe in ourselves (and sometimes need just a little help from a friend.)
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