Do you ever think about decisions you have made that have shaped your life? These decisions you can look back on with regret or happiness depending, on the outcome. During 2014, I made some monumental decisions, which, in hindsight, would create a sequence of events that saw me hit rock bottom. These decisions would see me lose a business, friends, a whole professional network, the family home, credibility, and a large part of my own identity. It is true what they say, it takes 20 years to build your credibility and only 20 minutes to ruin it. These decisions were made during a time of great personal stress, but that’s no excuse for my actions.
Over the past 6 years, I wore those actions both internally/externally and based all life decisions on the outcome of a decision that was yet to come. More about that later. Believe me when I say that feelings of anxiety, worry, self-doubt, judgment, anger, and resentment do not make for a productive and healthy life. When you let the suffering consume you, it impacts everything you do.
These steps are lived experiences and detail the impact that decisions can make on your ability to progress through life after a major f**k up. They are not based on self-help or motivation guides, but rather the shit you must wade through if you want to come out the other side, no matter the outcome.
1. The pre-event
It takes years to develop and understand your trait’s values and beliefs. These are internal tools that guide your decisions and direction. They form part of who you are, and how others see you both personally and professionally. So, if you know these form part of your identity, why would you make decisions that challenge every one of them? No answer fits all. However, in my situation, these decisions were driven by financial stress.
To those who have fallen into debt, lost their homes, lost their business, or living month to month in worry, you might understand. When you feel the walls are closing in, and you see no way out. Stop. Do not make decisions when under duress. It took me six years to learn this is the fast track to nowhere. Do not sit in nowhere if you want to live in a positive mental state. In no way does that excuse my actions (nor do I seek any sympathy). These decisions cost me a hell of a lot in every area of life you can imagine (or not) if you haven’t experienced it before. The decisions I made in 2014 destroyed a large part of my life by the end of 2015. The impact of that was to last until the COVID-19 crisis of 2020. Remember what I said about making decisions under duress.
2. F**k, it’s happened.
When I made the decisions I made, I knew it was a battle of me against time until the alarm was raised. Living with a feeling of dread is the worse place you can be. Try walking around with shoes made of concrete, your mind fighting internal battles, and your stomach positioned around your knees somewhere. You know the news is going to break, but are trying to prepare plans on how you protect yourself and your family. Those plans mean f**k all, once news breaks. The news travels far and wide, some parts true, the others — well, let’s just say the community grapevine, social media and those with an agenda live for these moments. Did I hear someone say, town crier? You feel you are batting for the Red Sox (baseball team) but there are too many pitchers from every direction. The real facts, story, and context of the decisions, no one cares about. No, what they thrive on, is the fallout.
3. The stories you tell yourself.
Now, I’m not here to make excuses for any decisions I made in life. I own those decisions and I’m fully accountable for them. When you make decisions that you know in real terms have serious consequences you start fighting internal battles through story. These stories are part of how you cope with stress. If you get into the habit of making excuses and manifesting alibis you are on the road to the dark side. What does that mean? You start generating feelings of self-doubt, which impacts your confidence, self-esteem, and motivation to take action. Now, this sounds like a path you should avoid. However, I sat in it for 18 months. Avoid these actions at all costs. Why would you make decisions based on all the negativity you have let into your thoughts? Read the previous sentence again twice. Once you have dealt with all the punches you can take, you need to get into action mode right away. Instead of negative self-talk, you need to start finding positives. What they are you need to decide.
4. Managing everything.
How can you provide for your family when you know the decisions you have made will have serious consequences on your earning potential? Not only are you restricted in applying for a job that matches your skills. You will also be impacted by any job you apply for. So what do you do? You take what job you can find and deal with it. Now, this requires serious soul searching. Forget about pride, that’s laying by the roadside. You need to cut living expenses by 50%, which is a hard pill to swallow when you have growing children. But, needs must. The strain on relationships with family, friends, and wider networks would require a new manual to be devised. Let’s just say you experience emotions you didn’t know you had. However, you need to talk to people, or that worry, stress, and anxiety will develop into a depressed state.
5. Sign here for minimum wage.
Over the past 20 years, I have built skills, knowledge, and experience both academically and professionally in many sectors to a senior level. Sounds Great. Now, when the shit hits the fan, and you need work, these mean f**k all. What do you mean? If you send a C.V. to a recruitment agency or the local jobcentre which shows 20 years of business experience for a warehousing job, you won’t get the job. Why? The answer is simple. Why would you be going for the job? The answer to that is also simple, I need money. So what do you do? You change the C.V. if you want the work, and embrace the shit.
Over the past 6 years, I’ve got to live the real experiences of those on welfare or just a number for a recruitment agency. The jobs have ranged from security, warehousing, labouring, and retail, all on minimum wage or just above. These are jobs that don’t match my experience, but back to the decisions I made. Every decision carries consequences.
6. We can’t afford the rent.
The dread that comes from not making enough money to pay your rent impacts millions of lives monthly. When you’re earning a combined salary to cover all expenses and still have some left to enjoy leisure time, holidays, or buy nice things you are content and happy. Once you make decisions that impact this income or lose your job, you are in a panic mood. The decisions I made during the property boom, led to us losing our family home. No sugar coating. If I were to rate traumatic experiences in my life to date, this would score high. The stress associated with this event were extremely difficult to manage for everyone. I had phone calls 5 times a day from the mortgage lenders, who simply refused to grasp the new financial realities we faced. They refused point-blank repayment plans we made and kept pushing for more, which would have left us without food and electricity if we paid it. The outcome, hand back the keys and leave the property. When I said to embrace the shit, this was the last resort.
7. Back to the parents’ house, and taking clothes from the car boot.
To those that have returned to live with parents again, you will relate to this. I don’t care what any man says when you leave your parent’s home in your twenties or early 30’s the only time you should be back living there, is to assist them if their health is poor, or yours is. In the period following us losing our home, and after most of our possessions had gone into storage, we were back to the parent’s houses. What a Low. Now, some people might say, free meals, clothes washed and ironed, don’t lift a finger. I say total bull shit, your back living with your parents. The only possessions we took with us was clothing for us and kids. They were all in bags in the boot of the car and we took them out each day as the cupboards as our respective parent’s houses had no space. Just let that marinate in your thoughts for a minute. The kids are resilient and saw this is a big adventure, but it was nothing of the sort. Growing up I always had a fear of quicksand or swamps. (Artax, Never Ending Story) for those old enough to remember. Drowning in quicksand, what a thought.
8. Living on Universal Credit.
The time is 6.30 am on Monday 29th June 2020. Since the start of COVID 19, I have set myself a target of writing 12 articles (25,000 words) that detail key moments in my life where I have got knocked to the floor. These moments have shaped my life to this point and form a huge part in shaping my values, beliefs, and identity. COVID 19 acted as a catalyst to start reflecting and analysing were piss poor decisions impacted my life. The development of new habits, routines, and actions was essential as we adapted to Lockdown and a new reality. There were millions of new welfare claimants around the world, with some not having jobs to return to. As a new welfare claimant, I had to adjust quickly to living on what amounts to a weekly shop of groceries. These were hard times for us all, and it was essential we looked after ourselves both physically/mentally. It was amazing to read how COVID 19 inspired people to take action and challenge themselves like never before. However, some let the boredom, lack of schedule and free time, negatively consume their thoughts. For those people, they must find new ways to move with the change. Life always moves forward.
9. Get off your ass and move.
The thoughts of fear, criticism, and doubt generate feelings that can render you powerless. When you let these thoughts dominate your thinking, you will stay rooted to the couch, or not take action at all. You need to take control of your day. To do this write down everything that is making you feel like shit? Now, write down what you need to do to change that. Sounds simple. Writing down means nothing until you take action. When you encounter fears, problems or issues lean into them. If you need to listen to self-help audio or read books that’s great. However don’t think for one-minute self-help gurus, coaches or motivators can change your situation. No, that’s you. Get a schedule daily and focus on achieving the tasks you wrote. Where do you want to go in life? Wherever it is, you need to steer the ship in that direction. You can’t do that without knowing the ordinates, so write shit down.
10. The decision is made.
When I woke up at 5.10 am on Thursday 2nd July 2020 I felt dread travel all through my body. The day had arrived when I had to face the judge for all the decisions I made in 2014. The dread was replaced with a feeling of finality that after living with these decisions for nearly 6 years the outcome was upon me. Remember when I said major f**k up, I wasn’t doing it for clicks. No, this was a real as it gets. Due to the COVID 19 crisis, I had to appear via a video link from my solicitor’s office. (Surreal wouldn’t be the word) When I sat down on the chair and watched on as the judge appeared in the court, I felt my heart rate increase rapidly nearly bursting out of my shirt. As he read through the list of charges (7 in total for fraud via abuse of power) I recalled all the feelings I had experienced 6 years previously. It was akin to watching your life on a movie reel, only there was no popcorn for this screening. The judge read out his verdict; 15 months custodial sentence, suspended for 3 years, and a 5-year ban from being a company director. You will appear in the papers for all the wrong reasons, but you have learned that’s other’s opinions to judge are part of life, and no matter what you say, they don’t give two f**ks. So, I have adapted the same mantra. There was shock when I realised this was the end of a 6-year struggle and it was now time to start over.
The Power to Start Over
At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, I became a new welfare claimant. After filling in the application online I sat down with a notebook and wrote down 4 questions:
- How did you get to this point?
- Are you happy?
- What are you going to do with your life?
- What is stopping you?
When you want to start again you need to ask questions of yourself, that require self-analysis, and reflection that you might not like. Therein lies the power as to why some people get back up, and others fall away. I knew why I was in the position I was in (piss poor decisions) which brought no happiness. The COVID-19 crisis enabled me to clarify what I wanted to do and provided me the time to focus on doing it. Yes, I was broke, but all life challenges encounter struggle. However, the most important answer was question 4; what is stopping you? The answer was simple: Nothing. I had reached the lowest point of my personal/professional journey, so there was no other way to go except forward.
So, the week beginning Monday 16th March 2020, I committed to writing 12 articles that depicted key moments in my life, where I had experienced real struggle. These struggles varied and formed a huge part of my beliefs, values, and traits. When I sat down and reflected on all those moments I discovered not only learning moments for myself but a story that could connect with others who had experienced the same. It is well documented that in times of real struggle we get to meet our real selves. This is true if you take the learning from the situation. These situations only become life-changing events based on the meaning you give to them. It is your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviours manifested during the situation that gives you the power to control or takes it away. It’s your choice. Now, the decision has been made I’m now ready to start over. So, quit the talking and take action!
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Photo credit: @maximbovkun on Unsplash; modified