How to regain control of your life

Spoiler alert: it is possible!

This post is written by control freak, so know that you can trust this! Before I go into specific pointers, let me tell you a story.

It was 11 years ago. I was 20, studying full-time towards my Bachelor degree in Politics. In my spare time I was working as a cashier in a supermarket. I was living with parents and a sister in a rental apartment. Every day I would take a bus and a subway to get to downtown Toronto where my university was located. When I would arrive there, I would get a coffee from Starbucks like people around me who were actually working in professional office jobs in downtown. I would pretend I am one of them.

I would not make any friends at school- there was no time because right after lectures I would hop on the subway to go back to work that was close to my home but equally far from my school as my home. I would stand next to my cash register for hours, listening to musical oldies that they often play in grocery stores – you know, about happiness at love, sunny days, and dancing queens (ABBA). I would think about not having found my true love, about having to work in minimum age jobs and how do I even find a job that has a career, and of course, all those assignments and essays I had to write.

I know that 11 years have passed since but it does not mean it took me all this time to get where I am today. Everything I dreamed about I have today – true love that I have been married to for over 7 years, master’s degree, a professional office job in downtown and later midtown (and now working from home) in government where my career is progressing, my friends, my townhouse in a nice area, my pets…I am also the highest earner in my entire family (counting my parents, in-laws, husband, uncles, etc.). My personal favourite: when I started working in a government, I was helping a team of 5 to develop a strategy for the division. Now I am leading strategy development for a ministry! This is not to boast but to show that things are possible to achieve when you know what you want.

But how do you get control of your life? How do you transition from where you are to where you want to be?

  • First of all, figure out what you want to have. Where do you want to be? It is not enough to want a ‘better job’ or ‘better pay’. How much would you like to earn? What would you like to do? Where would you like to work? Be as specific as possible. Do not think of all the barriers and why it is impossible to achieve. If it sounds completely impossible (e.g., to become a millionaire in 12 months), reduce the level of expectations to make it somewhat achievable or stretch your deadline (e.g., make $500,000 in 5 years).
  • Once you figured out what you want to have, think about what it takes to get it. Then research it. When I was looking for a job in a government, I didn’t just google it. I attended all possible events related to job search. I read all possible sites. I went to a dedicated ‘career counsellors’ at university to take advantage of their services and advice. I went to university fairs and talked to people. I found people on Linkedin (that I never met in person) and asked them for a coffee so I could learn about how they found their jobs. I invested in a number of books on networking and creating positive impressions. I reached out to a number of people and passed my resume. I am sharing this because it is important for me – I am an introvert by nature and an immigrant who was not born in this country and I had no family or connections in a place where I wanted to work.
  • Next, assess your current situation. This is where it is extremely important to be honest with yourself. I realized that working as a cashier would never get me to where I want to be. Even if I got promoted to a supervisor. I realized I had to quit and look for a job in an actual office setting. I also realized that to even apply to work where I wanted to work I needed masters degree. When I asked my professor about what it takes to apply for masters, she told me that it would be A- or A average, relevant (or somewhat relevant) job experience and volunteer experience. Essentially, I had to do it all to even be considered. At the time of asking I was a B- student or so. So unless I got my life together I would not get there.
  • Think about how you can make it easier. I am not talking about skipping steps here. Following my example, I clearly was missing a number of skills. Once I admitted that I was disorganized, I started doing things that an organized person would do – getting a calendar, planning my assignments in advance based on the deadlines (I used to start writing my essays a night before they were due). I learned to avoid being late by learning my bus schedule and taking an extra early bus instead of running after the last bus and ensuring that if I miss it I would be late completely. Whatever it is, break it down into smaller steps and activities and you would see that it is, in fact, achievable. Think about what steps are needed to get there and begin following those steps.
  • How about if you do not make money or in a toxic relationship? Surround yourself with positive things only – that applies to people too! Do not stay with someone who does not appreciate, love or respect you just because you invested X years. It will only get worse. Think about it – every day that you stay is another day that was wasted on toxic environment – you could have spent this day being more productive and happier. Your self-esteem will only get worse if allow others to mistreat you. And if you do not make money – well, learn to make them! Find a job, get education – nothing is impossible.
  • Do not pay attention at what others are doing unless they have what you want to have. If there is a person that works in a role where I want to be, has a house I want to have or a relationship I want to have – I will most certainly ask them how they got it and will try my best to follow their steps. I will not, however, adopt the lifestyle of people that do not have what I want to have just so I feel like ‘I belong’. Because at some point, life is like musical chairs – when the music stops you look around and you see that some people got their chairs (e.g., career, relationships, etc.) while others haven’t. Learn to plan and follow your path.
  • Believe in yourself. This one is very important. The fun part – the professor that told me (while kind of laughing) that I would not get into Masters program based on my grades – I was working for her as a Teaching Assistant 2 years later while doing my Masters.
  • Invest in your skills and knowledge. You can learn almost anything – there are classes, coaches, free videos, apps and materials out there. It is not the same as 20 years ago when the only source of knowledge was the library or formal education. You cannot achieve what you want without changing your skills and abilities – you need to evolve if you want the quality of your life to evolve. There is no way you can get promoted or a relationship of your dreams if you do nothing (or you can get it but will lose it just as fast).
  • Do not wait for permission. No one is going to come and help you unless you hire them. Do not expect that a millionaire/fairy will come to the rescue – only rely on yourself. Do not expect your parents, friends, significant other to wake you up early for an important event, motivate you along the way or tell you to keep going when you are exhausted. You owe it to yourself to give yourself permission to succeed. Think about it – some people do not apply for their dream jobs because they think they will not get them, while being qualified. Why would you say no to yourself before you even try? If you want to achieve something, become the person you need to be in order to achieve it! There was a dream job I liked and I saw a job posting but I did not think I would qualify so I didn’t even apply. A year later I see it again, and I do not apply again but I research relevant certificates for this job and pay more attention at what type of experience they want. Fast forward another year, I finally give myself permission to apply (already got my certificate by then) but I do not hear back. Then things in my job change and in 4 months I get hired to work for the same team but someone else is in this role. Fast forward another year – I get promoted to this very role -my dream job, without applying. When you know what you want, the universe will make it possible. Sometimes it just takes more time than you expect.

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