Regaining Control of My Life – How I Did It

Donna Karlin writes: “Who are you giving your personal power away to and what are you going to do to get it back? When we give the power of our destiny in whatever realm to someone else, we are choosing to give up our lives.” Figure out what you are doing that is taking your power away and then figure out what you really want and a way to get it.

Fellow life balance, happiness, and personal development blogger Alex Blackwell of The Next 45 Years invited me to participate in Donna Karlin’s the OnGrowing Weekly Challenge.

The purpose of assembling posts from others is to hear how people deal, cope, thrive and grow in their lives. Donna’s ultimate question is this:

“Who are you giving your personal power away to and how are you going to take it back?” Furtehrmore, “I maintain that the gap between where you are and where you want to be is filled by what you choose to do in the time available to you; every conversation, thought, choice and decision.

We can either blame someone else for our shortfallings, our level of success, our happiness or anything else you can think of but the bottom line is, when we give the power of our destiny in whatever realm to someone else, we are choosing to give up control of our lives.”

I am in total agreement with you, Donna.

Following is a scenario for you to ponder. Have you ever found yourself in this position?

There’s something that you really, really want. You’re absolutely yearning for it with all of your soul and being. All you can think about is how much you want it. You ache for it and hunger for it. You become obsessed with it. You spend all of your waking hours thinking about it – consciously and subconsciously – and how to attain it. It consumes you.

You disregard your health – your diet, your sleep, your recreation, your personal time, your intellectual and creative nourishment. You rationalize that the things you’re doing in pursuit of this dream are for the good of all those involved in your life, yet you ignore them, erecting a wall between you and your partner, family, children, friends, and colleagues. Worse yet, you treat them in ways that leave in your wake a sea of emotional turmoil.

But you don’t see things that way. You think they should encourage you and maybe be a little grateful for all the hard work and long hours you’re putting in to get ahead. You’re resentful that you’re able to keep your eye on the ball and stick it out for the duration, and they don’t have the staying power that they bought into in the beginning.

You struggle through, feeling like you’re on an island, trying to keep your finger in the dike, and you stay the course. You grow lonelier and more wary. You become alienated from those closest to you.

And then that day that you’ve always dreamed of comes. You finally achieve your goal, at long last! You earned it. It’s time for celebration.

You sit back and reflect upon all you’ve been through. You say to yourself “I’ve arrived. Now my life is going to be different.” You make the time to sit down with your wife and family and children and explain to them where you are today and why it’s all been worth it. You pump out your chest and show your friends the new you, inviting the world to feast their eyes upon you. You make plans, big plans. You know you’ll live happily ever after.

It doesn’t take long for you to realize, however, that things haven’t changed a bit. You’re the same old person that you always were. Your life is the same, and the people, places, things, and situations in your life are the same. You start wondering if you’re simply bad at celebrating your achievements, or if you’re overly driven or a workaholic/prisoner of success. This isn’t the way you’d imagined things.

And before you know it, the bloom is off the rose. You wonder if all those hours spent, along with the endless sacrifices, were worth it. You get that sinking feeling in your gut. You missed family dinners, school plays, parties, and who knows how many other opportunities to have fun, solidify and grow relationships, and make new ones. You feel guilty knowing that you’ll never recapture the time you’ve lost, especially the time you sacrificed with loved ones.

Then the final nail in the coffin comes. You think to you yourself: “I’ve messed up. How do I ever get myself out of this one?

Fear sets in. You ask yourself: “How could I have been such a horrible predictor of what would make me happy? How could I have invested so much time and effort to wind up with nothing more than where I started? How could I have sacrificed all of that time and hurt my loved ones? How could I have been so selfish? Where did I go wrong?

The above scenario is not hypothetical. It happened to me, or should I say I created that situation in my life.

Here’s my real-life story:

I instantly turned into a materialist as a student of finance in college. I packed my car and my bags with my worldly belongings and drove from Tampa to Chicago in search of a job at the Chicago’s financial exchanges, the purest bastions of capitalism I had ever witnessed.

I landed a job as a Runner, literally running order tickets from desks on the trading floor’s perimeter to the “pits” where brokers and traders transacted business. To an outsider it appears to be absolute chaos, but it was pure heaven to me.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroid, I can tell you that the scene in the Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice trading pit does a very realistic job of depicting the situation. The following clip is fairly long (7:11), but worth watching both for understanding and amusement.


I proceeded to throw myself into my work and, before I took the time to consider what was happening, I had turned into a prisoner of success.

That first job led me to a couple of business partners, both of whom shared my desire to start our own trading firm. We did so, and proceeded to become financially successful beyond our wildest dreams. By the time I was 30 years old, I was on top of the world. I had everything I ever wanted (so I thought). But that wasn’t enough. Instead of reveling in the joy of a life in balance, I had bought into a seemingly impossible mandate – a relentless drive to get further in life at almost any cost.

At the age of 32, instead of recognizing that I had become an absentee husband and father because of all the hours I was working trading and managing the firm that had grown to over 150 people, my partners and I decided to sell ourselves to a global investment bank so that we could get bigger and make more money. This meant that I’d commute from Chicago to New York every Sunday and return home to my family late Friday evening very much resembling a Zombie – not knowing exactly where I was, and not being able to give anything of myself because my mind was always on work.

On top of all of that, I’d occasionally commute from Manhattan to London during the week, flying overnight to Heathrow, working the day at our London offices, and commuting back to New York the same night.

After two years of pure hell – physical, mental, and emotional – I had had enough. I had handed my life over to people, places, things, and situations that were beyond my control – The people I thought I needed to provide for and impress; the places I wanted to be seen in; the things that I was collecting – cars, houses, and other trophies of my ‘success’; and the situations I thought I wanted – expensive vacations, private clubs, and places that housed the ‘beautiful people’ of this world.

There’s one specific instance I can remember that opened my eyes.

I was flying from New York to Chicago one night and I fell asleep, something that I’d gotten really good at on plane flights and with all the commuting I was doing. I was jarred awake by a bump. I was so out of it that I couldn’t even figure out it was just a little turbulence — and was terrified. I knew I was on a plane, but I couldn’t remember whether I was flying to work – from Chicago to New York, or returning home. I totally panicked by this.

So I flagged down the flight attendant and asked her: Where are we fling to? She must have thought I was insane. The horrified look that appeared on her face is still etched upon my mind.

I took that moment as my personal wake-up call. I looked hard at my life and realized that things had gotten way out of control. I didn’t like where I was at and where I was going. I began to realize that there was so much more available to me and that life is too short to live the way I was living it.

I was fed up. I made a plan to escape the world I had created. I decided right then and there to take back my life.

Thankfully, I had an opportunity to free myself of my employment contract and I got out, barely escaping alive. My wife and I packed up our kids and headed for a quieter life in southeastern Wisconsin, where I began to pursue a more enjoyable and rewarding life.

My kids were young then, but I truly regretted the time I had lost and knew that I could never recapture. I’ve since devoted myself to doing what is most important to me – spending time with my family. I’ve seen my kids grow up. I’ve had breakfast with them before school and greeted them after. We’ve had dinners as a family and enjoyed supporting one another as each pursued their interests, whether they were sports, music, theater, or friends.

My new life led me to my personal mantra: EMPOWER OTHERS, and to many new and wonderful opportunities to enjoy my life without being owned by people, places, things, and situations in my life.

To continue this conversation, I’m asking the following bloggers to weigh in:

Judy Martin at The WorkLife Monitor

Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project

Karen Salmansohn at Be Happy Dammit!

Phil Gerbyshak at Make It Great!

John Wesley at Pick the Brain

Thanks to I Will Change Your Life for featuring this post in the Personal Stories of Change Blog Carnival, to Anja Merret for including this in the Blog Carnival of Observations on Life, and to Everything Finance for inclusion in the Carnival of Everything Finance.

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