Desperation is a tricky emotion.
It makes us do things you wouldn't normally do. It creates an urgency that may not previously have existed. And sometimes it creates a blindingly selfish tunnel vision of self-preservation that can alienate the very people who can help us the most.
Over the past few weeks, I've been on the receiving end of some pretty desperate behavior. My goal has always been to help people in any way I can through key introductions to members of my network for jobs or potential business partnerships, revamping resumes, coaching people out of inaction or "being stuck," and creating both a plan and a perspective shift to work their way through the obstacles stopping them dead in their tracks. This is my purpose at this stage in my life and professional career. Unfortunately, I'm noticing a pattern by many who still don't seem to get it.
For at least three of the past 3 years I have been beating the drum about an impending market correction. Having worked in investment banking for over a decade of my 27-year career as an Executive Assistant and in industries where financial markets cycles usually dictated when money and jobs were most likely to be made and lost, I've been able to accurately predict swings in the market. Having traveled the world teaching my workshops and deeply researching each local market I went into, I was provided with quite a bit of context, conspicuous and less so, regarding salary ranges, hiring/attrition variances, evolution/devolution trends of the role, and how EA/Exec relationships were manifesting the current and future state of the role. Taking all of this into account and with more and more subcontext provided with each trip I took, I was convinced there were dark clouds forming. Seeing levels of attrition in legacy companies rising in Australia in 2017. Watching responsibilities rise but compensation levels remain flat and embarrassingly low for the majority of EAs in Europe, especially London. Witnessing the extreme increase in the cost of living in my native California and seeing $120,000 as a "starting salary" for a competent EA. And worse, seeing C-suite Execs routinely opt for EAs with only a couple of years of experience, expecting them to perform at the same or higher level than more experienced EAs with tons more business acumen, fatter Rolodexes, and gobs of resilience only to lose them 6 months later from burnout. While this may not have been the empirical data that many see as relevant, it's precisely the type of data (and intuition) I use to make bold proclamations in keynote addresses like, "30% of you will not have jobs in the next couple of years."
My predictions were typically met with eye rolls from EAs feeling they wouldn't be affected due to the "indispensable" nature of their roles within the organizations they worked. Some even labeled me as an alarmist or assumed I didn't know what I was talking about because of my lack of an Ivy-league MBA and time in the chair as a Financial Analyst. I was, after all, just an EA.
No, I did not predict that some fool having a tasty, bat lunch would literally stop the world cold and tank the global economy. But hidden in the tea leaves of my predictions was a call to action that went largely ignored. As someone who has been bankrupted before, who's had to short sale their house, and who's almost died twice from stress-related myocardial infarctions, I've experienced what it's like to lose everything. Especially one's dignity and self-worth. Especially when it's tied to what you do vs. who you are.
One of the hardest things I've ever done in my life was to bounce back emotionally from that bankruptcy over a decade ago. There is nothing more humiliating than having to admit I was terrible with money and I didn't plan for a rainy day and was now suffering the ultimate financial defeat. Fielding and avoiding nasty, non-empathetic, zero-f*cks-given calls from collection agencies and individual bill collectors who actually got off on degrading you, assassinating your character, and accusing you of being a thief over and over literally drove me to the brink of suicide. I was defeated. I had lost all self-confidence. And, as a man, I had lost all self-respect. My situation was exacerbated by the fact that I had been physically hit by the Exec I was supporting in open view of my colleagues, which was not only humiliating AF but created a tremendous amount of personal and societal stress (for not kicking his ass in front of the whole of GAP, Inc.), which eventually put me into ICU/CCU for 3 days with what was thought to be a heart attack. The trickle-down effect of all of that was bankruptcy when a huge portion of that $130,000+ medical visit wasn't covered by my insurance, I was freezed out by HR who chose their Exec over me, had quit the job by doctor's orders, the dot-com 1.0 bust in full swing, and I literally watched my car be towed away while I was on a date, no less, knowing that I didn't have the money to get it out of impound. It created a downward spiral of emotion that almost ended in suicide. The only reason I didn't do it was because I didn't want to put my mother through the same humiliation, intense pain, and self-doubt I was feeling having to bury her only child who selfishly chose to tap out over, truthfully, some inconsequential bullshit.
When you're at the bottom emotionally you get desperate. Many turn to drugs, sex work, theft, or spiral even further into emotional issues typically exacerbated by the aforementioned. However, I decided to get really honest with myself. Do or die. I stripped away the layers of financial and societal bullshit I had adorned myself in. I allowed myself to go through the emotions but made sure there was some sort of positive action attached. I started reading every self-help book I could get my hands on as well as "triumph over disaster" autobiographies about Tina Turner, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, and many others. My mom saw that I was broken and gifted me money to move to New York City, somewhere I'd lived a couple of times previously, and the one place anyone can go to completely disappear and rebuild themselves from the ground, up. And that's exactly what I did.
I spent a year in NYC retaking ownership of my life. I journaled every day and got all of the toxic emotions out of my head and heart and onto paper. I wrote songs that channeled my disappointment, fears, anger, and deepest insecurities. I people watched relentlessly and actually became really good at spotting other people's levels of confidence displayed in their posture, the look in their eyes, and their gait as they walked past. And, most importantly, I found a connection to my Higher Power that I felt comfortable with that acknowledged a life force much more powerful and Divine than anything manmade and that had kept me alive, healthy, and with the ability to summon it to change my circumstances.
That year taught me so much about myself, life, and the powers of belief and resilience. I made a promise to the Universe that I would never allow myself to get that low again or ever feel like my life wasn't worthy enough to exist.
For many, weathering Coronapocalypse will be the hardest challenge of their lives. Savings have been wiped out. Many will need to declare bankruptcy. Many will find themselves in deep depressions and start seeing their lives as accessory vs. essential. If there is one thing I hope you get from this article it's this: YOU ONLY GET ONE LIFE, but a myriad of options to change it.
My bounce back started by taking ownership of my shit. I sucked at budgeting so I got really savvy. I was depressed so I removed myself from the place that was a constant reminder of my failures. I exercised and committed to getting into the best shape of my life. I bought a journal and forced myself to write in it every day and dump all of my emotions onto paper to clear up space in my head and heart for inspiration, positive affirmations, and information that could help ME reshape my reality. I cried a lot, but only as a release valve, not as an opportunity to go fetal and avoid doing the hard work. I read everything that inspired me and pushed me into some sort of positive action or headspace. And once I was back on my feet, I continued to do these things until I had built up levels of resilience and impermeability that no situation (or pandemic) would affect me to the extent and lows I had extracted myself from.
My spiritual advisor reminded me that my job is to give people the tools to help themselves. It's not to save people. As I'd referenced at the top of this article, many people are reaching out to me to avoid doing the work, expecting I'll have some magical answer or provide that one phone call or golden phrase that will magically change their realities. Sadly, that's not how it works. And, frankly, it kinda pisses me off. I would have loved for someone to wipe away those two years of depression, self-hatred, financial ruin, and near suicide. But the beauty of wading through all of that muck and finally extracting myself from it was getting to know ME again, understanding what I was about, recrafting my internal and external dialogue about myself that was honest and forthright, and eventually creating the version of me that is impervious to anything except disease or a bullet.
Retaking ownership of your life is hard-ass work. Know that. But it's work you must do if you truly want to create the type of resilience and confidence needed to weather any storm. Including COVID-19. It requires a level of self-honesty that causes most people to tap out because it's too uncomfortable to admit to. It requires humbling yourself to such a degree that you'd take a minimum wage job just to maintain some semblance of dignity and positive momentum, instead of seeing yourself as a failure because you're not pulling in 6 figures and you might get recognized delivering pizzas to your colleagues part-time to stay afloat financially. Who the f*ck cares? YOU. That's who. And therein lies the challenge. Getting to a point where emptying garbage cans and cleaning bathrooms doesn't even phase you. Filing for bankruptcy as a vehicle to help you right your ship and create forward momentum. Leaving relationships that aren't built on love and trust, only money and status, even when kids are involved. Selling the dream house and the expensive (highly depreciated) possessions and right-sizing into something much smaller, minimalist, and essential. And seeking professional help to keep your mind, heart, and actions in sync as you navigate the new and unfamiliar territory this pandemic has forced us all into.
Your life is "all you." You live it. You dream the dreams. You wrangle the emotions. You plan and execute the actions. You make the choices. No one else can do that for you. So stop handing over the reins to people who have their own struggles, responsibilities, and agendas, expecting them to prioritize yours over theirs. It's not going to happen. It's a recipe for some serious disappointment that you not only brought on but could have readily avoided.
Get honest with yourself. Seek discomfort. Audit your life and your situation and take ownership of everything you contributed to it. Own it. Fix what you can. And let go of anything (and anyone) you can't fix. And prepare to start wading through some pretty deep, intense muck for a while as you continue your journey to self-(re)discovery. Buy yourself a stack of blank journals and commit to getting the emotion out of your head and onto paper to clear out space for some positive. Start reading about people and things that inspire YOU, not what's popular. Go on long walks and discover that they are the perfect, FREE tool for self-discovery and epiphanies aplenty. And (let this be crunchy) find some source of a Higher Power that humbles you and validates the cellular chemistry of every flower and tree you see and gives you some sense of peace and a place to "go to" for the type of inspiration that makes your arm hair stand on end. When we believe or even wonder about something that's much larger and more powerful than us, it's much easier to find the type of humility and energy needed to make huge, confident changes in our lives, knowing that we're still here, somehow, for a specific reason or purpose.
This truly is a tipping point in our society. I've never experienced anything like this in my 50 years on this planet. And what strikes me most is how unprepared and non-self-aware people are. Isolation to this degree and with such immediacy has really exposed the seams. For the first time ever people are being confronted with who they are, what they've become, and what they've normalized. And, many don't really like what they see in the mirror. Personally, I see this as a good thing, because it will hopefully force people to get honest, strip off their bullshit layers, rediscover and reveal who they truly are. Those who allow themselves to get uncomfortable, "press reset," do the necessary work will thrive. Those who choose to take the easy route will continue to find disappointment or live inauthentic lives fooling no one but themselves, especially those who've used this time to do the work.
The easy route only gets you to a fork in the road. You'll still need to decide which direction to take to get to your ultimate destination. And sometimes that's a leap of faith vs. a map handed to you.
I wish you all the best. This isn't easy. It's a test. See it for what it is. The work you do now will determine how you will score at the end of it.
Phoenix is coaching and supporting American billionaires, CEOs and executive teams in tech, retail and banking for over 25 years. He also founded and created MEGA Assistant University, a revolutionary skills and mindset “boot camp” for top Executive and Personal Assistants who want to level up quickly and begin forging a mutually successful business partnership with their executives and teams. Phoenix holds a Bachelors of Arts in European Studies/Civilisation from Trinity College Dublin.