Chaotic landscape with swirling colors, mountains in the distance.

Thriving in Chaos: Embracing Change

How can someone go from extremely humble beginnings to an extraordinary life? I’m going to go into exactly what I did to manage just that, but I’ll warn you right out the gate: It may not be the cozy advice you’re hoping for.

It is a simple yet profound strategy that can elevate every aspect of your life—your career, your happiness, your self-confidence, and even your love life! This strategy took my own life from rags to…nicer rags—and how you can get started on it in your own life.

Why me? Can I even do this?

When I was a kid, my family scraped by on less than half the poverty line out in rural Arkansas. You can learn a lot growing up in a small town: hard work, resourcefulness, and above all resilience—but I always knew I wanted more. So, at 19, I moved to a college town two hours away to sling burgers at a fast food joint, often getting by on the expired sandwiches that were bound for the garbage bin.

That was often rough, but it was my first step into the unknown, and if I can move two hours away from home in a $600 army green van as old as I was, then yes, you can do this.

Should you do this? Ask yourself: Are you happy? Really happy? Do you want more from your life than what you have now?

If you want more, then ask yourself, not “Can I do this?” but rather, “How can I do this?”

Where do I start? What can I do?

Knowing you want a change is one thing, but figuring it out is another. What’s the first real action you can take?

When I was 23, I moved to New York City with almost nothing, and I took any job I could find. The first one was temping for a religious non-profit where I did tech support. They hired me on as a full-time in my first week, and I worked there for two years, learning everything I could—and also making the connections that would start the next phase of my life.

You must take that first leap. My leaps led me from temp jobs to starting my own company, from counting pennies so that I could buy crackers to tech gigs at Microsoft and Yahoo and a life I never imagined.

Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can! Step outside of your comfort zone! How? Get a new job, move to a new city, talk to new people, take a class, attend a seminar, buy an online course. Take a risk, take a chance!

If you always stick to the safe route, you’ll never grow. You must face challenges and overcome them to level up what you can handle and what you can dream. You build physical strength by lifting weights that are heavier than everyday objects; you build capability by taking on more than merely everyday tasks.

How hard is it? Can I stick to it?

Real growth comes from facing challenges. How do you keep pushing forward when it’s hard?

One of the highest compliments I ever received was an offhand remark several years ago from the IT manager at a training company where I worked.

I was doing database certification training at a hotel out in Orange County, CA. Due to a logistics snafu followed by a weather delay, we had no books and no computers for the first four days of this 9-day hands-on class. People were disgruntled, to say the least.

I got incredible support from my company to make things as right as we were able, but all I had to go on onsite was my own laptop, printouts of the slides I was teaching from, and my unrelenting determination to make the best of it.

For that particular class, it wasn’t my experience with database administration or my skills as an instructor, it was how I dealt with the adversity and the positive attitude I showed up with day after day to a room full of rightly aggravated students in a fairly expensive course!

The books and computers did finally arrive on day four, and we ended up getting excellent reviews from the students. One of their reviews read, “The measure of a company is not what they do when everything’s going well, it’s how they do when it all goes to hell.”

(Incidentally, every single one of those students passed their first exam on day five.)

What was the compliment?

“Thank God you’re the one this happened to!”

My IT guy knew I could handle it. In a way, I had spent my life preparing myself to handle just that kind of chaotic situation.

Reaching beyond what you know you can do can be hard as hell, and that’s a good thing.

How do you keep pushing forward when it’s so hard you don’t even know if it can be done? Believe that you can, that you will, and that you will not stop until you do!

Arnold Schwarzenegger in a black jacket over a bare chest posing with a pistol for the movie, The Terminator.
Just like this guy, you absolutely will not stop, ever!


I must warn you: It doesn’t always work out.

After a disagreement with people (where, to be honest, I let the stress of my situation and my own immaturity get the better of me), I was homeless in New York City for a while. Some days, I was able to crash on an acquaintance’s floor and user their shower. Others, I slept in my tiny 1989 Ford Ranger pickup cab. I eventually found a room way out in Queens.

I had a falling out with my business partners and left my company, which failed a few years later. (We have since reconciled and remain connected.)

My first performance review at Microsoft was absolutely abysmal, and I was afraid I’d completely screwed up after moving my family all the way across the country.

Taking risks means risking failure, but you know what they say: You can’t win if you don’t play.


A better life requires a better you. A better you can only occur by stretching beyond your current limits—and that means taking on things you might not think you can handle.

Humans are not meant for comfort, we are made for adventure. You have to strike out—and sometimes strike out—to grow, to get stronger, and to find happiness.

The only way you can level up is by taking that first step into the unknown.

That first step is a leap of faith—in yourself.


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