One night, more than fifteen years ago, I found out that my life would be changing forever.
A man who my parents loaned a six figure sum to, failed to show up at an agreed location to pay off his final dues.
He wasn’t the only one. Some weeks before, another guy defaulted on his five figure loan as well.
The very next day, the atmosphere at home changed. A cold chill took over where merriness used to reside.
For the first time in my life, I felt poor.
I was poor.
Where in the past, a $50 meal at Pizza Hut was highly affordable to my mom, now it was totally out of reach.
Rent was cheap, but even then, it would come only after a fighting match between mom and dad. Not that their marriage was blissful before this, but it soured whatever was left.
My parents fell into despair. The weight of the situation left my mother clinically depressed, choosing to spend most of her time in a world that locked me and my siblings out.
Maybe that keeps her alive, I thought.
I wanted so badly to help. To get a job and pay for things at home.
But I was 15, and a student in a country where I couldn’t legally work.
I laid in bed thinking about what would happen now. In the darkness lit only by the moonlight shining through my bedroom window, I let myself cry. Silently.
What should I do? I asked.
There was no one on the other side, so I got no answers. My question lingered through the night, continued into the next morning and stayed with me for the rest of the year.
I looked everywhere for a possibility.
I tried to be a better daughter. I washed all the dishes, and clothes, took out the trash, mopped the floor, even learned jokes.
Yet nothing changed. Everything was still in despair. It was winter, and I had no jacket on.
Actually, I was standing naked on an icy lake in the middle of a blizzard.
The good thing about asking a question more than once, is that you become creative, and start seeing answers where they are not always obvious.
One thing at a time. Just do one thing that I can control at a time.
A moment of epiphany.
I wrote down a list of things I thought would change this situation and picked the one that was most doable first.
Get straight As.
This was the thing that was in my control. I could get straight A’s, get a scholarship, get a good job, and pull us out of this mess.
How do I get straight A’s?
Study. Get very good at it. Get very smart at it.
So I did this every day – 30 minutes, or 4 hours – I made sure I did it.
I didn’t get straight A’s in my o levels. Only 7 out of 9As.
Not perfect, but it was good enough to get me into one of the best Pre-Us in the country.
I focused on one task again: study.
Eventually I did get straight A’s in my A levels.
This allowed me to get a scholarship, then get a good job, pay for things…
Happy ending right?
Unfortunately, I found out later that the financial mess we were in was actually 3 times bigger than I first imagined.
Staying in the job wouldn’t get me to the financial footing I wanted quick enough. I needed to start a business. Maybe a few.
But I didn’t have any experience with business. No marketing experience. No sales experience. No operational experience. No negotiation experience.
I was a field engineer who did none of these.
One thing a day. I reminded myself.
I picked up a few business books and read a few pages a day.
I picked up a few good lessons from the books and took action on them, one at a time.
One day at a time, I learned how to source products, to negotiate, to sell, to finance and operate a business.
Today, 16 years after the day I was left a poor and helpless 15 year old, I can see the fruits of my labour in my mom and dad’s smiles again.
There’s no more fighting in the household.
No more worries about not being able to afford a $50 meal or rent.
One day at a time. One thing at a time. One thing a day.
It took more than a decade. But I’m glad I arrived.
It’s easy to allow yourself to be overwhelmed by life’s turmoils.
Find that one thing you can focus on every day, and do it consistently enough that your destiny can’t help but be changed.
We all have the power inside of us.
But we need to use it.