Some time ago, I had an extremely well-paying job offer in my pocket waiting for me right out of grad school.
One of the world’s largest multinationals saw me as their incoming star manager. While it may seem like a perfect scenario, somehow I felt it was wrong for me. The picture they tailored for my future just didn’t sit right.
And without any back-up plan, I decided to do the unthinkable: reject the offer.
It was the days that came in the aftermath, as a consequence of my decision – days when finding a two-euro coin in my pocket meant I could buy myself a meal – that gave me the experiences worth writing about.
For the first time in my adult life, I was completely broke. I could not afford so much as a single subway ride. I was stripped of all things material: fancy clothes, yoga classes and favorite meals.
I was left with two suitcases full of shabby clothes, a borrowed laptop and a smartphone. It was a scary moment.
I realized what I really was missing while being broke was the convenient, money-dependent option to get instant happiness out of fun things I'd buy to forget my real troubles.
There was literally no possibility to get a flight to a paradise island, chocolate, a new shirt or anything that could buy me a ticket to Distractionville. That situation put me face-to-face with my worst nightmares.
If I wanted to find peace with my penniless self, I realized I'd have to deal with myself and face my own demons. I wondered, how do I go from a panic-worthy point where there’s literally nowhere to go, to a point where I can happily enjoy being with myself without any money?
In other words, which thought and emotion patterns made me such bad company for my money-free self?
As a control freak and an avid plan maker, I was taught an action grants a certain reaction, so our good fortunes depend heavily on our own efforts.
By working hard, we expect a lot in return. Moreover, it is because we have worked so hard that we caused all that good stuff to happen. All the fortunes are in our own control. Leave no space for (bad) luck to interfere and sway us away from our planned futures.
Ultimately, money is not only a tool for buying ways to distract ourselves from our problems. Money is also a measure that gives us a feeling for how far we made it with our efforts. With money, we believe we can control the good life.
And by a logical conclusion, we must have done something really lousy to reach a point where we are broke and materially dependent on someone else.
As I was starting from zero, after moving to a new country and searching for a way to cover my costs of living, any day I could have become a waitress, shop assistant, a manager or something else.
I could have found a space to live in a studio, a room or in an abandoned office building. In the meantime, I depended materially on the love and kindness of others who were so good to me to provide me with food or shelter.
It was not so much fear from starvation or no shelter that scared me while I was broke. It was the feeling of dependence on others, and no knowledge of what tomorrow brings.
With all of my hard work and achievements I had written down on my CV, there I was: frustrated, scared and powerless. ”Have I just completely lost control over my own good life?” I asked myself over and over again.
I reached a point where further self-doubting and self-beating thoughts failed to make sense. At that moment, I realized I needed to do something I tried to avoid all my life by working hard: I just needed to trust.
It was not so much about trusting a specific person; it was about trusting the universe, God, destiny or call it as you wish. Maybe if I believed that, all would come together. At one point, despite your own effort, things get to be out of your control. It is at that point you need to take a passenger seat and observe.
It was around that time that the phone started to ring and I got my first freelancing gig. A little later, my own address and a full-time job came about as well.
We study hard, and work even harder to prove we can win the game and earn the windfalls. While there are not many other ways to win in today’s world, the joke is on us for thinking we have all the control in life. It's on us when we think every single step of our lives can be planned and executed.
Sometimes we just have to acknowledge the role of luck that is with us all along, and let it take its course.