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How to Stay Motivated if You are Desperately Struggling

How to Stay Motivated if You are Desperately Struggling

Episode #5, Firmsconsulting TV

I understand the challenges you face. At age 25 I was an immigrant with poor English, no degree and earning $500/month as a receptionist: as described in my biographyOn Firmsconsulting TV I share with you how I changed my life to become a rapidly-promoted management consultant, banking director and FC partner in South Africa and Canada. 


Considering that we started from a free WordPress blog and never advertise, it is hard to imagine that Firmsconsulting turned 5 this past month. A huge thank you to everyone who supported us and helped us build the firm.

It is the greatest joy in the world to build a firm that helps people in a sincere and material way. Yet, it was not easy to build this firm, just as it was not easy to build my career. So in this birthday episode I wanted to tackle a crucial subject – how to stay motivated if you are desperately struggling. I am going to share with you the three things I did to reboot my career.

So lets dive in and talk about how to stay motivated to create a big life for yourself, even if you start from humble beginnings. These are the three things I recommend you do.


It’s very easy to feel inspired when you have a nice job and are sitting in an air conditioned room viewing motivational stories on the TV, online or in magazines. Yet, what if your environment is challenging. It’s very difficult to be inspired, to stay motivated, to see your potentially bright future when you are struggling to pay your rent, when you have no money to buy food or if you are in a horrible job.

When your life is bad, when your job is terrible and you are hungry and humiliated you feel like a failure. And those circumstances reinforce themselves. You struggle to see beyond them. We can’t ignore the power of momentum. Success breeds success and failure breeds failure.

So in this episode lets talk about how to stay motivated to create a big life for yourself, even if you start from humble beginnings.

First I want to talk about some of the challenges that people, who don’t come from a difficult background, fail to appreciate. I will explain this with a story from my past.

Way back when I worked as a receptionist one of my roles was to restock the office. There was a kitchen in the office so I had to buy tea, coffee, sugar and cookies to stock up the kitchen. I also had to buy stationary and many other miscellaneous items and collect mail, including parcels, from the postal office.

I had a routine for pulling this off. I waited for the business owner to come in so there would be someone in the office to answer the phones. I would then walk to the shopping center since I could not afford a car.

Johannesburg, as you may know, is not a city designed for walking and it is considered to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world. In fact, when people discovered I did not have a car, it shocked them.

For example, one time when I was teaching the piano to a student, which I was doing on weekends, the student’s mother said, “You don’t have a car? Even my maid has a car.”

So I would go through the streets in the blazing South African heat, walking everywhere to complete all my errands. And I would pass all those glittering Mercedes and stunning BMWs. But I could barely see them because the sun was beating down on my face. Make up was streaming down my eyes. It was a difficult environment.

To top it off, ever since the age of 3 I had a harsh reaction to sunlight. I faint if I am exposed to the sun. So I had to rush to make sure I didn’t faint in the middle of the street. Because Johannesburg was quite dangerous, fainting on the street was not an option.

This was my life. I was not living the life of the people in Mercedes. At that time I was not even thinking I would some day have a car like that. I was just struggling to survive. It was so humiliating and difficult to experience my life that I could barely see beyond just trying to survive that trip.

So I had to go buy all the staff. Then go to the post office. Pick up the mail and prey that there will be no big packages that day. Put the mail in plastic bags and carry it across the mall and then across the streets back to the office.

And I had to rush as the owner could be in meetings and someone had to answer the phone. I also had a lot of work to do.

People who have never experienced this type of environment fail to understand how challenging it is to stay motivated if you are struggling. And it is easy for them to say, “Just try to work harder.” Yet, when you are just trying to survive, you are thinking about nothing else but just trying to get through the day, then week, and then the month. And that is the difficulty. The act of just surviving means you struggle to focus on moving forward.

And if you focus on moving forward, you get distracted, and you can’t focus on surviving. And when you are crossing the street and there are not so nice characters around you, you have to focus on surviving.

As many of you know I eventually became a management consultant with a major international consulting firm. I worked on projects in Russia and Africa and was promoted twice within 17 months. Then I became a banker at one of the Big 3 Canadian banks where I was promoted within 6 months and eventually left as a director in corporate finance.

How to stay motivated when you are struggling

So how did I stay motivated to get to that life from being 25 in a foreign country with no degree, barely speaking English and working as a front office receptionist? I will share with you 3 practices that helped me. I hope these practices will help you too.

Practice number 1 – Routinize your current role.

You have to create programmed decisions, decisions that you make once and continue to follow, so your current role consumes as little of your physical and mental energy as possible.

You need to know that when you leave your job at the end of the day, your work for the day is done. So you don’t have to go home and worry “Oh, God. If I loose this job I cannot pay my rent”. You know you did the best job you could because you followed the routine, and you can use the remaining part of the day to focus on building your future.

And the way you develop programmed decisions is you look at all regular activities you do and create processes for each activity. Of course, you still need to be flexible but programmed decisions will simplify your life and conserve your energy to the extent possible.

In fact, even in consulting, which is a very creative role, I used that method to create additional capacity. That is how I was able to carve out time to study for my first degree.

Practice number 2 – Find a place where you can escape and imagine what is possible.

You have to carve out and protect at least some part of your life so that your existing horrible environment does not constantly overshadow it. You have to find a place where you can escape and imagine what is possible.

I used to visit a very nice bookstore called Exclusive Books, which I think was modeled on Starbucks, but with a bookstore in it.

It was a wonderful place, with tasty food and delicious things to drink. I could not afford any of it. Yet, they had a huge collection of business books and magazines, which you could read even if you didn’t buy it. So I used to read there for hours.

I would search for a recently vacated table with a discarded coffee cup and a plate with some crumps on it so it would look like I bought a drink and food and was now just reading my book after a meal. This helped me feel less embarrassed about sitting there without buying anything.

You have to find the way to connect yourself with the world you want to be part of, even if it is a tiny superficial connection. Reading books and magazines in that lovely coffee shop was my way for connecting.

Practice number 3 – Be ready to grab the opportunity.

I was always acting and dressing as if the opportunity was going to come at any time. So if an opportunity came along, I knew I was ready for it.

And that is exactly what happened. I attended a dinner as a guest of a guest, and I ended up sitting next to the local managing director of a major consulting firm and I was prepared to make the most of it.


To recap, these 3 practices made a huge difference in my life. The programmed decisions helped me create time and mental capacity for myself. With that time I tried to connect to the world I wanted to join.

And knowing that life is something unpredictable I was always ready for the opportunity to knock. I always dressed as well as I could and waited for that breakthrough opportunity. And when the opportunity did come, all my preparation paid off.

CHALLENGE OF THE DAY: If you are in difficult circumstances right now make a plan to try out the 3 practices we discussed. They made a world of difference in my life and I know they will work for you too. And if you have any thoughts or insights on this topic, please share in the comments.

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Thank you so much for checking out this post and video. Let us know if you have questions or topics you would like us to address in future episodes of FirmsconsutlingTV. We will try to address as many of requests from Firmsconsulting community as possible, starting with most common questions and areas of interest.  

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