How To Start When You Have Nothing

Empty Bottle

(Image: photka)

“Hi Celes, I was in a fairly negative place last year. My #1 goal was to get out of the place and now I am finally out of that environment. I’m now ready to heal and get on with my life, to start anew. Yet there are no positives just yet to build on. Where does one begin with nothing at all?” — Melanie

Hi Melanie, thanks for your question. First off, I want to congratulate you for moving past the negative place in your life. It takes tenacity and strength to move past a negative life stage, and you’ve successfully done so. You should definitely be proud of yourself. :)

A common question many of us ask is this: How do I get from where I am to where I want to be if there is nothing to build on in the first place?

For example, you want to start a business, but you have no experience in business development. You want to shift to a different career field, but you don’t have knowledge in the area. You want to be the top in what you do but you have no know-how in the area. You want to let go of your past and start on a new journey, but there is nothing for you to start off with. It’s a catch-22. Like a potter who needs his tools and clay, you can’t create something if there is nothing. And if you can’t create something, you can’t get anything.

If you have ever felt this way about your goals, there are a few points I want to share with you.

There Are Many Successful People Who Start From Nothing

The first thing I want to point out is that many people start from nothing. While there are rich people who start from a position of power and wealth, there are many successful people from poor families, just as there are people who lead lackadaisical lives despite having a lot of wealth. Instead of talking about money here, I want to focus the discussion on one’s personal achievements and knowledge, because these are arguably what shape one’s life success.

I remember when I was in secondary school, there was a group of students from China who joined us during the upper secondary years. The school principal invited them over to study as part of a move to attract foreign talent.

These students were brilliant, particularly in Math and Chinese. They would easily ace every single Math and Chinese test and cream the local students, without having to study. Over time the teachers and students took it as a given that they were the gods of Math and Chinese, that they were born this way, and it was impossible to beat them. My peers would revere them as such, while labeling all the local students (us included) as “lesser” beings who could never outdo them.

But if you are to break down their strong knowledge in the subjects, it is apparent that their strong knowledge of Math and Chinese came from somewhere. I mean, all of us were tiny babies at one point, born into this world. Would they have known anything about differential equations, binomial theorems, partial fractions, or Chinese poetry as babies? No, they wouldn’t. Their knowledge, if you are to trace it, came from their previous education in China, where their syllabus was much more advanced than our local syllabus, and years of conditioning in an intensely competitive Chinese environment. Their excellent command of Chinese came from growing up and living in China, where Chinese/Mandarin in their first language.

If you repeat this exercise with any single person in the world, rich or successful, you’ll end up with the same thing — they all started as babies with no knowledge or achievements in anything. Again, let’s not talk about wealth which I know some people inherit — I’m talking about knowledge which is a key differentiating point between people. Capability, I believe everyone has an infinite amount of, so we are on equal grounds there. Whether you are Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, there was a point in the past when you knew absolutely nothing about your craft and had to learn from scratch.

Suddenly, it doesn’t matter what others have or don’t have. Because everyone starts from a place of nothing. Everything is acquired through time, whether through formal or informal education, environmental reinforcement, or some other factor. Regardless of whether you have something or nothing now, as long as you take the steps to put the pieces in place, you will get to where you want to be.

You Have Something

The second point I want to make is to invite you to rethink the notion that you have nothing. Because every time you think you have nothing, it’s likely the opposite. It’s the proverbial notion of whether the glass is half-empty or half-full. There is always something there. The pessimist sees the glass as half-empty; the optimist sees the glass as half-full.

Have you ever considered that the glass has always been all full though? The bottom half is filled with water, and the top half is filled with air.

If you don’t see what you have today as something, it’s possible that you’ve been living in your own reality for too long, to the point where you take what you have for granted. You’ve developed a mental blindness to the value of what you have. It’s a matter of re-tuning yourself to recognize those things you do have.

Try mentally swapping positions with someone who is in a worse-off situation than you. It can be someone who just got robbed, someone who just got retrenched, a convict sentenced for life behind bars, a patient suffering from a terminal illness with a month to live, a vegetable, a person with anterograde amnesia, a starving beggar with no home to go to, a bankrupt, someone with heavy debt to clear, a famine-stricken child in Africa, etc. — the possibilities are endless. How would you feel? What would you become? What would life be like compared to what you have now?

Suddenly, it’s apparent that there are so many things in your life you didn’t realize. All the things you have from before that you saw as nothing suddenly becomes something. Things like your senses, your health, your freedom, your livelihood, your rights, your friends, your family, your knowledge, your skill sets, your abilities, your intellect, and many more. All these are real things, real tools that you possess. They are assets beyond any doubt. There are many people who wish they have these, yet they don’t. Realize it or not, by being able to see this post, you are in a better place than many people in this world. And focusing on the things that you do have now and making the best out of them are surer ways to move you forward in life than not recognizing them.

Your Problems Are Something Too

In fact, everything you have in your life now is something. Including your problems, contrary to what many would think. I know many of you may be thinking, How can my problems be of value? They weigh me down. I wish I can get rid of all my life problems immediately.

There was something I read in Think and Grow Rich years ago that I want to share with you. Many people always see their problems as liabilities, and the things they have as assets.

However, have you ever realized that your problems are actually your assets too — in fact, bigger assets than you realize? Because for every problem you face, hundreds of thousands of people around the world are probably facing it too. And if your problem is so huge that it’s weighing on you, imagine how many people would want to know the solution to this problem. Who is a better person to discover the solution than you, the person who is in the middle of it all?

Once you find the solution, imagine how valuable this solution will be to others who have the same problem. It’s a huge asset! Your problems are really your assets in disguise. They are your hidden gold mines waiting to be mined and converted into gold. In fact, our problems are the keys to abundance. It’s with these problems that you become a richer person, not just in terms of physical wealth, but also emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

I was brought up in a family where money was not abundant. We were not poverty poor, but we were definitely in a low-income household. Since young, we lived in a regular HDB flat and didn’t own any cars. Cars are considered a luxury item in Singapore, unlike in the United States where it is more of a commodity. My parents worked very hard in odd jobs, at certain times working dual jobs, to put me and my brother through school. (That said, they dote on me a lot — I never wanted many things as a kid, but for the few things I did want, they would do their best to get them for me, so I never felt like I was lacking or anything like that.)

When I was in high school, I had classmates whose parents were very well off. They lived in bungalows, semi-detached, etc. and many of them had cars. At that time, I wondered why my family was not as rich as other kids’ families. I wished my family was more well off.

Then one day, I came across this quote, along with the lines of “Those who are rich will never know how expensive it is to be poor.”

This quote really got me thinking, because I realized that it was a blessing that I was where I was, because I could never appreciate wealth (of any kind) the same way if I already had it to begin with. That was one of the times when I had a paradigm shift about my reality.

I’m not saying that others who are born rich cannot appreciate their wealth, but they would never do so the same way compared to if they never had it at first (same for any situation in life). When you don’t have something, you appreciate it in a very different way when you get it. It’s also from your problems that you grow and become better, just like how your disappointments make you a stronger person.

And Then There Is Something Else

And even beyond your problems/liabilities, assets, knowledge, abilities, and skill sets, there is something else that you have. Even if you have nothing to your name, even if you have been declared bankrupt, even if you’re $100 million dollars in debt, even if everyone has left you in this world, even if you are to lose your job/status/knowledge/achievements, even if your life has been decimated, you still have something.

You have you.

And that, I’m telling you, is the most powerful thing you can ever have in your entire life. It’s the one thing you ever need in your entire life to create the life you want. Because you have more power in you to create than anything else in the world that you can acquire. It doesn’t matter whether you are $100 million dollars in debt; you have the ability to reverse it and earn more. (Which was exactly what Donald Trump did. He was $0.9 billion dollars in debt in the 1990s and reversed that in a year, to emerge a billionaire with $3 billion in net worth — 3 times richer than his highest point of wealth before his debt. It was such an incredible feat that he became listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest financial turnaround in history.)

It doesn’t matter if you have no friends now to speak of; you have the ability to get out there and make new friends. It doesn’t matter if you have nothing now, because you can get out there and create something for yourself.  Whatever static object/asset you can acquire is nothing in comparison with you: a dynamic being who is able to create, synthesize thoughts, break down problems, form solutions, build structures, move mountains, and more.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the answers now, because you have an eternal connection with your subconsciousness, which has all the answers you need. You also have unlimited potential and capacity to do whatever you want.

When I started this blog in Dec 2008 (two years ago as I’m writing this), I had nothing (so to speak). I had quit my job, I had no income. I was a nobody as far as the personal development world was concerned. I had no domains, no websites, no hosting. I had no idea what Twitter was or any of the jazzy Web 2.0 social media, no knowledge of the workings of the blogosphere. I had no experience creating a personal development blog and I had never written a personal development article in my entire life. I had never done life coaching; didn’t know what life coaching was. I had never trained before and had never spoken in a workshop or seminar. I never read personal development books nor had any interest in them. I had no idea who was who in the personal development space nor was I in the loop of the things happening in this area.

Yet did it matter? No, it didn’t. All these were absolutely irrelevant in whether I was going to achieve my dreams. The point was that this was (and is) my passion; this is my dream. I knew that as long as I put my whole self into pursuing the goal, I would achieve it. It didn’t matter what I had or what I didn’t have. If there was something I had that could help achieve the goal, then great, I would leverage on it to achieve the goal. If there was nothing, then sure, I would just figure out how to get it, or if it was not possible to get it, to create it myself.

Everything else was just riff-raff, peripheral nothings that played no role whatsoever in the outcome (achieving my dreams). And while everyone was expressing fear about my situation and how it was risky and what not, these were more like noise to my ears. Their fears were more projections of themselves than of my situation. In my mind, my goal was stark clear. It was fixed. The question was merely how to get there.

Today after 2.5 years of starting my blog, Personal Excellence has over 200k 1 million pageviews/month (as of Oct 2011), is one of the top 25 personal development sites in the world, and we’re growing stronger every day. I have received nearly 20 over 70 media features (as of 2017) in prominent media/press outlets, including CNN, Asia One, Channel News Asia, Today, and CBS Network. I’m a coach to very smart and talented people from different walks of life, whether in their 20s, 30s, 40s or teens, helping them achieve success in their lives. My posts have been featured in the biggest personal development blogs online.

I have big goals for Personal Excellence in the years to come, and I’m excited to see them unfold.

Did it matter whether I had something or nothing in the beginning? No, it didn’t. Again, it’s irrelevant. Whatever it is that you have or don’t have now doesn’t matter. The outcome is fixed. Having something or nothing only affects how and what needs to be done to achieve your desired end outcome, but not the end outcome itself.

Focus on What You Want, not What You Have Now

If we always base our decision on what we have or don’t have at this moment, we’re never going to get far. Because we’re limiting ourselves based on our history. You become a function of your past. You become a shadow of your past. That’s just surrendering yourself to what you had in the past, which is a very disempowering way to live. It merely serves to reinforce the status quo. Your current state is not a determinant of who you can be or what you can have. Remember, you have unlimited power in you. Focus on your WHAT, not your HOW.

Now if you instead, focus on what you want, what you really want, that’s a much more empowering way to live. What do you want in your life? Identify what you want, figure out your strategy and your plan, and then get there.

When you’re inspired by a vision that drives you, you will reach that goal no matter what. Your obstacles are only what you see when you take your eyes off your goal. Pick the skills, learn them, put in your 10,000 hours and more, and you’ll be there faster than you realize.

Everyone starts from somewhere. It doesn’t matter what you have or don’t have now. It’s more important that you get clear on what you want and move towards there.

The interesting thing is, when you start doing that, you’ll realize you had a lot of things all along. All of a sudden, the past skill sets that you acquired comes in handy. Your past knowledge becomes applicable. People you knew before fall into place one way or another to aid you. And even if you don’t, as I mentioned earlier, it’s a matter of creating the connections to drive you forward.

I’ll end off with this quote:

“It’s not what you’ve got; it’s what you do that makes the difference.”

All the best in achieving your goals and dreams and let me know how it goes. :)