It’s Unlikely, But It’s Possible

December 1, 2010 | blog,Career,dream life,job searching | Tags: , , , , , | Written by: admin

Liz Murray was in the news again the other day. She’s the “from homeless to Harvard” girl that had a movie made about her unbelievable story and that recently released her first book “Breaking Night.” The book is her memoir of growing up with her drug-addicted parents in New York City…about being on the streets of New York after losing her mom to AIDS at the age of 15 and ultimately making it into Harvard…and graduating. Today, she’s an international speaker, among other things.

It’s the ultimate success story. She’s been honored left and right by the likes of Oprah and, oh well, the White House.

Yet…I was wondering something.

What is harder?

Turning your life around when you seem to have nothing going for you and you’ve hit rock bottom (like Liz), or making drastic changes in your life when your situation is neither dire nor great?

The obvious answer seems to be that a person in Liz’s situation would have the toughest time making something of their life. Right?

But here’s what I’m thinking:

When you’ve hit rock bottom, you have nothing to lose. The only way is up. Clearly, you have a lot to gain. And your desperation can be a big motivator to get – and keep – going.

When you’re living in mediocrity, you still have plenty to gain, but also to lose. You may be discontent, but not desperate enough to make big changes in your life.

So I got thinking about the millions of single families in the U.S., struggling to get by. Some of the single moms and dads go on to pursue higher education and realize their career dreams, ultimately providing a better life for their families.

Others barely manage to hold on to their jobs and be there for their kids.

Yet their efforts and achievements aren’t dismal.

You’ll hardly ever hear about them…there’s no big media story in it…no huge contrast such as going from homeless to Harvard. Yet they make sacrifices every day, push themselves beyond what they thought was possible, and keep their families together.

Maybe they put in just as much – or more – effort into keeping their families afloat compared to what it took Liz to rise above her situation.

Then there are the folks with successful careers who seem to have it all. Many of them are unhappy in their professional life though. Yet they have lots to lose. They may have others who depend on them. Certain things are expected of them – such as hefty mortgage payments each month. They may have grown up in relative wealth, therefore not having developed the perseverance and coping skills that Liz couldn’t help but nurture out of necessity. So when it’s time to make a drastic change, these successful folks aren’t necessarily the best prepared. Which means they experience it as something very difficult.

Of course, no comparison to the difficulty of being abandoned as a child and having to fend for yourself, but remember – I’m playing devil’s advocate here.

Liz’s story is the classic American success story. We all love these stories. And clearly, the contrast in her life is enormous; could she have been much worse off as a kid?

I guess what I’m saying is: congrats to Liz – can’t help but love her – but I’m here also celebrating all the invisible “stories” of people and families that transform their lives and take big risks, but that we’ll never see on 20/20 or Oprah. I’m celebrating the efforts of millions of people who weren’t exactly born with a silver spoon in their mouth either but who, against the odds, made something of themselves, no matter how basic.

Last but not least, I love Liz’s “it’s unlikely, but possible” statement. This is what she told herself when she entered a writing contest that ultimately got her into Harvard. It was unlikely that she’d win the competition, but possible.

It’s powerful to be operating from the “possible perspective” vs. the “unlikely viewpoint.”

Where do you tell yourself that something is unlikely, or even impossible? Could you instead focus on the possibility, even if it’s small? Let’s try.

Here’s my invitation to you: If you have a story of struggle and the changes you made in your life that may not have been very visible to those around you, I’d like to hear about it! No essay writing service is necessary, just write it down your way.

This is your chance to share it and perhaps let it serve as inspiration to others who may be in similar situations. I’d love to hear your story!

If, on the other hand, you’re thinking of making some shifts in your professional life, or started making them but got stuck, email me at to see how I can help you get moving towards reaching your goals.


  1. My endless search for my “calling” has always ben a personal struggle that only few important people kniw about me. I may look pretty steady superficially, but in the inside, I am more than shaken. I just quit a position that thousands would kill for, probably wasted thousands of money and thousands of time, only to find myself miserable and quitting. I am in between jobs now, without a clear direction to trudge on. Then I read Eat, Pray, Love and somehow got influenced to drop everything, go someplace to marvel at something and feel back the hunger and the enthusiasm for life. Leaving was the hardest part, and now on a different time zone, still hoping to regain the vibrant jack of all trades that I was. Here’s hoping for a positive yield on this real life experiment.

    Comment by Jack — December 2, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

  2. Hi Ilona :)
    I’m one of your Renaissance peeps.
    It just occurred to me a few days ago, I’d accidentally found myself in a near perfect environment, one that I’m just barely getting my head around.

    My background (short version!), grew up on a farm in Alberta, Canada, then moved to the US, joined the US Navy as an aircraft mechanic, served for 9 years. Then got a few jobs… and eventually became a computer tech, did that for 3 or 4 years. Got fired. Decided to be a wedding video and photographer. Did that 10 years. When the US market tanked a couple years ago, that business hit the skids. Then I wandered a while. Got broke. Moved back to Canada. Now I find myself in a small town of 500, where my Mom lives, and I am in a small store, a “business incubator” with very low rent. I’m doing computer service, websites, think I’ll end up doing the Mayor’s son’s wedding photos in February. Who but a Renaissance personality could land a gig like this and really thrive? Oh, and I’m putting together “business directory” websites for the surrounding towns too!

    Glad you’re back, I’ve been open a week now, and was just thinking you probably could appreciate this!

    … :)

    Comment by Carlin — December 2, 2010 @ 8:36 pm

  3. Jack, wow! First of all – hats off to you for making these tough decisions. Although staying in a lousy situation is not easy, it is what lots of people do, vs. taking matters into their own hands.

    I’m very curious to hear where you are right now. Which continent are you on? : )

    What really piqued my interest is that you mention “regain the vibrand jack of all trades that I was.”

    When did you last feel vibrant? What happened since?

    Lots of good vibes for your continued journey (literally and figurativelly) and keep us posted, ok?

    Comment by Ilona Vanderwoude — December 8, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

  4. So…awesome! And good to see you here again Carlin! What an exciting story about your past travels and how it all came together in your current “gigs.”

    Any tips for other renaissance folks wishing to create a similar life?

    Rock on..

    Comment by Ilona Vanderwoude — December 8, 2010 @ 3:56 pm

  5. Great post, Ilona. I totally agree that mediocrity is a very hard place to dislodge from! I have observed with my loved ones and clients that those who are “comfortable” are the hardest to move.

    Comment by Kim Mohiuddin — December 12, 2010 @ 5:50 am

  6. Two years ago at the age of 33, I was living a very comfortable life in Amsterdam. I worked as a content and marketing manager for national radio and had my own lovely little loft right in the center of the city. One day I was sitting on my sofa and I realised I had hit a very thick glass ceiling which had lead to me living a settled but mind-numbing life. Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a DJ and share my knowledge and passion for music and more importantly make people dance to the same tunes I love to dance to. So on new years eve in 2008 I moved to London because it seemed quite symbolic to start my new life on new years eve. I moved into this tiny room in a flatshare in this old and decrepit house in east-London everyone back in The Netherlands thought I had lost my mind. I remember my parents driving over and bringing some of my stuff and when my mother entered my tiny new room, she just sat on my bed and couldn’t speak for at least ten minutes because she did not understand what I had gotten myself into. I gave myself three months to see if I could make something of myself in this big city, and here I am two years onwards. DJing all over town with some of the biggest names in the game and in some of the coolest venues in town, not only that but I’m now DJing in Amsterdam as well because now I am the cool DJ from London, I’ve even played in New York City! I’m also producing a music documentary another thing I have always dreamt of doing. Don’t get me wrong I still have quite a way to go and it can still feel like a struggle, but I’ve never felt so alive! Come check me out:
    ps: My parents now get it and are very proud of me and giving me all the support!

    Comment by Heads First — December 16, 2010 @ 8:01 pm

  7. Thanks Kim! It’s so true…it’s not bad enough to get into high gear and not good enough to be contented…

    Comment by careerbranches — December 17, 2010 @ 10:47 am

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