The key to creating a lifestyle that is both wildly successful and sustainable is simple: Start with yourself. Start small. Be consistent.

Too bad it took me so long to learn that lesson!

If you bite off more than you can chew, be prepared to choke!

When I was fresh out of college, I was struggling to find meaning in my life. It seems like a pretty common phenomenon for college grads.

I was on a search for purpose, and it wasn’t going well.

I had a lot of big ideas. Huge goals that I either started on right away without a plan–and promptly burned myself out—or that I kept putting off until I was “ready.”

I was working too hard without taking care of myself, with the mistaken idea that launching into overdrive would provide some sort of sense of accomplishment and forward motion.

It did, sometimes. And then I’d roll right back when I became too exhausted to sustain my effort.

In short: I was miserable, though it took me a while to realize it.

Things were falling apart.

I had racked up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt.

I was gaining weight (and it wasn’t muscle).

I was drinking too much.

I was relying on caffeine to get me through the day.

Needless to say, I was also scattered, and unfocused.

It all came to head when I was working at residential camp with at-risk youth. I was trying to teach them how to get their lives in order–when my own was barely functioning.

Eventually, I used myself up. I realized that I was no longer any good to those kids.

I realized, after months of sleepless nights and repressed anxiety, that I was on a path of self-destruction, and I had built up a lot of momentum in that direction. I had to either continue through to the inevitable outcome, or do something huge, something drastic, to shock myself out of it. I had to break the pattern–and then try as hard as I could to build a life far better than the one that I had let the world build around me.

So I made a tough decision. I quit.

I walked away from my attempt to change the world, because I finally realized that I had to change myself, first.

And that’s what I did. I threw myself into every self-improvement program I could find. Tony Robbins to Guy Finley, Yoga to weightlifting.

I went back to basics and re-learned how to take care of myself.

Back to life

Quickly–very, very quickly–I found myself with more happiness than I imagined was possible. I was stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally. Within a few months, I was able to focus on helping others again. I got trained as a personal trainer. I created a slew of programs for kids and adults at the local YMCA.

I finally had my own affairs in order enough that I could give the world the energy it deserved. And I realized that I had been absolutely terrible to it, so far. But now, with my life on track, with a sense of doing good for the community, I was finally able to make real, positive changes for the environment, as well.

And that’s where my story really gets good…. But more on that some other time. The simple point for right now is this: In order to be a responsible community member, and in order to have a sustainable positive impact on the world, you must start with yourself.