Why Life is Passing You By – And You Don’t Even Realize It

by Alexander Heyne · 36 comments

A couple years back, I got really unhappy with my life  and felt really stuck.  I had recently made a major life change, moved, and was living in an area where I needed a new job, new friends, and in general, a new life.

Despite the fact that I was building a business that I loved ( but eventually failed), I was noticeably unhappy throughout the day and constantly stressed. I wasn’t having fun anymore, even when I was having fun.

One rainy afternoon I was wondering why the hell I had fallen into this state. I mean, I never was an unhappy person in my life. Never. I was that retardedly optimistic person that people wanted to shut up because I was unrealistically ambitious and always cheery.

One feeling, in particular, was bothering me. The feeling that life was passing me by. 

It scared the living shit out of me. 

So for the afternoon I decided to just hang out and research (and think) all I could on what makes life pass us by so quickly.  Why, I wondered, was life speeding up as I got older? And how could I slow it down?

And that’s when I realized something:

The less present you are during the day, the more quickly it feels like time is passing.

And generally, the less you are doing activities you enjoy, the less you are in flow, and the more you think.

The more you think, the less you are paying attention to life and the more unhappy you get.

Following me?

When you’re unhappy, you tend to be thinking a lot about life. When your job sucks, you’re not engaged. You’re listless and googling shit, and in general not enjoying what’s going on.

When you love your work, or a class you’re in, or a hobby after work, you’re fully present because you’re having a great time. When you’re present, you aren’t thinking. When you aren’t thinking, you’re generally happy. You’re not looking for an out. The time that is passing is “worthwhile.”

If you feel like life is passing you by, if you’re unhappy, or if you feel stuck and feel resistance in every direction, here’s how to fix it.

It all revolves around things that intensely make you present and turn off your mind.

#1 Deactivate all social media, and turn off your phone (and anything that lets you view the lives of others)

I can’t even begin to explain how destructive social media (particularly Facebook & Instagram) are to happiness. I cannot emphasize the importance of quitting Facebook for the sake of your happiness.

When I made my major life move, guess what I would do 35 times a day? Check my Facebook here and there for 2 minutes. Look through old pictures when I actually enjoyed my life. Look at friends posting their vacations. Look at happy couples. Look at people bragging about their lives (even if they hated them, they made them look good on Facebook).

Interestingly enough, they even did a study on Facebook showing it to be a major source of envy and unhappiness.

It stems from the human mind’s incessant desire to compare ourselves with others.

But there’s another hidden problem: it pulls you as far away from possible from the present.

When you’re present, for example while doing something you love, you aren’t thinking. This is the easiest way to be happy long-term.  Watching someone’s fitness improvements on instagram only make you feel worse about yourself. Watching your friend’s latest trip to Paris just makes you jealous and feel worse about your life.

When you’re focusing on the shit that you have to do now, to improve your life now, your mind turns off.

#2 Do more activities that put you in flow

Remember the goal: to do things that keep you in the present moment and turn off your brain. Usually these are things you enjoy doing or require focus.

For me, one of the largest sources of unhappiness was my day job. My day job was boring and unengaging. As a result I was thinking about a million other things I’d rather be doing instead of that work.  My day job was remote work on the computer, so I had some flexibility in how I could re-arrange it during the day.

So how did I fix it?

First, I re-arranged my schedule, and started off my day with an activity I liked that engaged my brain. I decided to spend the first 4 hours of the day (8:30-12:30) working on my own business, since it was fun and engaging.

After that, from 12:30-4:30 I decided to begin work on my day job stuff.  That would start my day off right without much thinking or grumbling.

Second, I made my day job more engaging. 

This depends on who your employer is, and whether or not you work at corporate or a startup, but I’ve found that when you’re doing monkey work (like sending out mass cold-call emails, data entry, repetitive stuff, etc.) listening to podcasts makes it more fun.

I now spend 4-5 hours a day listening to podcasts while I’m doing the boring work, which is a hell of a lot fun and more engaging. Every once in a while I stop and take a bunch of notes, and in general it makes the process something I look forward to much more.

Outside of work, you can put yourself in flow (non-think mode) by following step #3 – creating a kick ass daily routine.

(P.S. If you want to learn more about how being in Flow kicks ass, read these posts I’ve written:

  1. The One Simple Test That Will Change Your Business & Life (Flow Testing 101) 
  2. How to Learn Any Skill 2x as Fast in 1/2 the Time (Part 2 – Flow )
  3. If Your Work Sucks, Learn About Flow

 #3 Create a daily ritual of things you love

Alright, so I told you about how I discovered that filling the day with flow producing activities made it a hell of a lot more enjoyable, and, more importantly, slowed it down.

Here’s how I took it to the next level.

After giving myself a 30 day flow test,  I learned that despite the fact that I didn’t like most of my day, some of it I actually did, like:

  • Waking up a few minutes before work to make a coffee and just sit down and meditate while It was quiet.
  • Hanging out in a coffee shop every afternoon with an espresso and a nice book.
  • Going to the gym — working out instantly brings me into Flow.
  • Judo – Another very physical activity that brings me right into flow because it demands focus (And I like it).

All of these things shut my mind off. That’s the key. I would tell you to meditate but I know most of you won’t do it. The easiest way to essentially “meditate” then is to find activities that naturally engage you, and turn them into a daily ritual.

I would work in the morning and later at night, so I could enjoy that 4-6 pm I was in a cafe reading. And then 6:30-7:30 in a gym, and then 8-9:30 at judo.  There wasn’t a shitty day that couldn’t be fixed by 5 hours of straight flow. Ponder that.

Find what shuts your mind off.

4 – Create & Produce


A recent article called there’smore to life than being happy  reminded me of one of the key truths I’ve learned in the past few years of my life.

People are most happy when we’ve produced or created something with our time. The act of producing or creating is one of those things that contributes massively to living a meaningful life.

If there were ever a quick road to meaning, it would be this: just start creating something. Produce something you believe in.  Whether that’s a book, a piece of art, or just a meetup group… when we produce (rather than consume) we get into flow and time becomes much more enjoyable.

We start to think “Wow, if I never existed, this creation would never exist on earth.” Powerful. You feel important.

There’s another interesting that happens when you produce. At one point of my life, I was getting “too busy” for Milk the Pigeon. So I sat down for an afternoon and went through all my past posts — and it was only then that I had realized just how much I had created.

I had created all this stuff that would not have existed in the world without me. I created words and books that inspired people or made them think differently, which resulted in 100′s of emails where people said “thank you.”  That was just the bonus.

Sometimes you don’t realize just how much you need the physical act of creation until you look back and see how much you’ve actually produced.

5 – When in doubt, DO something (don’t think about it, you’ll just end up miserable)

You should realize by now that one of the fundamental causes behind unhappiness is thinking.

For whatever reason, the human mind doesn’t naturally think about all the good things that can happen. When you’re unemployed for 8 months you can’t think about anything other than stabbing yourself in the face with a fork.

When I moved back to the United States a year or two back, I had a lot of time to think about “what next.” Not surprisingly, that’s when I got the most unhappy. I would think about purpose, meaning and direction for half of the day, and by the second half of the day was ready to just move again and leave all my problems behind.

But here’s the thing: You’re thinking and working yourself up but not doing anything, so you’re actually not getting any closer. It’s not surprising that you’re confused as hell.

Whatever it is – really – when in doubt, just go do something.  Spend as little time thinking and as much time doing. Aside from the obvious (you’ll product results, unlike most people), there is the other benefit that you won’t be stuck in circles all day in your mind.

You know those people who are always living vicariously through others? They don’t DO anything.

6 – Laser tag Mondays, wine tasting Tuesdays, slip n slide Wednesdays, micro adventure Thursdays

For many of us, the boredom (and resulting internal monologue) is one of the main reasons life is flying by and we can’t slow it down.

The other obvious one is that you’re doing the same thing every day. Chances are, if you’re complaining about life passing you by, you aren’t doing the things you enjoy and want to be doing.

This is the exact reason why I started learning a new skill (or doing a new activity) every 30 days.  This is where my 30 day flow test experiment originated.

I would spend 30 days studying wine (just an hour each evening).  The next month I would spend an hour outside walking (to see how it affects my stress levels).  The next month I would spend an hour a night learning about acupressure points and seeing if they did anything to me. The following month I’d practice some of the memory tricks from Moonwalking With Einstein.

See where I’m goin’ with this? It’s a crazy easy way (with minimal time investment) to make life a hell of a lot more conversation worthy and flat out fucking awesome.

The secret to slowing life down

One of the keys to making life slow down is to think as little as possible and do as much as possible. For many of us, we only get stuck in our head when something isn’t going right. Job sucks? Think all day and complain.  Girl rejects you at the bar? Think of a million things you should’ve said instead.

When life is good, we usually just sit there soaking it all in. It’s intensely meditative.

What kind of things should we do as much as possible? Anything that puts you in flow and turns off your brain.

We live in an era with an epic amount of distractions.  Facebook, instagram, cellphones. They’re all distracting us and preventing us from doing anything.

Many of us spend our days jealous of our friends’ vacations on Facebook. We envy the guy with a good job who shows off his money. We envy the girl who posts duck-faced pictures of herself in a bikini on a beach. We envy the couple who travels the world together. We envy the person who never seems to be working when everyone else is.

Get rid of all that shit. They’re distractions. They’re preventing you from reaching your potential. Stop living your life through this illusion and start seizing it by the balls.

Stop letting life pass you by, and go do something.

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Solo February 7, 2013 at 12:36 pm

I’m so glad I found this website! Thank you so much for this!!

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Alexander Heyne February 16, 2013 at 12:08 pm

You’re welcome solo!

- Alex

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David Delp February 13, 2013 at 11:37 pm

When you talk about Flow I assume you are talking about the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He studied thousands of folks who regularly had optimal experiences, they were regularly in Flow. What they all had it common were these traits:

There is a clear goal.
You have a task you have a chance of completing.
You have the opportunity to concentrate on it.
You have control over the outcome.
There is immediate feedback.
The task is intrinsically rewarding so it feels effortless.
Your sense of self disappears.
Time disappears.

When you do your tests, there are your metrics. Just sayin’.

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Alexander Heyne February 16, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Hey David –

Yessir, I talk quite a bit about Doc. C over here. I think he’s the #1 recommended resource on my reading list.

You ever do any kind of flow tests or what? I guess as an artist you’re basically always in flow ;) Consider yourself lucky.

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David Delp February 17, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Yes, but can you pronounce his name? http://youtu.be/qQwkZafcpv4

David Delp February 13, 2013 at 11:38 pm

Hate typos…. “in common.” Jeesh.

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Blake Richards June 3, 2013 at 1:25 pm

I don’t know who you are or what stemmed you to create this website, but this stuff is SO vital. I’ve read similar little tid bits here and there on other websites, but you have actually created a reference guide for the people of this generation. For me personally, it seems as if the internet has become a blessing and a curse. While it provides a mountain of resources and information on basically anything you’ve ever wanted to know, it has also made the decision making process for a lot of people, myself included, an exhausting process. However, I think your recommendations really are like a flashlight through the fog. There is a light up ahead, you just have to keep an eye out for it.

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Alexander Heyne June 7, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Awesome Blake I’m glad you found it useful !

Cheers,
Alex

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Candice June 7, 2013 at 5:19 pm

I was reading this as the only other tab I had open was my Facebook account and look at vacation pics. You were right! I didn’t necessarily deactivate the account as sometimes that is my only way to get in touch with a lot of people, but I logged out, deleted the shortcut in my browser and deleted the app from my phone. Added instead meetup.com to find things to get out and do! Felt some of the stress and pressure almost immediately lift off me!

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Alexander Heyne June 10, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Hey Candice,

Yeah Facebook can be tricky. The irony is that it really is a popularity contest haha – and most of us are all just trying to show off the good parts of life, which isn’t the whole story. It gives the illusion that all your friends are happy and you’re the only one who isn’t.

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SD September 23, 2013 at 5:18 pm

I just wanted to say, this is a really well-written piece and I think the advice is great! I can totally relate to everything you have said here. I actually found this article when I did a search for “my life is passing me by.” You are so right about seizing the little things that make you happy, not over-thinking, and focusing on action. I try to do these things, but its hard because I too am trying to get out of a day job that depresses me. Going through a rough time right now, and this article helped me. Thanks again.

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Alexander Heyne September 28, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Cheers! No problem SD :)

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Christine October 3, 2013 at 8:15 am

I love this so much! I typed into google “feel like life is passing me by” and this website came up- it is so true. I have already deleted facebook for this reason- biggest time waster and facade EVER.

We are here to create, be creative, get outside and enjoy moments.

Meditation is key….

It is always good to keep busy doing things you love (or if not, learn how to love these things) to stop over thinking.

I just agree 100% with everything you have said here.

Love it.

Thank you for sharing

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mc October 18, 2013 at 7:44 am

i fucking love this post and your blog. boss!

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Alexander Heyne October 23, 2013 at 12:14 am

I gotchu! :D

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Yuli November 25, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Hi Alexander. I was writing my gradschool application essay and googling “life pass me by”, not that I feel it right now but I’m pretty sure anyone experienced it some times in his/her life. I could only wish that I had read this article a long long time ago, I would have move on to my happy life faster. For me it’s a reminder to own my life. I want to share it because I found it very helpful. So, I hope you would give me the permission to share this article in social media, with a reference to you and your blog, of course. Thanks and keep on writing… :)

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Alexander Heyne December 5, 2013 at 11:44 am

Hi Yuli,

By all means please share it!

Thanks for asking – and I’m glad you enjoyed it!

- Alex

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EPRE December 30, 2013 at 8:34 am

I have been telling myself that I suffer from depression and anxiety over the last 2/3 months. Coincidently, I moved away from home, my family, my girlfriend, my friends, my sports MY LIFE! I sit around thinking all day about the same things over and over again. I never questioned my existence before I made such a big and unhappy change to my life. but until right now (reading this page) I never put two and two together! I don’t need to distract myself, I need to do what makes me happy again! I’m going to get in the shower out of my stinky pit of a room. clean the flat and go do what I love. Exercise! thank you!

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Alexander Heyne January 2, 2014 at 7:43 pm

You’re welcome EPRE, let me know how else I can help.

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Shannon Walker January 30, 2014 at 6:56 am

So many great insights here! Your words have helped me understand my mental ‘fog’ – only through DOING what I love and not living vicariously through others, will I feel clear in my head. And I hadn’t heard of the idea of ‘flow’ before- love that. And thanks for the reminder to not over-think things. I will take these insights with me to move into a ‘sharper’ life and out of the fog. Thank you.

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Alexander Heyne February 3, 2014 at 9:32 am

No problem Shannon :)

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Michael Priebe February 19, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Thinking, thinking and more thinking – that is indeed the problem. If a professional athlete was suddenly afflicted with my tendencies for over-thinking, his focus would be lost in a heartbeat and his career would end. I liked the post and the talk of how psychologically infuriating Facebook is. Everyone seems to have a better family life, more friends, a nicer house, a better job and more satisfaction with their life. It’s important to remember that it’s just the highlight reels of others’ lives – and even those highlights are often staged and embellished. The part about creating something is also spot on. Nice post.

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Alexander Heyne February 20, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Amen Michael !

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No Distance left to run March 8, 2014 at 5:15 am

Alexander,

Thank you posting this. I’m glad I did google this. I’m currently unemployed, despite having being well qualified and good at what I used to do. I now have a lot of time to think about why I have failed at many things in my life, as my peers and friends seem to enjoy their lives. I believe that my bouts of bad luck and self loathing happens for a reason, but a little common sense and direction is all I needed. Its going to be very difficult to sever my facebook, but that will be the start. I need to define a goal a day, small steps at a time I think. The long damp winter hasn’t helped, so hopefully the spring time sunshine will be my guide.

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Alexander Heyne March 9, 2014 at 2:30 pm

” I now have a lot of time to think about why I have failed at many things in my life, as my peers and friends seem to enjoy their lives.”

Careful with this. People like being envied, and friends (especially on facebook) usually make themselves seem better (or happier, or richer) than they really are.

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Ravi March 25, 2014 at 7:17 am

This is addictive….I feel you have been stalking me all my life..How could you know so much about the things going in my life….

Awesome post! Awesome blog! Alexander The Great Heyne :)

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Alexander Heyne March 25, 2014 at 11:26 am

Hahah thanks Ravi!

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Lena April 10, 2014 at 10:56 am

Just as the ocean was about to fill my lungs, my life raft arrived.
Thank you Alexander.

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Villy July 23, 2014 at 11:43 am

I was so lost before reading this article..but you definetely gave me a reason to keep going! Im so glad i found your page Alex! U are awesome!
Thank you so much!

PS: keep writing! the world needs you.
Thanks again :)

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Alexander Heyne August 4, 2014 at 1:29 pm

You’re welcome Villy :D

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Anna August 6, 2014 at 10:01 am

Thank you.✌️

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jade August 6, 2014 at 1:40 pm

awesome alex! not just for 20 somethings but for those who are much older and have had it all. it’s so freshing yet so simple <3 luv u <3

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Alexander Heyne August 11, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Cheers Jade!

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Justin August 21, 2014 at 3:32 am

Just caught this site. I am going thru living hell and I can’t escape. I just turned 36. Laid off December 2013 from a high paying stressed out 12hr day job in mortgage business. wife gets diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer end of December.Move into father in laws in bad bad area..home invasions,shootings,section8 housing.Take her for double mastectomy end of January..chemo for 4 months 3hour sessions every week. Help her bathe, walk up steps, take her to 3 sometimes 4 doctors appts a week. Couldn’t look for job,taking care of wife.takes mental toll on me. Wife beats cancer and chemo, can’t work,might have arthritis now, can’t have kids due to body makin to much estrogen and giving her breast cancer, on antihormomal drug. Has to walk with cane..only 34. Looking for job since June 1st when her chemo was over.. unemployment ended,mom and dad barely have a dime. Her dad was gambling behind our back while we were she struggling and she was fightin for her life. Deal was we pay all utilities he pays 401.54 mortgage to keep roof over our heads. Just had a modification loan on house in April. Hasn’t made 1payment. Letter from citi bank stating they are starting foreclosure in 30 days. Nowhere to move to, been on 5 job interviews, 3-4 phone interviews. Nothing. Band I played drums broke up, guys having kids, travelling for work. Struggling day by day.trying to get her social security, might be sick rest of her life. I have type 1 diabetes, got it at 13.diagnosed with adult cystic fibrosis at 30 in 08. Can’t exercise, had stomach surgery in 06 for acid reflux and coughing(never had reflux only coughing). destroyed my stomach. Unreparable, tried to sue doctors,lawyers told me because I didn’t have full blown version of cystic fibrosis I couldn’t sue docs. In 2011 diagnosed with type2 bipolar disorder. Don’t go crazy, just get manic then depressed for no reason. At this point I am done. Everywhere I turn I am faced with tragedy, hardship and grief. I have nothing left. Nothing happens for a reason. The universe is randomness at best. There is no reason why people like myself are going thru these things.it just is. My everyday has drained me dry. I have no fight left. I have no interest in anything, no sex drive, no desire to socially interact and when I do it’s with a small group of friends and i almost come to tears cause they all have kids running around and I have nothing. I have my wife but we fight over money, her dad and this life. I’m at the end of my rope

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Daniel August 24, 2014 at 10:13 am

Hello Justin.

Your words have really touched my heart/soul.

Currently i am unemployment at the age of 33, but when i was working in my shop (selling lacquers, water and oil paints and tools), i encountered many people in your situation almost every day. Some of them were beggars, while others sold items like pens, marker pens, lighters and candles to earn a living and help their dear ones to face their diseases.

A week ago… i was feeling so empty and so clueless about my purpose in life ( which led me to this wonderful site – God bless Alexander for his marvelous work/posts!) when i met a woman in a situation identical to yours. We talked and i learned that she has a 28 years old son and and a husband with deep psychological problems… She had to wander in the streets every day, and go in the shops and try to sell items like i mention above, so she can make a living and be able to provide the right medication for her son and husband (her son alone was taking 13 medicines!)

However, she was so calm and she was smiling all the time. She was always blessing God and how things are going for the better, slowly and steady. And they did…We even talked about my situation and she helped me feel better about it. “Whatever it is…” she said “it will pass. Just when your problem comes to your mind, just think/say ‘it will pass.’”

That was the most amazing thing. I was in a much better situation than hers and she uplifted me, while naturally the quite opposite should have happened!

I feel so much sympathy, respect and admiration for people like her, for people like you Justin. Even though you failed many times and continue to do so, you are true warriors of life.

What you lack isn’t will but faith.

My friend. The universe isn’t random. The universe is a giant mirror reflecting back to you whatever you believe about it, the world around you, you and everything else in general. And what is a belief? A belief is a thought you keep thinking/saying.

What you say and think all the time, is what you expect and what you expect is what you believe. Then you put action out there and use will to make things happen. But since you believe that nothing can change, it wont, because when there is a conflict between will and faith, faith always win.

Here is the key: Our mind has been designed to always agree with our opinions and beliefs. It always accepts them without questioning.

So, if you always think that nothing can change, your mind accepts that and it wont give you ideas on how to change things.

If, on the other hand, you believe that things are so hard but there is a way to change them, then your mind will (eventually) accept that and it will definitely find you a way to change them. It’s just a matter of time.

Now, you will ask me: “How is it possible to believe something, when i can’t see a way that it can happen? And how i am supposed to have faith, when all these things keep happening to me?”

And the answers is you have to first believe something and then you will be able to see it (and not the opposite, as most people do). Whatever happens to you, you have the choice to think about it all day (and your mind will accept it – since a belief is a thought you keep thinking), or to focus on the fact that there is a solution (every problem has a solution – that’s a law). The way you feel, will show you where you focus most – the problem or the solution.

Justin, be proud of yourself, of what you have done. You could have given up many time ago, but you didn’t. You could have committed suicide (in such situations it is indeed very tempting) but you didn’t. Your wife must be the most lucky woman in the world – to have a man like you. Do you know how many cases i know of men in your situation that left their wives? You have such strong will to fight, it’s really amazing. Combine it with faith!

Don’t give up. Keep saying to yourself that there is a way to change your life for the better. Keep fighting. You will find the way. I promise you will.

Seek help. Seek people to uplift you. If you don’t know or can’t find anyone you can ask me and we can talk about it. I want to help you get past this and you can do it. Where there is will AND faith, there is always a way.

Sorry for the big answer and my possible mistakes (Iam a Greek guy), but i so love people like you Alexander and Justin. People who give their best to help others no matter what and have something good to offer to this world.

POSTSCRIPT: Justin, if i was near you now i would give you a big hug and i would say how proud i’am of you. I would say to you that everything is going to be OK. Today i will pray for you:))

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