It was Thanksgiving of 2002. I had just hit rock bottom. Fired from my job for being incompetent, it felt as though I had lost my self-identity and self-worth.
I was 27 years old. What should have been the prime of my life instead left me facing my darkest days.
To add insult to injury, I’d recently broken up with my long-time girlfriend, and since then she’d gone on to find the love of her life, while I’d been spending my weekends in loud bars chasing — and being rejected by — big city girls who were more interested in playing a real life version of
Today I run the business of my dreams with a partner that I consider a brother. Hundreds of thousands of people from dozens of countries read my daily email newsletters, “Like” me on Facebook, and use our products to improve their lives.
But back in 2002, on that late Thursday in November when I got fired, I sat in my apartment in Toronto with my best friend, eating pizza and watching Harry Potter on DVD, and saw nothing but a bleak future.
Why on earth do I tell you this depressing story so close to Christmas? Shouldn’t I be writing about joy, peace, and the benefits of giving over receiving?
Well, yes, I could. But before we reach Christmas, we must first make it through the shortest, darkest day of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere. Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice, and from that day forward each day gets longer and lighter.
This change reflects our life when things are going bad. I want you to save this essay and hide it away for when you might be going through a struggle, or you might share it with someone that is. Let them remember that darkness does return to light.
We’ve all had our low points in life. With so many readers of many different ages from all corners of the globe, our email inbox overflows with questions about what to do when the chips are down. Some folks have been laid off, others in debt, some recently divorced, and in the worst-case scenario we hear from dear readers that are faced with the repercussions of a one-time drunk-driving mistake.
They all ask the same question, “What should I do? Where do I start?”
Today I want to show you what worked for me and what didn’t. That way, if you ever find yourself upon troubled times, you can use my painful experience to get back on track faster and with much less stress.
I want to assure you that no matter what you are going through it will all be over soon. Bad times will become good. Night will turn to day. Hate can turn to love again, if you let it.
To do so, you must follow the wisdom of the Stoics, whose philosophy, in my interpretation, can be summed up as follows:
Control what you can, cope with what you can’t, and concentrate on what counts.
If only I knew that then.
When I was fired a wave of anxiety washed over me. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t want to eat. My heart pounded. My mind raced with negative thoughts and my imagination filled my head with nightmare scenarios. I started sleeping more. I longed for every weekend to come so that everyone would be off work and ‘unemployed’ like me.
This mourning period lasted a few weeks. What followed was a period of experimentation, where I tried just about everything to get back on track. Some of my decisions brought me out of the dip while others stalled my progress.
The biggest mistake I made was cutting myself off from my social circle. I know, I know, it was a senseless, immature thing to do. But as I mentioned, I had stupidly tied both my self-worth and self-identity to my job. Unemployment left me feeling impotent and ashamed.
Foolishly I thought that people saw me the same way, but in hindsight I know they only saw a good friend that had disappeared from their life. They didn’t give a whit about my career or the money I made. They just wanted to see me happy. They were the definition of true friends.
Do not make the same mistake I did.
If you lose a job, get divorced, go bankrupt, or make any mistake that sets you back in life, fight the urge to hide in embarrassment. I urge you to have greater courage than me, and to continue living your life as normal.
Certainly there will be gossip behind your back. There always is. And someone from the outer fringes of your social circle might make a loutish comment in your presence. Do your best to find it in your heart to forgive them, and with your mind to forget them, and go on living with grace and poise.
That behavior is the exception to the rule. Your dear friends, your family, and your community will want to support you. They want to cheer you up, to take your mind off your struggles, and to give you the love you need until you get back on your feet.
They will want to do for you just as you would do for them.
I know that my mistake to withdraw for those few months, and the isolation I put myself through, is likely to take years off my life. It might be the unhealthiest thing I have ever done to myself.
Fortunately, while I erred in hiding from my regular social circle, I made one right decision that brought me back on the path to success.
I decided to double down on my career connections. For whatever reason, I wasn’t ashamed to admit my struggles to my colleagues.
I remember one winter’s afternoon, feeling lonely and lying on my bed, I decided to write down the names of all the people in the fitness industry that I knew.
As I made this list, I made a solemn vow that I wouldn’t let them down, that I would do everything possible to lift myself up out of this depression and take advantage of the great opportunities that I had in life.
Looking back, it seems a little overdramatic. But if you’ve ever been unemployed, you’ve probably experienced the catch-22 of unsuccessful job hunting.
There you are, with what seems like all the time in the world to do what you should be doing (searching high and low for jobs), and yet with every passing minute of unemployment you become less and less motivated and more and more frustrated.
That’s how most people feel, and it’s something to keep in my mind the next time you feel like passing judgment. Better simply to say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
And so it was this solemn vow to everyone that I knew in the fitness industry, and to one man in particular, Adam Campbell, my editor at Men’s Health, that I started to turn the corner.
Each day I’d contact three or four people, offering to help them in any way I could. A volunteer training opportunity led to a part-time paid coaching gig. This re-connected me to an old friend who introduced me to a gym owner and a trial offer to work with a handful of clients.
I had a second chance. I was out of the woods and back onto my path. There remained a long road ahead, full of obstacles, like anyone’s road in life, but that vow in the back of my mind drove me forward each day no matter how steep the terrain, no matter what was in my way.
And so to you my friend, I hope that your time of mourning for yourself, your situation, your loss, is over. Time to turn the corner. Time to double down on your connections in all areas of your life.
Now is not the time to retreat. It never is. I know from all-too-painful experience.
Find your compass, make a vow to yourself and to your friends and mentors that you’ll seek out every opportunity and take action on every second chance that comes your way. Move ahead, step by step, every single day. Live your life, and climb your way out of the hole.
Let me assure you, with this approach, your darkest days are behind you, and brighter times lay ahead.