Real Leaders

Know Your Rock Bottom: A Lesson in Self-Awareness

I remember my rock bottom. I was standing outside an old church in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The church was locked. It was the middle of the winter, it was cold, and snow was on the ground. I paced slowly to keep warm, and my weathered North Face jacket did its best to keep the winter from slicing through to my body.

I was waiting for a moving truck to come and meet me at this location. In an effort to make ends meet, I had picked up a job with a third-rate moving company that took on small, local moves. This particular job consisted of moving old, dilapidated wooden chairs and benches from one church to the next. The other men working the job with me—my colleagues—were late to the site again. They usually strolled in 30 to 60 minutes late, smelling of liquor and smoke from the evening before, and I cursed myself for showing up on time, only to lie victim to their indifferent tardiness.

I hated them, and they hated me.

None of them ever offered to give me a ride out of the city, and I probably wouldn’t have taken one if they did. So, instead, I took the R5 train from Market Street out to the mainline. I was now losing feeling in my fingers and toes and dreading the remainder of the day, which would see me working with these degenerates while acquiring a chill that would take all evening to shake off.

As I struggled for warmth, gaunt-faced, and hollow-eyed, I thought about the last 48 hours, two days that were perhaps harsher and more biting than the air that surrounded me.

Banking on ‘The Career I Was Made For’

Twelve months ago, I began a robust application process for a career I believed I was made for. I started the process while still living in the warm embrace of California. Over those months, I interviewed, tested, and ran through scenarios that saw me rise above 10,000 other applicants. I moved to Philadelphia and took on volunteer work—one last push to increase my chances of acceptance, confident that I would land the position. This gave me very little time to make money to live on, and, with no savings, I relied on a meager hourly wage, a few tips, and the kindness of strangers whose new houses we moved belongings into. I was broke.

The final hiring process narrowed down to seven others and me. I spent a week competing against those other men and women, even though the employer said they’d take anywhere from all of us—to none of us. I arrived late to the room I was renting to find a thin letter on my bed. The letter was from my hopeful employer informing me that while I was a solid applicant, they would not be offering me a position at this time, but to please consider applying again in a year.

Just like that, 12 months wasted.

The following night, as I lay flat on my back on the floor of that small room, my friends called. They were going to a movie, and might I be interested in joining? They could swing by and pick me up in 15 minutes. I told them I’d have to call them back. Once off the phone, I quickly signed into my mobile banking app to check my thin balance. My checking account consisted of $2.18. I’ll never forget that amount: two dollars and eighteen cents. It was literally all I was worth.

I called them back with a half-hearted excuse as to why I wouldn’t be able to make it; my pride stifling the truth. And the next morning, I arose from bed, the sun not up and frost hanging on the corners of the window pane. I needed to get to the train station to catch the R5 to the mainline.

And so, here I was. Cold, poor, and without purpose. My whole life, I believed I was meant for greatness, but standing in front of this old abandoned church, I looked like the pillar of failure. I felt sorry for myself and began to verbally list all the ways life had abused me over the past two days.

Regaining My Purpose

But then, like a confession, the act of articulating my failures out loud released my burden from me. I realized that this was my lowest point, my rock bottom. I had weighed myself and found that I was wanting in a way I’d never known. It brought me peace, and the purpose I felt I’d lost from just two nights before was now replaced with a much more vicious purpose of recovering my childhood self.

I had found where I stood, my rock bottom. That afternoon, as my fellow employees took a break to smoke a blunt in the pews of that musty church, I sat alone, began to dream again, and betrayed the smallest of smiles.

Life’s Lesson: Rock Bottom Is a Starting Line

Everyone’s rock bottom is different. For some, it’s substance abuse, and for others, it’s a failed marriage. It may be the loss of a job, or perhaps the loss of the love of your life. If you choose to participate in life, you can be assured that you will find your rock bottom. Perhaps even more than once.

But life is not about avoiding those moments when you can’t fall any further; it’s about realizing when you’re there. Because while being squarely in the basement of your life is never easy, I assure you there can’t be a better foundation to push off from.

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