A Lesson in Self-Awareness

I remember my personal 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 gig with a third rate moving company, that did small jobs. 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 thirty to sixty minutes late, smelling of liquor and smoke from the evening before, and I cursed myself for showing up on time, only to fall victim to their indifferent tardiness. I hated them, and they hated me. None of them ever offered to give me a ride out from 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, 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. Twelve months ago I began a robust application process for a career I believed I was made for. I began that 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. I was that 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 this meager hourly wage and tips from the kindness of strangers whose new houses we moved them to. I was broke.

The final hiring process saw me and only seven others for the job. I spent a week competing against those other men and women, even though the employer said they’d take anywhere between all and none of us. Two nights ago I arrived late to the room I was renting to find a thin letter that was left on my bed from my landlord. The letter was from my hopeful employer informing me that while I was a very strong 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 on to 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 to 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, anticipating what would be another miserable day, I looked 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. But then, like confession, the act of articulating my failures out loud released an unrecognized burden from me. I realized that this was my lowest point, my rock bottom. I had weighed myself and had been found wanting in a way I had never known. It brought me peace, and the purpose I felt I’d lost through a thin boiler-plate letter just two nights before, was now replaced with a much more vicious purpose of recovering my childhood self.

I had found where I stood, rock bottom, and 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.

Everyone’s rock bottom is different. For some it’s substance abuse, and for others a failed marriage. It may be the loss of a job, or perhaps the loss of a loved one. 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, but realizing when you’re there. Because while being squarely on the basement of your life is never easy, I assure you there can’t be a better foundation to push off from.