Have you ever experienced a time when bad things continued to happen to you? How did you get through that moment in your life? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
2007 was a very good year for me. Although it started out with me getting fired from my biotech job, I got a severance and took off on a four-month surf tour of Central America I'd been dreaming about for years. I bought Apple stock on margin. It was the year the iPhone came out and a very good year to own Apple stock. My stock did so well I could afford not to work for the remainder of the year. I had dreamed of going into entrepreneurship, and this afforded me the time and opportunity to do so.
That all changed dramatically in 2008.
I spent New Years of 2008 in Thailand. A day after arriving back, I developed a high fever and the worst headache I've ever had. It was so bad I went to the ER. It turned out to be Dengue Fever, also known as "breakbone" fever because of the discomfort and pain it causes. The first five days were crippling; I felt like I was going to die. For the next eight weeks, I was exhausted and sleeping 12-14 hours a day. If I had had a job, I wouldn't have been able to work.
Apple stocked plummeted in early January. It was a bad time to have all your savings in the stock market as 2008 was the year that saw the worst drop in the stock market since the Great Depression. I was about to learn some very painful financial lessons.
I'd planned on using this time off to start a business. I partnered with a friend to start a Facebook app company. In spite of knowing zero about coding or Facebook apps, we were both reasonably well connected and I assumed it would be a quick and easy process to raise money from investors for the business. Wrong again.
By late summer, the market was becoming unhinged, we couldn't raise money, and I'd completely run through my savings. I sold my stock at the bottom, taking huge losses. Worse still, I'd sold stock at profit in 2007 and taken losses in 2008. Because it was a different tax year, couldn't apply those losses to my capital gains and ended up with a massive tax bill to the IRS. I couldn't pay my credit card bills and began getting barraged by calls from my creditors. I stopped answering after a while, but every call was a reminder of how bad things were.
When I started on the path of entrepreneurship, I naively assumed it would be easy to get a job if it didn't work out. Before the crisis really struck, I started applying to jobs, knowing that we were struggling to raise money. Then the crisis hit. It was a very very bleak period. The news on the economy every day got worse and worse. Huge banks were struggling to stay afloat and the crisis was spreading globally. I applied to jobs for months with no responses.
Inexplicably, I broke up with my girlfriend. I started to feel very alone and uncertain about my future. I had no savings, massive debt, no income, no job, and no job prospects. Because the economy had gotten so bad, unemployment benefits were extended and I qualified. Although hardly enough to pay rent, this was a lifeline for me.
When I jumped into entrepreneurship, I ostensibly had changed fields from biotech to tech. I say ostensibly because my year of wantrepreneurship wasn't doing much in the eyes of my prospective employers in terms of qualifying as experience or skills. On top of that, with all the people losing their jobs, the applicant pool was swelling by the week with over-qualified applicants. I was competing with people with years of experience, MBAs, and graduate degrees.
I finally got a job offer at Myspace. The offer letter got delayed a week, then another, then another, then they put on a hiring freeze. I had so little money, I couldn't even afford to travel for the holidays.
A friend lent me some money. As soon as I deposited, the bank suspiciously withdrew almost of all it on a back payment for my credit card even though the card had gone into default. At one point, I couldn't pay my cell phone bill. Amazingly, Verizon has a payment plan in these cases.
This is only a cursory summary of some of the challenges and difficulties I experienced.
Eventually, I was introduced to a friend of a friend and did some consulting; I was only paid $200. But it was an enormous psychological lift. Shortly after, my neighbor told me about a job at a company he worked for; I applied and was hired a few weeks later. It took several years to completely clear the complete mess that were my personal finances. But I started my business 2 1/2 years later, and it has grown to be hugely successful.
Here's what I learned:
- Start over each day. If you've had a bad day or week or month, reset tomorrow. Don't carry that history or energy into your next day or week. If you flip a coin and get tails, you're not any more or less likely to get tails the next toss. Each is a separate event. This is the first time I've recounted the entire story because when it was happening I wasn't dwelling on it. I was working to move on every day. Even during that period, I never looked at it as a year of calamity. I faced each struggle individually as best I could and moved on. I was facing a hard time, but so were millions of others.
- Do the things you love. When things are bad, we tend to wallow in our misery. When it gets bad, we might attribute our circumstances to our own mistakes and errors and blame ourselves. At it's worst, we might start thinking that we deserve this. It doesn't feel right to enjoy ourselves when we're struggling with some many challenges. This is, however, the exact time that it's most important to be enjoying yourself. Go out with friends, work out, get out in nature, create a healthy routine. This can all help to break that psychological downward spiral that can compound our issues. Throughout my difficulties, I surfed, hiked, biked, saw friends. These activities hardly cost any money. They're the routines and habits we keep up when things are good, but are most therapeutic when things aren't going well.
- See the positive. When I was 19, at the peak of health and youthful exuberance, on break from college, I had an accident with a snowblower that tore up the fingers on my left hand. At the hospital, I was distraught, cursing my circumstances and luck. Shortly after arriving, another patient arrived with a similar accident. He'd lost several fingers. I would need surgery, and would likely have some impairment; but I hadn't lost any fingers. My outlook changed in an instant. I'd had an unlucky accident, but been blessed not to lose any fingers. Had that not happened, I may have spent months or years cursing my luck. Instead, I rebounded quickly and still think how lucky I am not to have lost any fingers.
- Embrace serendipity. No matter how bad it may seem, life doesn't have it out for you. There's no bias, no conspiracy. The world will feel scarce, when you're focused on the scarcity. And when you're in this mind state, it can be hard to break out. I've found that embracing and celebrating the serendipitous moments can help break this mind state. When you search for and celebrate these, you start to see that they are much more abundant than the calamities. When you make the mind shift towards this abundance, you'll see and attract more opportunity.
- Frame your challenges. No one comes through life unscathed. Buddhism defines life/existence as "duhkha" - translated as dissatisfaction or suffering. It's this way because we cling to that which we find pleasurable, which is destined to pass. We're destined to lose loved ones, have our hearts broken, and be disappointed. That's just the start. But this is the case for everyone. Not just you or me. No one escapes this. No one gets through life without challenge, illness, loneliness, or loss. So, if you think this is all just happening to you, then gain some perspective. All of us will be challenged, but it's how we frame our challenges that determines how quickly we overcome them. If you see them as lessons, then you'll have the opportunity to learn.
- Success isn't linear. We often think of success accruing slowly, while misfortune happens suddenly. So when we're down and afflicted by troubles, success is a very long ways a way. Any progress we've made has been usurped, and we're starting at the bottom. But that's not the case. The job I received after my disastrous year where virtually every employer saw me as unemployable was Head of Sales at a top entertainment company in Los Angeles. Within two years of nearly going bankrupt, I'd started my own company, and now it's achieved remarkable success. The mentality that success accrues slowly further hampers us because we then believe we're furthest from success during our misfortunes; but the truth is we're no further from success at this point than at any other point in our lives. Put in another way, we're as close to success during these difficult periods as during times that things are going well. In high school, my father gave me an inspirational plaque. He's Japanese and had the common aphorism "Success is a habit," incorrectly written as "Success is an attitude." I like the latter much more.
- Read. Experiencing misfortune can be a huge opportunity. During my challenging period, I started looking for answers everywhere. In particular, I started reading anything and everything that had a hint of a path to success. I opened my eyes to the writings of Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Oprah, James Allen, and others. At other points in my life I likely would have written off their writing as not grounded and wisdom I simply didn't need. Now I did need it, and I imbibed it as thoroughly as one can.
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