Think of a time when you felt broken beyond repair. When life dealt that punch you didn’t see coming, put you to your knees like a penitent, and made you reconsider everything you ever did or thought or said.
Come on, don’t pretend like you’re perfect. This stays between you and me. Remember the feeling of having reached rock bottom: the darkness, the frustration, the gnawing sense of having lost it all, never to be recovered. The longing after what could no longer be, what you could no longer be.
It made you want to change things, right?
Desperation makes for a hell of a motivator, doesn’t it?
Well… on 22nd of April 2012 I launched a blog. Nothing too fancy. After all, I was a poor, sick, and lonely Romanian kid trying to write his depression away in a foreign language.
But, somehow, after six or so months, I had reached over 20, 000 blog readers, was earning between $100 and $800 per day, and… I kind of screwed up. Big time.
And it took me so long to figure this out, that I’m just now, almost eight years later, writing about the behind the scenes of being an overnight success, and what that did to me.
1. It made me feel invincible.
That much attention, so early on in the game, messed with my head big time.
The truth is that we are most powerful when we are vulnerable. As a matter of fact, we are so powerful because we are vulnerable. We are kind of dumb, but we stick together, and thus we build and innovate and overcome any obstacles at all.
Believing that I had reached the top of the mountain, I was certain that there was nothing new to learn, nothing else to do but contemplate success. The thing is, that’s when everyone else starts to surpass you.
Thinking of myself as invincible also meant that every minor setback would frustrate me so much that it would ruin an entire week for me. I hadn’t built the emotional resilience that is often the side-effect of failing over and over again.
2. I had no idea what I had done.
People want success so bad that they often forget this crucial element: success means nothing unless you’re able to replicate it.
And if you have no idea what you did to become a success, then what do you think happens when you lose it all? When you’re forced to reinvent yourself?
For instance, I had no idea that one of the qualities that had allowed me to become successful early on was my persistence. I kept punching those damn keys even when no one read my words, I kept going even when all I wanted was to stop.
But everything else I did from that moment on, including the launch of other blogs, online magazines, YouTube channels, podcasts, businesses, all of those ideas and projects were abandoned the moment things got difficult, the moment I didn’t feel inspired or motivated anymore.
You can’t do even a single pushup after it starts to hurt, after your mind tells you that it’s enough, unless you know why it’s important to keep going when it hurts.
3. I had no real appreciation or respect for my success.
It pains me to write these words, considering that an awful lot of people put their faith in me, and a lot of them also invested a lot of time and money, but I didn’t appreciate it.
I wanted more, of course, but at the same time I wasn’t grateful for what I had.
I didn’t respect my readers, I didn’t appreciate the money, I didn’t think that I should do something with it other than mindlessly spend it all.
There was no incentive for me to provide value to anyone, because all I had to do to get money was add a donate button at the end of my blog posts. A little sob story about this crazy Romanian kid dreaming about becoming a full-time writer would usually do the trick.
4. I hadn’t learned the essential lessons that failure often teaches you.
In the brave new world of self-improvement we often talk about things like “delaying gratification” or “compounding interest.”
We improve ourselves by acquiring new skills, building additional income streams, and developing self-awareness.
But we do all that because failure forced us to.
Because, even though we are fascinated by the child who decides not to take the candy, but we don’t learn about the importance of delaying gratification until we have to put off buying a new phone or car because we have to invest in a business venture, or because we need to keep providing value before we release a product.
Let me give you an example: last month I had to decide between purchasing a new camera or buying a new pair of shoes… I decided to go with the option that would allow me to create new content… and no, I have yet to figure out a way to do anything of value with a pair of new shoes, other than walking in that strange and funny way I walk…
What I am trying to say is this… we learn so much from failure because we are forced to. There’s no other way. Do or die is the best motivator possible.
I started my first blog because I had to. I became successful at it because I was hungry… literally. I was broke, broken, single, tired, depressed, angry. But it took me a lot less to escape hell, so I didn’t appreciate heaven. Thought I’d stay there in heaven forever, without me even realizing that a part of me would always be trapped in hell.
5. When things got tough, my life fell apart like a sand castle.
No emotional resilience whatsoever meant that I couldn’t cope with the loss of a grandfather, or certain health issues, or a bad breakup.
I couldn’t adapt when that donation button didn’t work anymore.
There weren’t any skills to monetize.
Defeat often doesn’t destroy us, but if makes us forever fear the fall. And I was walking through life being afraid of failure, which is the ultimate failure.
It wasn’t worth it.
When things got tough, when life demanded change, I acted like a crybaby and asked it if I could please go back to being nice and comfortable.
Overnight success makes you hubris in such a way that you do not realize that you are only allowed to be hubris if you don’t fail.
Never having failed before meant that I wasn’t willing to admit that I wasn’t the best, that I had only reached success but not mastery, that even though I might have reached the top of the mountain, there were plenty other mountains left to conquer.
It was the pebble in my shoe that didn’t allow me to climb up other mountains. My own mindset, my own set of beliefs. It was me stopping to throw rocks at every dog that barked at me that ensured everyone else would walk me by on the road to success.
I didn’t know that the road to success is always under construction, that pain was a requirement of being able to change into a different person, because we are both the marble and the sculptor.
In the end, it took me an awful lot of time to become an overnight success.
It took me an awful lot of time to realize that we must all hold the world on our shoulders, that we learn more from failure than we do from success, that it’s not a sacrifice unless it hurts.
It took me an awful lot of time to become the kind of successful that cherishes the hustle, for it keeps me humble, that always aspires to do more, achieve more, and become more.
It took me years and years of living on one lucky break that made me despise comfort, understand the importance of developing new skills, and appreciate failure.
Yes, you read that right. Failure is a privilege. Failure reveals the way to a heaven of your own making, not one that you hopelessly hope to find.
Failing over and over on your way to success teaches you that heaven is something you build within your self, that success is mostly a state of mind, that you have to fall down a lot of times before you learn how to fly.