When tears silently fell from her cheek upon finding the note from her lover, 3 days before their daughter was born that read: “I'm sorry. I can't do this.”
When classmates asked where my daddy was. I lied & told them he was Crocodile Dundee, and had to be in Australia to tame the outback.
When we used different money than everyone else to buy bread & milk.
When I was 14 and sat in the hospital waiting room on a sunny June day. When my Uncle Jimmy finally emerged, after what seemed like hours, he handed me a pamphlet. It read, “Helping Your Family Cope with Terminal Cancer.”
When I would hear Puff Daddy's “I'll Be Missing You” come on the radio after he died, just a few short months later, after tearfully asking me to call him “dad” instead of “Jimmy,” like I always had. I got to call him it twice.
When it was just me & my mother after that, and all of the other 15 year olds had basements underneath their houses. We had wheels.
When my mother's debilitating anxiety & social disorder prevented her from ever coming to watch me play volleyball more than once in 4 years. We were nearly state champions.
When the founder of Monster.com thought I was worthy enough to be awarded a 4-year, all-expense paid scholarship to a private, liberal arts school—room & board included. The scholarship was based on financial need & demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit. My mother cried.
When I took the scholarship and left her all alone.
When an unexpected card would arrive with $25 that she didn't have inside, telling me to go buy myself something pretty.
When, a few years later, I found myself back in that same hospital waiting room. But this time, it was my mother I was waiting on to come out of the doctor's office.
When I realized the seriousness of the matter.
When she taught me how to pay all of the bills, as I wrote out check after check from her hospital bedside, as nurses came in and out to take her blood.
When the doctor's arrogant insensitivity to her pain one day made her weep.
When I let him have a piece of my 20-year-old mind.
When college friends ragged on me for not going out that weekend to party.
When I couldn't.
When I got the phone call while driving to my first day at my internship at a local TV station.
When, by the time I got to our trailer in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the coroner had taken her body.
When, 4 months later, I walked across the graduation stage & got my college degree, not even bothering to look out into the crowd for a familiar face.
When I hastily auctioned off all of our things.
When I sold our trailer for $13,000 at market price.
When I moved to Philadelphia and knew no one.
When I landed my first job in marketing.
When I didn't have anywhere to go that Christmas.
When I was so good at my job, I received a promotion to head up regional marketing efforts. And then another promotion. And then another.
When I'd see planes pass by my office window, and longed to be the kind of person who didn't let life pass them by.
When I realized that sitting at that desk, serving to make big companies even more money, was my entire purpose in life. I didn't want to waste my life like my parents had, always waiting until tomorrow to be happy—because tomorrow, you're dead.
When I discovered that my dreams of becoming a corporate hot shot weren't my dreams anymore.
When friends told me to suck it up, and that work was simply that: Work. (It wasn't supposed to feel nice.)
When I felt like no one understood me.
When I quit my job & decided to start my first business, instead. I was going to do what I had been putting off for years: I was going to write.
When I made some hasty financial decisions.
When that same year, I got a contract to write my first eBook.
When I developed my own site to sell the book there, too.
When I laboriously tried to learn HTML.
When I saw my very first sale come through.
When I discovered the world of Google Adwords.
When I took my love of marketing and applied it in new ways.
When I painstakingly slaved over a book proposal to write a non-fiction narrative titled, “The Truth About Mangoes.” (Let's not talk about what a horrible title that was.)
When I repeatedly received the infamous rejection letter (after rejection letter after rejection letter after rejection letter).
When the waterfall of poor and hasty financial decisions finally caught up to me.
When I caved & took a job in advertising in order to pay the bills.
When I got contract after contract signed on the spot.
When, in my heart, I knew I needed more than signatures & commissions.
When, despite that knowledge, I was too scared to make any bold moves, knowing that I had no one in the world to back me up if I failed.
When I stood by and watched that fear get the best of me…for years.
When I enrolled in graduate school for my master's degree in Linguistics.
When I imagined that my degree would be The Answer™.
When loan applications were denied without a co-signer.
When I decided that I would tutor writing to make up for it.
When my best friend told me I needed to find a new place to live so her boyfriend could move in.
When I had no choice but to go stay with a mysterious new guy I had been seeing.
When, a few weeks later, was sobbing in the middle of the night in a Kmart parking lot.
When I had nowhere to go.
When I looked in the mirror and saw the cranberry-colored fingerprints around my neck.
When I sat there in the middle of the night, determined not to be a victim.
When I realized that I might not have had anything left, but the one thing I did have? Were my ideas.
When I published an announcement to my baby email list to write a book I had not yet written.
When I heard the first sale.
When reader after reader voted with their wallets.
When I realized that my writing could save my life—literally.
When I continued to publish.
When more and more readers came to say hello.
When my influence online grew.
When I discovered that you can make red, hot money from your art, using this thing called the Internet.
When, ten years later, I look around to find a whole different reality: One that I created by hand for myself. I’ve built a million dollar brand around giving the middle finger to societal expectations and finding unorthodox ways to live a happier life. I published the book, also called THE MIDDLE FINGER PROJECT, with the one-and-only Penguin Random House. (!!!) In addition to the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the book has also been published in places like Finland, Ukraine, Russia and the United Kingdom. (The Finnish cover is adorable!) The Audible version is hilarious. Seth Godin called my voice “a voice of originality in a world with too little of it,” and The Today Show was coming to my house before the 2020 pandemic upended EVERYTHING. (CBS, The BBC and Jenny McCarthy show, however, I was able to do over the phone. ?)
I've become known for my irreverent, voice-driven writing, have since ghostwritten other books with Penguin et al., and my independent publishing company, Irreverent Ambition, publishes the most fun-to-read newsletters & books in the world. I teach creative writing via my OTHER newsletter, Meat & Hair. I have a beautiful home in Costa Rica (read: fewer cockroaches than the neighbors), recently purchased a historic property in Philadelphia, and spend several months a year traveling around the world to places like Argentina and Italy; Ecuador & England—which sounds far more pretentious on the page than, perhaps, if we had this discussion while binge drinking wine. I work remotely from my Macbook, spend wide-open mornings writing words & sipping coffee, take leisurely two hour walks at sunset, and splash around in irritatingly clear turquoise water almost daily (which means I spend an inordinate amount of time sucking in my gut and trying not to look like a city slicker asshole). To add to the list of things-that-make-me-annoying, I have a wonderful partner with whom I share these travels and this incredible thing called life, we're building lots of things together, including a tourism brand called With Love From Costa Rica, as well as our own brand of coffee! I relish the finest glass of red wine I can find in the evenings with my feet dangling in a pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean (okay, fine, it’s the neighbor’s pool), and when I’m not cringing from the sun or stringing words together in meaningful ways, I’m probably on a podcast answering one question:
How did you go from sleeping in a Kmart parking lot with $26 dollars to your name, to creating a business and a life like this? (By which I’m fairly certain they mean the cockroaches.)
To which I respond:
For everyone out there thinking to yourself that it's unrealistic, YOU ARE WRONG.
For everyone out there shackled by fear, telling yourself that you could lose everything, YOU ARE RIGHT.
And for everyone out there that, despite that knowledge, is still willing to risk it by fighting for something more out of this fleeting speck of time we're granted here on earth, YOU ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO WILL TRULY SUCCEED.
Because at the very least, you know that you did everything you could.
Not everybody else can say the same.