When tears silently fell from Elizabeth's 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 step dad finally emerged, after what seemed like hours, he handed me a phamplet. 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 & Elizabeth after that, and all of the other 15 year olds had basements underneath their houses. We had wheels.
When Elizabeth's debilitating anxiety & social disorder prevented her from ever coming to watch me play volleyball more than once in 4 years. We were almost 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. Elizabeth cried.
When I took the scholarship and left her all alone.
When an unexpected card would arrive with $50 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 Elizabeth I was waiting for 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 Elizabeth's body & simply left a note on the door.
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 did things—who went places.
When I realized that sitting at this 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 did, always waiting until tomorrow to be happy—because tomorrow, you're dead.
When I discovered that my dreams of becoming a corporate CEO weren't my dreams anymore.
When friends told me to suck it up, and that work was simply that: Work.
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 I discovered that writing white papers for medical device companies was no more purposeful.
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 Clickbank. (Yup, that's how ancient I am.)
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, I ended up 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 anywhere to go, or any money left in my checking account, but one thing I did have? Was 3,500 blog subscribers.
When I published a pre-sale announcement 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, nearly 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, which is hilarious and unexpected in its own right. I’m fortunate (and sort of freaked out) to be able to command $103,000 in a single afternoon. (I know, Elizabeth, I know: I’M SAVING FOR RETIREMENT.) I have a beautiful home in Costa Rica (read: fewer cockroaches than the neighbors), go back to Philadelphia often, 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 woman who helps me take care of my home, send for an in-house massage every week (my greatest guilty pleasure), and 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.) When I’m not cringing from the sun or stringing words together in meaningful ways, I’m regularly approached by TV producers, business owners, podcasters and hundreds of bloggers who, seemingly, all want to know one thing:
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.
And you know what?
Not everybody can say the same.