Ah, rock bottom.
A place we've all come to know quite well.
For such a rock-hard place, it can also get a bit cozy when you visit often enough...
In fact, I have a bit of a fondness for rock bottom, because I have passed through it just enough times to always get parting gifts on my way out... :)
But as we all know, when you first visit this awful place, it doesn’t feel too welcoming...
Growth Ain’t Easy
As you can imagine, as a professional Growth Coach, I've gone through a lot of personal Growth, but it didn't just happen overnight and it hasn’t been all roses and unicorns (although there were elves...but that is another blog!).
Like all my clients, I too have experienced many “Growing Pains” along the way -- with one of them being the first time I changed careers.
It happened after I left the USA and went from my ideal career (the one I trained for!) of teaching Science for 7 years to moving to Spain as a “trailing spouse” so my husband could study his MBA. Although I was the one who had pushed us to move overseas, once we got there, I had no freaking clue what I was going to do with my time, skills, and well - myself.
A different kind of “ego-death”
If you would have asked me WHO I was before this move I would have listed in this order: “Teacher” had a huge gap before the next line then “Wife”, then “Daughter” and way at the bottom of the list “Friend” (I didn’t have many at that time).
Because I loved my job (and have been insatiably curious my entire life), I believed I would always be an educator. Once I stopped teaching, I was at a total loss. Everything I had done career-wise, (and in my humble opinion, done incredibly well) was gone.
A part of my ego that I had identified with so deeply -- “Teacher” -- was basically dead.
And that caused me to have an identity-crisis.
“If I'm not a teacher, WHO AM I?”
Disorienting Dilemmas Start Transformations
I was experiencing the first stage of transformation, a “disorienting dilemma”. Who I once thought I was suddenly shattered and I was spiraling into a vortex of self-doubt, grief, and confusion.
The spiral led me to a rock bottom where I settled in for a few weeks.
Didn’t go out. Didn’t sleep. Didn’t call anyone.
While my husband was relishing his new identity of becoming a full-time student, I was sitting in our Spanish apartment hiding from the world and hoping something would magically work out.
But the best thing about rock bottom? Well, there's only one way to go - and that's up.
So how did I get out?
Here are some lessons I learned from mucking around in rock bottom. If you are there now, just relax a bit and know Growth is around the corner if you can imagine it.
Climbing out of Rock Bottom
1) Go back to your symbolic “happy-place”
Remember when you were happiest? When you forgot the world around you and lost track of time? Go there now.
What are you doing?
Planning an event? Writing meal plans? Hell, even designing spreadsheets? (yuck, but...maybe spreadsheets are your thing!?)
Now zoom out. What is the simplest symbolic representation of your joy?
Creating? Listening? Exploring? Imagining? Resting? Helping?
Personally, my happiest moments are when I have been CREATING. In fact, if I am not creating, I am usually on the verge of (or already deep in) depression because I have lost touch with my joy.
Back to my rock bottom story: because I was already questioning who I was, I made it a point to move back into my happy place and focus on doing things that required some creative skill.
With no outcome in mind (and this is key), I began taking photos, cooking more, living out my creative dreams.
Little did I know, this ultimately would lead me to starting a very random, but successful business (more to come on that later).
So while you are in rock bottom, don't rush to get out immediately. Stay there, but remember your happy place, move in with few expectations of an outcome, and allow that space to guide you toward a new page in your story.
2) Author your own story
Rock bottom makes us feel like victims. When everything you held near and dear is gone, it is easy to name and blame everything (yourself included) that got you there. We're all different--some of us end up there because of circumstance and some of us choose it, but either way, the strongest archetype in rock bottom is "victim".
Instead of painting yourself as the victim in your story, remember you are the hero.
Take back the authorship to your story.
Don’t worry about the next chapter, just turn the page.
Give your hero a fighting chance.
Have you always wanted better photos? Start taking them.
Dreamed of opening your own jewelry business? Make some jewelry now.
Want to become a better listener? Call your friend and practice.
Trade comfort for courage. My dad used to always say ‘Don’t curse the dark, light a candle!”
In my story, I used my newfound creative skills in cooking (and photography) to start a small cooking and catering business with my best friend (we called it Busy Meals). We created a (really ugly) website and began selling meals to busy students who couldn’t afford to cook.
Despite the excitement for climbing up (a tiny bit) out of rock bottom, our first week we only sold TWO meals. It felt terrible to risk everything for only two lousy sales.
Which leads me to:
3) Accept your failures
As you climb out of rock bottom, you will always take one step higher and two steps back.
You are going to fail. A lot.
And it's okay.
Come on, what movie have you ever watched where the hero wins immediately? None. She needs to practice (and fail) a ton of times to get it right (and it’s usually in a kick-ass montage scene….looking at you Katniss)!
Back to my Busy Meals cooking business--remember our ugly website and the TWO meals we sold the first week? It sucked. Like ten year olds made it. (*I even found our old site! and a terrible commercial I made to explain it!)
We worked so hard at launching, marketing, promoting, and cooking only to sell TWO lousy meals.
I wanted to quit immediately. But luckily for me, my friend wouldn’t let me. (Thanks a lot, Anna!) (Here is a video of me describing our business to MBA students back in 2012!)
We didn’t improve overnight (don’t get me started on how many pots of rice I burned!), but we got better enough each week that those two meals multiplied into over 100 meals a week.
And how did we do it?
4) Ask for help when you need it
Yep, I also hate asking for help when I am down, but it is also the best time to ask! We all need some guidance on our journey. In a book or a movie we would have the sage mentor (think Yoda) or trusty sidekicks (think Donkey from Shrek), it’s no different in our own story.
Recognize where your pain points are and where you may be blocked (and sometimes this is where you need help -- knowing where you are blocked!).
Ask for help from a friend or professional (like a coach). Interestingly, people appreciate being asked for help because it is a sign you respect their expertise. You might even be surprised by how many people have gone through a very similar situation (especially coaches! That's why we do this job!).
Even better, sometimes beautiful partnerships develop by simply allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to ask for what you need.
Remember my story about the terrible website? Well, turns out it was causing a lot of trouble processing orders (I never said I was a tech expert!).
Luckily I had a sarcastic friend (who I normally would NEVER ask for help) who was a tech wizard. I did have to endure him openly making fun of our dinky website with its awful graphic design (and he was ruthless!), but he agreed to make a few tweaks and viola! We had a new (better) site, and the orders started pouring in.
It wasn’t easy swallowing my pride and accepting help (especially from him!), but it made all the difference.
And Busy Meals? It was the first business I started from scratch, ran for two years, and successfully sold.
All because I allowed myself to wallow for a few weeks then returned to my happy place with few expectations...
My existential crisis of “Who AM I?” was answered by simply allowing myself to author the rest of the story (and add some kick-ass montage scenes of burning rice to boot!)
Rock bottom doesn’t have to be a place we associate with pure pain, shame, or unworthiness but instead can be a normal “reset” button for a new version of our story.
Don't be in a rush to get out just yet.
Feel into which lessons you want to learn while there, but have some self-compassion and patience to learn them in a new way.
Regardless of how you got there, it’s not a life sentence… it can simply be “a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there”.
You can do this. Let's Grow.
Like this story? I have a TEDx talk that goes into more detail… (and discusses other rock bottoms I have had)
Want to see where your blocks or challenges are? Or celebrate how far you’ve come? Give me a call!