Why I Wanted to Hit Rock Bottom and Live In My Car

When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Have you ever noticed how many success stories start with something like this:

I had hit rock bottom and was living in of my car during a January snow storm. I had just enough gas left to keep me warm for a few minutes, or to drive my car really fast into a wall.

Instead, I put my head down on the steering wheel and prayed for the first time in my life.

Nothing happened.

But as I sat there staring at the soggy, salt stained carpeting under my feet, I noticed a pencil nub and the corner of a torn envelope poking out from under the driver’s seat.

I picked them up, and started to write. I suddenly felt calm, and the words I wrote became the basis for my fortune and how I live every moment of the day.

Ok, I’m exaggerating. But not much.

Look at J.K. Rowling. She was a single mother living on welfare while she wrote Harry Potter — which was turned down by 12 publishers before it was finally published.

How about Eckhart Tolle. After years of depression, he was suicidal at the age of 29 when he woke up thinking that he couldn’t live with himself any more. That thought prompted him to wonder who was “I” and what was this “self.” His books have sold millions of copies and he is now considered to be one of the most influential spiritual leaders of our time.

Then there is Byron Katie. After years of depression, rage and anxiety, and two years spent in her bedroom, she woke up on the floor in a halfway house (she didn’t feel worthy of sleeping in the bed) with no concept of who she was. From this she realized that it was her beliefs in her thoughts that caused all of her problems.  She has since gone on to teach countless other people how to find the same freedom she did.

I could go on. The world seems to be full of people who hit rock bottom, and had an epiphany that turned their life around.

3 Types of People Who Find Happiness and Fulfillment

I heard a motivational speaker once say that there are three kinds of people:

  • There are the people who just get it. They know how to be happy, live fully and follow their dreams. They are the luckiest people.
  • Then there are the people who hit rock bottom. They get to a point where they have nothing left to lose and there is no way to go but up. From this low point they are able to learn the skills they need to succeed, be happy and follow their dreams. They are the second luckiest people.
  • The third group is the rest of us. We have a pretty good life, but we weren’t graced with a natural intuition for living life to the fullest and we haven’t been pushed to do so by hitting rock bottom. The speaker said that we were the unluckiest, because it was hardest for us to find our way to success and true happiness. She said that it is hard for us because where we are now is a safe and warm place that doesn’t encourage us to leave it.

What a downer.

While I don’t know that I agree with what she said, I admit that I have pondered whether hitting rock bottom would be worth the epiphany it might bring.

I have to confess that I’ve spent time wondering if financial ruin that left me living in my car would be worth it if it provided a shortcut to success, inner peace and happiness. (And yes, before you say anything, I do realize how egotistical and selfish that thought is, and how disrespectful it is to people who have much more difficult lives than I do – but I am going to leave that for another post.)

Living in the Normal Place

I think that most of us live in “the normal place” where things really aren’t that bad if we step back and look at them. But that doesn’t stop us from wanting more, and wanting to improve ourselves and our lot in life.

If you look into the dramatic turnaround stories I mentioned earlier there is another element they have in common besides hitting rock bottom. Everyone did the work they had to do to turn their lives around.

The idea or spark of insight might have come from prayer, divine intervention, tapping into the universal consciousness, or plain old-fashioned need; but each person did the work.

J.K. Rowling had to sit down and write Harry Potter, and she had to believe in it enough to keep submitting it to publishers until someone took a chance on it.

Eckhart Tolle had to believe in what he had to say enough to hand delivered copies of his book to small bookstores all over Vancouver, and friends help him get the book in more distant book stores until it caught on. And so on.

Believe and Do the Work

I think the real key to personal growth and success at anything is to believe in yourself and what you are doing, and do the work.

Most of us don’t have the knowledge of what rock bottom looks like to drive us on, but we can all learn to believe in ourselves and do the work we need to do to get where we want to be.

Hitting rock bottom isn’t really a shortcut. It’s just a more exciting story.

There aren’t any shortcuts (believe me, I’ve looked), but we all have the ability to do the work we need to do to make our dreams come true. We just have to get out of our warm safe places and get to it.

And you know what? Believing that my ability to grow and succeed is in my control is way more empowering and exciting than my fantasy of a rock bottom epiphany.

What do you think? Do you think we need to have an innate ability, or hit rock bottom before we can reach great heights? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Here’s where you can learn more about the thoughts of Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie:

  • Eckhart Tolle is the author of the Power of Now
  • Byron Katie has great ideas on how to do “the work” of questioning your thoughts

photo by Don Hankins
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