From the Vault: writings from rock-bottom - March 2017
NOTE FROM ANDREW:
As I soon enter a new phase of my life, I discovered this old draft of my writing I never posted. I was scared. It's a story of hell and despair.
I am posting it unedited. I was the guy people thought had it figured out. I am posting this because I have talked to my friends. No one one what they are doing. It is rare I meet someone under the age of 25 who doesn't feel like they are completely lost in life. I speak to people all over the globe. Whether you are from India, the U.S. or the Middle East, it doesn't make sense. It never will.
This is where I was. It's normal. Just keep showing up.
WRITTEN MARCH 6TH, 2017.
At the age of 23, I have launched into the real-world with full force.
Entering San Francisco, I had all of my life planned out. Literally, it was all written down. I wasn’t crazy enough to believe that it was going to go entirely as planned, but it was noted in my mind that I had some grand goals that made sense and I would just work my hardest and I would eventually get there, somehow.
All through college, I slaved away. I partied some (a lot) in my early years, but by the end of college I was working away between school, internships, networking and personal projects for 100 hours a week for almost 18 months straight.
Give or take.
Here’s what is interesting about this. I didn’t go to the gym, I didn’t meditate, my diet wasn’t so great and I didn’t lifehack productivity at all. I didn’t care about Tim Ferriss or anything of the life optimization stuff. I just brute forced it. All of the things people say you need to do in life to be happy and satisfied, I was not doing. But I woke up every day with purpose, sleeping five hours a night I would grind it out until 2:00 a.m. no sweat.
Keep this lifestyle in mind. It was near slavish.
At the time, I was deeply driven to land the job of a lifetime to set myself up for the career of a lifetime, the one I had all planned out. I was more hungry for step one, the dream job, than I had ever been for anything in my life. I am the all-in personality type, so we are talking serious dedication here.
Moving to San Francisco, I tried to force my hand at the dream job but didn’t land the gig I moved across the country for at a neuroscience startup named Halo Neuroscience. That was okay, like I said, I knew my life wouldn’t be a straight shot.
Instead, I worked my ass off driving Lyft, networking, personal projects and sleeping my usual five hours a night much like before. I eventually ended up landing a pretty sweet gig at a software startup. It wasn’t in the realm of sexy world changing technology like I had dreamed, but I had good responsibility and I went for it.
Getting lots of responsibility was the key. I believed having ownership in my work would help motivate me in a boring industry to deliver big results, ultimately validating my skills allowing me to hop back into neuroscience or something just as sexy one or two years down the road.
18 months of work had finally come to life.
I was a Silicon Valley marketer. Not the dream job but it was validating and what I needed at the time.
Who turned out the lights?
I wasn’t set to start for a month so I had a lot of time to myself.
It took me exactly three calendar days to get over the excitement of accepting the job offer.
On the fourth morning of being employed, my alarm buzzed. Opening my eyes, I rolled across my bed. I didn’t want to wake up. I felt an achy feeling over my head. Just pure meaninglessness to my morning.
I was crushed.
I didn’t know why, but I had no motivation to wake up. I had no motivation to move. I didn’t really care about that day. I didn’t care about my job, or waking up. Or anything.
I slept until 1:00 p.m., about six hours past the time I had been waking up of 7:00 a.m.
Around 1:00 p.m. when I eventually clawed my way out of bed and down my bunk bed steps, I felt cinder blocks on my shoulder. Not literal cinder blocks, but that depressive, weight of the world is hanging on me, I want to never see the light of day again kind of cinderblock.
I had no clue what had happened to me. Or why.
I went to the market, ordered a burrito and Doritos, and pigged out thinking junk food would make my day better. As if the burst of dopamine from food ever lasts beyond a few minutes.
This series of events; late mornings, junk food and depressing cinder blocks, went on for days.
I didn’t have a clue of what had happened.
After living through misery and way too many bags of Chicharrones from the market, I logged onto Google and dug around for some answers.
“Why am I sad after a big accomplishment” I googled.
This was an interesting thing to look up on Google. I found lots of interesting answers from great minds on Quora and Yahoo Answers (probably 12-year old kids on here).
I purchased a few books that were recommended.
There were two critical resources I looked into. Two books. One called Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and Mindset by Carol Dweck.
These two books, and a whole variety of other online resources I dug into, gave me a lot of new information that sparked the most life-changing and emotionally tumultuous six months of my life.
This was October 2016.
It’s only up from here.. right?
As I dug through my books I learned a lot of things about who I was and the way I had trained myself to think.
This massive swing in my mood following my big job was based on how I lived my life, how I measured the worth of things and the way I perceived the world.
Sounds really corny, I know. But -- I was onto something.
I had been living in the future and basing all of the value of my life on accomplishments. I didn’t realize it, but I have always done this throughout my life even back to my days as a 300-lb gamer playing World of Warcraft.
My intense change in state-of-mina after getting the big job was because, for the last 18 months, I had placed every drop of value in my life on that job. Every ounce of effort, attention, and drive was honed in and focused on that goal.
So when I got there, indeed, my life had no meaning because what I woke up for was now achieved and gone.
All meaning to my life was in accepting a great job, not in pursuit of getting the job, but literally in just accepting the job, in possessing it at my own. So along the way, I was grumpy because I didn’t have my job yet, wishing and wondering. Then I got the job. Then the moment of the job was in the past and with it all the reasons I used to wake up in the morning.
I learned this is a really common problem with athletes, businessmen, and movie stars. These guys dream of the big stage their entire life. They can become incredibly insecure, despite being immensely successful, they yearn for the big prize at the end. The accomplishment that will finally validate them in their trade.
And… the moment they win the super bowl, sell a company or win a Grammy, they have a few days of euphoria and then a whole lifetime of dreaming and meaning is in the past.
This is why you see so many successful people drop everything and just leave. They're confused.
So what happened to me was a micro-version of that.
I had a “now what?” moment.
When I finished Mindset, by Carol Dweck, everything I ever knew about myself had to be reconsidered.
Mindset is masterful text based on hundreds of psychological studies that boils down human motivation and behavior.
I learned about existing limbs of my personality I had never known existed. It was like meeting an evil twin who had shadowed me for 23 years.
What I hadn’t known about myself was how I had been trained to think. Carol Dweck presents a study based mindset that portrays individuals who are heavily accomplishment focused and view the world in the lens of ‘people who can achieve’ and ‘people who cannot achieve.’
She talks about how common it is for this framework to be trained into us by accident in how parents, coaches, and teachers speak to us.
If we adopt this frame of thinking, we become people who base all value in our life in validating ourselves through achievements to prove that we are part of the “can achieve” crowd.
Man, was that me.
While I was ignorant to the fact, people who knew me in college may have found me as abrasive, judgmental or intimidating. Of course, I was unaware of how I may have been coming off. Looking back, though, there were lots of times I was a big asshole to people. Usually, I wasn’t directly mean, but my lack of interest in conversations was never concealed well.
This was because I was busy living in the future focused on my accomplishments and measuring everyone else on theirs.
Being so focused and competitive, I probably missed a lot of wonderful moments that passed me right by. I reactively can look back and see a lot of sinister thoughts and jealousy that were my motivation.
I had fully been engulfed in the mindset of; do amazing things and I will be validated as a member of the “can achieve” crowd.
Despite all of this seeming unrest, it’s actually very normal for us as humans to be totally unaware of this. A lot of what gets us through our days, good and bad, is having something to work towards. Just some sort of abstract meaning.
So for me, I was blindly motivated to get my first job in Silicon Valley, so blindly motivated that I didn’t have time to catch up with me and see why.
As you can imagine, learning about all of the reasons I valued a big career broke down a lot of why I woke up for, cared about and found motivation from those things. My lifetime goals in my career seemed to make a lot less sense.
At this point in my life, I was really hopeful.
I felt like I had discovered that newest truth to the world.
I scrapped a lot of my goals and ambitions.
Just in time for my new job.
This is not a drill
Discovering these things about myself was shocking.
At this point, I was just starting my new job in November 2016. I had dispelled a lot of the goals and dreams I had created that were purely based on high merit and being an in general high achiever.
This also meant the job I had just accepted didn’t make as much sense now.
The irony was that accepting this job, put me through a realization that the reasons I valued this job, were ill, and with this discovery, what made me care about that job, well, no longer were important.
I had pursued the right city and the right trade, but I also liked high achievement for the wrong reasons. This began a long process of self-reflection to understand what I really wanted.
As I kicked off my new job, I was laying the brickwork for the new pathways of thought in my brain. Or more clearly stated, I was learning how to think for me rather than being a comparative ass.
It was a really uncertain time for me.
This is when I began to enable a lot of methods for self-discovery and personal exploration as now knew my day job didn’t make so much sense.
I picked up a professional camera to engage with photography and video, two things I have loved since I was a kid. I purchased a microscope to play around with science. I signed up for a Spartan Race in April, something on my lifetime bucket list.
Alongside these hobbies, I began to set up an overly precise routine. I was struggling to find places to focus my energy so I enabled new habits in my routine.
I got detailed.
I began to take cold showers, meditate and do lots of writing for myself.
Here’s a picture of the routine I built out for myself.
Like I said... I went a little overboard.
Unfortunately, out of this, I began to feel some sort of urgency to figure things out.
I had never lived without direct and immediate goals. I started to latch onto things.
I knew I wanted to build a community of people here in San Francisco sharing the stories of top performers. I didn’t exactly know what I wanted, though.
I jumped around on topics a million times.
First, it was “Neurofounders” - using neuroscience to deliver cutting edge hacks for marketers and founders in the Valley. I bought the domain www.neurofounders.com (for sale btw) and made a Meetup group that within 3 days had 100 people.
But I didn’t love it. It felt merit based again.
I dropped the group and next it was life optimization - inspired by my strict scheduling, cold showers, and meditation. I was so all in on this, I became a contributor at Lifehack.org
But.. that didn’t feel right either.
Eventually, I landed on helping people ‘conquer life and find fulfillment’
It was perfect. It was exactly what I was doing and it was a topic I had always believed in. When I was 16 years old I weighed 300 lbs and was very shy. By the time I graduated high school, I was 210 and prom king. I loved the art of transformation.
This was the niche. A topic for my own.
I thought I had it all figured out.
I began to outline lots of goals for 2017 which would keep me on track and create something meaningful that was based out of my core.
Here are some of the goals:
Impact 1,000 people directly
Reach 1,000,000 people on Quora as a Writer
Get into one major publication
Get 10,000 followers on my photography Instagram
Learn to swing dance
Read 12 books
Go three months without alcohol
Lose 20 lbs
Get my company to $1,000,000 recurring revenue
After weeks of strange feelings, mixes of happiness, hope, and despair, I dreamed of a fruitful life with my new mindset in 2017.
Same old song and dance
It was three weeks into January 2017 when things began to completely crumble. Again.
If you couldn’t tell with my goals, even though I was super focused on “goals from my core” I was still focused on my goals and being good enough to accomplish them.
My previous mindset had begun to creep in. 100 hour weeks to start 2017 as I slaved it out for my startup and myself.
The goals for 2017, which were supposed to be pleasant benchmarks began to rule my life. I slaved away at reaching them, and just as I had been in college, I began to get grumpy and measure my results to other people.
I was getting results, just as I had before, but at what cost?
I ignored the signals. Just as I had before. Even though I was clearly upset late January, I tried to ‘preserve’ and ‘be tough.’
I was oblivious it was all based on my mindset, again. Except for this time I was meditating, taking cold showers, reading, working out and eating healthy.
I kept thinking; “man I am doing all of the right things… I am working on stuff I care about and investing into so much balance to my life... But it doesn’t seem to work right”
I ignored the signals.
I plowed forth.
It took me 6 weeks of hard writing to start blow up on Quora, one of my main personal benchmarks for 2017, and a way to grow my audience for my writing.
In those 6 weeks of writing, I had reached 800,000 people and my followers on Quora sky-rocketed in a week to nearly 3,000.
My website was now getting hundreds of views a day, peaking at nearly 5,000 per month. I was, and still, do, get nearly 30 - 40 messages a week across my social accounts from people asking for help and guidance.
I was getting 600-word emails from people all around the world on how I had touched them.
This was the momentum and success I had dreamed of just weeks before in December.
The day my website peaked 5,000 monthly views, I was sitting down at the San Francisco Bay, at 6:00 a.m. after a run, preparing myself to meditate.
That’s when I realized.
It was that feeling again.
Those heavy cinder blocks. Hopelessness and loss of meaning.
I couldn’t believe it. What happened to me? How did I let this happen again? I was so certain I was working on something I cared about.
Getting so many website views gave me everything I thought I wanted. I literally had thousands of people reading my writing.
This feeling went on for days. Day in and day out. Meditation, cold showers, calls with friends, you name it. I was trying to get out of the funk.
And then again I realized, I put my value in reaching a predefined number of “views” instead of what really mattered, the change in behavior my writing was producing for my readers.
Looking at all of this traffic, I couldn’t help but think, so what?
All I could see that was if 5,000 wasn’t fulfilling, neither would 100,000 and neither would be 1,000,000. I was aware that chasing more viewers weren't going to make my life have meaning.
I didn’t want to plead ignorance, get 100,000 followers then figure it out, I wanted to right my thinking immediately.
This is about the stage a lot of you began to see a change in my branding on my website. It went from “helping people conquer life” to “figuring it out.”
Because what’s the point of 5,000 vs. 10,000 if you don’t actually care about the people?
I knew my writing was on a topic I cared about, but I realized I still had a lot of reframing to do. I was obviously still living in the future, focused on getting 1,000,000 answer views on Quora and all of these other numbers based achievements.
It was all numbers based. I have never been a chaser of money, but it doesn’t matter the type of numbers you are chasing as it will always lead to infinite.
I realized I had to love the now. I had to love the messages I was getting from people, not the messages from people I hadn’t received yet.
How the hell do you do that?
Back at it again
It was early February.
Not focusing on numbers or tangible end-goals was really hard. I couldn’t just turn it off like a light switch.
I had to take a major step back. I stopped creating content completely. I said to hell with my yearly goals, monthly goals, weekly goals and daily goals!
“Love the journey,” I kept telling myself, “Love the journey.”
This is a something I had been saying a ton back when I began this epic endeavor back in October, but had clearly not become crystallized in my mind.
From February until now (March) I have been working diligently on being present in the moment.
My new framework to life was that “whichever direction I want to go at any exact moment is the right direction”
The idea behind it was that I would stop trying to discipline myself to deliver on this life that had been designed by a version of me months before. Many of the assumptions about who I wanted to be in my life had been completely turned upside down at this point.
As I lived by this motto, broken down goals and aspirations, I had some wonderful things happen in my life, I tripled my spontaneity and had more time for things I loved.
I watched a movie for the first time in two years. I logged onto Netflix for the first time since I was 20. I re-downloaded Snapchat, my favorite app on planet earth which I had deleted to “optimize efficiency”... but my mindset actually got worse.
Despite investing, literally, into everything I loved, having no goals and just totally living whimsically in the moment, I felt more hopeless than ever.
Still meditating and doing all that other garbage people recommend.
What the fuck, right?
For almost 5 months now, I had been working on being a patient person, non-judging, full of momentary gratefulness, empathy, and purpose.
Incredibly, I really am more empathetic than ever. Aware of myself, how my actions radiate into the world and how I perceive the world.
Even more so, I actually get a real joy and a thrill from helping people, something I never had before when it was the world of me and my achievements.
And yet, I felt weak.
I’ve been thinking to myself: “Jesus, did I get all California soft all of a sudden? I care about people more than ever but feel like shit”
I’ve wondered if this is what happens when you become intimate with emotion and people.
Had I just signed myself up for a lifetime of “awareness” aka misery?
If this was awareness, I didn’t want it. I would rather be ignorant.
Conversely, I wondered if I was on the brink of my greatest breakthrough, where I would suddenly be lit up like Tony Robbins and never look back.
Was I on the verge of my break-through?
In waves, my emotions would shift. For three days, I would live like Tony Robbins. I would bring warmth and charisma to every room I went. I would work with purpose, deliver projects in record time.
Then other days, I would crash and burn seemingly without any cause for warning.
Today, I crashed and burned for seemingly no reason while this past Saturday, I had one of the highest points of my life when I broke a personal record on my 300 meter sprint time.
I had beat my personal record by 3 seconds.
The greatest rush of joy and pride hit me. I didn’t care for a moment how much faster or slower the other people on the track might have been. I beat me.
My happiness in this moment nearly quadrupled when I realized how happy I was over something so that wasn’t based on external merit. I nearly cried.
I didn’t even care about the time anymore. I realized I was in love with the moment.
But here we are, Monday morning.
In the dumps.
What gives? Again. What the fuck?
Today, none of it made sense. This wasn’t something I had control of. I literally woke up this morning and could feel it. I just had that feeling of crappy day.
I tried to shake it. I know everything is mindset but still, I couldn’t shake it.
I showed up to work at noon. Moving slowly. Unmotivated.
I have been sitting back and thinking about my days in college. Why is it, that when I was a giant narcissistic troll, I hardly had days like this? I clearly remember I had bad days, everyone has bad days, but I never had days that felt purposeless and meaningless.
And why was it that even in my days of grinding up my views on Quora, I didn’t really have days like this? I had bad days, but they never felt completely meaningless.
Why is it that when I am at my worst, motivated by superficial things, that I don’t have these moments of existential crisis?
It hit me.
I couldn’t believe it hadn’t hit me before.
The final piece of the puzzle has been right under my nose, something I have been deeply aware of but never consciously observed.
Reflecting upon Man’s Search for Meaning, author Viktor Frankl had talked about the meaning of life, obviously. But within the pages of his book was a lost golden nugget that escaped my consciousness of which I have shared below;
“Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.”
Pondering this quote is when it clicked. Truly, upfront, this quote doesn’t present anything wildly revolutionary.
However, in college and both when I was building my brand, I had a very tangible goal, a purpose, to all of my sufferings. Even though I was, in general, being narcissistic and fulfilling my own selfish desires of validation, it was something to work towards. Altruistic or not, I was entertained.
And the reason my life would crumble when I reached those goals is because I only wanted the title or the accomplishment, to fulfill my needs to be person CYX. So it wasn’t until I reached these goals that my purpose to life had vanished. And that's what happened when I got my job. On the way to that job, I knew why I was waking up.
I got it. Then I had nothing to wake up for.
So when I tried to remedy this by meditating, taking cold showers and all that other crap it was like using a spray bottle on a camp fire. Doesn't do much. Because you can add whatever you want to your life, but if you have no reason to wake up in the morning, you're fucked.
I learned that over the last six months, I had basically thrown out all of my narcissistic goals in the hopes of discovering what I truly desired, but that has left me with nothing. My life motto of “going whatever direction I want at that very moment” didn't set me up with anything to work towards.
While I still don't know what my "purpose" is, I do have a direction for today. And tomorrow. That purpose is to find a purpose. It doesn't even make sense. But I know why I am waking up. I have a goal. An answer to find.
I am not sure how long that will keep me entertained, but I know by the day I find a meaningful project worth working on, I will truly have all of the pieces of my life laid out to build an incredibly impactful life, based on competition with self and being a positive energy in the world.