10 Lessons I Learned from the Worst Month of My Life

I should preface all of this by saying that I know — like, I really, really know — that I don’t have it that bad. I live in a free country, I was born in a pretty great time in history, and I am surrounded by people I love and who love me. In all senses of the word, I am thankful.

Still, January of 2017 was the worst month of my existence to-date on planet earth. Regardless of what I knew to be true about my life as a whole did not erase how horrible I felt when looking myopically at this particular month of my life. I shall hereafter affectionately refer to this month as The Suck.

Now on the other side of The Suck, I thought it would be healthy, even cathartic for me to write down what I learned in retrospect, aiming to remind myself as much as anyone when everything hits the fan down the road. Because, I can promise you (and myself) this…

Lesson #1: Everything will go wrong at some point

There’s no escaping it. At some point, everything that can seemingly go wrong will go wrong. My wife, Nicole, calls me an “eternal optimist,” so it’s hard for me to even admit it, but it’s true. At some point over the course of our lives, everything will turn south. The Suck will come for us all.

Unexpected expenses will wreak havoc on our bank accounts. Everything we own will break. People we trust will hurt us. Health will fail us and those we love. We will disappoint the people we love. The sun — even if we live in Phoenix — will seem a bit dimmer.

The best we can do is brace ourselves.

Lesson #2: Seize the opportunity to build character

If we learn nothing through the difficult stretches of life, what’s the point? Granted, sometimes we must experience the same lesson over (and over) again before it really grabs hold of us. Personally speaking, I would prefer to experience the most painful lessons only once.

Therefore, if there are lessons to be learned and there is character to be built through hardship, we should seize that opportunity. This requires our serious reflection. We must not solely search for a light at the end of such tunnels. Sometimes, it’s in the darkness that we must discover and cultivate the character that must be developed before we emerge on the other side.

January was no different for me, so I took The Suck’s generous offer — and I am better for it.

Lesson #3: Depression can be situational

Technically, I knew that depression can be situational, not only a medical condition. But now, I’ve experienced it.

Before The Suck, I had not understood the full extent to which depression can overtake somebody’s mind, heart, and strength. It’s not just something people can “snap out of” or “get over” like many — even I — have wrongly perceived. Sometimes, we just have to bear down and walk through it.

While this wasn’t a particularly fun lesson to learn, I am grateful to have gained a little more insight and a lot more compassion than I previously had on the subject. Now, I would deeply encourage anyone who is struggling with depression to deal with it honestly and openly, with people rather than away from them. Isolation will beckon during The Suck, but we must resist.

Lesson #4: Healthy relationships are critical to survival

To reiterate, I already know that I’m one of the most fortunate and blessed people alive. Fact! And the reason for that is because of the relationships which surround me.

Through the entirety of The Suck, my family and friends supported me beyond belief. Nicole stood by and encouraged me like a rock at every moment of despair. My kids watched as I wept, concerned I’m sure, simply to respond by embracing me, kissing me, and praying for me while I lost all control of my emotions. My best friend just sat and spent time with me through the worst of it all, listening intently and caring for me wildly. All around me, my family members, friends, mentors, business partners, and church community supported me in a way that I can only describe as true Love. Without them, it would have been far worse.

As much as we each can cultivate such relationships in the Summer seasons, we must. Because it is true: Winter is coming.

Lesson #5: This is a good time to re-evaluate

I re-evaluated some serious decisions during The Suck. I’ve been working full-time for myself on startups which I co-founded since 2010, but through this process, I was given an opportunity that, at any other point I would have probably ignored. I took a job with an amazing company and resigned my position as CEO of my most recent startup.

While that was the biggest change I experienced, it was during this difficult time that I took a good, long, hard look at everything else in my life. The Suck resulted in a substantial amount of important and healthy changes for me personally. Namely, it led me to the realization that minimalism breeds abundance, which I’ll probably save for a whole different article some other day. (Update: I wrote that article.)

Lesson #6: Health matters

When I say health, I don’t just mean physical health. I mean health in all areas of life — spiritually, mentally, physically, relationally, financially, etc. But for me, that definitely meant focusing on my physical health as a starting point.

In the short time that has followed The Suck, I have lost nearly 30 pounds as a result of some rather simple yet sustainable changes to how I eat everyday. Preceded by a hospital trip and a few rather negative test results, this has been a welcome change that I enacted directly because of the crap swirling around me. I even started back in the gym earlier this month.

Focusing on our health at all times will help mitigate potential future impact on us, surely, though sometimes our health may fail us regardless of what we do. I know I am personally committed to making my health a priority from here on out.

Lesson #7: Rest is necessary

In the midst of The Suck, I wasn’t sleeping. I had so much on my plate that I was barely making it through each day, while evenings required more of me than usual. I was sleeping an average of 2–3 hours per night for at least one full week of January.

Dumb.

Of course, we all know that sleep is critical for our health. Sometimes, we think we don’t have a choice — I know I didn’t. But we do. Although this is really an extension of my health lesson, rest is important to enforce all its own.

I’m not just talking about sleep, as critical as that is, either. It’s important we find rest for our souls, not only our bodies. As terrible as The Suck was for me, it was also a month of profound spiritual rest and fulfillment. Even before the company of my loved ones, this was the most critical aspect to my productive re-emergence from The Suck.

Lesson #8: Focus on what matters most

I won’t say much about this other than encouraging that we each turn to focusing on what matters most to us during difficult times. Such occasions present an opportunity to help re-frame our very thinking and re-focus us on what matters in the context of our entire lives, not just the moment. I surely did.

Lesson #9: Distraction helps

Though I personally developed as a result of The Suck, sometimes I simply needed to find distraction from it. Especially amid the situational depression I was experiencing, I found it incredibly satisfying at the time to be cleaning and organizing everything.

Seriously, every drawer, every closet, every room, every device I own, I went on a purging and reorganization rampage. This was honestly about the only thing I wanted to do at the time, finding great satisfaction in the process. It was a helpful distraction.

Whatever it is that we personally find comfort in during such hardship, it’s important we find it. Activities like these can help tremendously, until we eventually look up and realize that the storm has passed. We cannot avoid the storm, but we can try to enjoy something as it thrashes around us.

Lesson #10: People will understand

I’m hard on myself. I don’t think I really realized how hard I was on myself until The Suck kept continually landing its gut punches on me. Before January was fully passed, I kept repeating to myself:

“I suck.”

But this isn’t true. The truth is simply:

“Life sucked momentarily.”

Nicole especially helped me realize my lack of compassion toward myself. As I’ve openly shared about the struggle that January was for me with others, people have generously and graciously understood. They’ve offered nothing less than utter compassion and encouragement.

It is important to realize that, whatever we’re going through in the given moment, month, or season we’re in, however bleak it may seem, most people will be merciful. In fact, we’ve all experienced The Suck of our own at some point or another, and so, most people will even offer more than mercy — they’ll kindly extend their understanding.

I know I will.


If you’re struggling…

Whether you’re in the midst of The Suck or you end up facing a rough patch soon, I encourage you to share your hardship with others who care about you. If you don’t feel you have anyone like that in your life, please reach out to me personally. I’m not a counselor, which I would encourage you to consider if you’re struggling even temporarily, but I can listen. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll share what I do have to offer — Love.

If you found this helpful at all, please consider pushing that little below so that others can find similar encouragement. You’re not alone.