How Every Entrepreneur Can Find Success By Hitting Rock Bottom

Think Steve Jobs.

In my new book, Rock Bottom to Rock Star, I talk about a number of people who’ve inspired me throughout my life – entrepreneurs, mentors, artists, and anyone that I’ve witnessed living a rock star life, or like I say, owning their own stage. I study the lives of great entrepreneurs so that I can learn from them, and one of the greatest examples is the late Steve Jobs. I consider myself a lifelong student of Jobs—I have a signed photo of him on the wall of my office; I’ve hired people he’s worked with to speak to my team; and I’ve watched every documentary, movie, and read every book on him that I could find. But it’s not his successes I’m most interested in—it’s his failures.

Once upon a time Apple was the laughing stock of the technology industry. They called Jobs a has-been. They mocked them for even showing up at tech conferences. That’s how bad his reputation once was, compared with today, where both Jobs and his brand are immortalized. In the book, I tell one particular story about how I used his rock bottom moments with Apple as my inspiration, as I’ve struggled to reinvent my company ViSalus.

I became the CEO of ViSalus in 2005, and since that time we went through almost every possible scenario — we sold the company to publicly traded Blyth Inc. in 2008, weathered the recession and almost went bankrupt, but then generated $624 million in product sales and $97million in profit by 2012 and bought the company back from Blyth in 2014 for $143million. Almost two years from our buyback date, we are right back where we started. I know it takes an element of personal magic and sometimes no less than a miracle to turn a company around — 16-plus hour days, emergency tactics — but sometimes nothing you plan, goes according to plan.

Like me, every entrepreneur spends a significant portion of his or her career struggling with the dilemma of making the most important business decisions in the face of not knowing what lies ahead. Should I sell my company? Is now a good time to exit? Are we ready to launch? In other words, is that a cliff that I’m running at full speed or is it more flat land?

Unless you’ve structured your company to avoid taking risks (like owning a Subway franchise, for instance), you are always in one of those scenarios, wondering which it’s going to be. I call this “running at the cliff.” Either way, you’re sailing off of the edge or hitting the bottom, but you’ve got to be prepared for both. Get used to it.

So if you haven’t hit bottom yet—I’d argue you’re doing something wrong.

How Steve Jobs Helped Me Through My Rock Bottom Moment

I was going through some old files, looking for pictures of my mom today, and I found this 2011 issue of Rolling Stone magazine. While this magazine has been in my possession for five years, I never noticed the cover story subtitle: “How an Insecure Hippie Kid Reinvented Himself- and Changed the World.”

rolling-stones

They’re talking about Steve Jobs, of course, but the sequence of the words #insecure #kid #reinvent #changetheworld feels relevant to me right now.

As the proverb goes, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear,” and I guess this “student” is ready. I don’t believe in coincidences.

On October 26th, 2011 my stepfather Robert Hunt passed away unexpectedly, the magazine came out the day after. It was published in 2011 along with Steve Job’s biography (his came out in October, mine in August). That biography, my first book Nothing to Lose, was written with deep gratitude for Bob’s mentorship and dedicated to my mother who was one year into a two-year coma.

My mom came home from the hospital on Easter 2013, and since then she has fought back from the brink again and again. I’ve been to the I.C.U. so many times I quit updating my friends because I didn’t want them on this rollercoaster with me and our family. This year she is in hospice, and my family is at peace with her decision. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about her eulogy. (That’s why I was looking for photos of her.)

I wrote my stepfather’s eulogy October of 2011—and I still consider Bob’s eulogy the best “speech” I’ve ever given. I was at such a loss, it was a true rock bottom for me to lose the man who had helped me turn my life around, and rescued my mother and I out of poverty, he was my first real mentor. While researching eulogies, I came across a mock eulogy written by Norman Mailer (for himself), and I drew inspiration from it. I wanted desperately to bring some humor to the situation, in the spirit of my stepfather, who was a well known prankster with a great sense of fun. (Go watch it on my YouTube channel if you’d like a laugh, as ironic as that sounds.)

Reflecting on the month of October, I now realize the transformation it represents to me, both as an entrepreneur, and personally. I started my first company (24×7 Tech) in October of 1999, we closed our ViSalus sale to NYSE:BTH in October 2008, canceled our IPO in October 2012, and the list of significant events in October rolls on and on.

This year I launched my latest book Rock Bottom to Rock Star on the 4th of October and made the decision that I would fight great headwinds to be a messenger of hope, with my mom on hospice, and the election noise raging in the background.

And now, on this day, October 27th, 2016, with this magazine in my hand, the reminder of Steve Jobs’ reinvention serves as a much needed reminder to me. I learned a powerful lesson from Steve.

That’s the beauty of mentors. Unlike my stepfather, I didn’t know Steve personally, but I learned from him by observing him, by reading all that I could about him, and from those that worked with him. I’ve watched countless speeches, bought old documentaries, rebooted my Next, and have even hired his former colleagues to help me better understand how such a complex man came to the virtue of simplicity, with a belief in magic.

And maybe Steve has helped me write my mother’s eulogy, too, the way Norman Mailer inspired my stepfather’s, because two traits I covet most of my mother’s are: she believes in the magic that “I could do anything I set my mind to,” and she is simple, yet complex. She puts “love” first.

I’ll leave you with some more words of wisdom from Steve, and thank you for being here for me.

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

– Steve Jobs at the Stanford University commencement address in 2005

Your Opportunity to Break The Internet

I am writing this having just said goodbye to my mother today—she’s chosen to go into hospice for her last few living days. If any of you know the story, in 2011, my mother suffered a head trauma and spent two years in a coma. She woke up, and I got precious extra time with her, for which I am eternally grateful, but now she’s ready to release her soul from her body. I’m praying for just one more evening with her.

I share this personal story with you because it’s exactly “Why” I write, and underlies what I believe to be my life’s purpose. The first part of the title of my book Rock Bottom to Rock Star was inspired by the J.K. Rowling’s quote, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life,” because I’ve built my life (and rebuilt it numerous times) from the bottom up, and the second part of the title “Rock Star,” is to empower people to live a life where they embody success and own their own stage—I want to create a movement, a whole new classification of rock stars. I wrote this book to teach people not only to face their adversities (a subject I know well), but also how to use those “rock bottoms” as the launch pad for their future success.

The message is universal, because nobody is immune to adversity—and I am facing adversity right now, but I’m ok with that because I have the tools and I’ve been battle tested more than once. While I may feel this battle is my hardest, as my Navy SEAL friends would say, “the only easy day was yesterday.”

I made the choice to release my book Rock Bottom to Rock Star during the fiasco that is our American political and media meltdown, and unlike my first book release, I am fighting headwinds unlike I’ve ever seen (my next book will be about when NOT to launch a book). That’s why tonight and tomorrow, I’m soul-y focused on two things, making my mother proud of her son so she can leave this world with peace in her heart, and getting my book Rock Bottom to Rock Star to break through the election noise and get this (much needed) message to the world.

I’m asking everyone who has read my book (or would like to read it), been inspired by my writing, watched my documentary, or seen me speak, to lend their support in any way that you can. Especially on social media, as that’s the only media platform we have today where we as individuals can reach the world with a positive message. If you haven’t ordered Rock Bottom to Rock Star yet, go get a copy on my website ryanblair.com, we’ve got great packages and bonuses waiting for you. If you’ve already read it, please review it—Amazon, GoodReads, Audible, Barnes & Noble, Kindle, iTunes—or if you’re compelled by this message, post a pic of yourself with Rock Bottom to Rock Star in your hands, and @tag me (Twitter: @ryanblair, Instagram: @ryanvisalus, FB: ryanblair.fans) with the hashtag #RB2RS and I’ll do my best to engage with you. Recommend the book, share the message, share this post—or simply send me a kind thought or prayer from your heart. All help is appreciated, even the kind you can’t touch or see.

Help me break through the negativity and “break the internet” today (but not like it did on Friday when I was originally supposed to post this), and you will be an important part of this book, and future books to come.

Just knowing that you’re out there reading this is adding fuel to my fire already, giving me the courage to keep fighting. And for that, I thank you.

How we can save America $31 billion a year, an entrepreneur’s view on criminal justice reform

As a writer, and someone who is often in the public’s eye, I’ve mostly abstained from sharing my political views. With the exception of having named my son Reagan, after our former president, and some recent reactions to the current election, that’s probably the only things the public knows about my political opinions. The truth is I love Democrats, I love Republicans, I love Libertarians, and any organization that tries to make the country (and our world) a better place through politics. I may have my different opinions on how to do it, though.

September 2011, I was on ABC TV and the host asked me how I would change the country’s unemployment numbers. After criticizing the Jobs Act, that it would specifically stagnate wages (which it has), I wrote an open letter to the president and said something to the effect of, “Obama should pick up the phone and give me a call.” The irony is that a few weeks ago, I was standing in the same room as Obama, and I recalled my former (and frankly arrogant) statement, and regretted it. I thought, maybe we shouldn’t be giving this man such a hard time.

I was in New York recently, and before I left the city, I decided to invite two friends of mine, Allie Hoffman and Terrence Jenkins, to meet me for a drink. Allie runs a social impact media lab, working with high profile public figures, getting them involved in social change, and Terrence J. is one of the most recognizable faces on TV, as a longtime host on BET and E! News. They hadn’t met before, but as they started talking, they realized they were both working on the same cause: criminal justice reform.

Terrence said,

“Come with me to Washington and we can lobby Congress together and I can take you to the White House.”

I never travel with suits anymore, so the next day, I’m literally at Barney’s trying to find a suit worthy of being worn in the presence of the President of the United States. This would be my first time lobbying for anything, and seeing first hand how Congress worked. I was nervous I’d be late, our entourage was running behind, and I didn’t want to miss it. If you know me, you know that I hate being late, and there I was—straight up late for a briefing on Capitol Hill. After crawling through traffic in a downpour, we finally entered Capitol Hill. A rush came over me. I’d made it. Those of you that read my book Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain, know that I was very familiar with the criminal justice system as a kid, but not for the right reasons. Now, I was at the heart of it.

After working my way through security and going over the talking points with Terrence, I found myself in a room with two sitting members of Congress. The man next to me was watching Congress on a TV screen above us, with an ear turned to me. Someone knocked at the door, the congressman ran out, went to the floor to vote, and then ran back into the room. Not to sound naïve, but you’d think that they sit in that room all day long, when in reality, their job is a complete hustle.

the streets carrying guns to protect themselves, and drugs to use or sell—because there is nothing (besides prison) to prevent them from doing so.

Our prisons have filled up at a rate of 500% growth over the last 40 years .

The federal minimum sentencing laws are incarcerating millions of people, the vast majority of whom don’t deserve to be spending their lives in prison. And certainly if they do deserve life in prison, a judge should be the determining factor, just as mine was, Judge Perren. He gave me a second chance, and it’s made all the difference.

The unintended consequences have started to get the fix they needed, and a lot of laws have changed. But what used to be a felony is now considered a misdemeanor in some states. As a result, a lot of nonviolent criminals went to jail for life for drug related incidences, at times sentenced for crimes related to the distribution of substances that are now legal in some states. Did you know if you were caught with a bag of cocaine, the same root drug compound as crack, you would get 18x’s less prison ? The system is rigged against communities of color, and against those who are living in poverty, and today, minority communities represent 70% of all new prison admissions .

….and that strikes me as very unfair.

There are over 2 million people locked up in the US . I’m convinced that lawmakers could cut the total population in half if they focused on the issues that matter—non-violent crimes, mandatory minimum sentences, and drug policy reform—instead of all the issues, all at once. I understand it more now than ever, sitting inside the room, talking criminal justice reform on Capitol Hill in the Senate building.

And if this is what’s best for a million American families—then they should get the job done. If they can’t, then the call to action is simple: In November, lets elect lawmakers that will work to get some of society’s greatest liabilities out of those jails, and turn them back into working assets.

I’m a huge capitalist, but the corporations that make up our federal and state prison system don’t pay enough taxes to justify the amount of money these prisoners are costing tax payers—$39 billion per year (around $31 billion of that total is for prisoners currently incarcerated for non-violent crimes).

I refuse to sit idle, knowing we have so many humans suffering in prison that shouldn’t be when a solution is at our fingertips. In 2011, I wrote a Financial Times article, “Today’s Rioter Could Be Tomorrow’s Entrepreneur” in reaction to the UK riots, the LA riots which I witnessed personally, and what I see as a growing problem in our society: the “Have’s versus the Have Not’s” (the next piece I write, I’ll go into this subject more). In the article I said, “I know first-hand that the solution to the problem of disaffection and deep-seated unrest among the young is mentorship and entrepreneurship.”

The two congressmen started talking to me about the various politics involved in getting something done. The way it works, as I understand it, is that politicians have to withhold their vote sometimes, because if they vote on one thing, they don’t get the grand vote on something else. It occurred to me that they’re making tradeoffs. They’re trading off and making compromises constantly.

With this new lens, I sat there and watched compromise after compromise being made. If they didn’t vote for something they didn’t like, the lesser of two evils, nothing would move forward on the issues that actually mattered, like criminal justice reform. Instead of working towards the ideal, they’re just working for a deal.

And that’s the way it works. Or the way it’s not working, rather.

A woman from the Midwest spoke up; she’d just been given clemency from Obama. She has kids, and her son had been murdered while she was in prison. I saw this remarkable woman in gratitude for her clemency, dedicate herself to the cause of criminal justice reform. Her point was, families are being destroyed, that this is not just an economic impact, but societal, and familial.

Pause with me to fully appreciate the moment. Here I am learning about the various ills of our criminal system and the bills to fix it, because I’m the guy who got a second chance. It could have easily been me in prison. I was housed in juvenile correction facilities multiple times; I was a ward of the State of California. Hundreds of thousands of dollars and community resources were spent on me. These are things I’ve taken from our government and the State. Because I learned entrepreneurship and got mentorship from my stepfather, I went on to start a company that’s generated millions in tax revenue (around $50 million), and I avoided prison, and more than paid back my debt to society.

Not everyone is as fortunate as I was.

Another gentleman who I met while I was in DC by the name of Chris Wilson told me that he’d shot and killed a man at the age of 17, was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison. He spent sixteen and a half years in prison working towards his release. He’s been out of prison four years now and has helped 220 people well below the poverty line in Baltimore get jobs through his construction company, Barclay.

I learned about the Crime Bill of ’94 and that there were some very negative aspects of it. A lot of our crime prevention initiatives—the same ones that helped me stay out of jail and avoid recidivism— got defunded during the Bush administration, while the stricter punishments, like tougher prison sentences, remained. The bill got passed largely on public sentiment in reaction to the rising street crime, not on facts.

Of course, if you have every opportunity to get a second chance, you have safety, and education—then stricter punishments without crime prevention makes sense. Crack down hard on the hardened criminals. But if kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, like Chris Wilson, have no safety, no security, and no education, then we are going to find them out on

If our dysfunctional system cannot pass meaningful legislation before you leave office, I beg you, Obama, to put me and my fellow business leaders to work, putting them to work. August 30th, you commuted the sentences of 111 American citizens—this is progress. I ask you to pardon or commute the rest of those that are incarcerated for non-violent crimes, and whose crimes do not fit the punishment and immediately put them into an entrepreneurial program (I would gladly teach those classes), get them back to their families, and back to being positive contributors to society, creating billions in tax revenue, instead of costing taxpayers billions.

There are some that think that even reducing the prison population by 1 million may not end mass incarceration in the U.S., and I agree that the issue is probably much more complex than simply releasing and rehabilitating prisoners, sentencing and policies will have to change—but it’s a big step in the right direction.

Have’s vs. Have Not’s: A three-part solution to America’s wealth gap

I’m what they call a self-made man, but I’m also a product of my life experiences. By fate, I’ve been in every socioeconomic class in America—poor, middle class, and wealthy—and the first class I saw, the one I was born into, wasn’t the “first class”— and to me it’s worse than poverty—you guessed it, the middle class.

When I was 13-years-old, my middle class safety net was ripped away when my father became addicted to drugs, lost his job, and left us. I went from a nice home in the suburbs (with every type of toy I wanted) to abject poverty—a one room shack in a gang-infested neighborhood in Ventura County—where I lived with my single working mother, until I was 18. I got a front row seat to the way the wealthy lived in the upper class when my mother remarried, and I found myself with a much needed mentor and surrogate father.

It was the dawn of the “Age of the Internet” and I had picked up some computer skills (by way of liberating them) on the streets. I got a job changing back up tapes at a data center, and started buying Internet stocks on the side. By the time I got to my sophomore year in college, I had made it to the middle class making that beautiful $100K a year salary, living in my newly purchased townhome in Simi Valley, California, with a leased BMW in the garage—so I could keep up with the Jones’s of course (a favorite middle class pastime). I was about twenty years old.

But the memory of watching my father lose everything trying to stay in the middle class stuck with me. I remember him buying brand new cars to show off with, and blowing his money on drugs and other superficial diversions. And one day, he had nothing. I saw the middle class not as a comfort zone, but as a compromise and a trap—an economic strategy set by the rich—and I swore I’d rather be poor than stay in the middle the rest of my life.

If I wanted to move up in life, I had to act quickly. I started my first company 24/7 Tech, a computer repair business, and left college for the world of entrepreneurship.

This was 1999, when Jeff Bezos, Marc Andreessen, and Bill Gates were the kings of the hill (they still are). Credit was flowing, and people like me were buying their first, second, or third houses—it was easy to win. In a little more than a decade and a half, our society completely shifted. The housing market crashed, we went through a recession, our economy changed, the wealth gap widened, and the middle class began to shrink.

We went from an economy built on manufacturing jobs, to a society built on innovation and intelligence. Today, the tech industry, and some of the smartest minds in American history, have the most amount of capital available to them ever—at the lowest cost, ever. Twenty years from now, there’ll be more computers than jobs, and twenty years from then, I predict the trend will continue, if Moore’s Law holds true—and it has thus far.

And while the middle class was in decline, a larger share of the nation’s wealth was captured by those at the top. According to a recent Pew report,

“Fully 49% of U.S. aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, up from 29% in 1970. ”

This is partly our government’s fault. I was one of those fortunate enough to sell my company after the Great Recession; I had assets. As a result of our monetary policies, those with assets were granted access to capital, nearly for free. And the people like me, the working wealthy and the newly wealthy, took this free money and spent it on innovating and automating as many jobs out of our companies as we “humanly” could. Facebook’s messaging application WhatsApp has 55 employees serving 450 million customers . I wonder how many employees it takes at Verizon to serve 450 million customers?

The “have not’s” on the other hand, didn’t have assets, and didn’t get access to free capital. Many sank below the poverty line, while the wealthy extracted as much value from the middle class as they could, and “tapped those assets,” starting with the equity in their homes and adjustable rate no-income verification mortgages, and many predatory lenders perfected their craft.

In essence, the Titanic is sinking, but the band—our middle class—is still playing the music.

Our politicians have all made commitments to restoring our middle class, but I just don’t see that happening anytime soon. Hillary will probably instate a mandatory wage increase, and Trump wants to build a wall around the country (destroying our trade agreements in the process), but neither of those are going to make you any more secure in the middle class. The reality is that the gridlock in our political system is going to delay any gratification you think you’re going to receive from your vote this November (possibly forever). Monetary policy has to change, but our government has no solutions. We are going to have to solve the problem ourselves.

I’ve been in the low income brackets and I know from experience that it’s actually easier to be ambitious when you’re living poor or paycheck-to-paycheck with nothing to lose. You’re in survival mode, and every second counts—you have to grind it out. You have to hustle. (I talk about my own “hustle” in my new book, Rock Bottom to Rock Star: Lessons from the Business School of Hard Knocks. I learned to leverage my environment, or be leveraged by it.

Thanks to our new “gig economy ” peer to peer platforms—I’ve invested in several, including Heal, Saucey, Surkus, ViSalus, and SenStay)—and some that you’re probably more familiar with, like Airbnb, Uber, Postmates, are helping to level the playing field. Starting a business doesn’t carry the risk it once did; the barriers to entry are lower than ever. And with millions of micro-entrepreneurs fueling our economy and sparking innovation, more middle class jobs will become available to those that create their own.

Those of you in the middle class: don’t get too comfortable. The problem is that you are not really secure, and you should know the problem better than anyone else, because you’re living it. So, either find a solution to stay where you’re at, or study how to become wealthy. Learn from those who have found a way out. That’s what I did. As they say, the best trail up the mountain is the trail forged by others. If my path up the mountain isn’t the one you’d like to follow, here’s a Forbes list of some of the richest self made billionaires to inspire you.

For those of us who have access to capital, the wealthy, we need to invest in solutions. We need more social entrepreneurs, people out there that aren’t putting profits above all else, and foundations targeting specific causes that are eroding the good quality of middle class jobs. There are entrepreneurs out there that are creating their own city models, like Tony Hsieh’s downtown Vegas, or Dan Gilbert that nearly singlehandedly resurrected the city of Detroit. I’ve sat and talked with these men about it, personally. To those with the desire to create an entirely new societal model I say,

“You should.”

Like I said in my last piece on Criminal Justice Reform, the one thing we can’t do is sit around and wait for the government to make all our problems disappear. And we can’t make excuses. Take responsibility for where you’re at, and for your own path to success, whether you’re riding high in the one percent, floating in the illusory comfort of the middle class or digging loose change out of your couch cushions to fill up your gas tank (like I once did)—we all need to play our part and be the solution to our nation’s problems.

NYC, NJ bombing, Orlando Pulse club, Minneapolis stabbing—America, have we hit rock bottom yet?

I believe everything happens for a reason. For instance, my book debuted #1 on the New York Times bestseller list on September 11, 2011—that was the actual print date. But this story you’re about to read is about September 2001, also known as 9-11.

With the recent terrorist attacks weighing heavily on our minds right now, both abroad and on our own soil, I decided to share this story with you, a personal email that was written by a reader of Nothing to Lose and sent to me in May, 2015. Until now, I’d kept this email private, but I reached out to her recently and got her permission to publish it. She asked that I omit her name for privacy purposes, so if you happen to know who this person is, I ask you to please keep it private. Thank you.

I get a lot of fan mail from readers of Nothing to Lose, but I have never received a story as incredible as this one. What you’re about to read is an email from a reader thanking me for saving her life—but I really think she saved her own.

Please read it. And prepare yourself, it’s powerful.

From: ChaCha Fiorillo
Date: Tue, 26 May 2015 12:38:51 -0400
To: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: NTL was an influence in saving my life

Dear Ryan:

I believe a ViSalus Promoter already shared my story with you but it was important to me to thank you directly. And me thanking you is very much overdue! I wanted to thank you for shining a light in my life at a time I needed it more than you could imagine. My story is very private to me, I don’t talk about this hardly ever and I am a little embarrassed by it. But every time I see your book on my bookshelf, I say to myself “I need to write him and thank him.”

One morning I rushed up the subway stairs in lower Manhattan and my heel on my right shoe broke. I was on my way to see a new client and didn’t know Manhattan well enough to know if there was another shoe store close by that was opened so early in the morning. I remember my best girlfriend, whom I had planned on having lunch with after my client meeting, shared the same size shoe as me. I frantically dialed her cellphone and said “I need to stop by your office and steal whatever shoes you are wearing today.” I couldn’t find an available cab during this morning rush hour so I hobbled quickly five blocks to her office building. I got about a block away from her and she called me to say “I’ll meet you in the lobby so you don’t have to waste time on the elevators.” I replied “I actually need to use a lady’s room so stay where you are and I’ll come up to your office.”

I made the decision to end my life. I thought about the best way to do it. The less messy way for someone to find me. I decided booze and sleeping pills were the way to go. I took a few pills and had drank about 1/2 bottle of whiskey when I found a baggie of cocaine I forgot I had. Score. I laid out the lines on the cover of a book that had been sitting on my coffee table for a few weeks – one of my girlfriends who worked for a PR company brought over the book to me and I paid it no mind. Until that night. I did the lines that were covering the title of the book “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain.” I dozed in and out of a stoned-out consciousness and at some point I picked up that book and started to read it. All I remember is I read it from beginning to end that night.

I didn’t think I could ever pull myself out of my situation in life. I didn’t think I could ever be free of drugs and alcohol. That last decade of my life was now part of my past I could never foresee myself climbing out of and having triumph over. And most the people in my life couldn’t see it either. I decided after reading that book that maybe, just maybe, I could conquer this. At one time I had all these dreams of being successful, in both business and relationships, and for the first time in a decade I could somewhat see I might be able to accomplish my dreams. I know I needed a lot of help though! It was then that I called 911 and said “I’ve taken some pills, drank some booze and did a few lines of coke. I wanted to end my life. And now I don’t. I want to sleep for a while but I’m afraid if I close my eyes I won’t wake up.” Help came. And then after spending some time in the hospital and rehab, help came from people I had loved and really let down. I think when they saw I finally decided to take life seriously and fight for what I wanted, then they came back to my corner of the ring and started to help me fight my demons.

I’ve been sober and drug free since 2012. It’s been tough at times. I beat myself up a lot for wasting a decade of my life. Honestly, still sometimes the thoughts and memories make me feel like I am not worthy to keep going. I’ve been following you via social media for a few years now and I always come back to a quote you use, “Whatever situation you find yourself in, it’s easy to allow it to become the lens through which you define yourself. Don’t.” I hold onto that a lot when I start to lose hope.

Thank you for taking the time to write your book and share your story and giving me hope for my future. I am still working on my “Told You So” chapter.

With Thanks,
Chacha Fiorillo

We don’t have control over our lives as much as we used to. Terrible things are happening— stabbings, bombings—the attack at the Pulse club in Orlando touched my community, personally. And none of us are immune to this. You’ll see in my other LinkedIn articles I’ve addressed some of what I see as America’s biggest problems right now, criminal justice reform, the erosion of the middle class—but this third article, I wanted you to read about a brave woman that took a tragedy, hit bottom, and turned her life around from it. I want to focus on the solutions, not the problems. And I ask you to do the same.

That one decision will haunt me to the day I die.

I caught an elevator in her building, it was me and six other people. I pressed the button for my bestie’s office floor – she worked on the 103rd floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center for a wonderful company called Cantor Fitzgerald. That morning when I was in the elevator is when the first plane hit the building. It was September 11, 2001. The elevator was knocked off its axis and it was completely dark. I honestly cannot share the emotions that went on in the elevator, it’s just way to difficult to even think about. Some time had lapsed before we obviously made it out. We were rescued by a NYC firefighter who heard our screams and was able to pry the door open enough so that we could climb out. He led us to a staircase – we went down and he said he was going up one more floor.

Getting out of the building was just as challenging as surviving the elevator. By the time we left the building, the south tower had already collapsed. We all had major injuries. We also saw a lot of things – gruesome things – that no one could have ever prepared me for. The north tower collapsed about 10 minutes after we left the building. I still get a raw chill when I remember I was only 10 minutes from dying.

It was a very long time until I remembered everything from that day. But the worse realization was knowing if I had let my amazing bestie meet me in the lobby like she wanted to, she would still be alive today. That is pain that hurts the core of my soul.

In addition, me and my fellow elevator survivors went to look for our hero firefighter and I’ll never forget the pain when I saw his name and picture as being one of the firefighters who was among the missing. Come to find out that his wife was pregnant and went into premature labor a few weeks after 9/11. Their daughter survived thank God but unfortunately she grew up w/out her dad. He gave his life to save ours.

Because of my injuries and the pain I was in, in addition to the mental challenges from PTSD and the guilt I felt knowing two people were dead because of me, I was taking a major amount of pain pills and sleeping pills to get through each day. Unfortunately, I developed a serious addiction to those meds and when they stopped working as well, I just mixed vodka and whiskey into the equation to get that numb feeling again. And when I became immune to that combination, I added in cocaine and heroin. I spent a decade stuck on a roller coaster of booze, pill, hard core drugs and self-pity. Always on a quest for that numb feeling.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2012. I pretty much lost everything. I ruined all my relationships, including my marriage. I ruined my career. I spent all my savings on partying and drugs. There were two days I couldn’t get a hold of my main dealer which means I went without hard drugs for a few days. What this did was clear the fog. And when the fog cleared many emotions took center stage. Hopelessness, despair, disappointment, embarrassment, guilt. The darkness was darker than dark. My soul hurt. And I decided that the world was much better without me than with me.