Jet engines rumbled the concrete floor. The stench of fuel permeated the air in slow, thick waves, resembling a mirage and adding to the dreamlike atmosphere. I slouched under an umbrella, pen in hand and scribbling on a notebook.
My throat was dry. It hurt to swallow. For the past hour, I’d told myself it was because of the Tampa Airport Marriott’s overzealous air conditioning in their rooms. They felt like perfumed surgical centers, which, in a weird way, I liked.
At that morning’s breakfast, I’d kept drinking glass after glass of water, squeezing the lemon slices’ juices into each one, until the slice was a tiny, crumpled mess of pulp.
I’d told myself I was just thirsty.
But sitting under that umbrella of the outdoor lounge, alone, facing neatly arranged rows of palm trees, the blue sky, and listening to planes shoot off runways, I admitted the truth. I was sick.
It was probably a cold. As a child and teenager, I’d gotten slammed with one major cold per year. After three or four days in bed, I’d always been good to go. I even had a ritual on the final morning, when I felt as if the worst had passed so I drank some coke. Whatever help the soda gave was probably psychological.
Now in my early 20s, I wouldn’t touch a coke. The last time I’d had a sip was when I mixed it with rum (or, in one of my poorer decisions, with vodka).
But I did want to fight this cold and maybe clobber it before it grew into something worse.
I’d just finished attending a seminar on marketing at the hotel. In a couple of hours, I’d hop a plane to LaGuardia for a workshop in New York City. It was about how to start conversations with women; if you’re a woman who’s often experienced men approaching and giving you a compliment because they “just had to,” it was because of trainings like this.
(Somehow, after going through “How To Score Dates” workshops, I managed to unwarp my brain and meet the love of my life, but that’s a story for another time.)
The event was still a few days off and I planned on hanging out in the city until then. I hated being sick, but what I could do?
I closed my notebook, headed inside, and found a convenience store.
Near the register were packs of vitamin combos. I bought one with a bottle of water and downed the capsules, which had around 25-gazillion percent of your daily required B12, along with something called guarana. I returned to my outdoor table.
I wasn’t a coffee drinker and didn’t gulp down energy drinks. Scientific research shows that when a caffeine virgin consumes a big dose of caffeine, this can produce interesting effects. I can now confirm that.
First, I felt the energy. Not jitteriness smeared over exhaustion like a bad paint job, but a smooth, buzzing, warm flood of energy. I smiled and nodded. Oh, hell yeah. Then came the confidence. I busted out my notebook and began scribbling notes. After roughly half an hour, my mind raced too swiftly to rationally plan anything. I put down my pen and strode to the courtyard’s edge, the jet engines’ roars a backdrop for an impromptu mental movie.
Because I’d just attended a seminar on marketing and was on my way to an event on meeting women, the fantasies wrote themselves.
Maybe I’d move to Manhattan and live in a downtown, luxury apartment with the piles of money I was sure to make. Who knows how many beautiful women I could date?
An hour later, I floated through airport security, boarded a Southwest flight, and snagged a window seat on the left. I was sweating and, lurking beneath the comet-like ride of energy my body and mind were straddling, something felt weird. Maybe the cold was gearing up to hit me harder than before. Screw it. I’d deal with whatever sickness later.
This felt like an important moment in my life – a marker for when I started to think, and believe, big.
When the captain announced our descent, night had already fallen. I looked out the window and saw Manhattan’s skyscrapers.
Their lights pulsed and twinkled, like staring down at a giant geode.
Thank you, I thought. Thank you for this amazing life.
I checked into the Hotel Carter, a dump near the bus station. It has since closed, probably condemned, no doubt disappointing the bed bugs. By the time I wriggled under the sheets, the guarana high had evaporated. I shivered and pulled the blankets over my head. All my energy was gone, as if I were a cracked egg and someone had dumped the yoke out of my shell.
And those fantasies I had while surfing the wave of guarana? They’d fizzled into a big pile of mush.
The workshop didn’t bless me with a bevy of beautiful women. And after the marketing seminar and a few years of business bounces up and down, I went bankrupt.
But I learned form my bruises, staggered back onto my financial feet, grew prosperous, and am now happily married.
Looking back on that guarana-fueled misadventure, here’s what I’ve learned:
Don’t confuse a revelatory experience with transformation.
My story might seem like a silly example. I mean, guarana? Really? Some people strive for their success groove by snorting cocaine – it’s practically part of their daily routine, right after brushing their teeth and right before recording a screaming podcast on taking massive action. Some people have probably reported their revelatory moment right after downing enough Ecstasy to make an Atomic Wedgy feel like an orgasmic nuclear mushroom cloud. But when it comes to drugs, I’m green as a pool table and twice as square so the soft stuff is the best I can do for this story. Besides, this isn’t about comparing crazy experiences, but exposing a mental trap that might be snagging you.
Don’t think a revelatory experience is all you need – or that you even need one.
It’s like imagining a new car, especially picturing the gorgeous exterior. Don’t confuse the pretty paint job with building an engine. After the revelation comes the implementation. After the idea comes the grind. After rock-bottom comes the climb up. And it’s likely not one of those adrenaline-fueled climbs where you rocket up as everyone cheers you on. It could be a boring climb where you need to turn around and look at your map a lot, annoying everyone around you, then taking numerous and increasingly awkward bathroom breaks and possibly catching Poison Ivy.
It’s not as sexy a story as someone turning their life around overnight, while glossing over the details of their march out of hell. But the grind is mandatory and it works much better than trying to ride a wave of inspiration.
If you think you need to pump yourself with inspiration, know this:
If you set yourself up for unnecessary highs, you also set yourself up for unnecessary lows.
A sudden high – from hanging out with an exciting group of people, taking a stimulant or simply coming up with a new idea for a business – can be seductive. It’s fun to tell supportive people about your plans and a thrill to celebrate your new idea, but if you get too caught up in the high, you’ll get too caught up in the low. After talking about your plans comes the day when you must move forward on them, probably alone. After the celebrating comes the implementing, and the lows might just sink you.
Don’t feel bad about this. If you’re grabbed by a sudden fit of inspiration – cool! If you feel like a freshly-tossed bag of garbage the next day – also cool! It’s normal to bounce lower the next day, feel worse than ever by comparison, and continue to feel more emotional highs and lows as you regress to the mean.
A crash does not signal permanent doom until the doom has actually permanently doomed you.
A crash can be a springboard.
When I got sick in that hotel, I didn’t give up on my journey of change and transformation. Bankruptcy didn’t stop me, either. It’s not the highs that stop us or the inevitable crashes – they’re both emotional and emotions are always changing. So what doesn’t change?
A revelatory experience is not a substitute for discipline.
We can choose to get caught up in our highs or lows and drown in an emotional undertow or we can exert discipline. The good news is, unlike getting caught in a literal undertow where you could drown no matter how hard you dogpaddle, a speck of discipline has a much better chance of getting you out of your emotional highs and lows.
After I recovered from my cold/flu, I got back to work, yet still spent plenty of time lost in fantasyland. After I recovered from my bankruptcy, I fantasized a little less, refined my skillsets a little more, and methodically built my success.
What are your disciplines during a crash?