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Ask HN: Anyone here make a 'comeback' from rock bottom? What is your story?
146 points by rblion 72 days ago | hide | past | web | 119 comments | favorite



I was depressed, mildly alcoholic, 100 lbs over weight (had been obese basically my entire life), and almost failing classes in college (had a professor call me out for not doing a bad job after he thought I was either cheating or being too lazy for copying some data). All of these ideas had been brewing in my head, and then one day I saw this commercial on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9pmgoETgQQ it spoke to me, and it nudged me to make some specific changes:

1: I moved (by chance, wasn't planned as part of a "reawakening"), which was awesome, the change of place let me reset my bad habits. We are creatures of habit and changing that habit is much easier with a change of scenery.

2: I started running. My first week, I jogged about 100 yards, then walked about 400 yards, repeat 4x for about a mile total distance, it sucked and I hated it, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Week 2 I was up to running about 125 yards and walking 375 yards. Week by week I slowly increased my fitness, and eventually ran a mile without stopping, then 1.5 miles without stopping, then 5 miles without stopping (took a while lol), etc.

3: I realized that one key to weight loss was my addiction to food, so I adhered to a very strict diet of chicken and vegetables 3x/day, and nothing else.

4: no alcohol, socially or otherwise

What kept me going was strict discipline, and making sticking to my plan, making it my priority above everything else. For eight months, the one thing I existed to do was improve myself, and it ended up working. By the end I was at about 215 lbs from 315lbs (im 6' 5" btw), I was happier, I had better relationships, I was more confident.


I can relate to that a lot. It's gonna be a helluva story for both of us when it's all said and done.

I'm 27. 114 days without drinking or pot. about 2 months without meat. 10 days without buying a pack of cigs. almost debt free.

Moved back home at the end of May to focus on recovery. I was out in Utah for a coding bootcamp, got kicked out halfway through for smoking weed when my roommate (a gay ex-mormon) told on me because he didn't like that I was doing well there (he went through my room while I was in Moab and told the police where I kept my weed), got a full refund because I still got a job without their help. Worked at a sketchy startup for a few months, learned a lot about what I wanted and shattered a lot of my misconceptions about the tech industry. Started working as a developer at a hosting company after but the company laid off 1000 people including me right after I signed a lease. They fired me before I got any severance because I came in hungover one day. Led to more drinking and smoking, really fucked me up inside feeling like a recurring fuck up.

Using everything I learned in Utah to start an agency. Got a few quality clients now ranging from a film composer in Hollywood, a fitness model from Miami, a dog clothing company, a Native American photographer. Going to AZ to see the Grand Canyon next week, then Colombia for an ayahuasca retreat in October to heal from PTSD from childhood trauma.

Saving up for an SUV, better camping gear, and going to work remotely next year as I explore North America. Going to be a 'creative developer' and nature photographer at the same time.


This is awesome. However, a word of warning; you're perfectly set up now for a massive and life shattering crash. My free advice; considering visiting a 12-step meeting. It's likely that you're going to need that support later, and the sooner you get it, the shorter the next problem is going to be.

Your healing has only just begun. Don't stop the work now just because things are going well.


I disagree that 12-step programs are the best or only way to establish an emotional support network. They are a fine interim solution, but the end goal should be to establish genuine and diverse friendships that are not based upon that which you see as a shared weakness.

They may do some good things, but I don't think they have the evidence to back up all their claims and practices, and they are fundamentally religious in nature.


If you have a story of what's worked for you please share it.


But that would also be anecdotal, not evidence. As our testers keep telling our developers, "it works on my machine" is not an acceptable investigation into the problem.

Also, that presumes that what I am doing is actually working, which is a matter that could easily be debated.

If I were to personalize a 12-step into something workable for me:

  1. Admit that your enemy is yourself--the problems you can solve come from you.
  2. Realize that no one other than you can save you from yourself.
  4. Analyze those parts of yourself that war against each other.  Reconcile them.
  8. Explicitly list the undesirable side effects of your behavior.
  9. Apologize to others where necessary.  Forgive yourself.  Pledge to do better.
  10. Think about consequences before acting.  Be one unified self in thought and action.
From my perspective, several of the 12 steps involve intentionally fragmenting one's personality even further beyond those that must already exist in order to perform self-destructive acts. The "God" character is you, pretending to be someone that cares about you, perhaps with a parental figure pasted over it as a facade. Other people are then able to coach you and give direction on how to play that character, which may not necessarily benefit you.

My problem with this ultimately lies in the fact that I have a personality fragment that delights in positing conspiracy theories and unraveling deceptions, who just immediately pokes holes in all attempts at self-deception, even when it is for the purpose of self-improvement. Since religious self-deception is an integral and indivisible part of every 12-step, that rules out 5 of the steps altogether, and there's no particular reason to proselytize half of something, so that rules out the 12th, too.


"God" in 12-step groups is not much more than simply the idea that you are not God, and something out there might be able to help you. Beyond that, "God" can be the tree outside, the earth, Christian/Jewish/Muslim God, oceans, whatever.

For me it is not self deception. I did not create the world, and it will not cease to exist when I die.


At one time, I lost the plot. On my way back, and as an essential part of my recovery, I lost the ability to believe the lies I told myself to temporarily feel better about the crappy situation I was in.

If your god is not an actual flesh-and-blood person, it is you projecting yourself onto an inanimate object or intangible idea. I am not certain how it helps to do that sort of ventriloquism act, but apparently it does for some people. If you are that sort of person, a 12-step program might work for you. But I don't think it has ever been proven to work better than any other type of addiction recovery program, and the few studies that have been done generally support that hypothesis.

I am not a psychologist, but I don't think it is healthy to form intentional communities around a single commonality that is regarded by the group to be a critical and unrepairable flaw, and cement them together with quasi-religious traditions and proselytizing. But everyone is free to address their own problems in whatever manner they see fit. Veterans of 12-step programs will be certain to tell you that it worked for them, because that is the 12th step. They will not tell you that it is not based on evidence, only that it worked for the people that it worked for. It doesn't really matter, if you can make some new friends there.

You can deceive yourself into believing that your self-deception is not self-deception. You can also beat yourself at chess. What is the point?


The point is to effect a separation from self-harming habits that are far more dangerous to your general well-being than believing that "inanimate objects or intangible ideas" may be interconnected in ways our small perspective on the world is unable to perceive.


What I try to do is 'take what works and leave the rest'.

My only gripe with AA so far is that it is 80% white men where I live. I hope other places have more diversity, fewer people there trying to take advantage of vulnerable women, and fewer people there for court-ordered probation moreso than actually wanting to make lasting changes.


I've been going to a 12-step meeting and working the steps. Also going to a meditation group. My sponsor is an engineer too, so we can connect on multiple levels.

thanks for looking out, I know it's coming from a good place


What kind of coding bootcamp kicks people out for smoking weed? Is that common? (assume you weren't smoking at the bootcamp).


smoking in my dorm. one of the other students tried to convince him not to tell on me because it's not that big a deal, I was one of the top students there, and other people were smoking weed too. he did it anyways, ironically he got kicked out a month later and didn't get a refund or a job on his own. karma. he even texted me to ask for forgiveness.


Why did you feel your roommate being a gay ex-mormon was relevant to the story? Not sure I have an opinion on it just thought it was an interesting detail and genuinely curious.


he was a sociopath. if you've ever lived in Utah county, you'll find out that many people have a superiority complex towards anyone who isn't 'pure like them'.

you just have to experience it. I have friends who are gay, no issue with them. I have friends who are ex-mormon and active mormon, no issue with them.


I knew what that video was before clicking. It has helped me, though I was nowhere near the amount of trouble you were in.

Good job/luck!


In 2009 @ 24, I quit my job in Louisiana to move to San Diego and live with a girl I sort of knew. Had no other contacts or job prospects in SD. Ended up knocking her up my first month in town. (This was quite the wreckless time for me =p)

Spend 4 months looking for EE or Web Dev work (I had a Bachelors in EE but no experience), finally settled on a job at Radioshack just to have SOME income. I got to experience working Black Friday in my first two weeks.

Kept applying for less crap jobs and within another month got a position with a Xerox sales company as IT Helpdesk, starting at 36K salary. Did that the best I could, also started automating several of the company reports and ended up shifting myself to the only development position in the company. Pay rose quickly.

Stayed there for years, did well, and by 2012, somehow, I was able to mortgage a house in San Diego.

The house has surged in value, I now have a 6 figure job, and an amazing 7 year old son. I wake up super grateful for everything I have now and the experiences that developed my appreciation.

I hope to never relive the shame / guilt / fear that consumed me in 2009.


most people don't talk about how they made peanuts in an entry-level tech job for years, but it's more common than you may think. that first few years of experience is a brutal battle every single day.

this is basically one of the best possible outcomes involving life in california, so congrats.


I started by manually QA testing pos systems and mobile apps for a company at $11 an hour. I did that for a few years while teaching myself to code. Now I'm doing ok somewhere else, but it took a layoff to push me there.


A strangely inspiring story. Well done.


I was home-schooled as a child, which made me intellectually advanced but socially inept. When I got to college, the myriad of social experiences to be had quickly led me astray. I think I actually went to class no more than a dozen times my first semester, and I think I sat an exam exactly once.

After that I dropped out and moved back home, choosing to attend community college for a while. Unfortunately I would repeat the experience one more time at a different university before finally getting my head screwed on straight and my priorities in order. It was at about this time that I was also diagnosed with clinical depression and began to get treatment for it, which helped immensely.

Home-schooling was an interesting experience that has given me many advantages, but it is not one I recommend to anyone because it also beleaguered my foray into the real world in a way that has had and will continue to have lasting negative consequences to this day.


I was also homeschooled, and it turned out pretty well for me, but knew people who had negative experiences. I think the main pro and con of homeschooling is that the parents have full control. As a parent, you can help your child advance beyond the academics of normal schooling, but you are also responsible for a holistic upbringing that includes social activities. Luckily in my area, there were a lot of homeschooled kids who got together a good bit, and later on in high school, I got a job that exposed me to a lot of the other things in life.


This might be far too personal of a question, and if so just tell me to piss off, I won't mind. But I'm curious, do you think, compared to others, that you might experience intense interpersonal relationships (intimate friendships, romantic relationships, etc) very differently from people who were schooled differently and thereby able to have formative early relationships of that sort during early adolescence - the period of maximal neuroplasticity? I've always worried that being forbidden such intense experiences might be a 'critical period' phenomenon similar to needing to be exposed to language before age 5 or else never being capable of grasping its fundamentals.


You were far from socially inept. ;) Somehow I have that feeling.


I started a company with someone a few years ago. The company we create raised 600K over a period of 3 years from non-institutional investors. The company we created was actually making money (~450K in revenue in a single year with 2 FT and 1 PT employee)

Anyways fast forward 3 years, I come to find out that my business partner had been paying himself 450K/year (instead of the 125K he told me about), he drained our bank account, sent out fake financials to investors, bounced employee paychecks, told me he was paying my taxes (I was W2, but he spent them) and took out 150K in loans again the company to keep everything going so he could continue with his bullshit lies. In the end, between the taxes he stole from me, and back salary I was promised --- he owes me a total of ~80K + interest for a few years.

All of the employees resigned, and subsequently started a consulting firm that has been doing extremely well for many years now.

Needless to say, rock bottom was finding out someone stole 80K from you and your company was failing because your business partner is mini Madoff.


> I come to find out that my business partner had been paying himself 450K/year (instead of the 125K he told me about), he drained our bank account, sent out fake financials to investors, bounced employee paychecks, told me he was paying my taxes (I was W2, but he spent them) and took out 150K in loans again the company to keep everything going so he could continue with his bullshit lies.

That's alarming. How did you meet / find your Business Partner? Did you vet him?


I met him at a meet up initially, he went to a Ivy League B-school and I met many of his friends and family (wife, kids, father-in-law) over the years before all of this shit came out.

Since his friends and family invested in this company, I figured that he had skin in the game so I let my guard down, turns out he fucked them over too.


White collar crime is normalized in the upper class. It does more economic damage and kills more people each year than street crime, and has for decades, but it is rarely and lightly punished. By any measure, it is considered 'normal' behavior in those circles. Let me guess - he's not in jail and he's doing alright now, isn't he? Doubtlessly scamming someone else now.


yep, he is doing just great, never spent a single day in jail, and the head of a christian group at his church. he does a lot of entrepreneurial + faith workshops

I have been wondering if i can legally publicly out him without him trying to sue me


Truth can not be libel.


Did you report him to the authorities I hope?


yes, but authorities (DA) have yet to make an arrest.


If that's local, you might also find that the IRS has an interest in taxes reported as being paid but instead embezzled.


unfortunately he handed me a 1099 at the end of the year, right after he admitted he fucked me over. i had no choice but to accept it to file my taxes so i just basically was given a huge pay cut, and he didnt technically embezzle - he stole from me, not the IRS


You should to on the record and sue him civilly then. Otherwise he's going to move onto the next victim over and over again, and more people will be hurt because of him. If he gets away scot free then it's simply not fair for those future victims.


I am going to, just waiting for the DA to press charges (or not). If he pleads guilty, the civil case is much cheaper for me. The statute of limitations for fraud like this is six years.


I would check with a lawyer. A lot of civil cases have a much shorter window (as low as 3 years in some cases). And determining the start date of the window can be tricky... it could (not say it is, just that it is possible) be as early as your first paycheck ("you should have noticed something was off then and acted"). .


> Since his friends and family invested in this company, I figured that he had skin in the game so I let my guard down, turns out he fucked them over too.

This sounds like an episode straight out of 'American Greed' show / Series on CNBC. Sorry you got screwed. I guess lesson learned.


I hope you at least got a chance to call him a "mini Madoff" to his face.


i didnt get a chance to, but it isnt over yet ...


silver lining: you're getting an $80k salary for a few years while you build your next project


Not really a story of a comeback but growing up in communist Russia the battles were all about surviving the day to day basics: getting food/clothes, taking care of family members, but most importantly not having any chance to do anything creative or work on something and knowing that there will be some sort of return.

Experiencing this early on in life definitely made me a lot more appreciative of all the opportunity one has growing up in a country like the US. Opportunity to be able to do whatever you want, learn whatever you like, live however you want...


Same here, though I grew up in post-soviet Ukraine. Looking back, I think it was rather fortunate that I had a chance to grow into my early teens in Ukraine before moving to the US. Got a really good understanding of how different life can be.


That really puts things into perspective. I was shocked when my Russian coworker just casually mentioned growing up without running hot water.


Similar story here, grew up in communist Poland, where you would get (at best) a blank stare if you told someone you wanted to "follow your dreams"... Makes me grateful for how much different Poland is now.


thanks for sharing. I'm first generation American, family grew up in India. I try to be grateful for everything I have right now, sometimes I forget. thanks for the perspective.


About a year and a half ago, I was on the verge of bankruptcy; the company I had worked for went bankrupt, costing me my last three paychecks, I had no job offers on the table, and after about a month of looking for a job with almost no money, I became behind in rent and my landlord drafted a lawsuit against me to sue me for back rent. I pay for my wife's school, but I had to ask her to take a semester off because I had no money in my name, and my credit card was maxed out.

All of this was exacerbated by the fact that I had to fly to Seattle for an interview with Amazon, and even though they reimbursed me for expenses, I didn't have even have enough money in my bank account to pay the pre-charge on the hotel they got me, and had to lie to the hotel staff and claim that my credit card got stolen at the airport.

I was incredibly depressed at this point, so I swallowed my pride and asked my father-in-law for a loan to pay my back rent, and eventually found a new job that I've been at ever since. I quickly paid back my father in law, and slightly-less-quickly paid off my credit card. I now keep my balance on my card incredibly low, to the point where it's now basically a glorified debit card. I also started paying half my rent every two weeks (synchronized with my paycheck), instead of the lump sum at the end of the month, since I realized it makes it a lot easier to budget when you do that.

That was a rough time for me, but there was a bit of good that came out of it; I finally learned how important it was to manage and save money properly, and to stay ahead of bills before they get the chance to pile up.


I was pretty deep into drugs at 21, watched my longest standing friendship pass by from an overdose, and was spiraling out of control. My parents put me in rehab, moved home, and started self teaching computer science from C to python at 22. Landed my first internship gig at 23 after showcasing a few of my self directed projects from web scraping large amounts of data to power a web app to computer vision and I am now a lead data scientist at 27.


At some point in my life, I had the roof of my appartment literally fell on me, lost my job and my girlfriend... Thanks to some friends and family I did not become homeless but I was inches of that. Now I have a company that did pretty well (bootstrapped) and now I'm building a new startup. I have one kid and I own my appartment.


Did you sue the owner of the apartment? That'd be my first act if a roof "literally fell" upon me.

Also, was your girlfriend in the apartment at the time? ie was the loss related to the collapsed roof or did one of you leave the other?


I've been wronged as well when poor. You can't be made whole through the legal system if you don't have money.


College: tried to kill myself freshman year. Dropped out for 1.5 years.

Came back, first-author on an important paper in a top-tier journal as an undergrad, gone through a series of machine learning research jobs (I've worked on thing you've used). I've got a great group of friends and am living well.

The two years off entailed a lot of time working as an outdoor educator, plus heavy duty psychotherapy and lots of medication. Got off the medication a couple years after I went back.

Turns out that building trusting and warm relationships and figuring out how to connect and care for others is really really important? I think the suicide attempt stemmed largely from not being able to adjust to having friends that cared about me as a person. I've spent a lot of time recovering the ability to trust.


Any chance we could talk about how you unfuck bad times from undergrad to move forwards in a research career?


Had a psychotic episode 3 years into engineering program. Moved back home and worked overnights at 7-Eleven. Spent all of the money on drugs + booze. Had no plans to change, didn't care because of the drugs + meds.

Quit the job and became more or less NEET. Rock bottom was when I interviewed at a coffee chain - the manager asked me "Where do you see yourself in five years?". I literally could not answer and that scared me. Went home and put my phone through the wall - I was so frustrated with myself that I turned down the slam-dunk barista job.

A friend called me up and gave me the opportunity that changed my life. He offered me a dev job at a small startup - I didn't have any work history or portfolio so he could only offer me minimum wage but I could work remotely.

Because of that job I was able to save up enough money to leave home & re-enroll in school, this time in the CS program. Finished the program in 2 years with straight As. Worked at a few startups and now I am consulting with friends and loving life.

I still struggle with addiction and mental illness but I'm in a much better place. I was lucky to have someone reach out to me when I was at my worst.


"Where do you see yourself in five years?"

I have never had an answer to that question. I am sure this varies by person but is that a terrible thing or a sign that something is wrong?

I have made radical and life-altering changes in the last year and I can see how bad my life had gotten but I still have no answer for the question about what I would like to be doing professionally in 5 years time.


I have an answer to that question : ) In 5 years, I want to save up and retire from the goddamn rat race, like Mr Money Mustache. It's probably not what every hiring manager wants to hear, but it's the truth!


I want that too. Any ideas about how to do that without a lot of extra income? Moustache guy has great ideas for people who make a lot of money.


At 17 I had a psychotic breakdown and was diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder. I broke down and told the school counselor about the "bad thoughts" I was having (suicidal and homicidal) and was suspended. I had to miss a month or so of my senior year because I was doing an outpatient program. I lost most of my friends and ended up losing the chance to go to the college I was accepted at in one a relatively exclusive part of the college (James Madison College at Michigan State). But that was just the beginning. Because of the medicine I was put on and the lack of gym class after graduating I gained about 150 lbs in the span of a couple months. I had always been underweight (6' 3" and ~145 lbs) despite eating a lot because I was very active. That all changed.

I ended up going to a community college and attempted suicide, twice. The first time was serious attempt trying to OD on Klonipin. I spent about a week inpatient at that time at the local psychiatric ward. The second time I tried to overdose on Tylenol. I don't recall letting anybody know about that so I didn't have to go to the hospital.

Fast forward to today. I'm a software developer (which is a far cry from the International Relations degree I originally wanted) and married. I still have homicidal thoughts and visions but overall the medicine I'm on helps greatly. I'm married to an amazing woman and really enjoy my life.


Final year of college. Developed a serious pot habit that was converting my "A" transcript into a "D" senior year. Student loans failed to materialize. I was living in a shit house with miserable people. Completely out of money, I searched under every cushion, every sheet of paper, in the bottom of every box, to scrape together $8 which was enough to buy a pack of cigarettes. The next day I went to the student aid office and pleaded with them for money. They gave me $500. I was able to get through the hurdles to get the student loans on track. I thought this was the end of needing help, but in truth, it was barely the beginning.

Then about 7 or 8 years of barely holding it together followed. Looking back, this is the greatest regret of my life. That at that time, in my darkest day, absolutely penniless as I walked away from the convenience store counter with nothing but consumable goods in my life, I did not at that time reach out for real help such as a 12-step recovery program.

I was lucky enough to meet a good woman with plenty of her own problems but a good woman nonetheless. We had a child together, and through that experience I came to realize how much I needed to go and get that help. I did - started going to 12-step programs and found a source of immense support and love and fellowship that sustains me to this day.

The work has only begun. But life has tremendous opportunity.


I've grew up in a very poor neighbor in a third-world country called Brazil, which also got plenty of opportunities and is beautiful. I would argue that I've started rock bottom, but never hit it, by my choices, which sightly better as my whole life, things just improved.

My mom had me very early in life, perhaps 21. My dad worked very hard, I almost never saw him. Meanwhile he managed to get me in an average school and made sure I studied English, which at a time was gamble as not much people believe things would turn out that well for somebody so low-class. When I was around 10 I started making websites, from then and on, I made a bunch of money, studied computer science, worked in a few jobs and moved to Germany with 26. I've worked very hard to get here.

Nowadays I don't care so much about it, because while I succeeded, I saw how much people are left behind as most of it is about luck. There's a lot of people which had more effort than me but got less, just because they went in a not so good direction, for instance, humanities. And those people also deserve something. Everyone deserves a good life and I think it's better to try to defend those who are in need, rather than keep scaling things up forever, until I'm in the top of the world and thinking that I'm the best, when all I did was to neglect everyone.

Nowadays, even though I'm not a dad, I think it's more important being a great dad and partner(unlike Elon Musk) than being himself and being the CEO of multiple companies.

If people looked around before trying to move up, life wouldn't be hard for so many.


this is a great reflection. thank you for sharing this.


I came back to CA for a job. I quit after 3 weeks when I was told that a big part of my job was to lie to the employees about their paychecks being secure.

I took a part time contract but it was cancelled in 2008 do to the economic downturn. I couldn't find work. I moved all my stuff into storage and lived in my car.

I now own a home in Oakland with a great job at a great company.


Congrats on quitting that job after 3 weeks. I am always disgusted when people do terrible things while employed and write it off as "I was just doing my job." "Just doing my job" is EXACTLY IDENTICAL to "I just did it for money." For some reason we see the two differently, but there is no difference. Quitting or turning down a job on moral grounds gives you an ability to look yourself in the mirror and say 'I am not making the world a worse place' and an unfortunate few people can do that.


Thank you. You got it exactly right, I knew I would have to look at myself in the mirror every day. I remembered what my mother, an amazing manager, taught me... the 5 most important words when managing people: "Never FK with people's money".


"Just doing my job" is the same as "I was just following orders".


I think there is a bit of a difference, just because the only reason one has a job, ostensibly, is to get money so one can feed themselves and others. Usually signing up with a military has more to it. But, even in those cases, the US Soldier's Oath I know explicitly includes an oath to never follow an illegal order. And we found out during the Nuremberg Trials just how dangerous it is when people put their head down and say 'just following orders'. Every human being is given the ability to control their own actions, and that responsibility can never (OK almost never, humans are complicated, one might argue soldiers that are trained to the point of killing on reflex and who then get PTSD from seeing their body do something their conscious mind would never permit before it can intervene might have a case) be given up.


The people who genuinely "were just following orders" in WWII would probably be shot for disobeying those orders and then their families treated as if they had been traitors.

That's a lot more pressure to conform than losing a job.


Grew up in the hood. Shitty grades until high school.

Went to university, killed it.

Transferred to top tier university - 20 years old.

Story changes here:

Family history of depression; mine starts to surface

Academically competitive environment, I got by before just winging it, now everyone was smart AND worked hard

Met girl at new university, was completely smitten. She broke up with me and moved away since she was a year older. This accelerated depression.

School got mad, took away financial aid, including loans. This coupled with the top was devastating.

While I was busy with gf and being shitty at school, never actually made new friends, was terribly lonelly. Exacerbated depression.

School kicked me out. Depressed, broke af, heartbroken, no friends, and felt like I was stupid because I couldn't compete at school.

---

Got a job as a server at a restaurant, made friends with people my age. Started getting money and feeling better.

Got a 2nd job at an analytics company, after my interview turns out I wasn't a complete idiot. Got good experience and more money.

Started taking classes, this time with a chip on my shoulder due to being poor and not groomed to be a good student. Killed it.

Came back to Uni, killed it.

Applied to over 100 jobs, got an offer as a contractor at a tech company for 15/hr, while they charged 50/hr. More chips on my shoulder.

6 months later spoke to director and got FTE status with an 80k salary.

*Kept doing my best, 3 years later I'm a PM at a top company making >170k a year.

---

Left out lots of highlights but that's more or less my story.


Fortunately (?) I have more than one. The first one I wrote about in my book, "Social Media is Bullshit." So if you want to hear about that one, I'll send you (or anyone reading this) a free .pdf copy and you can get that story: Bj@bjmendelson.com

Here's the other one: I almost died. It was July of 2013 and I was laid up in a NYC hospital for over a week after a near fatal heart attack almost took me out. All of my work, writing, consulting, speaking, all ground to a halt. (I even missed doing a Tedx talk. I know it's not the same thing as a TED talk, but still. It sucked.)

I wouldn't be able to work again for months while I recovered. By the time I got back up to speed, I had no money in my bank account and most of the places I was getting work from had dried up. The good thing about working in marketing is that there is plenty of work. The bad thing is that you're easily replaceable.

So, I started a new project involving building a hand built wire service for a tech company (because places like CISION are overpriced), and then I started advising tech companies exclusively when it came to doing PR without spending a ton of money. The work and word of mouth spread, and I was back at it almost a year later.

So, it's possible to start (or restart) with virtually nothing. The trick is getting to know as many people as you can and making sure you're regularly VISIBLE to those people. So even if you do go away for a while, you can easily remind them that you exist.


Interested in your book because I too think social media is bullshit.

thanks for the hope! I feel major momentum shift coming in my life, building up a lot of good habits right now and letting go of the past little by little


All started around 19 years old. My grandfather and grandmother passed away and they were basically like parents to me, especially my grandfather as I don't know my real dad and my moms husband was a psychopath. I've never been closer to a person and it really shook me (to be honest I still haven't really confronted the fact he's done, and it's been 12 years). A few months after their deaths (they died very close together after battles with cancer), I got a girl pregnant on spring break. Fell in love, tried to make long distance work (me in Indiana, her in Georgia). Eventually she left me without explanation. I did everything I could to be a part of her life and make sure I was there for the baby. She had the baby, it turned out to not be mine.

What followed was depression, alcoholism, contemplating suicide daily, etc... failed out of college 3 times, lost my full ride scholarship, got kicked out of Air Force ROTC, took on $180,000 in debt to the govt, got evicted from my house and sued for rent... Moved in with mom, who also got evicted shortly thereafter (her life is/was a mess at the time too). Was unemployed, got my car repossessed, had nowhere to live. Had negative $1000 in my checking account, $10,000 of credit card debt, and no visible way out.

Basically charmed my way into a web developer position as a last resort to try to get some cash. Made $15/hour with no benefits, slowly taught myself to code (I had a little background in it and had studied computer engineering until failing out). Eventually used the web developer position to move up a bit to making $40k/yr with benefits (this is in the midwest). Decided to move to SF to hopefully make it big and somehow landed a 6 figure position without much effort. Worked at that small startup for a year, went under, moved to a much bigger company that had just gotten acquired. Started a company with a friend. Raised nearly $50m. Company is still going strong, I've moved on to senior engineering positions at other top bay area startups and have recruiters up my ass daily. Probably will start another company in the future. 31 years old now. Can't believe how far I've come in the last 10 years. To be honest I'm not really sure how I got here as it seems surreal, but I guess the message is don't give up. You can get through anything as long as you don't call it quits.


I had a pretty crap job working as a "rockstar developer" for a company. Where I was responsible for 100% of all development work, 6am to 9pm type job paying me the same amount that I made in college before I received my degree. I had no car and the paychecks they gave me wouldn't be enough to afford a new one.

I quit that job after a year and had to find new employment. I landed a pretty great job after 3 months, but it took another month to receive my first paycheck. I'll never forget having $30 and buying dinner for two without realizing it, leaving me with $7 in my bank account that needed to last me 5 days.

My first paycheck was twice as large as the ones I was receiving at my previous job, the next dinner for two was much nicer than chicken wings.


I'm interested to know how you survived for 5 days with $7 to your name.


If rent isn't due and you have a means of transport (bus pass, car with tank of gas, etc.), it's pretty easy to go through 5 days in the middle of a month on just $7. And if you have a full pantry at home, $0. Obviously this only works if you have a paycheck coming, but it's not uncommon by any means.


> you have a full pantry at home

Oh, that's not so special.


Yeah, I just bought two frozen pizzas and that carried me through till the paycheck, sorry to dramatize it up a little bit


I don't think I've ever truly hit rock bottom, but I've definitely had some pretty shitty periods of my life. In fact, right now, I'd call this one of them.

Doing the best I can about that, but not really sure that's enough or that I'm really taking every possible action I can.


Same here. I have never hit rock bottom, but I have touched a muddy bottom quite a few times, as I keep getting shoved back into it by laughing dry people, up on the shore, wielding their 10' poles.

The solution was to trudge downstream a bit and climb out in the shallows.

I still harbor a lot of bitterness, mistrust, cynicism, and hostility, but I'm doing my best to just walk away from it. The current political climate in the US is definitely not helping.


Same here. I have a lot of bitterness that is partially based on real things that happened to me, but moreso a vague existential feeling of being totally out of alignment with the cultures that I've lived in. Around 4 years ago I was really close to ending it all and had been putting myself in extremely dangerous situations to make money, so in desperation I booked a plane ticket and have only returned to the US once since then. I spent far too much of the last few years holed up in a tiny apartment in the 3rd world smoking weed and waiting for the apocalypse, but that's better than what I was doing in the US! Now I'm actually starting to have success as a freelance software developer, but some of the old feeling of malaise still persists. But, I do have a lot to be grateful for, so now that I've kicked most of my addictions I think I can move forward by focusing on those things.


Socially messed up kid: Born to immigrant parents. Nice parents. But they'd messed up relation and health issues. Difficult to understand and express human values in life.

Gifted : slightly, was amongst top students graduated in a decent school.

Underweight : Im now 40 but resemble 25-30. Malnutrition in childhood and my own bad food habits.

Bad habits: many - at age 30 went down from 65 to 50 kilos and survived. Haven't drank or smoked for a decade. Decent workouts in a week, weighs close to 80 kilos with slightly good built and I am a cm short of 6 feet.

Shitty jobs: After graduation I took one after another shitty job with big brands. Poor kid who had little access to money while growing up - never had a car at home while growing up. So I think went wrong with money and habits. Few patents at end of age 30 though.

Unemployment: have been part of couple of mass layoffs. No salary for last year or so. Have burnt out my savings.

However I am doing alright. I had to take my food, workout, prayers, family and work seriously. I cannot thank my wife enough.

I am living a little dream now. Working on my own startup.

And I ask to myself - why didn't I try doing this work earlier ? And a little bird chirps outside my window.


I got massively addicted to drugs and alcohol in college. Flunked out and bounced around through various stages of homelessness and unemployment, putting my programming skills to use to score a few bucks when I could stay sober long enough, then typically getting fired. I spent most of my 20s falling to deeper and deeper bottoms before I started to take recovery seriously. I finally "got it" by diving head first into 12-step programs (not for everyone, YMMV, etc).

Tomorrow I'll have 3 years clean and sober. I have a sick job (even by HN standards), wonderful relationships, more money than I know what to do with, a credit score that's slowly recovering, friends who actually give a fuck about me, and all that good stuff that I think a lot of us take for granted.

Recovery works, folks.


Congrats on 3 years! If I don't pick up a drink by Jan I'll have two years myself.

At the end of my twenties the floor literally dropped out from under me. I had a good job as a software dev at fairly large media company, had nice apartment, ambitions etc. But I had deep dark secrets that I kept hidden and throughout my twenties I drank and used drugs (coke/pills) over. I considered my upbringing to be pretty normal in a middle-class neighborhood on the West Cost, and I started drinking and partying in high school like everyone else. However I found myself drinking progressively more towards the end of my twenties and no longer a party it was more to cope with stress, anxiety, and life in general.

I ended up losing multiple high-paying jobs, flying around the country trying to restart, going to about 6 rehabs in ~2 years, losing my mind, losing all hope, wanting to die. I almost died a few separate times from acute alcohol withdrawal. I was fired from one job with an internationally recognized media company the morning after I had seizures from coming off alcohol in a rehab. It got to the point where every time I drank alcohol, I ended up detoxing in a hospital. Finally somewhere in that dark period I was able to get honest with a therapist for the first time in my life about some sexual abuse that had happened when I was younger, and about the other addictions like pornography that plagued my life in my twenties. I got sober for 1.5 years and relapsed one more time, this time it was the final wake up call I needed.

Fast forward and I'm the ceo of a startup company prepping to launch an amazing product, I've been a successful consultant helping build another product that is currently in operational use processing millions of dollars in financial transactions, I feel completely resurrected in mind, body and soul. I have a mens meeting I go to weekly, I go to AA, I workout 4-5 days a week, I eat healthier than ever in my life, and I get regular sleep.

The urge to drink or use drugs has completely left my body and mind. I have traveled all over, spent some of the best time with my friends and family, started my life in a new city, made amends, and found tools to help deal with life on lifes terms.

I hated 12 steps and tried everything possible including drinking to work around it but in the end I'm thankful it's there and I go to meetings regularly.

The most shocking thing to me now is both when I think about how far I've come, and how lucky I am to be alive.

No one ever tells you when you're young that you can live a perfectly normal, fulfilling, and happy life without using drugs or alcohol!

Congrats again and thanks for your share.


thanks for the hope because I can completely relate.

So glad I asked this question here, I have no reason to feel like a fuck up because there is still time to change. I am 27 and improving each day/week/month, I just get hung up on 'what if' sometimes.

this whole thread is helping me a lot


thanks for the hope, congrats on 3 years! thats over 1000 days. I can relate to your story a lot. I have started to take recovery very seriously for the first time and so far at 114 days without drinking or pot. about 2 months without meat. 10 days without buying a pack of cigs. almost debt free. I go to a 12-step group and also a recovery-based meditation group.

Moved back home at the end of May to focus on recovery. I was out in Utah for a coding bootcamp, got kicked out halfway through for smoking weed when my roommate told on me because he didn't like that I was doing well there (he went through my room while I was in Moab and told the police where I kept my weed), got a full refund because I still got a job without their help. Worked at a sketchy startup for a few months, learned a lot about what I wanted and shattered a lot of my misconceptions about the tech industry. Started working as a developer at a hosting company after but the company laid off 1000 people including me right after I signed a lease. They fired me before I got any severance because I came in hungover one day. Led to more drinking and smoking, really fucked me up inside feeling like a recurring fuck up.

Using everything I learned in Utah to start an agency. Got a few quality clients now ranging from a film composer in Hollywood, a fitness model from Miami, a dog clothing company, a Native American photographer. Going to AZ to see the Grand Canyon next week, then Colombia for an ayahuasca retreat in October to heal from PTSD from childhood trauma.

Saving up for an SUV, better camping gear, and going to work remotely next year as I explore North America. Going to be a 'creative developer' and nature photographer at the same time.


The job I wanted was rescinded at the last moment. With no apartment, no job, and no future prospects I bought a plane ticket and went traveling. While some people enjoying DNing (digital nomad) it was liberating to call Verizon tell them to cancel my contract and drop my phone in the bin at the airport. If you have your youth and health things can only go up.

This advice has way more exceptions once a spouse and kids are a concern.


I think everyone is going to have a different definition of 'rock bottom'. Unemployed and broke is rock bottom for some people. You'd have to add on homeless for others. And then there are yet others who also have no family and friends for support. And still others who came also pile addictions on top of it all. And some of that group don't have tech skills to pull themselves back up.

For me, the worst I've ever hit is unemployed and broke. So I got a job. And then was wealthy, but unhealthy. So I'm working back towards unemployed and broke. I haven't figured out the comeback part yet, but hopefully will get there before I figure out the rock bottom bit.


I have a story, but I haven't made it public. Someone recommended to me that I do just that, but the idea scares the hell out of me. Part of me feels like it'd be career suicide if I went public.


If that's the case, I probably wouldn't make it public either if I were you.


If you're interested in doing it anonymously, get in contact with @idlewords/the pinboard guy/maciej ceglowski. He's all in on journalism and privacy.


Could you not do so anonymously?


it is likely that several story details would lead to him/her being recognized


Multiple times. My stories aren't very interesting, so I'll spare you the details, but I will say this: things always get better. When things are tough, hang in there, and be sure to talk to people about it. These are also the times when you learn which people are actually your friends.


>> These are also the times when you learn which people are actually your friends.

Yep. I tried to dump my shit on my someone close and I think it had a negative effect on the relationship. Other people turned out to be better for that. You really don't know who you can or can't count on until you try.


> things always get better

I understand that you are trying to be comforting and all that, but sadly things do not always get better.


Fair enough, I'm speaking based on my experiences and that of people I've known.


> but sadly things do not always get better.

yes they do. Name one scenario where they don't


One big event for me. Again, not interesting. If I described it, it might not even seem like a big deal to the reader. Things got better though.


I was studying a degree I hated (a field of eng I had chosen only because the scholarship afforded me to study), I was failing more classes than I passed (I hated this the most as I was previously an overachiever), I was losing relationships, I had nothing to look forward to in my opinion. I thought about seriously ending it 3-5 times a day, often visiting the place I planned to do it.

It cumulated in a breakdown in 3rd year. A very understanding friend realised what I was going through and printed off every course our university offered. She highlighted the ones she thought I would be amazing at, and told me to just study what I enjoyed and the rest would follow. I chose computer science. I was very poor for a while, but I started making websites for fun, went well at uni and had more confidence in myself. Got an internship with a great startup and learned so much.

Cut to now, I'm a year out of uni and am a senior dev at a larger company, in a great relationship and really enjoy my life. I still work really hard not to fall into old destructive patterns, but I've definitely come a long way. Coming from rock bottom really shows you what you can shed, what really matters in life (doing what you love and loving the people in your life).


Cool story. What was the original field of engineering if you don't mind me asking?


I dropped out of school at 15 with no significant paperwork and ended up cleaning toilets and operating rooms at my local hospital for several years; and it sucked.

All I've learned is that, really regardless of what's going on in your life, if you have any reasonable skill/experience in our industry then rock bottom doesn't really apply to us like it does to others. These days the worst thing that would happen would be falling back to a a 6 figure permie salary somewhere doing some boring work.

There is no easy way to 'make it'; I can't speak for those who started out in our industry with a good education an an internship, but in my experience if you're capable, willing to do the bullshit work (years of datacentre work, helldesk, miserable corp ops etc) things will eventually happen. Move around. Get involved in projects. I'm always happy to pull people forwards in their careers.

Lots of people will call themselves lucky (certainly, I consider myself fortunate to have been given the opportunities which helped me escape such a life) but I think that's not really the full story. There's always a comeback, and there's always going to be a basic living available to you if you have our kind of skills.


I was raised very poor in a small rural neighborhood of dirt and chicken coops among even poorer immigrant farm workers. Now I comment on HN.


The journey has been more personal rather than professional, but felt inclined to share since I've been thinking about it a lot the past few days. It's probably not the biggest comeback facing huge obstacles, but it's important to me. Being a minority and growing up in a state with pretty low diversity, I always struggled with my identity and who I was. Looking back at my life, I see the signs of depression starting around when I was in college, but never really thought much about it. "I" couldn't be depressed, after all, it was always those middle aged guys whose lives were a mess, right?

I moved to Texas, alone, starting my new career with a freshly minted CS degree from a good university. Around 2009, economy was still recovering, couldn't find a job anywhere else. I never thought I'd end up in TX, but the oil economy and the growing healthcare industries made it easy to get a job... I jumped at the first offer I got after 4 months of looking and doing freelancing to pay bills.

It was strange, being surrounded by a lively city and people, but feeling so disconnected from everyone and everything around you. Met an awesome girl at a wedding, fell in love, and had some family I'd visit every month or so with nieces who adored me. Probably the only two things good in my life, everything else just seemed like a rut.

Moved into long distance relationship, started working my ass off at a new company, and my life just slipped away. Fell into a deep depression (never diagnosed, but I can see it looking back now). Girl eventually called it off, because of cultural differences even though we were in love, which was a blessing in disguise. Got screwed over at work, and ended up leaving and I guess that was 'rock-bottom'. I didn't have anything really left in my life that made sense.

The strange thing is while going through it, I never thought I was depressed. I remember interviewing at a company, feeling pretty good about things, but walking along the parking garages on the 10th story, standing at the ledge and thinking if I should jump head first or foot first. And then I realized that they weren't just thoughts, but impulses. I think there were a dozen more different instances, where I was putting myself in unnecessary risk just to feel alive, and maybe die. "I" didn't want to live with "myself" anymore, whatever that meant.

Ended up a really bad case of bronchitis and a dry cough, and had a new job at this point (same job I almost threw myself off the parking garage, right after the interview.. wtf, brain). Had a really good supervisor, told me to take the day off and got the urgent care. Ended up getting a big ol bottle of Tussionex (Hydrocodone).

So drugs are bad, right? Yeah, they are. But I learned something valuable after taking way more than I should -- I realized that within me, I could still be happy. For the first time in years, after feeling disconnected and alone, I felt alive and happy. Sure, it was the drugs, but it was a liberating feeling. I finished that bottle quickly, and crashed a little and felt like shit afterwards... but my perspective changed. I knew it was possible for me to be happy. And I knew that hydrocodone and drinking lean (I was in Texas after all, where Lean originates from) was not who I wanted to be. I had the foresight to cut that shit out of my life, and never have taken it again.

Around that time (2012), still depressed and struggling with identity, I think it was on HN or Reddit, I heard about books that changed people's lives, and on a whim, I read the "Power of Now". The author goes through the exact same thing that I described, where he struggles with the "I" not being able to live with "myself". It really changed my perspective. I took some time off work, and went back to the Rockies where I was from. Spent some time hiking, and just picking a direction and walking through long ass trails, completely unprepared with just a few water bottles and energy bars. The strange thing is that when I was lost in middle of wilderness, that's when I found myself.

I came back to Houston and begin a spiritual journey, really mediating and reconnecting with my faith. I know that religion and faith doesn't get too much love on the internet, but I didn't feel alone anymore. I had found myself, and didn't need anything or anyone else. It's a feeling that's impossible to put into words, because it transcends language, and must be felt to be realized. I met new friends, and started smoking weed occasionally, which was probably the final thing that really helped me get out of the rut, and start building my life.

I really pushed myself, got a better job, met and married my lovely wife, worked on my own startup and consulting for a year, and now working at another startup. Sure, I may not be the best coder or hacker, but I feel life again in what I do -- it's a relieving feeling to push myself every day, knowing that it's not about what we accomplish it, but how we accomplish it. My job isn't glamorous, but I'm content with where I'm at. Contentment is more of a compass and direction guide, not a destination.

To anyone struggling with any difficulty and depression, know that you have the strength within yourself to overcome and persevere. And don't be like me and deal with this alone, seek help from others even if it's commenting online in some random forum.


thanks for sharing, gives me hope to know that the path I'm on right now can lead to a lot of unexpected blessings. I just need to ride out the storm (literally, looking out my window right now) and keep on trucking.

I'm also a minority and know that feeling.


What's with all these stories of a younger age... if you screwed up at 17 or 25 it's unfortunate, but you have tons of life ahead of you to make it right (and *everybody" screws up something in their 20s :) Let's hear the post age-40 stories...


I had a health crisis that led to me running up about $50k in debt. I gave up my car, later quit my corporate job for reasons and went and lived in a tent for 5 years, 8 months and one week. I paid down debt and developed a portable income while living in a tent. Last week, I left California to move someplace cheaper and got back into housing on Friday.

(HN already threw me a small party: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15205436 but I figure not everyone has seen it.)


I'll try and simplify it by putting it in list form:

Found programming in middle school via TIBasic and graphing calculators, became obsessed with it

Never did homework, barely passed any classes in HS, programming became solace

Tried community college, same problems with committing to work, same obsession with programming and computers.

Parents had long since started to conflate my apathy towards education with my obsession with computers straining our relationship until I stopped talking with my father (who was a PhD from a 3rd world country, and thus couldn't stand the idea of his son failing at education).

Still lived with my parents while my father and I refused to speak to each other, so I went looking for a minimum wage job. I told myself it was to pay to move out, but deep down I knew I was accepting a future of working in retail for the rest of my life. I didn't feel there was anything shameful about it, but at that point it triggered a sort of existential crisis when I realized all my years of exploration with computers and all my knowledge was about to go to waste.

I felt like I had no purpose in life if I was going to be forced to abandon the one thing that I had a lived for since my early teens. Depression started setting in and I started to feel like I was suffocating

Get a job at a major retail chain that everyone here probably knows. But miss orientation because I wasn't organized (to simplify things) so embarrassed I don't call back (or so I tell myself, actually relived internally)

That night I get upset, wallow in self-pity, then get aggravated. So aggravated I decide I won't let my dream of programming for a living die.

Make a resume based on rejected I had done for free over the years for various people, spam every single listing I can get my hands on.

Over the next week interview at 2 companies, lie about Android experience out of desperation at one and accept an offer based on the lie.

Taught myself Android development inside and out every night and for 2 months.

Company didn't really have anything for me to do which was great for letting me learn in my spare time, but not so great for my prospects so I offered to replicate an app a contractor had failed to deliver on for several weeks.

I completed my recreation in a weekend, a few weeks later we find a show stopping bug, and I spend 1 week of 12hr+ days working to find, but we do find it (it was a custom Android image that had a watchdog that needed to be configured correctly)

App ships, I go back to having little to do so I brush off the app and start adding additional functionality. Also convert it to a white label application.

New application goes on to be our main Android product.

Solidify place at the company, start talking to my father once again, we reconcile our differences, he's happy to see me succeed, I move out.

A year later I go to the retailer that I had missed orientation at and see one of my apps running.


Nice story. So many great ones in this thread, just the boost I needed today.


This is my favorite story so far. Well done, and congratulations.


If you're looking for stories along these lines, I recommend Jeannette Walls' memoir _The Glass Castle_. The author and one sibling arguably escaped a rock bottom situation. Her parents (and one sibling) never did. It's a basis for some pretty sobering reflection on the problems of alcoholism and the merits of conscientiousness.


Probably not as rock bottom as many others here, but here goes.

I did well in school for most of my life and did coding since a young age. Landed a job in a big tech company (hardware) right after college, for like $50k base. Thought I was hot shit my entire life up until this point. After 2 years here, a friend of mine who got into the company with me at the same time landed a software job in SF Bay Area for something like a 60% pay increase. I thought hey I should be able to do the same. Other factors were in play too but long story short I quit my job before landing a next one.

Months went by and I couldn't land a job. Thought about applying to retail jobs but didn't pull the trigger. In the mean time, I got into a car accident totalling my car. I wasn't seriously injured, but the car was one of the only things I had, and I was also effectively home-bound and much harder to get to interviews then. Then, my parents got divorced because of some of my actions during this time (years of build-up too of course, but I triggered the decision of it). Finally after a few months I landed a job doing web dev at a friend's agency, but at very little pay (sub-$30k pay), since the agency itself was struggling too. I was only hired because my friend insisted, as he really wanted to help me out. Things were slightly better then. But soon after that, the girl I was seeing at the time (not officially in relationship, or even dating regularly really) died in a car accident.

At this point I did buy another car (a cheap one I could afford, with minimal down payment and a loan). A few months later though, I would get into a different car accident (minor one). It was my fault, and minor enough that calling it in the car insurance was a bad idea and it was better to just pay cash to the other party to settle it. At this point in time my bank account was down to 3 digits, probably $600~700. And I was supposed to pay this guy $1500 in 2 or 3 weeks. (I don't think I'm a bad driver, in fact, in the 15+ years I've been driving, these were just about the only accidents I had.) This was when it was obvious I couldn't continue working in the web dev agency with my friend. Fortunately this time I now had a year of actual professional web dev experience on my belt, not just some unrelated hardware experience. I landed a job quickly and this was the beginning of the comeback.

Long story short, the company I joined happened to become one of the hypergrowth unicorns. The comeback part of this is less interesting than the rock bottom part. A few years of hard work in, and I'm now a millionaire. Got married to a great partner. Things are going well.


Not sure if this is necessarily rock bottom, but:

I was running a VC-backed startup I dropped out of college to start at the same time my wife was having our first baby. She had quite a few complications, and, being a founder, we had crappy insurance. So we blew through our meager savings incredibly quickly and started racking up debt.

The company I had started came down right to the wire with cash, but I was still really confident; we had a big-name lead investor (billionaire, everyone in the industry knew him very well), who was going to send a wire any day, and millions more of investment piling on to that, so I'd be able to spend the next few years growing the company and paying off the debt.

Until one day the billionaire backed out for no particular reason, and with no warning. His assistant just called and said "We're out," wouldn't say why, that was pretty much it. When other investors found out that he was out, they scattered or turned on me. It was December 23, and I had to lay everyone off.

I went deep into personal debt to give our employees a little bit of severance and make sure all of our contractors were whole, all the while my daughter is just barely coming out of the hospital and bills keep racking up.

So I'm living in the middle of nowhere (the company was remote) with a wife and sick newborn depending on me. I'm out of a job, with no particular skill other than "being a founder," which apparently I suck at as well. All of our investors are pissed at me, and I'm seriously wondering if I would ever have a job again (one investor tells me he doubts I will ever match the $60k/yr salary I was paying myself again). Everyone except my wife told me I was stupid - for dropping out of school, for starting a company, etc. I distinctly remembering driving by a guy picking up golf balls at the golf course and thinking, "You know maybe I could do that and not mess it up." That was my first glimmer of hope in a long time.

I had written some blog posts on user acquisition that had been popular, and decided in a last-minute effort to turn them into a book. If people thought I was a ne'er-do-well before, this confirmed it, and living in a small town the rumors get back to you. At the same time I decided I wanted to get closer to money (having a bad experience with a non-revenue-generating startup), get closer to the best in startups (YC), and get to San Francisco.

I hustled until I miraculously found a job with a fantastic YC company, and finished writing the book. The book not only sold enough to get us out of debt, but to put an extra year of runway in our bank account. I then used that cash to start another company (glutton for punishment), but one that was profitable from day one this time.

Now: Just finished YC with that company, raised a few million to grow (not because we needed to), and taking another stab at it, albeit with some serious scar tissue. And my daughter just turned two and peed all over the floor because we're "potty training"


There's a ton of inspiring stories here. Thanks for posting this.


i was just thinking the same thing, this was unexpected. i really needed this today. I'll be replying for the rest of the day :)


I don't know if this qualifies as rock bottom, but here goes.

As a baby, I was adopted by the mother of the man who was married to my biological mother, and at the time thought to be my father, but wasn't my father. Growing up, I knew this, and always had underlying issues relating to the mess which enshrouded the ordeal; my parents being drug addicts, the person who was thought to my father dying of an overdose, and a lot of other stuff. I knew the whole story quite young. On top of this, the family put me in the company of a handful siblings which were drug attics, whose actions were quite clearly visible to me.

My adopted mother was in her mid 50's when she got me and my sister, at which point her life should have been winding down, but she had been taking care of her own kids from the age 17 until her mid 40's, and here were two kids again. She was angry, and bitter, and while I could see why, she very aggressively, even though she still denies and refuses to realize it, took that out on us. It wasn't fair to us, but I think it's safe to say she was better than the alternative (and she did quite literally save my life; I would have died of pneumonia and meningitis at 3 months while sick and living in a car with my drugged-out biological mother, and I apparently almost died anyways).

Anyways, going into our teens years, me and my sister grew farther and father away from her. I and I alone remained close with my adopted dad, but it was mostly because he kept quiet to prevent her verbally abusing him, as well. Plus, he was always teaching me about electronics, woodworking, mechanics, and the general skill of "building shit".

Around 13, my sister and I got in an argument with our mother, and she told us she wished she'd never adopted us and that she couldn't wait for us to be gone. So we left. I was gone for a week, staying with friends and sleeping a night in a park before she picked me up from school. My sister, she fell in with some bad people, got into some stuff, and ultimately ended up coming home a week after me, telling the cops she wanted to kill herself, and got placed in a mental hospital. She was there for 8 months or so, then moved to a group home. After 4 or so months in the group home, my mom realized she could do the same to me, so, come summer before highschool, she did.

I was an hour away from anything I knew, my sister, my only blood, being 3 hours in the other direction. It played quite hard emotionally; suicidal and whatnot. I was only there a year, and saw far more tragic stories of kids left behind by the world, and honestly it made me resent my family-mostly mother-even more. These kids had terrible, terrible situations, and I was being thrown in there because I wasn't wanted. Not out of necessity, as they were. I remember, one time, the staff made my mom take me to a doctors appointment because they were busy with the kids who belong there. The whole ride she bitched and moaned, and I remember her once saying "this is their job, not mine."

After the homes, we moved back with my mother, but she picked up, left California, and moved to Tennessee with us. My dad, the parent, I was close to, did not join us. A whole mess of shit happened after that, too, but suffice to say the whole ordeal and the rebelliousness before it lead to grim situations for us. As a kid, I was always good in school, top of my class, but not since about a year before the home, and not after, either. I absorbed myself in my computer at night, and when I wasn't asleep at school, I was taking out my rage and angst on the teachers. I wasn't violent or anything, just an angry, seething confused jackass of a kid out to prove the world wrong; it didn't help that this school was full of unqualified teachers, that just made me worse. From 8th grade to graduation, I had had 6 expulsions and at least 200 days of suspension (most expulsions were a result of excessive suspension). I failed almost every class I had. At one point, my mom had the brilliant idea that this might be due to some form of retardation, so she had me tested for special education (I obviously failed that test, just like all of my classes). Throw in some teen pregnancies, abortions, and miscarriages for some extra emotional issues (in retrospect, it was the best personal outcome that none of those went to term, but doesn't change the emotional damage they had).

By the end of it, I "graduated" with a 0.89 GPA. I still don't think it was possible, but there were a small handful of amazing teachers that I'm sure played some role. It was rare, but the competent teachers, the passionate ones, I respected and they respected me, and I think they realized there were a ton of issues, and thus pulled the strings on making sure I made it out. Maybe not, I'm not sure.

Graduation came about a month after my 18th birthday, on which my mom presented me with a lease agreement and asked me to sign it before having any cake. She wanted $800 a months for rent and utilities. I happened to know her rent of that four bedroom, of which I had the smallest room with no climate control, was $800. I paid the first month with all the money I'd saved over the years, but after that, I had nothing We got in a fight, so I moved out.

I lived in my car (the car she bought for me, but I took it, no other option really) for a few weeks. Spent some time living with an ex girlfriend, also. After about a month, I picked up and moved to Oklahoma to do freelance coding work with a friend; those years absorbed in my online life had one good outcome: I learned to code. That lasted for 4 months, but I was alone there and miserable. Went back to Tennessee, lived with my ex girlfriend's family, and got a job in a factory. The day after I knew I had the job, my online business blew up overnight. I had been making bots for online games and selling them. The income was in the low hundreds per year. But, one day, my competitor closed up shop and I got all of his business; a surge of $2000 or so on the first day and a couple thousand a month following. I worked in the factory for 5 months, working 10 hours a day 7 days a week, not a single day off. Whenever I wasn't there or sleeping, I was improving my bot. I quit in May, interviewed for a programming job it Atlanta in June, and started that job in July. After a year and a half, I got a security engineering role in Silicon Valley, and took that. I had made connections along the way, and was writing a Game Hacking book at the time, which is now finished. I worked there for 3 years, then moved to another security company. I'm currently working there from the comfort of my downtown condo in San Jose. Along the way, I wrote my book, spoke at almost a dozen conferences, and started working on some online classes for Pluralsight (currently in progress!). I'm 24 now. The side business with my bot has been going the whole time; it's shutting down sometime this year due to the game changing their client, but I'm okay with that. It's made about half a million gross by now, and I'm extremely proud and humbled by the experience.

Multiple times throughout this climb, and even now, I find myself confused emotionally. It's extremely hard to be happy, or to smile. It's hard to have any negative emotion besides anger. I can laugh and have fun, but I don't just smile, I'm quick to anger like my mom was, and I'm never just in a ground state of happiness. I find myself at times seeking pain because it's what I knew, and this success is still new to me. When I was first in Georgia, I realize I was trying to develop problems. I drank more than I cared to because I wanted something to be wrong with me, etc. It's fucking weird. I hate my personality and attitude now, but I shouldn't. I should be happy. I'm proud and excited about the future, but for some reason not content.

Man, I know there are people who had it way worse than me. I lived with some of them, and I know there are others in much worse situations (worm torn countries and such), so I feel really selfish to call this rock-bottom, but it was mine. I feel like it's wrong of me to think I came from some astronomically shitty odds, knowing what the real odds are for a lot of people, but I do. I don't know, I've never got to really share this story (and there's a lot I'm leaving out for obvious reasons), but it feels nice to, and I don't know why. I'm looking forward to now reading other people's stories.

P.S. don't tell me to see a therapist or something please, I'm not here seeking advice, just wanted to share.


A few times, although I'm not sure if it's rock bottom, even in my worst moments I've always felt there was more to lose. Here's a couple of examples:

My dream in high school was to become a pilot. In my country the only realistic way of becoming one was to first go through the air force. There's a lot of challenges in becoming one, but to keep the story short, the main ones are passing an opposed exam where thousands of people apply for only 5-6 places (we were ~50K people for 6 places the year I did it) and having perfect health (and eyesight).

I passed, went through basic training and, before I was going to start pilot training, we went through a second health screening. I passed the first one with flying (heh!) colors but on the second one it was detected that I had 0.25 of myopia in one eye. Automatically thrown out of the air force I found myself with no plans, no idea of what to do with my life and a major depression.

My 'comeback' was slow: I went back to high school to go through the last year again, went to uni to study computer science (I knew basic and very little more, but was always very good at logic), started working, realizing that I was actually good at it... It's been exactly 20 years (almost to the day) since I lost my childhood dreams and I'm extremely happy with this career path (probably happier than I would be in the other).

About the last comeback... let's say that I'm still on it.

In 2015 I was diagnosed with leukaemia. A couple of years before this I had left my cosy job to create a startup and it was just beginning to lift off. Basically this meant that I had no personal health care coverage, minimum salary and no way for the company to keep paying me. I spent the next 10 months in the hospital, much of that time in isolation with no immune system to speak of. Cancer is bad, but the treatment is no walk through the park either. One of the nastiest side effects of chemotherapy is what is known as "chemo brain". There's no way I can describe it accurately, but it's like a fog that clouds everything having to do with memory and the thinking process. I would try to read and hours would go by before I noticed I was still on the same page. I would lose whole days to the point that I wouldn't know what day it was, much less what time. Basically, I lost my mind and would be almost in vegetative state for most of the day. One of the first things I had to do was accepting that I probably wouldn't make it, sorted out as much as much paperwork as I could and put in place a couple of worst case scenario options.

As for the comeback: About a year ago (1.5 years after this ordeal began) I started working again, part time (I still have to go to the hospital every week and take chemo tablets every day), in another startup (the one I founded is still alive but slowly dying, my other partners let everyone go and now only work on it during the weekends). I was upfront with the founders, told them about my situation and the very real risk that I wouldn't be able to do meaningful work. I even offered to start for free just to get me back on the horse again (an offer they refused and insisted on paying me a decent salary from the first day).

I'm still not at the level I was before all this started, still four months of treatment to go and having real trouble accepting that I might actually survive this after all (we'll see in five years time). Actually getting out of the house and getting back to work have done marvels for my recovery.

The next steps for me are: - Saving money for a mortgage: The apartment I was renting was sold while I was in the hospital and that's a level of stress I don't want to have again. By April-May next year my finances will have recovered enough to start talking with banks. - Get back in shape. I lost a lot of weight and muscle mass during my time in the hospital and when I got out I recovered the weight with a vengeance. I have to lose about 40 pounds but have to be very careful with diets/exercise while on treatment.


I came into this world naked weighing like 7 pounds and I couldn't talk. I had to rely on my mother for feeding, protection and getting around. It was a pretty sorry state to be in.

But look at me now! I control my destiny. I manipulate my surroundings. I eat what I want and I do what I want (for the most part).

But, I'm headed at top speed back to a rock bottom, much worse than depression or drug addition or the like. I'm headed back to decomposition.

"Rock Bottom" is a matter of perspective see.


At least you remember those days I suffered from amnesia most of that time.


I can relate a lot to this. Buddha taught something very similar to this train of thought and it has helped me keep everything in perspective and that anything is possible between birth and death.


You had free food and shelter and you didn't even have to lift a finger, even to wipe your own arse. Sorry not buying that sob story ... Try again.




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