On August 1st, 1976, Formula One racing legend Niki Lauda crashed at the Nürburgring. In an instant, his car burst into flames, his helm flew off, and he was trapped in the wreckage.
Other drivers were able to pull him from the car but because of the burns he suffered and toxic fumes he inhaled, he fell into a coma. A priest showed up to the hospital for his last rites, but, miraculously, Niki survived.
When he woke up, he was in pain, had lost half his right ear, and his face was never the same. What’s more, despite recovering in just six weeks and missing only two races, he lost the title of world champion to his arch nemesis by just one point that year: James Hunt.
Imagine how that must have felt. To nearly die and then come back…and lose by one point. For Niki Lauda, this was it: rock bottom. But on the first day of the next season, he showed up for practice just the same and, in 1977, he became world champion.
That’s the beauty of rock bottom: It breaks you into a thousand pieces when you hit it, but once you have, you’re on solid ground.
You don’t need any further dampers, there’s no uncertainty, and you’ve got nothing to lose. So you might as well start building. You know who else hit rock bottom? A woman who, in her 2008 Harvard commencement address, said this:
“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” - J. K. Rowling
In 1994, J. K. Rowling was broke, divorced, a single mom, living on welfare, and had just filed a restraining order against her ex-husband. She was the biggest failure she knew.
But she realized rock bottom can still be fertile ground. New footing to start from. A solid foundation. After all, it’s made of rocks.
She put all her energy into the one thing she cared about beyond her daughter - the Harry Potter books - and, eventually, she became not just a huge success, but the first billionaire author ever. All because she accepted rock bottom.
So here you are. Another weekend sacrificed at the altar of alcohol. Another afternoon wasted in front of the screen. Maybe, you’re embarrassed to tell your children you can’t afford a nicer place or ashamed you’re late on paying rent.
Whatever your rock bottom feels like, don’t forget: it’s a rough terrain, but it won’t give way beneath your feet. Be grateful that you’ve arrived, and then start climbing.
About Gratituesday: By Tuesday, we're deep into thinking about what we seek. That's why it's a great day to remember what we already found. Gratitude has many benefits, but, mostly, it's an exercise in shifting our perspective. Instead of focusing on what's missing, we can focus on what we have.
And we'll be much calmer for it.
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