Big Life Lessons and Hitting Bottom

Do we really have to hit bottom to learn our big life lessons? Instead couldn’t we simply choose to stop the downward slide a little early and learn the lesson before major damage is done?

Inertia being what it is, we are all in a downward spiral in some area of our life. The big question is what to do about it?

You don’t want to catch a break.

When things were tough my Dad was always hopeful of catching a break. But the trouble with catching breaks is you’re putting your faith in the random generosity of others. Wanting to catch a break is a passive position where you are not in charge of creating your own good. Instead I’d rather know where they are tossing breaks so that I can put myself in position to receive one. Better yet why not make your own breaks?

No pain, no gain is bull.

Instead of catching a break how about you catching you? Once during drunken horseplay with fraternity brothers I fell head first and backwards over a third floor landing. I flipped completely over and somehow reached up at the last minute and grabbed on to a railing to break my fall. To the delight of my fellow inebriated brothers I landed on my feet and they cheered for an encore.

Couldn’t we decide at any time to stop our fall and land on our feet?

Just because we usually wise up after a great deal of struggle and adversity, we aren’t obligated to only learn so dramatically. The trouble with hitting bottom is it’s a long and painful way down. We really don’t have to fall that far to decide that it’s time to change course.

Invite the big lesson.

Most likely our next big lesson has been swimming in and out of our awareness for some time now. We can choose to invite it to surface and then pay attention. Here’s how to consciously look for your big lesson and put it on your plate. Answer these questions.

If I had a big lesson to learn right now, what might it be?

What have others in the same boat learned that could be useful to me?

In which area of my life is my current course simply not working well?

What are five new and different approaches I could try to turn things around?

Big life lessons are there because we have put them there. Some part of us attracts challenging situations so we can realize the life-changing big lesson and move on. But we aren’t obligated to repeat third grade three times to learn our lessons. I think we can even skip a grade by becoming more conscious of our big lessons as they first come into view. Why not grab the bull by the horns the first time it pokes you?

What do you think?

What do you think about hitting bottom and big life lessons?


  1. Tim Brownson says:

    To be honest Tom I think I want to know the stuff I don’t know about. If I know something I think that’s half the battle.

    I honestly don’t know why it would be easier to sell my body than it is my books when the book looks better, is more useful and doesn’t fart in bed, but there you go.

    If I knew how to get to the point where I could just sit on a beach counting money and laughing all the time as the orders rolled in, I’d be chuffed to bits as we say in the UK.

    Tim Brownsons last blog post..The Unbearable Cuteness of Being

  2. I agree that you don’t need to hit bottom in order to learn a life lesson. Certainly there are many areas each of us can improve and we just need to look inside ourselves and identify the areas that we need to work on. No need to get to a point where you are utterly miserable before realizing that you need to make a change.

    Vereds last blog post..Happy, Then Not

  3. Tom,

    Thanks for leaving a comment on my site – it’s always nice to have new visitors!

    As for your post, how true it is. One would hope that you wouldn’t have to hit “rock bottom” before learning a valuable lesson, but many of us get too close to that point, even with little things.

    If we can identify and learn from situations before they happen, it would lead to a lot less stress and anxiety. Proactive work is always the hardest to do, but its usually the most rewarding.

    Great site! I’m adding it to my reader rght now.

    John Young | We Have Contacts last blog post..The Book And The Cover

  4. There can be big lessons at rock bottom. But that doesn’t have to be the only place to find them. We find them there by default because we’re forced to.

    So, the key I think – is to actively look for these lessons before you’ve reached rock bottom. And even when you’re on the upswing.

    The thing is, when we’re not forced to, sometimes we don’t seek. And herein lies the problem.

    Lances last blog post..Simple Fun

  5. I think a lot of people do hold on to the belief that they’re going to catch a break, until they hit rock bottom. That’s when they finally face reality and start trying to dig themselves out of the situation. I think if more people asked themselves: “what’s the most constructive thing I can do right now”, as soon as the trouble starts, a lot of hardship could be avoided. Pray to God, but row away from the rocks.

    Marelisas last blog post..Happiness Extravaganza: Tips, Tidbits, and Tools

  6. I am at a bottom so to speak right now. What am I learning? I am learning that some people are not good people. I am learning that some people will through you under the bus to benefit themselves. Some people will cheat and lie for a dollar. Now I have to figure out what to do about it and how to tell the good people from the crumbs. :O(

  7. Evelyn Lim says:

    Being in a lot of pain and misery was what started my desire and then commitment to self mastery and personal development. I wouldn’t say that I had hit rock bottom.

    Still, I noticed many of my friends who are Not stepping up to make a change, despite being in misery. I’m of course not wishing that they will go through a worse time; but because they can still get by, they are unwilling to commit to creating inner happiness.

    You are right to point out that it will be a long painful way up if hitting rock bottom happens. As much as you and I can understand this and choose to take action rightaway, there will be lots others who need to learn it in the hardest way.

    Evelyn Lims last blog post..Walk On Water With 7 Magic Stones

  8. i think that maybe we do have to hit our own personal rock bottom in some area of our lives at some point.

    i think that’s how we learn what that looks like, what the signs were before hitting rock bottom, how to commit to growth and learning and moving in a positive direction, and even how to learn from other’s mistakes.

    at some point, we go through pain. most often, that’s what wakes us up as humans so that we begin to pay attention and begin to learn.

    i also think it helps us be more compassionate as individuals.

    now… deep does that rock bottom have to be? in what area of our life does it have to manifest? that’s where i think we differ.

    and then, what we do after that. that’s where it all changes. that’s where the possible begins. that’s where we learn and where we learn how to not hit rock bottom in other areas of our lives.

    besides, most people i know who truly hit their own rock bottom are some of the most interesting, most conscious, most ‘alive’ people i know. and i learn a lot from them.

    so do we always have to hit rock bottom? no.
    do we have to at one point in our lives? i think….probably.

    all the best!

    debs last blog post..doing things differently

  9. Vered okay we agree that there is no need to wait until the pain starts to learn the lesson. In your experience why do you think people do wait until they approach the bottom? Are they just not looking at their life or is it something else?

    Tim how much do you think you can get for your body? Also the same question I asked Vered I’m asking you. In your experience why do you think people do wait until they approach the bottom?

    John I am intrigued by this statement. “Proactive work is always the hardest to do, but its usually the most rewarding.” Why is proactive work the hardest to do? It doesn’t have to be.

    Mare that is a very empowering question. “What’s the most constructive thing I can do right now?” It’s very much like a favorite quote of mine form Kim George. “Abundance is doing what you can do right now.”

    Laurie I feel for you. Lessons involving trusting others are often very painful indeed. My advice would be to thoroughly feel the feelings. Do everything that you can do now and finally look to your own self when it comes time to learn the lessons.

  10. Lance welcome, I agree but why do we often wait until we are forced to look? Is it because the reality of our situations is so painful that we are afraid to face up to it?

    Evelyn isn’t that something? We pretty much agree that some folks just won’t wake up until the big pain begins. I’m happy for you that you did before you hit bottom.

    Deb you make an excellent point about developing compassion through personal suffering. That’s a by-product but no reason to choose the pain when we could stop it. If I hear you correctly, you are saying that pain is a necessary component to waking up for all, at least once. Having hit bottom myself I can see how one my reach that conclusion. Yet now some 8 years removed form the major bottoming out, I see that it wasn’t necessary. Although I am grateful for the experience and lessons learned. Thanks for your well thought out reply.

  11. Hi Tom,

    That’s a great point about not waiting on chance or outside forces to get us out of trouble. I think for some people, if they’re still waiting for outside intervention to save them, they may not have indeed hit rock bottom. I know it’s a callous thing to say and I don’t think this is an absolute either. Sometimes people wait for outside help only because they don’t know how to help themselves. Great post and a great reminder to us all.

    Al at 7Ps last blog post..The Hero with a Thousand Jobs

  12. Hi Tom,

    I don’t think we have to hit rock bottom, but I do think everyone should get close to rock bottom at least once in their life. It teaches empathy and compassion for those who are experiencing hard times.

    If we can stay attuned to what’s actually going on around us, we can often see the writing on the wall and save ourselves from free falling.

    Barbara Swaffords last blog post..Psssst! Your Blog Is Showing

  13. Big question this week, Tom! Let me see if I can articulate an answer…

    First, I think life lessons, big and small, are always on our radar. They are always there, waiting for us to notice, pay attention, learn.

    Second, I look around and see so many people still living life on auto-pilot, not consciously aware that they are the Creators of their lives and experiences, still looking outside themselves for the answers to the Big Questions. I think we are all somewhere on this continuum between unconsciousness and enlightenment.

    I think to the degree that you are ‘unconscious’ and ‘unaware’, to the same degree you have to slide closer to the ‘bottom’ to ‘get it’. Or, put another way, the nudges and clues have to escalate to kicks in the ass before you pay attention.

    Think about it – it’s going to take a lot less ‘drama’ to get someone’s attention who is taking responsibility for creating her life than it will for someone who is still thinking life is something that happens to her.

    Awareness is a prerequisite, for sure, but I think the critical piece is taking ownership of creating your life and experience. That puts you in proactive mode, rather than the oh-so-disempowering reactive mode. When you are looking for the lessons, they’re much less likely to be sneaking up behind you and kicking you in the butt. And your ‘bottom’ becomes more an occasional dip in the road than an abyss waiting to swallow you whole.

  14. Hi Tom,

    Nice site and great post!

    I do think it’s possible to get to the big lessons without fully hitting rock bottom. The thing I’ve noticed with some people, though, is that they are stuck in a way of thinking that allows them no room to move. They have no idea there are other choices and they are indeed in control of those choices. Many of them believe that life is something that happens TO you – thus they play no active role in determining the outcome of such instances as hitting rock bottom. Perhaps for these people, hitting rock bottom is a necessity – it’s how they find the truth.

    For those that do realize there are choices and they are in control of them, hitting rock bottom might not be necessary. They know there are tools out there to help them. They understand that asking for help is not a weakness, but is courageous. Perhaps they are able to face their fears.

    I also think that everyone is susceptible to an underlying “absence of consciousness” if you will – this is what causes people to be in denial that there is a problem. Similar to how one is unable to help an alcoholic or drug addict until that person acknowledges they have a problem, those who are on their way to rock bottom hardly realize there is a problem – they deny anything is wrong. It’s only when they can finally come to terms with the situation that they can turn it around.

    Can people who are spiraling out of control in one way or another be rescued? Not if they don’t want to be. Sure, those who love and care about them can attempt an intervention – which may or may not work – but what about those whose loved ones don’t know there is a problem?

    I also think there are times when rescuing someone causes them more harm than good. It teaches them that no matter what, someone will “bail” them out and so they think they can do anything they want and in the end, it won’t really matter.

    These are all interesting questions and thoughts. They are things I think about daily. Why? Because I lost my sister to a drug addiction that ultimately killed her and ripped our family apart. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it and how I can help someone else through it. The pain is so unimaginable. I still miss her.

    ~ Annie

  15. Al you said folks wait for outside help because they don’t know how to help themselves. But why don’t they know? I think it’s because they have yet to face up to the problem and begin working on finding a solution.

    Barbara that’s interesting that you say that we ought to come close at least once but do we really need to learn compassion and empathy bu y hitting bottom? I’m not sure but it does work in that regard.

    Suzanne Your point about ownership is well made. Understanding responsibility is a powerful incentive to raise awareness. When we are sure that it’s up to us, we generally get moving.

    Annie welcome and thank you. I can’t imagine the pain you must feel around losing a sister. A close cousin committed suicide at 25 and I admit that I distanced myself from his craziness. Tough love is a tough issue with good points on both sides of the question. I do think though that most folks are aware of their problem far before they hit bottom. It may just be easier for them to stay unaware by choice rather than face the climb back out.

  16. My son has been a great enormous challenge over the years. He was diagnosed as sever depressive disorder but was on lithium for mood swings as well (which he took himself off). He is now 19 years old. The biggest challenge I have had was finding the delicate line between advocating for him and enabling him. Sometimes that line is quite blurred.

    Now that he has graduated and moved out to go to college, my quality of life has improved tramendously. I love him dearly but I have to be willing to allow him to hit bottom. He will only learn by getting to the place where he chooses to make life more enjoyable for himself. I had the conversation with the counselors, hub, and God that my child’s bottom may be homelessness or even death. While I would be devistated if this happened, I cannot go through life rescuing him from himself. He has to want good things for himself. I cannot make a difference for him if he does not care for himself. He has to want to choose a life worth living.

    I believe some people don’t have a bottom.

  17. I think people often have to hit rock bottom because this is the only way they are forced to face up to the things they really don’t want to see – about themselves, others and their life.

    People can be remarkably self-deceiving and the pay-off is often blissful ignorance. If they sense the truth will hurt, people may subconsciously try to outrun the problem and stay ignorant. They think it will somehow go away then. More likely you just keep falling.

    I have done this in the past, but these days I try to live by my intuition. Let this be the voice in my head when I need to know which direction to take. I think if people listened to this internal voice more there would be little need to fall down in order to learn life’s lessons.

    Even if you discount the strength of intuition, people are always given plenty of signs when they are headed in the wrong direction. It’s just a matter of when they choose to see the signs and truthfully face their problems, or keep falling. Like a person who won’t face their partner’s suspicious behaviour until they catch them in bed with someone else.

    Some people just seem to need to be hit over the head with a plank of wood to get it, and that’s a shame.

    🙂 Kelly

  18. Laurie you’ve raised a situation I hadn’t considered before. I think you’ve clearly looked at the crux of this challenge. Your son does have to want a better more joyous life. He does have to want to create that for himself. In this case he may need to hit bottom to really get it. Let’s hope it works for him. Either way, I agree, you must live your life first.

    Kelly you are so right. Our intuition is always actively giving us many signs before we hit bottom. I like you learned from the experience of bottoming out. When I used to coach relationships I would repeatedly coach men you hadn’t a clue that their wives were about to file for divorce. At least many of them are more aware the second time around.

  19. Just my two cents, but you won’t build the character you need if you don’t go through some things. Hitting rock bottom can be likened to the fire gold is put through to become shiny and valuable. Rock bottom is where the impurities in your character are burned away. It also burns away the impure people in your life and reveals who your real friends are.

    Something else to keep in mind here is that people don’t always choose to hit rock bottom. It seems like there’s a consensus on here that we can do something to stop our slide. That’s not always the case.

    I’m thinking of my own situation where my mom died from cancer and my apartment building went up in flames all in the same weekend. That was truly my rock bottom, but there was nothing I could do to stop any of it.

    I’m still struggling a bit as a result of all that happened, but I emerged from the situation stronger and more focused. It also showed me which friends were true. A couple stuck right by my side throughout the five month battle afterward with the landlord over my property. One, whom I considered to be my best friend, never even called me to say hello or offer condolences or anything.

    Because of that, I think we need to be very careful about refusing to go through trials like this. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how prepared we are, things can change in a heartbeat. It’s only be God’s grace that we can get through them.

  20. lbc welcome, I agree with most of what you’ve said. The example you gave certainly seemed to have less opportunity in it to stop the slide than others. yet often we can increase our awareness and catch ourselves. I applaud your courage and I’m happy to hear that you are on your way back.

    Also the way you put it – “refusing to go through trials” sounds like resistance to me. I’m not advocating that we avoid the trials but instead face up to the core issues that are causing them. Thanks for your two cents, it’s much more valuable than that.

  21. I really appreciate all of your responses, I like many others here
    are now facing rock bottom as I speak, my life has truely changed. Because I allowed to, because I have been in denil, my life has been spiraling out of control and as I knew it was, I did nothing, now I am wondering why. I agree that sometimes you have to reach a point of desperation, and that desperation
    at some point has to creat action on your part, not others, because you have to get control of the problem. Facing the truth can be very difficult but required to turn it around.
    There is no magic bullet here, this is the real show.


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