Depression, Addiction, And How To Change The World

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I’m an optimist. I believe in people and want nothing more than to make a genuine difference in the world. I do my best to look at setbacks and heartbreak as times to learn and grow, and I’ve been undoubtedly blessed with immense love and opportunity.

Which is why the next few lines are so incredibly difficult for me to write.

I suffer from depression. I’m a recovering gambling addict.

But first, let us take a step back.

When I started this blog as a junior in high school while living in Shanghai (for my dad’s job), I was on the fast track to “success.” I had tens of thousands of readers and on a routine basis, I received hundreds of emails from people all around the world telling me how much my writing had impacted them. Several readers even suggested that my words potentially saved their life.

I was humbled to say the least.

After graduating high school, I moved back to the United States to attend the University of Missouri both excited and was nervous to start my college career.

Several months into the university experience, there was a knock at the door.

A quick look through the peephole revealed a well-dressed guest: Depression.

He was back, insistent on coming in.

Depression had made his way into my life before, but at the time, I mistook him for just being sad.

This time, however, it was clear it was the start of a more serious relationship which continues on and off to this day.

I’m 23.

The Best Years of Your Life

Having had the opportunity to talk to people from all walks of life all around the world, it’s obvious to me that the college experience isn’t for everyone. For many, it’s a broken and outdated system that does little to prepare someone for the real world. For some, it even does severe harm.

What’s often referred to as “the best time of your life” was nothing of the sort for me.

I certainly had my fair share of memorable moments during my four years of college, but more often than not, I was left feeling defeated, lost, and alone.

Despite my disdain for school, I had two amazing parents who valued my education and spent both time and money to ensure I could get a degree. They wanted nothing more than for me to live a good life.

And so I coasted.

I let the excuses of not wanting to be there hinder my personal and professional growth. I kept writing sporadically but quickly my momentum began to fade.

I soon started losing faith in myself.

I struggled to fit in. I became irritable and antisocial. I hated school, and hated myself.

There were weeks where I would just lock myself in my room and eat pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I blamed everything and everyone, and I felt like I had no control.

I had endless ambition and nothing to show for it. My  passions were left to die.

Instead of continuing to write and share my truths at A Boundless World, I started questioning my ability to tell stories, despite it being one of the few things that gave me great joy.

Depression was starting to affect how I thought, felt, and saw the world. And it wasn’t pretty.

How To Rack Up 20k of Gambling Debt

Despite just barely graduating university, I was able to leverage some of my social media skills to land a job at premier social media agency in NYC.

A fresh start, this was my chance to shine.

Less than a few months of calling the Big Apple home, there was another knock at the door.

He was back.

My work performance suffered, and every step forward meant two steps back.

My work performance suffered. I couldn’t focus. I struggled to get out of bed. Worst yet, rejected the many people who reached out to help.

Within three months, I had quit my first job in NYC. When someone reached out to help, I rejected them coldly. I started eating unhealthy and smoking a pack a day.

And then it got worse. I started to gamble.

Over the next year, I amassed over 20k in gambling debt. My life felt like it was spiraling out of control.

Sometimes I would gamble online for 15 hours straight between jobs. I would win big, then lose it all in a matter of seconds. Chasing my losses would soon ensue.

The dozens of credit cards I had for travel hacking soon became maxed out.

I remember several occasions when the urge to take just one extra step onto the NYC subway tracks overwhelmed me.

Yet…

On the outside, I pretended everything was OK. My demons were invisible to even the closest of my family and friends.

I was lost. I was scared. Worse, I was afraid to ask for help.

What had I got myself into?

Moving To Chile

After struggling to find my way in NYC for close to a year and jumping from job to job, I finally decided I needed a change of scenery.

As luck would have it, my good friend Carlos Miceli was co-founding Exosphere, a learning and problem-solving community in Chile. I eagerly joined their second program in March, which lasted until May and continued to stay involved for their third boot camp which ended this November.

I took a chance. And can honestly say it changed my life.

I still struggled with my demons during the durations of both boot camps, but being surrounded by dozens of amazing people from all over the world was a reminder that I wasn’t alone.

Accepting Reality

One of the greatest sources of pain is our constant desire to run away from reality. We delay pain for the illusion of security now.

We say we aren’t depressed. We say we’re perfectly ok.

We say we’re happy at our jobs, but our thoughts say otherwise.

Knowing perfectly well the truth, we deny our sexuality in fear of what others might think.

And so we hide.

We avoid having the difficult conversations. We avoid doing the things that need to be done.

For the longest time, I refused to admit I was both depressed and addicted to gambling. Instead, I repeated the lie that I was OK.

I wasn’t just sad. Being sad on occasion is a normal human emotion. I struggled with more than just feeling sad.

On days when my depression is at its worst, my judgment becomes cloudy; my body becomes heavy, and I’m overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion.

The only way to describe depression is to have felt it.

I’ve grown up with a roof over my head and have never worried about if I was going to eat. I’ve traveled the globe, lived on three continents, and have been given endless opportunity.

How the fuck can I be depressed? I felt immense guilt. It wasn’t until I acknowledged that no one is immune to depression that I began to accept it.

I reached out to those closest to me. I started taking better care of my physical and mental health. I read James Altucher’s book “Choose Yourself” which saved my life.

I still struggle of course, but I’m putting in the work and giving it everything I have.

A Living Paradox

I may never completely overcome my depression. Who knows?

But I do know this,

I’m happiest when I ship my art to the world.
I’m happiest when I write.
I’m happiest when I record.
I’m happiest when I hit “publish.”

I’m happiest when I have deep and meaningful conversations with people who are trying to leave their mark on the world.

I’m happiest when I solve problems. I’m happiest when I connect people. I’m happiest when I study tech.

I’m happiest when I read. I’m happiest when I’m still. I’m happiest when I’m with my friends and family.

I’m happiest when I build things that matter.

And I’ll likely live the rest of my life fighting my frequent guest.

Writing this post has lifted an immense amount of weight off my shoulders.

And yet, I’m scared shitless.

Will people think I’m crazy for writing this? Will my future career be affected by this? What will all my friends and family say who had no idea?

….

He’s just doing this for page views! His life can’t possibly be that bad! What a fraud! He will never amount to anything. He’s so unstable! A spoiled rich kid!

I’m confident. I’m insecure.

Depression And My Gift

Despite some days struggling to get out of bed and wanting to give up, the one thing that keeps me going is knowing that maybe, just maybe, I can leave a mark on the world.

Depression is a curse. It’s a curse because when it hits, there’s very little you can do but embrace it and let it pass. In an instant, things can turn dark.

But it’s also a gift.

It’s a gift, because it’s taught me how to be a better human being. It’s taught me empathy. It has shown me that we all are just trying to do our best.

On a regular basis, I look eye to eye with depression and many times I let it win. But over the last few months I’ve been taking active steps to make sure I’m in the best spot I can be.

I’m so passionate about what I do here at A Boundless World because I genuinely believe that we aren’t meant to struggle. We are here to make a difference.

How To Change The World

With endless opportunity, we’re so overwhelmed and scared to death of coming up short that we do nothing.

Instead, we read list posts on how to live a better life. We sit on the sidelines admiring our idols fantasizing “why not me?”

You change the world by living it. You change the world by facing your fears. You change the world by surrounding yourself with people who want nothing more than to see you fly.

You change the world by loving yourself.

You change the world by accepting your truths, your reality. You change the world by not hiding from who you are.

You change the world by solving problems. You change the world by dreaming big and taking one step every single day.

Sure, we’re all dealt bad hands. But I refuse to eat from the tree of abundant excuses. And so should you.

My life’s mission is to share my truth. Not through wearing an inauthentic mask that looks good on paper, but by sharing my deepest struggles and triumphs because that’s what matters.

I won’t let anything or anybody prevent me from changing the world.

This is my truth. This is my story. Depression and demons be damned.

If you know someone who is struggling to find their way it would mean the world to me if you shared this with them. Sometimes a few sentences are all it takes to remind us we are never truly alone.

Special thanks to Katrishia and Lilibeth for their editing insight as well as to many people who have helped me grow and become the person I am today. Special thanks to my mum, dad, Aj, Sammi, Aunt Ann. Thanks to Belen, the Brazilian crew, the Exo family, Drew, Johnathan, the college roomies and the many others who have encouraged me to share my truth. Also thanks to Kevin Breel, Brian Cuban, and James Altucher who inspired me to write this.

How To Become An Expert Networker

I absolutely loathe the term “networking”.

Really I do. Just saying the word instantly brings up the cliche scenario of the sleazy salesman (or woman) shoving a business card down your throat.

“Buy my product! You need my service! I know EVERYONE in the room — I’m a special snowflake! Me. Me. Me.”

Gag.

If the previous scenario is something you aspire to emulate, do us both a favor and scroll your mouse up to the top right corner and click the “x.”

Still with me? Good. It appears you have a soul.

The Dirty Little Secret No One Tells You.
Ready for the secret?

Here it is: Networking is a learnable skill.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert. It doesn’t matter if your little sister can do more pushups than you. It doesn’t matter if you failed your last three calculus tests.

It doesn’t matter if you live in your mom’s basement or run a multiple million dollar business from an internet connection in Thailand. It doesn’t matter if you have a PHD or if you majored in being a couch potato.

It doesn’t matter if you think you’re bad with people. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have thousands of Twitter followers and slick looking blog.

It. Doesn’t. Matter.

If you’re reading this: who you are, where you’re from, is irrelevant. Unless of course you’re that guy who posts pictures of your six-pack abs on Instagram, in that case no one likes you. Please click the x.

I know you scanners are growing impatient, but first let me tell you a personal story.

For most of my life, I held the limiting belief that I could never be “good with people.” I genuinely believed that I was destined to simply be the background noise others heard in the room. I was envious of the people who owned center stage.

Instead of trying to improve, I gave up. I shied away from people. Worse yet, I felt like there was absolutely nothing I could do to grow.

Luckily, I was able to overcome those limiting beliefs by learning from the best around. I devoured the ideas and methods of greats such as Gary Vaynerchuk, Ramit Sethi, Dale Carnegie, Steve Pavlina, Lewis Howes ,and countless other successful individuals who seemed to “get” the art of relating to people.

I tried some things, and stumbled. But over time, I began seeing patterns of how people began to relate with me. My hard work started to pay off!

It took me many years of testing and tweaking (not to mention FAILURE) to discover that I really could be “good with people” just as long as I put in the work.

While those who know me would undoubtedly consider me an extrovert, I’m confident that the following tips can apply to anyone who wants to improve their relationships both online and IRL (In real life.)

9 Simple Ways To Become An Expert Networker
1. Change Your Mindset

Stop thinking in terms of “networking” and instead aim to make connecting with people part of your every day life. It’s not a game to be won, it’s a life to be lived. Every relationship you have is an opportunity to learn and grow as a person. Some relationships will be short term, others you will carry with you for the rest of your life.

Not every personal or business interaction will go as planned, sometimes this will be a pleasant surprise, other times not so much. Ah, life.

Be open. Be vulnerable. Soak in the lessons reflected by the all-telling- relationship mirror.

2. Show Up

You can’t genuinely connect with people by playing ping pong inside your head. It takes some actual practice on the field. Tie your laces and go!

If you lean more on the extrovert side of the spectrum, set a goal of meeting up with 2 people for coffee a week. If you’re more introverted, queue up your favorite social network or open your email and dig in. Some of the connections won’t go anywhere, but each time you reach out to someone there’s a lesson to be learned.

As you begin connecting with more and more people, developing these relationships will become more and more natural! That’s a good thing! It means you’re growing!

At Exosphere participants have been challenged to connect with 10 people who could help them on their current projects and goals. Some have set up coffee meetings here in Chile, others have reached out to professionals in their desired field. For many, it has been an uncomfortable challenge. What if they get rejected? How do they find the right people to talk to?

Nothing worth doing is easy. Those who show up often, win.

3. Play To Your Strengths

There’s a common misconception that in order to be successful you must be an extrovert, which is absolutely not the case. As Susan Cain shares in her amazing book “Quiet”, there are plenty of introverts dominating the world.

Albert Einstein preferred to spend the bulk his time alone. Harrison Ford gets NERVOUS when giving a speech in his movies? J.K Rowling’s introversion made her the first billionaire author in the world.

Where you fall on the spectrum does not matter. What matters is that you know how you operate and play to your strengths.

If you’re an extrovert be extroverted! If you’re an introvert genuinely connect through other introverted means.

We’re all playing the same game.

4. Add Value Without Expectations

So many people operate their every day lives by seeking ways in which the world can give them something. But the people that really understand the world of relationships know the goal should be reversed.

Instead of seeking ways to add value for yourself, openly seek ways to add value to others. The more value you add to others around you the more value you’ll receive in return.

Send an amazing book you recently read to a a mentor or business partner. Help your colleague perfect that presentation she’s giving in a week. Mock interview your friend who’s looking for a job.

Adding value obviously takes effort. That’s the point! If you’re one of the few able to consistently help those around you, you’ll stand out as someone who is trustworthy and worthy of assistance in the future.

Drop the you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours-mentality. Focus on looking for ways to add value instead. Add value with zero expectations and everyone wins.

5. Create A Value System

According British anthropologist Robin Dunbar we as humans only have the capacity to hold 150 meaningful relationships at any given time. While there is some room for debate on the accuracy of this limit, the fact is, we do have a limited capacity to connect on a genuine level.

As your network grows, it’s important you do everything you can to keep your connections alive and fresh.

For me, this means giving someone a call if I haven’t talked to them in a few months to see how they are. Sometimes I’ll simply send an email checking in. Some people like keeping a spreadsheet categorizing their relationships and reminds them when to touch base, and others simply like to go with the flow.

This is a personal call here. Do what you’re comfortable with. Don’t be sleazy or inauthentic. There’s certainly a noticeable difference between checking in because you need something and really being interested in their well being. Don’t be that guy.

6. Have Random Conversations

Some of my best personal and professional relationships began from a random chat or chance meeting. You never know how any one relationship will develop.

My former boss Gary Vaynerchuk has preached the importance of random meetings before.

I personally try to set aside time each day specifically for random meetings or a Skype call with people I know on Twitter. When I’m traveling I generally try to talk to the person I’m sitting next to on the plane. It doesn’t always turn into anything, but the value I’ve received in return has significantly outweighed the time and effort I’ve put in.

This doesn’t mean be wasteful with your time, just leave space open for the unexpected.

7. Become A Connector

One of the benefits of being a great networker is that it opens doors for you to be able to connect other people. In the last week alone, I’ve connected three different parties simply by retweeting people who were looking for help.

The more people you know, the more people you can help. When listening to people’s struggles and issues always be thinking of when an intro to a friend would be a great fit.

As you connect more and more people you’ll quickly become the go to resource for people in your networking looking to change the world. If you’re a connector you’re indispensable.

8. Fail

When I first began reaching out to expand my network I emailed a very respected entrepreneur in the midwest. I began the email “Hi, Sarah,”

The entrepreneur was a man.

You’re going to say the wrong things. You’re going to get rejected. Some of the connections you put effort into won’t pan out. Some coffee meetings will be awkward. You might not get a response to the email you spent an two hours writing.

The only way to get better with people is by making mistakes.

Keep growing. Be human.

9. Ask Great Questions

Most of the amazing networkers I know have the uncanny ability to ask great questions.

The questions they ask motivate you, they get you unstuck. The questions they ask add value to you.

Great networkers don’t waste people’s time asking lazy and uninspired questions. They do the work and their questions show it.

If you’re asking for mentorship, don’t ask something that can be Googled. If you’re trying to help someone with a problem, dig deep.

The quality of questions you ask is directly correlated with the size of your success.

What are you going to do?

Here’s yet another dirty secret. Despite what all the marketers are trying to sell you, there’s no info product you can buy or button you can press to make you radiate with charisma. Good o’l fashioned hard work is the only path to victory.

Most people reading this will nod their head in agreement, only to check Facebook seconds after reading.

The truth is, I want YOU to be different. I want you to develop the skills and produce the value needed to stand out. The world needs more leaders.

If you want to become a great connector of people and ideas you have to put in the work.

The steps are clear. No more excuses.

The world is your network.

How The Simple Habit of Gratitude Can Change Your Life

Back in May I packed all my belongings and set off to make a name for myself in the charming city of New York. A fresh start and my first big boy job. It was my time to shine.

I was ecstatic, until I wasn’t.

The once alluring skyline quickly began to fade. The clouds found comfort in smothering my ambitious eyes.

I missed my family. I missed my friends. My dream job, it turns out, fell inches short of the perfect fit. Worse yet, the city I so desperately wanted to love didn’t think twice before throwing my identity to the curb.

My generally optimistic foundation began to falter, and the train was always late. With the whole world in front of me, I couldn’t see past the nightmares that kept me awake. Even the well lit Madison Avenue couldn’t help me find the man I was just months before.

Loneliness and sorrow were frequent guests.

As my struggles played on repeat, the roof top of my overpriced apartment lent me his hand.

Then one night with my eyes set on the city, I began to cry.

Breathtaking. Beautiful. Solace in the skyline.An immense wave of gratitude welcomed me.

How could I not have seen this before?

My life post rooftop epiphany isn’t perfect. I still miss my family and friends. And sometimes, despite the electric pulse of New York, I feel like I’m the only person in the world.

But things are looking up. Not because my circumstances changed, but because the horizon of New York city reminded me that underneath the uncertainty is an abundance of little smiles waiting to be released.

Don’t get me wrong. The train will still run late, you’ll still trip and fall. And sometimes you’ll feel like giving up.

But in those special moments of appreciation, no matter how small, you remember why you’re alive.