As a result of the 1000 Challenge, I have received 100's of emails from people all around the world asking questions, offering up advice and words of encouragement; the out pouring has been nothing short of flattering. One of the questions I am most consistently asked is why 1000? Or, what made you decide to do the 1000 Challenge? I give reasons that are all true, but for the most part, I have left the substance, the real deeper reason's out behind the 1000 Challenge.
The last several weeks I have been feeling the need to get all this off of my chest. Knowing that it will come up sooner or later, I have been feeling this week that now is the time to share. I have been thinking about it, how to write it, what people will think etc... non stop. So, what follows is the best attempt I have at being emotionally genuine, emotionally vulnerable, raw, authentic, and a number of other adjectives I can't seem to come up with right now. Please note: I am not sharing this to seek out sympathy, but rather the exact opposite. My hope is that people will see what I have experienced and how I am attempting to take those experiences and use them as a positive force.
Please note: some of what follows is extremely graphic, I am going to attempt to write as "real" as possible as it is the only way I know to take you to the places I was. Also, I may at times express opinions or trains of thought when writing what follows. It is not my intention to be offensive to anyone. One last thing, I just wrote the proceeding because when I blog I write off of a train of thought. For this particular blog, I know what I want to talk about, but am not sure how it will come out yet. I do not go back and change the blogs, but merely make grammatical corrections for this blog I will not do even that. It is to emotionally draining and I do not want to ruin the authenticity of the emotion by spell checking. Apologies for excessive spelling and grammar errors.
Ok, here we go...
June 15th 2009, I was on top of the world. I was strong, I was confident, I knew what I wanted out of life, where I was going and I was surrounded by the people I wanted to travel through life with. My business and the opportunity within it was growing rapidly. I was surrounded by an amazing group of fun loving friends. I was dating a girl who I loved and was very close to. I had recently gotten a taste for travel for the first time in my life, venturing off to Europe and Australia. Life was good... no, life was amazing!!
Sure, I had my day to day stresses; I had my bills that needed to be paid, I had my ups, downs, and bumps in the road just like anyone else, but those were nothing more than just that, bumps in the road.
I have to take a deep breath before typing anymore... phew...
At about (I say about because with the passing of time, I can't remember the exact minutes anymore, but I know I am within 5-8 minutes) 1:50 pm Monday June 15th, I get a text message from my friend Mav (Mav aka Maverick is the nickname I called my friend by. He in turned called me Ice aka Ice Man after the characters in Top Gun) and it says "I love you all." Mav had recently broken up with is girlfriend of over three years and was struggling with the loss of the relationship. I immediately tried to call him back, no answer. I sent him a text saying, " I love you too buddy, what's going on?" No answer.
At the time I was in the library, working, and I shut my lap top and tried to shake out what I felt, deep inside of me, was going on. I called my friend Tomas and asked if he had received the same text, he hadn't, but he asked me "Are you worried?" I said, "Yes, worst case scenario worried." Without hesitation he said, "I'll come get you."
While waiting for him to pick me up I tried calling Mav's work, his ex-girlfriend, mutual friends, anyone who might know where he was. Tomas grabbed me and we headed for his Mom's house.
We scoured his Mom's house, looked through every window trying to find Mav. We were about to break through a window to get inside when, at 2:38 I got a call back from his ex girlfriend. "Jesse you are scaring me." "M, I need to find him right away, I'm scared he's going to hurt himself." She gave us the address where she had last seen him that morning.
Tomas and I pull up to the house at 2:45pm. Mav's uncle is there and I tell him I need to find Mav. I explain to him my concern and insist on him letting us into the house. We are in the house by 2:50pm. As this was going on and what I later found out from M is that she had sent Mav a text telling him "What's going on? Jesse is looking for you and on his way over, he's really worried. Please do not do anything, I love you. I am on my way over." At 2:46 pm, 1 minute after Tomas and I had parked the car... Mav wrote back to M, "I'm sorry, I love you."
Mav's uncle goes up stairs and opens the bathroom door. I already have my phone in hand, finger on the #9, ready to dial... I don't want what's about to happen, happen, but in my heart, in my gut... I know what is to come.
Mav's uncle: "There you are... what are you doing in here, everyone is downstairs looking for... what the fuck!" He comes out of the bathroom: "Call 911."
Tomas goes for his phone, his hands are shaking. "I got it I tell him."
I dial 911 as we both run upstairs. It is amazing how much time slows down in situations like this. As I write this, I can feel everything from that day again, I can hear it all, I can smell it all. At the time as it was going on, I went into this heightend state. I had at any given time four streams of conscious thought going. One that could clearly communicate with the 911 operator, another that could focus on cpr and trying to keep Mav alive, a third that was crying out, wanting him to be ok, and a fourth questioning myself wondering if it is right for me to be here right now, trying to interfere with his choice?
Tomas and I get inside the bathroom and find Mav, one of my best, closest friends of the last four years of my life; someone who I had partied with, chased girls with, shared stories with, shared hopes and dreams with, my "wingman,"... we find him lying in the bath tub filled with water that was so blood stained you could not even see the bottom of the tub. He was alive and gasping for air.
Wow, I really thought I was going to be ok writing all this, but I am amazed at how much I am crying right now. Apologies if this gets confusing. I am struggling to keep a straight train of thought.
Tomas and I get him out of the tub and begin CPR. The 911 operator is on the phone telling us to locate the wound. The problem is there is so much blood we can't tell where it is coming from. We get Mav's uncle out of the bathroom, he went into shock. We see a knife on the tub, then I spot a small pistol, no bigger than the size of the palm of your hand, lying at the bottom of the bath tub.
Almost instantly upon discovering that we start to examine Mav's head and discover that the parts of his head that were supposed to be kept inside his skull, were on the outside. Mav had shot himself in the head. As he lay there, gasping for air, Tomas and I alternated back and fourth from keeping his head wound closed and performing chest compressions on him. Mav, one of my best friends in the world was now dying in my hands.
The paramedics got there in less than 5 minutes and took over. I walked out of the bathroom only to see Tomas standing in the hallway is arm, his legs, stained red, the innocence in his eyes, completely gone. That image of Tomas standing there, that image haunts me more than any other from that day.
Mav's girlfriend had arrived, I went over and hugged her and told her, "No matter what happens, this was hi choice. I know how much you two loved one another." She said when she went upstairs that my body blocked her view from what was going on. Thank God she didn't see anything.
Three hours later, Mav was pronounced brain dead. The next day he was taken off of life support. That following weekend, we held his memorial service. I spoke, requesting my friends to not make eye contact with me as it was the only way I would be able to hold it together.
In the months that followed, life changed drastically for me. I struggled with my friendships. It became very hard for me to relate to my closest friends. Tomas and I rarely spent a day without hanging out, I saw him maybe four times that entire summer. My relationship ended, we had gone from being so close to distant. As I struggled to find my way again, she struggled to find her own happiness independently of me. I was a mess. I relocated my business and with that relocation severed a friendship/business partnership. I struggled at work, I attempted to give what little bit I had to my work to try and keep myself afloat because all those bills that needed to be paid kept mounting up and I was running out of space on the credit cards.
December came quickly and with it the promise of 2010, a new year, a new start... an opportunity to put the pain of the past six months behind me. Instead of going home for Christmas, I chose to travel solo for the first time in my life. I discovered a deal for the Dominican Republic and off I went. This trip was to be the celebration trip, my "get back to living" trip. I'd see my family sometime in 2010.
I came back from the trip feeling better. My life was still out of sorts, my friendships still weren't where they once were, I still was morning the loss of my girlfriend, and I still was not 100 percent at peace with Mav.
January a major earthquake strikes Haiti. My friend and I had been talking for months about bringing to light a dream of his he had had for a long time. To have a group of first responders that when disaster strikes that are there to do whatever they can to help. I left for Reach Out World Wide's ( http://www.roww.org ) inaugural deployment on my birthday, January 17th, 2010. (as a side note, if you haven't checked out Reach Out World Wide's website, please do so at the above link. Also, check out our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reach-Out-Worldwide/139139139467280 we are a completely 100 percent non profit. So any donations, love, words of support that you throw our way is deeply appreciated.)
Haiti was an amazing experience. I was repeatedly humbled. I wasn't in the country for more than 45 minutes and I was carrying a guy off a bus who had just had his arm completely severed from the shoulder down. His leg was in a full cast and his face was covered in bandages except for one eye to see with. Time and time again I caught myself dwelling on my problems while I was surrounded by 100's of people who had lost everything: possessions, family, friends, body parts. IF these people had salvaged anything from their live's before, it fit in a half full hefty trash bag. This was a country where the majority of the population had nothing to begin with, and now...
Yet every night they celebrated. They laughed, they sang, they prayed... they celebrated the gift of life. They understood the gift of life in such a unique way. They realized have precious life is and that it is something that is to be celebrated. No matter what they had, no matter what condition they were in, they were just grateful to be alive.
I left Haiti feeling refreshed, renewed, and committed to getting back to living life. For the last 6 months I had been surviving, I wanted to get back to thriving.
I returned home from Haiti on Monday, January 25th feeling the best I had felt since before Mav.
On Sunday, January 31st I called my Dad. Him and I talked on the phone for 18 minutes and 32 seconds that day. We talked about Haiti, all that I had learned. My Dad had recently been given a clean bill of health two weeks earlier, a cancer survivor that was told he cancer was in full remission. As a result, my Dad was excited to share in the life lessons I had learned in Haiti. It was one of the best conversations I had ever had with him. I hung up the phone, my chest swelling with confidence. I felt like myself. There had been moments over the last 6 months where I had felt like me, but in this moment, I was back to being me.
The next day, Monday February 1st, 2010, just after 9am, my Mom calls me: "Jess... your father is dead."
All the what's the how's went running through my mind. I didn't cry, I calmly drove down to the airport to see how much a plane ticket home would cost. $550, way more than I could afford. I drove home and began packing. Tomas came home and held me, I broke down. He took my car to get my oil changed while I packed. I drove the 600 miles to the tiny town of Fortuna in complete silence. No radio, no music, nothing except for my sobs and the phone calls.
On Tuesday, February 2nd, I saw my Dad in a mortuary. It was the first time I had seen him in over a year. I could have seen him at Christmas time, but I choose to go to Dominican Republic.
What he died from is unknown. He had been complaining of sharp pains in his spine the day before and repeated bouts of violent dizziness. He did not want to go to a hospital as he had such a rough time when going through chemo. My family does not have a lot of money and the cost of an autopsy was to much, heart attack, brain annurism, who knows. He died, leaving a large amount of debt that has put a great deal of stress on the relationship between myself, my mom, and my brother.
My Dad was an extremely kind person. He struggled with money his entire life and yet while living with constant financial pressure, he did everything he could to remain optimistic and positive. He knew how sensitive I was to all of it and so he never discussed it with me when we talked opting to focus on the good and the opportunities that lay ahead in life. I never got to know my Dad, as an adult the way I wanted to.
The next several months were a struggle again. How could this be? I finally had moved past the pain of 2009 and now, my Dad? How? Why me? What did I do? etc...
It took me the majority of 2010 to get back to feeling like myself again. In August I climbed Mt. Whitney. A few weeks prior to that the idea of the 1000 Challenge had been born. In a discussion with two friends/clients one suggested I should try to do something new everyday for a certain period of time. Finally I said, I want to try to do 1000 things I have never done before next year.
Within a couple of days I sent out emails to friends, family, associations, asking them for suggestions... I began to build the list.
As 2010 slowly wound to a close I reflected back on the last year and a half of my life. I pledged that in 2011 I would survive no more... that this year I would focus on thriving. That this year, I would take every tool, every belief I hold and put it into practice... that this year I would live the life of my creating. I promised myself that I was going to embody everything I teach people about when I work with them as a trainer and life coach.
And so, three months into 2011, here we are. And that is in essence the story of the 1000 Challenge. My hope is that in sharing the preceding with you, you see that I am just like you. I am a flesh and blood human full of hopes and dreams. I hurt, I cry, I feel pain just like all of you. Do I convey a lot of positivism to you all, yes, but it is a choice I have made to try to live the majority of my life that way. Does not mean there still isn't some hurt, some struggle in there. I get sick just like all of you, I make more money than some, and I make less than others. I make mistakes, I piss people off, I do all of it. What separates all of us from one another is the choices we make on how to set out and live our lives. Easier said than done right? We all will go through bad spells, rough spots, we may not have a choice in that, but we do have a choice in what we do after.
No matter what happens with the 1000 Challenge, no matter what I do, no matter what Challenges are completed... it doesn't matter how big or small they are. It doesn't matter if it is traveling to some country around the world, or taking a picture in front of a local tourist place. It really doesn't matter, but what does matter is that I do it. That I wake up each and every day and go out and pursue the gift of life. That each and every day I remember the lesson the Haitians taught me and wake up and be greatful for the opportunity I have to live this day. What matters is that each and every day I wake up, I go out, and I Carpe Diem ... I seize the day and make the absolute most of it.
And that my friends is the story of how the 1000 Challenge came to being. And that is what the 1000 Challenge is all about. Thanks for sticking with me to end on this blog it really means a lot if you are still reading. I am drained, this took a lot out of me to write.
I have included a link to a speech I gave for suicide prevention. Please check it out.
Suicide Prevention Speech