David Raether’s cautionary tale of being down on one’s luck provides one of the most authentic tales of downward spiral I have read. But what really resonates is how such an extraordinary tragedy could befall such an ordinary individual. This is not a tale of someone born into hardship, or one who brought it on with drink or drugs, nor even someone the victim of mental illness. This is an ordinary, if somewhat above average, individual with a strong education, strong career, and strong character, but he still finds a way to find rock bottom shared vividly in this piece “What It’s Like to Fail” (thanks Aidan)
- “Yes, I, David Raether, the smart and funny guy who graduated with honors from college and read thousands of books and played the piano and went to church and won television awards, was homeless. What happens when you hit bottom? I can tell you one thing: you don’t bounce back. You crawl back, fighting every step of the way. It isn’t a straight arc back up either; there are dozens of setbacks every step of the way. And the place you land isn’t anywhere near where you were when you slipped off the cliff…Your days are very long. The rhythm of work followed by home is gone. It’s replaced by long stretches of empty time. No company, no conversation, no deadlines, nothing…After the first few disorienting weeks of homelessness, I got myself up off the canvas and begin to bob and weave and shake my head. I sniffed the ammonia capsule of reality and realized that I was in the biggest battle of my life. During the nearly 18 months I spent homeless off and on, and during the ensuing years, I learned that I am more resourceful than I ever imagined, less respectable than I ever figured, and, ultimately, braver and more resilient than I ever dreamed. An important tool in my return to life has been Craigslist. It was through Craigslist that I found odd jobs — gigs, they often are called — doing everything from ghost-writing a memoir for a retired Caltech professor who had aphasia to web content writing jobs to actual real jobs with actual real startups…Losing my career and home changed my economic circumstances and day to day life. But it also upended my priorities. At the peak of my career, I ferociously pursued my goal of creating a hit TV show. It was my greatest ambition – and a lucrative one. But after years of homelessness and isolation, my single greatest desire became company. I wanted to spend more and more time with family and the people I loved.”
One of the lessons I take away from his story is his failure to actually embrace failure at the outset. The acceleration of decline, when his TV writing job floundered, occurred when he did not prepare for the worst and take serious measures to adapt to the new situation. Like many people I know, he stumbled along thinking that any moment the nightmare would be over, a windfall job would arrive, and all would go back to normal. That stumbling along the pretence of normality rather than running full speed into the embrace of failure has hazardous consequences. The dividend of “hitting rock bottom” is that the sharp rocks pierce the dream bubble that keep us from embracing the failure that needs embracing.