Three years ago, I packed up my car and embarked on a cross-country journey to my new home in Charleston, South Carolina.

Three days ago, I packed up my car and embarked on a cross-country journey to my new home in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I never expected to call Charleston my home for some of my most formative mid-20 years, and even more unexpected was what those three years held. I’ve been feeling sentimental and reflective lately, so I’m letting that feeling guide me for this week’s story: The Story of Charleston. Since so much happened during my three years in the Lowcountry, I’m breaking this story into three parts, one for each year, which I’ll share over the next 3 issues.

Part I: 2017

In late 2016, I locked in my dream job at Praxis. Praxis is an alternative education startup that helps ambitious young adults bypass college and jumpstart their career on their own terms. Their vision was radical to most, but felt like home to me. I held great respect for the founding team, and I wanted to work closely with them.

The first half of 2017 was spent mostly working. I was hungry to prove myself in this new role and to learn as much as I could, so I buckled down and grinded it out. I didn’t get out much and didn’t make many friends in my new city, but I grew a lot. Alongside my work at Praxis, I was writing my second book, titled Work.

I wanted to share everything I had learned with whoever wanted to read it, but more than that, the book was an exercise in distilling and organizing all the ideas and practices I was immersed in at the time – ideas and practices that were opening up my world, and had opened up the world of so many around me. 

In late June that year, I published Work and got immediate backlash from the Marketing Director of the company, followed by the CEO. The book was questioned for plagiarism, flaring a debate among the Praxis community (and in my own mind) about intellectual property, the origin and communication of ideas, and similar ideas.

I surely wrote about many of the ideas and concepts I had learned from my bosses and colleagues, but I honestly don’t believe what I wrote could be fairly called plagiarism. That seems clear looking back, but in the moment, feeling trapped under the white hot spotlight, I cowered under the backlash of my then role models. 

I tried to make it right by almost immediately re-publishing the book with an updated preface, giving detailed and extensive credit to the sources from which I had gathered my material, but my attempt at reconciliation was met only with dismissal.

Technically I was fired. I remember feeling trapped and not sure if I could salvage a positive working relationship with the company after the unexpected and gruesome fallout. However, if they hadn’t made the decision for me, I can’t say for sure I would have had the courage or the self-awareness to quit. I ended up taking the book down, making a public apology, and leaving town with my tail between my legs. There is a lot more to this story, but I’ll save the gory details for another week.

I moved to Detroit on a whim to start up a video production company with a friend from college. The venture lasted 3 weeks before I realized I had jumped into something too chaotic too quickly. That same month, I moved back to Charleston, again with my tail between my legs. I was running on empty “hustle.” I hadn’t taken the time to process what happened with Praxis, to decide if what I did was right or wrong, or to extract and learn from the invaluable lessons from my intense experience.

Cameras and videos were always an interest of mine. Going all the way back to my childhood, my dream job was to be a movie director. That’s why my friend’s Detroit video production business caught my eye in the first place. Since that didn’t work, I was determined to do my own thing in Charleston, creating and selling videos. I had no idea what to do. I had no idea where to start. So I started getting involved in my community. I started telling people I was creating a video company, not knowing what that really meant. I went to events, met people, and tried to do free work for my friends who owned businesses.

And I started making vlogs on YouTube. The days I brought my camera everywhere, documenting what I did and editing at night were some of my favorites that year. I felt like a kid again, playing with the camera and new software, editing to music, being creative and having fun. But that childlike sense of play was usually dimmed under the blanket of anxiety that covered me when I thought about my bank balances. I was running out of money, I had no income, and my credit cards were racking up interest faster than I could keep up.

I was working, and I was trying, but all the while I was buried under the weight of the failures of the year, and my own frustration at my inability to provide income for myself. Some days I wouldn’t leave the house, and I would stay in bed watching YouTube, reading, or just staring at the ceiling until the sun went down and darkness cozily enveloped me once again.

I subleased my apartment and moved myself onto the couch to live for free as long as I could. After a month, my new roommate kicked me out and I was on the street. During that time, some serendipitous friendships helped me land on some couches when I needed it most, so I was effectively homeless and bouncing from couch to couch.

In late November I broke off my relationship of 5 months. Something about it didn’t feel right. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I felt as if I had built this life around me for the past year that was rigid and stale, and the real me was somewhere under that cracked shell of a life gasping for air. I didn’t like or love myself, so how could I possibly extend love beyond me?

Then, one night, something happened that I’ll never forget. I was sitting in my friend’s apartment alone, next to his computer. I was hanging my head, feeling all of the frustration and sadness from the year weighing down on me all at once.

I raised my head and my eyes found that black computer screen, which held my own reflection, staring straight back into me. I don’t remember how long I locked eyes with my reflection, but in that instant, all that had gone wrong for me that year rushed into my field of experience, and I knew that it was my fault. I knew that there was nothing and nobody to blame but me. The responsibility of my situation, of my life, fell on my gut like a brick, and I cried.

Behind the source of those tears was a light sense of relief, hidden under all that weight; a relief that couldn’t be smothered. I stared at myself in the mirror, and knew that I could choose to be true to myself, or I could choose to continue deceiving myself and ignoring the responsibility waiting to be grasped. The two options were as stark as the difference between me and the reflection staring back at me.

I never blamed anyone else or any particular situation, but I never fully accepted responsibility until that night. As I adopted responsibility for myself, that stale shell around me cracked and crumbled down, just like the Jenga tower of my false life, and I was left standing, naked and frail, honest and relieved.

It was quite a profound experience, and I’m finding it difficult to write exactly what happened internally and what it meant to me. I found a quote in Robert Moore’s book, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover:

“The “death” of the Hero is the “death” of boyhood, of Boy psychology. And it is the birth of manhood and Man psychology. The “death” of the Hero in the life of a boy (or a man) really means that he has finally encountered his limitations. He has met the enemy, and the enemy is himself. He has met his own dark side, his very unheroic side. He has fought the dragon and been burned by it; he has fought the revolution and drunk the dregs of his own inhumanity. He has overcome the Mother and then realized his incapacity to love the Princess. The “death” of the Hero signals a boy’s or man’s encounter with true humility. It is the end of his heroic consciousness.”

I feel like I gained a sense of maturity and humility that I wasn’t in touch with before.

The next day, I went into some nearby restaurants and applied to be a bus-boy. I needed money, and I was ready to do whatever was required to rebuild my life step by step. The moment I got my first job as a bus-boy, I decided I was going to be the best fucking bus-boy that restaurant has ever seen.

So I worked. I worked hard. Day by day, week by week, I closed out that year making money, little by little, and I developed a plan to get my life back on track.

And when I left 2017 behind, I had a newfound lesson at the forefront of my mind, guiding my actions, that told me to be humble and take responsibility.

Click here for Part II.

Want more stories like this? Sign up below and I’ll send you a fresh one every Friday.