The Most Transformational Moment of My Life

The Most Transformational Moment of My Life

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When I was 19 years old, I was at a house party out on a lake. There was a small cliff overlooking the water, maybe 25 feet high. After the drinks started flowing some people began jumping off of the cliff into the water.

I was there with my friend Josh. He had been the first friend that I made in college. He was a couple years older and far more confident than I was. I looked up to him. It was summer break and I was visiting him for the weekend when he brought me to the lake party.

At some point I went into the house to get some more food. When I came out everyone was gone and I heard sirens. Everyone had run down the side of the hill to the shoreline. They were standing there, staring out at the water. There were a couple guys swimming around. It was dark though and hard to see.

Still not putting two-and-two together, I slowly walked down there to see what everyone was doing. The girl walking with me said, “I think something horrible has happened.”

When I got down there, I innocently asked some people where Josh was. No one answered. A girl started crying uncontrollably. I suddenly put two-and-two together.

It took the scuba divers about 3 hours to find his body at the bottom of the lake. The autopsy said his legs probably cramped up from dehydration from alcohol as well as the impact of the jump from the cliff. His parents later told me he was a terrible swimmer. I had no idea.

I went into a deep depression. I thought I had been depressed before, but this was a whole different level. Sadness so deep that it physically hurt to think about it.

I had dreams about him for a few months after that. Dreams where he and I would have full-blown conversations about life and death as well as random pointless things. Up until that point, I had been a pretty typical stoner, lazy, underachieving, irresponsible.

In one of my last dreams of him, I was sitting in a jacuzzi with Josh (yeah, I know, weird), and I said something like, “I’m really sorry you died.” He laughed. I don’t remember exactly what his words were, but he said, “Why do you care that I’m dead when you’re still afraid to live?” I woke up crying.

His death marks probably the clearest before/after I can point to in my life. Pre-tragedy, I was inhibited, lazy, unambitious, bad attitude. I was a nice enough kid and had friends. But I just didn’t care about anything. Or rather, I was afraid to care about anything. I was hiding from life.

Post-tragedy I became uninhibited and ambitious. For the first time in my life I started studying and realized that I could make straight-A’s if I applied myself. I gave up weed and video games. I transferred to an excellent school on the other side of the country and when I arrived, I pushed myself to be social and make a lot of friends. I got my first girlfriend. I lost a bunch of weight and started going to the gym. For years I lived with an irrational preoccupation that I’m somehow wasting time, that every second of every day I need to be accomplishing something or experiencing something new.

In the 10 years since, I’ve started my own business, written two books, been to nearly 50 countries around the world, had amazing relationships and gone a long way to repairing the broken family relationships that caused me to be so messed up in the first place.

Sometimes I wonder if I would have gotten to this point without Josh’s death. It’s impossible to say. Obviously the potential was always there in me, and my parents and teachers had told me so for most of my teenage years. But looking back, I was emotionally pretty screwed up. And it took a tragedy to kick me into re-evaluating everything I knew about myself and about my life. Without that kick, I think it’s likely I would have remained aimless and stifled for a long time.

(Originally posted as an answer on Quora.)

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36 Comments

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  • Reply

    Purple Rhino

    2 months ago

    I just want to start of by saying your new site looks amazing. I had a similar before/after defining moment in my life but mine involved psychedelics. I think we all have that power in us to become the best we can be, but it often takes an emotionally charged event to unleash it in us. Anyways keep up the good work!

  • Reply

    Mark Manson

    2 months ago

    Awesome, thanks. I actually had a pretty intense psychedelic experience that changed my perceptions as well.

    Glad you like the site!

  • Reply

    Russ Garcia

    2 months ago

    great story. it really is the saddest when the living are “alive” only by definition and not through inhibition.

    very well-designed new site, as well. look forward to the new project/direction.

  • Reply

    Jordan Gray

    2 months ago

    Love the new re-design! It seems much more Mark congruent.

    I read an earlier version of this story when you posted it on your last site and this incarnation of it still gives me shivers. Beautifully written.

    I can relate directly to the lethargy/life-event/living fully process that you discuss here. How many times had you read the phrase “If only Mark applied himself more” on your report cards as a youth?

    Best of luck with the transition and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.

  • Reply

    Mark

    2 months ago

    nice… up until the Comments sections, which is wayyy too large, IMO.
    As a Graphic Designer, I am deeply offended. ; )

  • Reply

    Rob Cubbon

    2 months ago

    Great article. Congratulations on writing it and well done for turning your life around at that age. It took me at least another ten years and, trust me, another ten years of being a stoner didn’t teach me much.

  • Reply

    Apollo

    2 months ago

    Awesome new site Mark! I have to say, I was a little skeptical at first, but after checking this out it looks really promising. Out of curiosity, why’d you take down the attract women life guide?

    Best of luck!

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      2 months ago

      It’s still up, just no direct link. You can still find it through google or internal links.

      Will likely write a “Guide to Attraction”

  • Reply

    Jaxon

    2 months ago

    I feel moved. I asked myself,” Am I afraid of living?”

    My dear friend, who was also a few years older, died when I was six. She was four wheeling with her brother and it flipped on them; throwing him off and pinning her under it. He ran over a mile to get help, but it was too late.

    I had a crush on this friend, if you can call it that while being five years old. I still get emotional every year on the day she died. I wonder sometimes if I have developed a subconscious connection to her death and my dating life.

    Thank you for sharing this. Thank you for demonstrating that you live what you teach and show us what being vulnerable looks like. It helps!

  • Reply

    David

    2 months ago

    Hi Mark

    As you can expect, the David Report on your new site (until the next site, of course).

    I like it! A lot in fact. I think it’s totally in keeping with who you are, it’s minimalist, but also visually attractive, more engaging, and far better to navigate than the previous theme. Nice on my mini-iPad too.

    Some self-development blogs are so SEO or salesy and overly-sugarcoated that I feel the author has barely left their living room and actually lived. So I hope you keep things real, am sure you will, and look forward to your views on life, dating and other thoughts…

    David

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      2 months ago

      Holy crap. It’s even David approved!

      Feedback thus far has been universally positive. Definitely exceeded my expectations. Glad you like it!

  • Reply

    Gregg Newsom

    2 months ago

    Mark,

    Your new site looks very good. As someone that builds web sites off and on, I had to do the usual poking around seeing if there were any bad links, etc. I could not find any.
    And I do like your use of colors and the overall layout of this site. Of course, I probably know your Models: Attract Women Through Honesty book by memory. As others have commented the quality of women I date has gone up, quantity down, but then I see it as a positive direction for me. And I can say as someone that can meet many very pretty women, I actually reject many of them for one reason or another. Most people would think I am crazy, but I am not after them for just sex. If anything, it is a challenge to find the far end of females with the feminine traits to balance my end of the masculine. Especially, when boundaries are thrown in. To me it is interesting in that many of them seem to never had confronted this before. And it is even more surprising to them, when I let them know it was nice (a word I don’t like to use) meeting you, and I move on.

    But specific to your site, I do like it, and I am enjoying your Masculine Power Now online material, and ready for week two. One thing for myself, maybe older than others, is I am not at all into the bar scene, or drinking, but plenty of other places I go to find women.

    I do escalate matters probably on your level. One thing others will find different for me is I never ask a woman for a phone number. It is just one of my qualifiers. Yes, some get away. It is just my little thing above things you present, but women give me their numbers without my asking most the time.

    To each their own.

    Keep up the good work. Stay safe–Gregg

  • Reply

    Darrell J. Credeur

    2 months ago

    Very nice clean, contemporary and bold design. A+

    Love the story and can relate fully. It’s amazing how dealing with a death can wake you up.

    Keep up the great work.

  • Reply

    Joe Kang

    2 months ago

    Wow, that was a really powerful read. Thanks for sharing something that personal to start off this site.

    Looking forward to the future of this site.

  • Reply

    Jim

    2 months ago

    Great article to help kick the site off! Very touching. I lost a friend myself to a gang shooting when I was 14. We weren’t the best of friends, but nonetheless, it puts things in perspective.

    Eunthusiastic about the direction you’re going to go with your content, though admittingly, I did grow quite fond having a “man” oriented blog that was giving more than the standard pickup line bullshit. Regardless ill be following what you put up closely and promise to give the more universal direction and fair chance to grow on me.

  • Reply

    James Stanbridge

    2 months ago

    This reminds me of the moment I got diagnosed with diabetes and had my life torn down and squished by illness. The intervening year while my health recovered forced the same mental transformation on me.

    Great post thanks for sharing.

  • Reply

    Jodi

    2 months ago

    hi mark congratulations on your new website. Looks great.
    I do not know why, but I imagined your new website to be in blue and white.
    two things:
    - maybe it’s my mac, for me the font is to big, even if I am absolutely pro big fonts
    - and second why did you name your new facebook page: Mark Manson’s Blog ,why not only: Mark Manson ?

  • Reply

    Noj

    2 months ago

    Flat is the new black. Love the new clean design.

    I can surely say I wouldn’t be where I am without reading the articles on postmasculine. I guess I have to indirectly thank Josh too.

  • Reply

    Chris Eng

    2 months ago

    Site looking awesome.

    Article was very deep… I remembered the story, yet this rendition was very meaningful in many ways…

    Had to ask the self:
    Afraid of being alive? No.
    Afraid of being dead? No.
    Afraid of losing? … Very much.
    Guess I’ve still got work to do.

    Always enjoy seeing you progress through life, and all the great things I learn are a definite bonus as well.
    Cheers!

  • Reply

    TarzanWannaBe

    2 months ago

    Hi Mark! I’m new here. I expect, in time, I’ll be old here. Haha. Congrats on you latest effort, sir!

  • Reply

    Andrew Paul Schettino

    2 months ago

    For me it was a near death experience when I was struck by a car crossing Rt 23 in New Jersey on my bicycle a couple weeks after my 14th birthday–I suffered a broken femur and jaw and spent months recovering. For you it was the senseless death of a close friend you looked up to. The “dream” was a gift from him, his spirit, or maybe just the Universe. “Just live” is the message of this incredible life–it is precious and short, and may be the only one you get. You and I heard the message and changed our lives.

  • Reply

    Daman

    2 months ago

    Nice look for the new site. I have had a similar change of perception following a combination of bad circumstances due to some bad decisions I made. Love the rebrand!

  • Reply

    peter

    2 months ago

    In a huge way, your friend Josh is still alive. Inside you. When we die, all of our cars, trophies, houses, money, etc. vanish from us. The only thing that remains is our influences on people and objects. Josh is very much still alive. He has successfully kept himself alive whereas most people just die without ever getting themselves out there and making the world a more beautiful place

  • Reply

    David Tian

    2 months ago

    Hey Mark, thanks so much for sharing this. Beautifully written.

    Really puts things in perspective. It’s funny how in life, we often require a ton of pain to force us to grow.

    Best,
    David

  • Reply

    Jen

    2 months ago

    Thank you.

    Especially for the middle. I am very sorry to read about your friend’s tragic death, and at such a young age no less.

    That question Josh raised is a very profound one. I believe that question applies to all of us.
    Are we really all afraid to live?
    Are we all living to our fullest potential?
    Do we really know what our true potential is?
    Do we live the life we love?
    Do we live the life we deserve?

    What if the desire to create a better world, a kinder future, be more successful, have more money, or more freedom from your job …what if that desire could outweigh all the fears that we don’t want to believe exist and are truly holding us back?
    I do believe that only then we could be free to reach our full potential. Which is what you managed to do. Congratulations.

    Thanks for sharing such a personal story with all of us.

  • Reply

    Riccardo

    2 months ago

    I truly love the design of the new site.
    Ive always felt close to your worldview, and I was thinking to myself, the other day, that I feel like you were a friend I ve known for long.

    Good job

  • Reply

    Kevin Cole

    2 months ago

    Perfect way to begin the new site. It’s unfortunate that you had to experience death to realize how precious life is but it’s great to see the change it brought in you. I know exactly what you mean when you say that time is wasting and we need to make the most of it. I think about death probably more than I should but it’s a perfect reminder that I am alive. Our time is limited and it’s important to make the most of this finite space.

    Site looks awesome man. Keep doing what you’re doing.

  • Reply

    Baldy

    2 months ago

    Hi Mark,

    You have been a real role model for me for a while. I think there are a lot of haters out there who are afraid to fully realize themselves and that is why they critisize you. I think for many of us it takes a traumatic event to give us a really good kick in the ass. I will keep following and reading!

  • Reply

    Adam

    2 months ago

    “Why do you care that I’m dead when you’re still afraid to live?”

    This is a question I think I’ll start asking myself more often.

  • Reply

    Dan

    2 months ago

    Mark, finding your website and discovering Models recenly has been the emotional wake up call I have needed for years. I have been a slacker through my last few years in college (academic probation) and kind of just liked to party, smoke all the time, and just kind of be an apathetic stubborn asshole. You seriously are the type of guy who practices what he preaches, and I am grateful for people like you in this world who offer genuine help to guys like myself trying to discover our full potential. I live in Charleston, South Carolina and would like to buy you a beer sometime if you ever come to this part of the country. Thanks again.

    -Dan

  • Reply

    Ben

    2 months ago

    Mark,

    Having been rescued from the inevitable relational hells that come from a gamut of Roissy’s brand of PUA by your work, I have long felt a debt of sorts to you. Having wandered around in the fusty depths of the human psyche for much of my life, I hope to repay a nickel of that debt by building on this idea a bit.

    Depression is the subconscious knocking on the conscious’ door, telling us that more adaptive ways of thinking about and acting in the world are within our grasp. The psyche maintains its health with a million illusions, most of them irrelevant or innocuous or even – in light of information costs – rational. If these are toppled, the psyche goes into turmoil; depending on the emotional substance protected by the self-lie, when toppled it can produce feelings of stupidity, annoyance, anger, rage, or even suicide.

    Some increases in awareness have to come after they’ve prepared a consciousness with a long and necessarily plangent meditation on how maladapted their cherished beliefs or environments in fact are. Depression is to psychology what creative destruction is to economics.

    Intelligent, perspicacious, courageous people are the ones who become the most depressed because they have the most potential to solve the many riddles of life in ways unsatisfying if viewed through the lens of conventional religion and philosophy. These same people have to now internally define the meaning of life, or go through it in an elegiac wasteland of a nihilism which cannot see past itself. Many aware and quite good souls never come out of those depressions because they never find something decent to place into the existential vacuum of externally defined meaning that inevitably comes in attempting to see the world as it is.

    In looking back at my three serious depressions – one subsequent to witnessing my dear grandmother’s very slow, very painful death, the second on realizing that the faith of my parents is verifiably false and persists only because of peer pressure and other social incentives, the third on realizing the extent to which social status and incomes had influenced a previous partners’ alleged affection for me – all had an underlying purpose in their very deep plangency: to unshackle emotional attachment to very bad or very false ideas or facts.

    Nietzsche, Hamlet, and Dabrowski all say the same thing, with much more eloquence.

    I am grateful for my depressions; they prepared my psyche for much higher levels of consciousness than I would have achieved without them: Ad astra per aspera.

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      2 months ago

      It always makes my day to see a Roissy-convert. Thanks for the comment.

  • Reply

    Vincent

    2 months ago

    Huge thanks for sharing such a defining moment for you, Mark.

  • Reply

    cy

    2 months ago

    Mark, greetings from Asia.Great stuffs here.

    I first pick up the readings through Model, and it is something which is so practical; something that can relate to oneself. Keep up the great stuffs, and yes, i went to RJ last month, it was wonderful!

  • Reply

    Christine

    2 months ago

    Hi Mark! Stumbled onto your site a couple days ago and have been reading it nonstop since. Question, if you don’t mind: what made you afraid to care before Josh’s death? I have a family friend who is not necessarily close to me, but is someone I’ve known my whole life, and I think he would say there is nothing he truly cares about. He’s 19 too, come to think of it.

    • Reply

      Mark

      2 months ago

      I didn’t come from a particularly good family environment. It wasn’t abusive, but we didn’t exactly treat each other well either. Emotional expression and confrontation was discouraged. Everyone was distant and unavailable. Then my parents divorced and it went from bad to worse. Switched schools where the kids treated me like crap for a few years. I became depressed and overweight. Ages 13 thru 19 really sucked for me.

      I really think a big part of the spree of partying and fucking I went on from ages 22 thru 27 was a reaction to that — proving to myself that I wasn’t actually the person I was when I was a teenager.

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