Sucker Punch

AUTHORS’ NOTE: This is the story of two strangers who on the outside, couldn’t be more different, but on the inside found a common connection through pain, purpose, laughter and learning only to arrive at the same place. This is our article, enjoy! – Joshua & Cherisse Gill


Fact: Life is full of surprises and sucker punches. The last time we checked – there was no instruction booklet attached to our toe when we are born explaining on how to get through this thing called life.

It’s hard to be prepare for the unknown because we don’t know when, where or how hard that sucker punch is coming. It’s incredibly unpredictable and for that period, you’re just dazed until you find your footing to move one step forward.

History has proven to us time and time again just how successful people were capable of overcoming what appeared to be insurmountable odds only to shine brightly for those around them including themselves.

One thing’s for sure, when faced with adversity – regardless of race, religion or sexual preference – you have a choice. You can either:

Get knocked down and stay down, or Get knocked down and fight your way back up.

This choice typically takes place in what’s been aptly called “rock bottom”.

Many have heard about it, some have visited it (more than once), others have decided to set up shop there and then there are those lucky ones who chose to spring back from the bottom so that they could rise to the top. But were they really lucky or did they know or do something that others didn’t know or do?

According to the Holmes And Rahe Stress Scale the top 10 most stressful life events commonly associated with the feeling of hitting rock bottom are:

  1. Death of a spouse (or child)
  2. Divorce
  3. Marital Separation
  4. Imprisonment
  5. Death of a close family member
  6. Personal injury or medical condition
  7. Marriage
  8. Dismissal from work
  9. Marital reconciliation
  10. Retirement

It only takes one of the above to knock you off your feet. As a result, rock bottom is going to look differently to different people. For some, it’s a direct hit with a clear cause and effect. For others it may feel like being lost at sea during a storm – trying to ride the waves to catch your breath before another one comes crashing down upon you.

Both Cherisse and I found our connection at that place called “rock bottom” and here are our stories and how we overcame our obstacles in an effort to achieve our goals, visions and dreams.

From Joshua:

My life has been filled with so many unforeseen setbacks that when I stop to think about who I am today and what I have overcome to get here – it’s sometimes unimaginable and hard to believe. They say life happens while you are busy making plans – well I can attest that it is a true statement. There will undoubtedly be events thrusted upon us with little to no advance notice leaving us unguarded and vulnerable. These experiences will test us and who we believe ourselves to be.

My biggest blow (and potential setback) was without question losing my father to cancer when I was only twenty years old. Even as I write this now, my heart grows heavy and my eyes are welling up with tears.

There I was, a senior at Syracuse University staring at my final year of graduation which for many is a year to celebrate and have fun. For me, it was nothing like that. In fact on October 27th 1995 my entire universe imploded.

As I was struggling to graduate from the hardest major in my college, working a part time job and being a peer advisor to incoming freshmen, I received a call that would change everything. My family told me that “Dad” was sick but he would be okay and not to worry.

They lied and I worried… a lot.

I found out quickly that my father had an aggressive form of what would be terminal cancer and his life expectancy wasn’t going to allow him to see my graduate college. My family told me not to worry and to focus on graduating. I remember my father telling me not to worry and stay focused on my goal and all the work (and adversity) I had overcome to get to where I was.

“I will be there to see you graduate”, he said.

Those were the last words I heard from him before I would see him again at my graduation exactly 5 months after that initial call. Those were some of the darkest months of my life as I was consumed with my father’s health and the monumental task of graduating.

My dad held my hand at graduation and I will never forget the look on his face – pure joy and a proud moment as a dad.

My father passed shortly thereafter and those months tested me in every way, shape and form. I could have given up, emotionally checked out or said fuck it. I didn’t choose any of those.

I chose to keep my chin and spirits up no matter what. I dug deep and refused to stay down. I am thankful everyday that I didn’t throw in the towel. I know my dad is too.

From Cherisse:

Between 2008 and 2013, I experienced five of the ten most stressful life events – an average of one a year.

In November 2008, my maternal grandmother died three weeks before I was due to fly home to the Caribbean from the U.S. with my fiancé for Christmas. She was my favorite grandmother and I was so excited for her to meet my fiancé, see my dress, attend the wedding… In the end, I didn’t even get to say goodbye before she passed.

Determined to move on with life, I masked the pain with my wedding plans. Six months later, I was down the aisle and packed up my belongings to move to my fiancé’s home state where I struggled to adjust to the cultural shift and the distance from my family.

Fast forward nine months…

I was pregnant and complications were discovered. I was immediately ordered to take strict bed rest. In the depths of isolation, loneliness and boredom, I went from 145 to 173 pounds in three months! But there was light at the end of the tunnel… That summer in 2010 my daughter was finally born, safe and sound.

Then one day in November 2011, I got a call from my Dad who told me he had esophageal cancer. The distance between us made the news harder to bear. I just wanted to hug him. I felt so helpless. Every day, I prayed and hoped the cancer would just go away. But it just kept spreading… to his lungs and then to his stomach.

I was very close to my Dad. He was my guide, my friend, my confidant. We would hang out at the beach, go latin dancing, cook lamb dinners, drink wine and talk till the wee hours of the morning. Seeing a 6’ 4’’ tall 280 pound man reduced to 180 pounds burned a hole through my heart. It pained me that there was nothing I could do to save him.

Fifteen months later… Dad had died, I was headed for divorce, and had no income.

Welcome to Rock Bottom!

How did I get here? That’s the nature of rock bottom… it can be sudden. Often, there are no warning signs and when you get there, there’s no manual to help you find your way out.

Suddenly, my life felt like a big black hole. “What would Dad do?” I wondered. I would often replay our last conversation in my head. It wasn’t I love you, I’ll miss you or you make me proud. Instead, he said: “You’re too nice! In life you have to fight… FIGHT!”

Those seemingly cold words from his death bed hit me like a 10 pound ice brick. Fight? But How?

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Rock Bottom was my training ring. This is where I learned how to dig deep, how to fight, how to punch back!

How You Can Punch Back

The next time life unexpectedly knocks you on your ass, remember you have options. Here are five:

  1. Assess your Options. When nothing in our life seems to be going right, we convince ourselves that it’s all out of our control and there’s nothing we can do. The minute we believe that there’s nothing we can do, is the instant we lose our power. No matter HOW bad your situation, you always have options, even if that first option is to ask someone for help. Sometimes options can be as simple as going for a run to cool off, reading a book on a topic related to what you’re going through or attending an event of interest. No matter how simple it may seem, draft your options A – Z because: 1) It helps you realize that there are things you actually CAN do and 2) enables you to take back your power and be hopeful. Even if you need to pivot, that’s okay. At least you have some idea of how to move forward for the time being.
  2. Connect with People. Whether it’s crying to a family member, seeking advice from a professional, or going out with friends – connect with people. It’s very tempting to isolate when you feel you’re in rock bottom, but don’t for too long. You need people (family, friends, coaches, mentors, professionals, spiritual advisors etc.) to help you find your way.
  3. Appreciate the Good. The last thing we want to do when we’re at rock bottom is appreciate where we are – Thank you universe for this black, lonely abyss of despair and never ending misery!? Not quite! Whether it’s your family, friends, health, education, safety, network, assets, home, car, food – life would be a whole lot worse without the things you have that DO work for you at present. Recognize that even at rock bottom, there are small blessings.
  4. Focus on the Carrot. Don’t stop believing. Keep the dreams coming! Everyone wants a life that is better than the one they currently have. If you don’t yet have a dream or a goal that motivates you (i.e., carrot), now is the time to create one for yourself. Look back on your life and remember all the goals you accomplished. There’s no reason to believe you can’t rise above and do it again!
  5. Don’t Compare Yourself To Others. Measuring your success to another person’s highlight reel is a recipe for disappointment. The only person you should compete with, is the person looking back at you in the mirror. Strive to be better than you were the day before and remember, you have to crawl before you walk and if you stumble along the way – simply make it part of your journey.

Final thoughts: Hitting rock bottom is not a final destination in life unless you choose to stay there. Remember, it’s in our darkest hours we get to choose just what we are made of. The next time life sucker punches you – embrace it. Question why and how this happened. Look for the learning and opportunity to grow. It’s there for the taking but only if you go one more round.

The floor is yours: How have you punched back in or outside the workplace arena?

With leadership,

Joshua | | “I Call Bullshit: Live Your Life, Not Someone Else’s”on Amazon