- Michael Thompson
Story originally featured by Forge editors on Medium.com on September 24, 2019
The phone rang. This was it! I thought. At last, all the years of struggle I’d endured were about to be worth it.
Growing up with a severe speech impediment and social anxiety, I had a very limited view of what I was capable of achieving. But as I grew into adulthood, I began to push myself far beyond my comfort zone. I hired a communication coach and threw myself into a sales job, where I’d be forced to talk to people every day. And I became good at what I did, working my way up to managing a sales team.
I got a taste of success, and then I wanted more. I began dabbling in real estate investments in Central America.
I was 29 years old, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I could do anything. I was about to close the deal on the sale of my investment property, which would net me a $250,000 payout.
But the moment I heard the voice on the other end of the line, I knew something was wrong and my stomach began to drop.
After a long pause, the man — my partner in the deal, and someone who I’d once considered family — gave me the news. “Michael, the money isn’t coming,” he said. “The deal is dead.”
I did my best not to completely lose it.
Things would be okay, I told myself. No matter what happened, the house was still mine. I would simply list the property again, attract a new buyer, and get back my investment. Not the original plan, but not the end of the world.
But then I received another surprise.
Unbeknownst to my friend at the time, his father had changed the deed of the property to his own name. Then he sold it out from under me — for $30,000 in cash, I would later learn, and five luxury cars valued well over $200,000 to a man who I can only imagine walks a fine line between what’s right and wrong.
One crossed-out name.
One new signature.
One measly phone call.
And everything that I’d been working toward was gone. It wasn’t long before my sanity and confidence went with it.
To say that I felt completely paralyzed would be an understatement. I sat in my car, thinking about everything. I wondered what the hell I was going to do next. Then I did the only thing I could think of to numb the pain of losing a quarter of a million dollars — I drove to the closest bar.
Over the next 21 months, as if I was writing my own country song, I smoked my breakfast and drank my dinner. My parents were scared. The few friends I didn’t manage to piss off or push away were worried. The only reason I hadn’t been admitted to rehab or the hospital was that I was too ashamed to tell a doctor the truth: I needed serious help.
Finally, as a Hail Mary attempt to straighten out my twisted head, I decided to take what money I had left and I bought a one-way ticket to Barcelona. I once read that some people travel because they’re running toward something, while others travel because they’re running away from something. At the time, I fell into the latter category. I was lost. My confidence was shot. But I knew I had to do something.
After I loaded up my backpack with some clothes, a few books, and other scattered belongings, I gave my parents one last hug at JFK airport and I boarded the plane.
And then something happened.
The moment I stepped on Catalan soil, I felt a shift. My shoulders dropped. Gravity lessened. The city streets seemed ripe with opportunity. The air smelled clean and crisp. For the first time in close to two years, I felt like I could breathe again.
Within weeks, instead of running from life, I began to chase it.
I started eating well and walking everywhere. I quickly lost the 60 pounds I’d gained during my two-year blackout. I allowed myself to play again and I finally gave my curiosity the respect it deserves. I threw myself back into work I cared about — while seeking out people who were doing what they could to make the world a better place.
For once, instead of trying to reinvent myself to become the person I thought other people wanted me to be, I focused on taking the steps to actually get to know the real me. In the process, I learned to smile without having to fake it.
All of this came to a head eight months after I arrived. I was walking down the rainy streets of Barcelona with a woman I had just met. Suddenly, the sun came out, and in one fluid motion, this comfortable stranger stopped in a fleeting ray of light, tilted up her head, closed her eyes, and smiled. At that moment, I was finally present enough to see all the beauty that exists in the world.
My life today couldn’t be more different than the one I had prior to boarding that plane 10 years ago.
I may not be what society deems as mega-successful, but I’ve never felt like more of a success. I get to wake up every day and be me. And the best part, is I have the privilege of seeing that same woman every morning laying next to me.
We live in a slow country town. Our apartment is small. We share one car. I can’t remember the last time either of us bought new clothes. But we have each other and our two little boys.
That phone call may have cost me $250,000 — but the journey it took me on was worth every penny.