I’m standing on the edge of a bridge in Mostar, Bosnia. My toes inch forward and I look down. An electric pulse shoots through my body. Is it too late to back out? I carefully turn around and look at the crowd. They expect me to jump.
I see the water 80 feet below me, but it might as well be a thousand. I can’t take a full breath. My vision becomes distorted and my mind starts to run wild. What if I hit the water at a bad angle? I’ll break my neck. What if I don’t make it back to the surface? They’ll find my waterlogged body downstream. The current is moving fast. Everyone will say I deserved it.
I step one foot forward. I feel it in my stomach first. Every nerve in my body pleads with me to stop, but it’s too late. My back foot leaves the edge. I’m falling helplessly through space.
I hit the water with a splash. When I come to the surface, my body is tingly. I’ve touched the divine.
I’m in the middle of a crowd in Pamplona, Spain. In five minutes, all hell is going to break loose. I’m dressed entirely in white. Or at least my clothes were white yesterday. Now they’re covered in wine, dirt, and grass stains. My shirt is ripped halfway down the front. I don’t know how it happened.
It’s almost eight in the morning and I haven’t slept in 26 hours. I must have drunk ten gallons of wine last night. And now I have to pee. Oh god, do I have to pee. I look around for a place to go, but there’s nowhere in sight. If I leave the enclosure, I’ll never get back in. Oh my god. We’re just minutes away from pandemonium. And I’m about to explode.
They’re about to open the gates. What if I can’t run fast enough? What if one charges and pins me against the fence? I can almost picture the blood spilling out onto the street.
Suddenly, I feel the warmth running down my leg. It’s too late to stop now, so I let it flow. It runs down my pants and onto my socks and shoes. I use the red sash around my waist to cover my crotch. I can’t stop. My pants are soaked. The crowd starts pushing forward. We break into a trot. The first firework explodes behind me. Boom!
I sense them coming before can I see them. There’s nowhere to hide.
I look up and see a large window which is protected by wrought iron bars. I grab the bars and pull my body up as the bulls thunder beneath me. When they pass, I drop down and sprint until I’m alongside them. I see their muscles ripple as they gallop down the street. I reach out and touch one on the lower back. I pull back and run through the gates into the arena.
I’m hugging strangers. I don’t even know you. But you’re my best friend. We did it. We really did it! If they sold this feeling in a drug, I’d be in rehab.
I’m walking along the ocean in Puerto de la Cruz. The palm trees remind me how lucky I am to live here in the Canary Islands. Beautiful girls walk past me, enjoying their vacations.
I’ve set a ridiculous challenge for myself and now I’m regretting it. I’m not allowed to return to my apartment until I’ve approached five different girls and tried to start a conversation. On the street, in broad daylight.
I spy two blondes walking side by side. They’re clearly not from here. I start following them. God, what a creep I am. This is bad. I can’t just approach them. I don’t want to be that guy. Or maybe that’s just an excuse.
As a man, I should be confident and brave and bold. But girls like that would never talk to me, much less find me attractive. I’m too short, I remind myself.
Approaching is hard enough, but that’s just the beginning. How do I ask for a girl’s number? What do I say if I get a date? I have to be witty and charming. Should I put my arm around her? Maybe it’s too soon. Is she into me? I can’t read the vibe. When should I go for the kiss?
Going for a kiss. Ugh. I draw my face close to hers and look her in the eyes. Everything seemed to be going well up til now. But then I see the look of apprehension in her eyes. She turns her face and offers her cheek. And the wind is sucked out of my lungs.
I walk up and say hi.
Over the following weeks, I approach dozens of girls. Sometimes they look at me like I’m a lunatic. But I meet some amazing girls. I slowly get better at it. I meet a girl at the library. On the bus. At restaurants. On the street. I learn to talk to anyone, anytime.
My friends look at me like I have super powers. I tell them to point to any girl and I will go talk to her. I never back down from the challenge.
The owner of a local bar nicknames me Julio Iglesias after I bring a new girl each night.
I’m in Aït Ben Haddou, Morocco. After a long search, I finally find a café that has WiFi. I need to upload the final manuscript of my book. It’s supposed to come out on the day I get back. I haven’t been able to enjoy Morocco because of the anticipation. The upload completes. I just have to click one last button, but I can’t.
I shouldn’t have decided to self-published it. I should have tried to find a publisher. When people ask me about it, I try to avoid the question.
What if no one likes it? What if I only sell ten copies? Maybe only my family and friends will read it. They’ll laugh at me behind my back. They’ll joke that I was trying too hard. I’ll pretend like I don’t care.
It’s better if they don’t read it anyway. Actually, I don’t want anyone to read it. I was way too open and vulnerable. I shouldn’t have written about my drug addiction. I’ll be unemployable after this. No one wants to hire someone who’s admitted to abusing drugs.
Will I be undateable? I shouldn’t have written about my last breakup. Everyone will see how petty and difficult I am. No girl will want to be with me ever again. They’ll be afraid that I’ll write about them in my next book. I shouldn’t have been so honest.
I press the button.
The book comes out. It reaches #1 Best Seller in the Martial Arts category on Amazon for a brief moment. It doesn’t make it to the New York Times best seller list, but it brings many people to tears. People call me and tell me how inspired they were. They love it. They finally understand my journey. It feels like redemption.
I wrote a book!
I’m at a casino in Lima, Peru. In a few minutes, I will step into a cage across from another professional MMA fighter. During fifteen minutes of combat, his sole purpose on earth will be to hurt me.
He could catch me in the jaw with a stiff right and knock me out cold. I would wake up on the canvas, disoriented and dizzy. In front of all these people.
I wish I were anywhere but here. I haven’t slept well in a week. I can’t stop thinking about this fight. Cage fighting in South America? My poor mother.
I hope my opponent trips and falls on his way to the cage. I hope he cracks his head open. Then the fight will be cancelled and I’ll save face. I’d tell everyone how disappointed I was, but I’d actually be grateful.
My entrance music begins to play and I walk out. Fans are screaming all around me. My coach smacks me in the face with a devious grin.
I step into the cage.
I face my opponent and touch gloves. We fight three hard rounds. He tries his best to knock me out and I try my best to take him down. I spend most of the fight on top. The bell rings.
I win by unanimous decision. I hug my coach like he just rescued me from a deserted island.
I’m in the elevator of the World Financial Center in New York City. It’s just before seven in the morning. I can’t believe what I’m about to do. I’ve never done anything like this before. In fact, no one has ever done anything like this before. People are going to think I’ve lost my fucking mind. And maybe I have. How do I explain to my boss that I want to quit my job to become an MMA fighter in Peru? He’ll never understand.
How exactly does one quit a job? No one ever teaches you that. I’ve rehearsed it in my head a million times, but now that I’m here I don’t know if I can go through with it. I should just call the whole thing off. I can’t look him in the eyes and say those words. Maybe I could do this over e-mail or something. The elevator arrives at the 14th floor. Ding!
My boss is shocked and concerned. He tells me not to do it. But he can’t convince me. He walks me out the door. The New York City air smells different.
I’m sitting at a Wall Street trading desk. I am the lowest on the totem pole. In order to rise through the ranks, I have to make money for the company. And the only way to do that is by trading bonds.
First I have to pick up the phone. Then I have to negotiate with someone on the other end. When I’m on the phone, I’m awkward and I mumble a lot. I struggle to keep my composure when there’s millions of dollars on the line. If I make one small mistake, it could cost the company a lot of money.
My boss wants me to be more proactive. He wants me to have an opinion and stand up for it. He wants me to put my nuts on the chopping block every day and try to make money for the firm. And it’s good career advice. But every time that phone rings, I just want to hide under the desk with a helmet and flak jacket.
I screw up my first trade. I feel like the biggest loser in the world. But I move on. I pick up the phone. I do trades. I make some money.
My boss is going to give me a multi-million dollar portfolio to manage. This is a huge step in my career. This is what I’ve been working for. But first, I am going on vacation to Peru.
I’m in Fargo, North Dakota. I just finished doing sprints in the concourse of the arena. I’m about to wrestle in the national finals. I’ve never wrestled in front of so many people before. The mat sits on a raised platform in the center of the arena. Everyone’s eyes will be on me.
All of my high school friends back home are enjoying the summer vacation. I envy them. They don’t feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. One day, I will retire from wrestling and I won’t have to feel like this anymore. I can’t wait for that day.
My coach asks me if I’m nervous and I shake my head. But he sees right through me. It’s okay to be nervous, he says, it’s totally normal. No one has ever told me that before.
I step onto the mat and win the national title.
I’m nine years old. I have a huge crush on a girl in my school. She lives around the corner from me. Everything I do, I think of her.
There’s only one problem: I can’t talk to her. I can’t say a word. I can’t even look her in the eyes. I get sick to my stomach when I see her.
She finds out through the grapevine that I like her. I learn that she likes me too. I’m told that I have to ask her out. That is what people are doing these days. I don’t even know what that means, but I know that I can’t do it. So my friend asks her for me.
She sends me an e-mail that says “YES” in the subject line. I’m too nervous to read it. I delete it. And I never read the contents.
I’m pacing around my back yard. Her best friend is on the phone telling me that I need to actually call her. That’s what people do when they’re going out—they talk to each other on the phone. But I can’t. I’m too scared. What would I even talk to her about? I have nothing interesting to say. The idea of dialing her number sends a shiver up my spine. I can’t bring myself to pick up that phone.
We never speak. One night, I see her at a dance. I spend the entire night standing in the corner, trying to work up the courage to ask her to dance. I finally walk over and ask her. She says she’s too tired and walks away.
Sometimes, I still feel like that scared kid standing in the corner at the dance. And I hate that feeling. I don’t want to feel like that ever again. I don’t want to be afraid. I want to be fearless. And lord knows I’ve tried. But I’ve come to realize that you can’t just get rid of fear. It will always be there.
So I just do it anyway.
If you want to read more about my adventures, check out my book, The Cage: Escaping the American Dream.