Everyone knows about the pit.

The idea of the pit permeates our culture. When we’re unable to get out of a bad situation, we say we’re in a hole. When we give in to our most destructive impulses, we say we’ve hit rock bottom. And when everything in the entire world seems to against us, when we’ve lost our homes, our friends, our money, everything familiar and comforting in our lives, we say we can’t see daylight.

That’s the pit.

The pit can encompass every aspect of your life: monetary, social, and personal. It robs you of everything you know. It is black and you cannot see your way out, and if you stay there long enough, you will go mad.

For those people who have never been in the pit, it’s akin to a story made up to frighten children, the monster that will eat you if you go in the woods. We’ve heard that other people have fallen into a pit, but we never quite believe that’s really what happened to them – and we certainly don’t believe that the same could happen to us, and will if we’re not careful.

For the people who have been in the pit, it is more than real. And for some strong, brave individuals, it becomes the force that powers their lives.

Not Being in the Pit

We tend to talk about success in any field as having height and depth. A person who has achieved success is flying high, has achieved great heights, keeps climbing higher and higher. A person who is struggling is in a hole, going through dark times, is lost in a maze.

Most people are neither in the pit or up in the clouds. They have their feet on the ground. They are “comfortable.” They are not going anywhere, but then they don’t need to go anywhere. They’re doing okay.

Many of these people live on the solid ground right next to the pit. One good landslide, an earthquake, a misstep, and into the pit they go.

The logical thing to do would be to get to higher ground. But they’ve always lived there. It’s always been fine. Sure, it would be nice to live a little further from the pit, but it’ll be okay. They’ll just be careful. They’ll watch out.

Some will live their entire lives this way. They will not achieve great heights, but neither will they fall.

Being in the Pit

For those who fall into the pit, by bad luck or an act of nature or their own folly, there are only two options.

You can stay in the pit, and go mad.

Or you can get out of the pit and run like hell.

The pit is demeaning. It will show you how little other people care. If you are fortunate enough to have friends with both the goodwill and the means to get you out of the pit, you may find yourself rescued without so much as a scratch. You will go back to living next to the pit and be careful not to fall in again.

If your friends cannot or will not help you, then you will begin to understand what being alone means. You have no one to talk to and no one to offer advice. If there are other people in the pit with you, like your family or your children, to ask for their help is to ask the blind to lead the blind. They don’t know the way out any better than you do. If you could find the right way to get out of the pit, you could help them. But until then, their helplessness compounds yours.

Your aloneness means the only person you can ask for help is yourself.

So you look at yourself because you have no choice. The pit is dark, and the only thing you can see is the inside of your own head.

Which in turn means you will find out what you are capable of. You will find out whether you are smart enough, determined enough, calculating enough to find a way out. You will discover whether you lack the strength or the will or the stubbornness to do so.

Many people who fall in the pit do not deserve to be there, and they know this. Sometimes they cannot get past this fact to find the assets they possess that would get them out. Sometimes they get so caught in their failures that they cannot find their strengths.

And some choose to see a strength that will get them out of the pit.

Getting Out of the Pit

I have never been in the pit. I’m one of the people on the edge of the pit, trying to summon the will to start climbing. The fact that I have only made a few shuffling steps in that direction worries me.

Especially because I can see the indomitable will of the people who have been in the pit.

People who have lost everything usually go through a period of depression and disbelief. When you’ve spent your whole life telling yourself you’re safe from the pit, it’s hard to believe that you’re in it.

Even if you were born in the pit, it’s difficult to believe. You can see everyone outside of the pit, wondering how on earth you were flung in there as an innocent child. No matter when you fall into the pit, it is impossible not to think I don’t deserve to be here.

Getting stuck on that thought is how people stay in the pit forever.

It’s the second thought, the one that follows the first, that gets them out again.

I don’t deserve to be here. And I am not staying.

Naomi Dunford has been in the pit. Johnny B. Truant has been in the pit, and so have all the incredible people in The Badass Project. Stephen Hawking has been in the pit. J.K. Rowling. Martin Luther King, Jr. And, you know. Buddha. Jesus. Pretty much every deity imaginable.

Being in the pit does not mean you must stay in the pit. Being in the pit gives you a reason to get to the highest ground you can.

Every single one of the people I just mentioned not only got out of the pit, they achieved incredible heights once they did. They didn’t just go back to their houses right there on the edge and go back to thinking they would never fall in.

They know the pit is real. And once they get out, they run like hell for the hills.

And they often climb higher than any of us who have been fortunate enough to never know what it’s like to be lost in the darkness.

Where the Pit Is

The pit isn’t poverty. It isn’t physical ailment. It isn’t addiction or abuse or exile. It can take the form of any of these things, but it is not bound to any one shape. Sometimes the pit only exists in your own head. Sometimes the pit doesn’t look like a pit to everyone around you. Sometimes the pit doesn’t look like a pit to you, even though it does to everyone else.

And sometimes the pit is where you need to be so that you understand the importance of climbing.

I’d like to talk some more about that, and I will. I’d also like to know about your experiences being in the pit, not being in it, still being in it, being in it more than once. I think it’s a double-sided sword, something that can either destroy or strengthen you – but I would very much like to hear from those who have seen the pit themselves.

UPDATE: Someone just kindly pointed out to me that Seth Godin wrote about being in the hole today, which sounds a lot like the pit as I understand it. You will note that his is shorter. This should surprise no one.


  1. Yes, the Pit. I know the Pit, and you have described it very well. I am at times still in the shock and disbelief stage: “How did I get here?”

    But am also working very hard to climb like hell out of the Pit–because, no, I don’t deserve to be here and I am not staying.

    Facing the reality of the Pit is not a linear process–rather a spiraling in and out. I am focusing on my strengths and resources, and know my determination and stubborn streak will serve me well.

    The companionship of a great horse and a loyal dog don’t hurt, either.
    Mara Rose recently posted..Some Things to Love about SeptemberMy ComLuv Profile

  2. Let me begin by saying I love the article.

    Fortunately I have been in the pit. Honestly I am still there, all be it for a short period of time. I believe there is one more reason than that which you listed for someone finding themselves in the “pit”. Those who try to “run like hell” but allow fear to consume their belief in their abilities to escape it. That was me. I was always motivated, and for the longest time I also believed in myself. Sadly after major setbacks my self belief was challenged in a large way. Though always motivated, my many actions were always met with defeat. My thoughts would create an undesirable end to whatever attempt I made to create a better life.

    My journey out of this proverbial pit started with the simplest, yet most powerful of acts, a decision. A decision to become a person for whom the pit is just not in the cards. We’ve seen these people. These successes whose mistakes bring them wealth and the successes bring them fame. These people who never seem to fail at anything. And though appearances can often be deceiving they are in fact to good to fail. I believe that this state begins with a decision and is then grown by the repetitious belief that one is in fact too good to fail. A belief that indicates to it’s owner that life is on his/her side. This belief is so strong, that in the midst of the deepest pit in their lives, they can hold on to the belief that the pit is just not where they belong.

    At the beginning I said, fortunately I have been in the pit. This may seem like a typo to some, but it’s far from it. It’s only recently that I have been able to fully appreciate the benefits of being there. After the failure of my previous business, the loss of a relationship and most painfully the sudden passing of my father. No money, no love and loss. I think that justifies the belief of a pit, but nothing justifies the belief of needing to remain there, or the belief of defeat. I have regained my love, my business is growing and though I may not regain the loss of my best friend and father, I begin, all be it slowly, to appreciate the memories and enjoy the present.

    This my journey through the pit.

    Thank you for your article. As with all my readings and listenings, it’s helped solidify my beliefs and clarify my position in this journey.

    1. I think that’s about right. I still haven’t been in the pit, and because of that it takes an act of conscious will to be aware of how fortunate that makes me. It takes an even greater force of will to move away from the pit even though nothing bad has yet happened.

      I’m coming back to writing again, and we’re going to be talking a lot more about this. I hope I’ll see you in the discussions.

      Thank you for the story.

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