34 Ways to stay awesome when things suck

This blog can be a downer. I talk about how you will inevitably fail along the path to getting what you want, how doing great things requires a lot of hard work, and how there is no blueprint or map that will tell you where to go or what to do. It’s like being kicked in the face by WordPress.

You can call this stuff tough love, but what it’s really supposed to be is a reality check. See, most people have a really warped view of the way things actually work.

For example:

  • Most people think that successful people don’t fail. So if you fail, that means you’ve fucked up. It’s over, and you should quit.
  • Most people think that people who have what they want are geniuses, and everything is simple and straightforward for geniuses. So if something you’re doing is really hard and giving you a ton of trouble, that means you’ve fucked up. It’s over, and you should quit.

The people you admire aren’t geniuses. The people you admire don’t always know what they’re doing. The people you admire are scared shitless and frustrated and lost and angry and can’t make things work and feel bad for themselves from time to time.They also fail constantly — including while you’ve been admiring how successful they are.

What makes awesome people stand out isn’t their inherent awesomeness. It’s their ability to deal successfully with all of life’s inevitable shittiness. If someone is where you want to be, the difference between you and that person is not that they haven’t had turds thrown at them by life. It’s they’ve learned how to face those turds with courage and aplomb.

How have they learned that, you ask? What do they do to get through the suck, you ask? Why do I keep asking questions on your behalf, you ask?

The list below is a start. Here are 34 ways to keep your chin up while life is pelting you with bricks.

1. Do something

See how nonspecific that is? That’s intentional. Just do something. It’ll get your mind off the suck, and build momentum to get out of it. The worst thing you can do is to wallow.

2. Wallow

Okay, so sometimes it’s all right to wallow for a bit. I’m adding this one mainly for Type A’s who won’t ALLOW that wallowing bullshit and insist on pressing through and pretending there’s no problem. Go ahead and feel shitty, but set a timer. (Not kidding about the timer.)

3. Do nothing

Sometimes things need time to settle. It’s easy for driven people to keep pushing and banging their head against a wall, trying to FORCE something to work. Sometimes that’s just being resistant, and you should knock it off.

4. Ask for help

You’d be surprised how willing your true friends will be to help you if they’re able, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask if you’re not constantly bugging them for things in a lopsided way.

5. Ask for advice

There’s a caveat on this one, and it’s to ask for advice, not ask someone to tell you what to do. There’s a difference. Advice is another bit of data — ideally from someone who’s been through the particular bit of suck you’re in currently — that you can weigh and consciously decide if you want to accept or not. Allowing someone to tell you what to do is surrendering your volition. Don’t do the latter.

6. Reframe it as a challenge, or a test of your mettle

You’re going to have to deal with the shit that happens to you regardless of how you frame it in your mind, so why not frame it as something that you get to kick the ass of — the kind of thing you’d be proud to brag about having overcome when it’s all done? Or look at it as a puzzle to solve. Seeing as you have to go through it anyway, either of those choices sound better to me than bitching and whining.

7. Tell your success story in advance

I did this when I was going through some seriously bad crap a few years ago. I know it sounds corny, but I imagined myself a few years later, looking back on the shitty times and telling friends (or a crowd of fans, what the hell) how much it sucked at the time, but how I never lost faith and kept going, and how things changed for the better in the weeks, months, and years followed. Everyone loves a good “rising from the ashes” story, so go ahead and write yours now.

8. Recognize that you’re in a necessary part of a great tale

The problem with a good rising from the ashes story is that you have to first be in ashes. Ashes FUCKING SUCK. That’s why it’s so awesome when people rise from them. Got it? If you want the great story and great victory later, you MUST start in a really shitty situation. You are building your amazing success story right now, and living out a necessary part of that story. Try to see that. It can help.

9. Lie and go into denial

Tony Robbins talks about a visualization technique where you look at something bad that just happened and mentally scramble the event in your mind so that it doesn’t feel so heavy. I think that’s interesting, but a simpler idea might be to just lie to yourself about it — whatever it takes to get you to stop reliving a failure over and over and over. I think we all know the limit here — the place you should STOP lying and being in denial — so don’t be an asshole when using this one.

10. Hang out with amazing people

I wrote a whole post about this a while back. Your life is the average of the people you hang out with, so hang out with people you’d like to be like… even if “hanging out” just means reading/watching/participating in their stuff.

11. Learn the Sedona Method

This is a bit touchy-feely, but it very seriously helped me when I was dealing with some crap circa 2008. Psychologist Carl Jung said that “What we resist persists,” so The Sedona Method is about learning to accept fear and panic so that you can let them go, rather than trying to bury negative emotions… and hence causing them to stick around 24/7.

12. Refuse to be a whiny douchebag

Go ahead and accept (#11) and possibly wallow in your misery for a short while (#2), but then knock it the fuck off before it reaches the point where you’re whining constantly about how things suck. Nobody likes a whiny douchebag.

13. Be positive

I don’t care who you are or what’s going on, there is always something good and exciting and fun in your world. We’re predisposed to pay attention to bad stuff, which is why we tend to be aware of whose house was broken into rather than all of the houses that didn’t get broken into, and aware of the starving children way more than the ones who aren’t starving. So go ahead and face reality, but face REALITY rather than your distorted view of it. Stop thinking everything is going wrong when in fact only one thing is going wrong.

14. Be lucky

There have been studies that show that positive people are luckier than negative people. Why? Positive people see opportunities because they are looking for opportunities. Negative people see shit because they are looking for shit. So start looking for what you want, and you might just find it.

15. Read, watch, or listen to something inspirational

I don’t watch the news or visit news websites or anything like that, because I don’t want my head filled with the filtered out “worst of the world” on a daily basis. In my opinion, what news programs do is akin to sifting the clumps out of kitty litter and showing them all to you. “Hey, here’s some bad shit that happened!” Instead, seek out good shit and fill your head with that instead.

16. Follow inspirational people

So, do you know about The Badass Project? Learn about it.

17. Drop your excuses

See above.

18. But don’t beat yourself up

All species of “get up off your ass and make it happen!” are a double-edged sword. We all do have limits, and while you should push them, expecting sheer will to lead to immediate success — and feeling bad if that steel will falters — is a recipe for disaster. Remember where this all started: Successful people are not always successful. What sometimes makes the difference is not the will to keep going, but the will to try again.

19. Do something crazy

Sometimes stupid, outrageous forms of escape are okay when used with moderation. If you decide to try skydiving as a way of shaking things up and distracting yourself while things suck, I’m not going to judge.

20. Realize that you’re not the only one

Dude, you are SO not the only one. I don’t care what you’re going through, you are NOT the only one. This is especially true if your problems are financial. If you want to find someone else who’s got financial problems right now, throw a rock. Just knowing you aren’t the only one can help shift your mindset.

21. Get a bit of perspective

People hate this one, but it’s valid for a whole lot of situations that seem incredibly dire to the person going through it. If your business just failed, try to remember that other people are dying, or that other people’s children are dying. If you’re dying, try to remember that other people are dying alone or in more painful ways. (NOTE: perspective doesn’t invalidate what you’re going through. The message here is similar to seeing the positive (#13). It’s not about anyone, yourself included, saying, “Toughen up; your problems are tiny.”)

22. Go all in

Some situations are so totally fucked that you might as well just stop holding back and go all in. Meaning: If that business of yours is going to implode either way, you might as well try crazy shit that a sane person would stay away from because it would cause the business to implode. Sometimes that crazy, desperate stuff can yield amazing results. If you have nothing to lose, I say go for it. (Come to think of it, that’s what happened in my novel. You should read it for inspiration, and also because it’s fucking hilarious. Go ahead; you know you want to.)

23. Think of financial problems as minimalism

Are you so broke that you can’t buy anything, are selling everything, and are about to lose your house? Well, Google for “minimalism blogs” and you’ll find a crapload of people who are trying to achieve those things. They are aspiring to the end result that you are so afraid of. Think about it. With some mental gymnastics, this can begin to look like being “ruined” so much that you develop six-pack abs.

24. Find people who will comfort you

Nothing wrong with seeking some comfort. Just be careful about over-relying on this one and of slipping into #12 above.

25. Find people who will make you feel like shit

Watch this video for the full story on “success through feeling like shit,” courtesy of Julien Smith. The short version is that you can often use pain to drive you.

26. Be grateful for adversity

As in #25 above, it’s a good idea to remember that awesome things often require shitty things as a catalyst. In my own case, I was doing fine before my current business, trolling along at a things-are-okay-but-not-great job involving freelance web development and magazine writing. I could have kept doing that forever, doing okay but not great, and almost certainly would have if things hadn’t gotten really shitty for me around 2008. My current business and life (which is amazing) would not have come into being if things in my life hadn’t gotten bad enough to force me into changing. Without the pain, I wouldn’t be where I am.

27. Beat something up

This one is probably for the testosterone crowd. I have a heavy bag in my basement, and most of the time I use it for fitness purposes, but every once in a while it takes some punishment due to something frustrating that’s happened to me. I’ve also played Rock Band drums particularly aggressively for the same reason. It can help.

28. Exercise or take a walk

Suitable for both masculine and feminine types. You don’t even have to go hard; just get moving.

29. Create something

If you’re in business, start a product. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a painter, paint. Just begin something, and keep working on it. If it’s good, keep working. Standing still and creating nothing is not going to help you.

30. Write it out

I write a journal sometimes, but it’s not a “dear diary” journal. It’s closer to talking aloud to myself, and working out problems that way, never worrying about maintaining a narrative or a clear chain of thought (some people call this “free writing.”) I almost never go back to read old journal entries because once I’ve written them, they’ve done their job. Try it sometime.

31. Talk it out with yourself

If you’re better aloud than in print, try this instead of (or in addition to) #30. There’s probably some scientific principle at work here, like giving your subconscious thought process a voice, but I just know it can yield some surprisingly good ideas.

32. Talk it out with someone else

Just watch out for #12 again.

33. Do something wrong

If you need instant results, ask yourself what you can do NOW, TODAY. If you don’t think you can do anything, then shake up your assumptions by trying to do it wrong. Take business for an example: Do you need cashflow and have nothing to sell? Then do it backward, and sell it first. Most of us feel that every result we’re trying to achieve must go through certain steps: First this, then this, then this. Doing it “wrong” will cause you to question those steps, and focus more on the result than the process.

34. Help someone else

There are three great things about this one. First, focusing on someone else’s issues will distract you from your own. Second, you’re helping someone else and that’s pretty awesome of you. But third, there’s a seriously beneficial psychological effect that happens when you help solve ANY problem, even if it’s not yours. There’s probably a more gentle way to put this, but I think of it as “Big Man Syndrome.” If you can look at someone else’s problem (any problem) and think, “Pshaw! You call that a problem? I can handle that easily!” you’ll start to feel like a Big Man. (You can feel like a Big Man regardless of gender, BTW.) And by being the Big Man for someone else, you’ll be more likely to approach your own issues with your chest out and chin up.

Remember: Everyone goes through things that suck. Everyone is afraid, feels lost, panics, gets frustrated, and needs love and support. Everyone feels worthless and alone sometimes. Nobody who has achieved what you want is immune to any of it, so you don’t have to be immune to it either.

Now go out and stay awesome.


  1. Tony Fuentes says:

    This couldn’t have come at a better time JB. I took off from work today JUST so I could work on writing an important part of my blog and…nothing! Totally freaking stuck.

    Hitting wall after wall.

    It’s been hours and I feel like I’ve gotten nothing done.

    So I think I’ll take a #3, follow it up with a #9, chase it down with good ol’ #10, put #18 to good use and relish in the fact that #20 is true. 😀

    Thanks JB.

  2. I think the balance between 2 and 12 is tricky. Setting a time limit is good, but I think venting frustration\ anger\ despondency is necessary before moving on.

    Hanging out with good people (online too) and doing something is great.
    How about 34: laugh?

  3. Ben Holt says:

    Great list, Johnny. I’m a habitual user of a bunch of these!

    James’s “34: Laugh” is excellent.

    I’ll add:

    35. Take a break from what’s sucking. Similar, I suppose to #3, but actively seeking alternative activities. Get away from it long enough to be able to see The Suck in a more constructive way. A few hours to two days are enough for me to let go of any negativity and be itching to get back into the ring and come out swinging. Just don’t take too long of a “break” from The Suck, or you may never get back to The Awesome.

    • Johnny says:

      Totally agree. You’ve got to stop focusing on WHY IT WON’T WORK DAMMIT and change your direction a bit.

  4. Kimberly says:

    Thanks for this!!! Saw it in my tweet feed JUST AT THE RIGHT TIME! We are going to stay awesome!!! Guess we are already lucky. (#14 started!) Now going to find something wrong to do.

  5. this is relevant to my interests…

    …I kid, I kid. What I’d also say is “ask for advice” in a way that gets useful feedback. Example: “I was considering taking up streaking. What has your experience been.”

    NOT a disguised bitch session. That just focuses the point a little more and gets it the rest of the way there.

    • Johnny says:

      100% yes on the disguised bitch session. I used to belong to a weightlifting forum, and new people came in all the time asking for advice on their routines. The seasoned, accomplished people would give an honest critique and make suggestions and the people who had asked would get all defensive, often deciding in the end to do it their own way and see what happens.

      If you ask for advice, make a point to give it a fair hearing. Don’t bother asking for advice if what you really want is to be told that what you’re doing is fine. If you want validation, be honest and ask for validation, not advice.

  6. Thank you, Johnny. This article is a keeper. One of those that you print out and read when you are stuck. I am also going to email it to some of my friends. I have a laundry list of things I should be doing. New website, new packaging, finishing my article …… Perfect timing!

  7. Elissa says:

    Your current disaster is the story you’ll be telling about how you got to the top.

    When I gave a talk to a room of 3 people, my husband reminded me that I’d be telling the story of the empty room to full auditorium someday soon. It seriously takes the sting out, and it’s true.

  8. Nancy Roe says:

    Love the list! I take my dog for a walk or do a little gardening to get away from the computer. Somedays my computer and I don’t work well together.

  9. Pamela says:

    Love all of these – and #33 reminded me of my dad’s wink and call to us (his three daughters) as we would leave the house: “Be Careless!” Of course he meant “care-free” but I always loved his philosophy of letting go of the need to be perfect.

  10. Dan says:

    Wowsers! This is perfect for me right now. Trying to lock down a client & of course it never goes as planned. Awesome guide, this really helped me. #26 is pretty much where things are for me.

  11. Burton Kent says:

    Love this:

    “I don’t watch the news or visit news websites or anything like that, because I don’t want my head filled with the filtered out “worst of the world” on a daily basis. In my opinion, what news programs do is akin to sifting the clumps out of kitty litter and showing them all to you. “Hey, here’s some bad shit that happened!””

    Well said!

    • Johnny says:

      Sometimes when people hear that I don’t watch the news, they think it’s careless because I’m not “informed about what’s going on.” But the thing is, that stuff is NOT “what’s going on.” It’s “the worst of what’s going on.” Or actually, it’s “the worst of what’s going on EVERYWHERE, including lots of stuff I can’t do anything about other than feel miserable.” I think it’s more productive and helpful (to me and others) to focus on what’s actually going on around me, good and bad, in an objectively realistic way.

      • Leah says:

        I do not watch the news either. I figure that when I’m home after work (or even before bed) I’d rather read, cook, go to the gym, or watch something I enjoy. It’s my free time so I might as well relax and work on improving myself as a human. Watching the news does not help me do any thing positive. It just creates tight muscles and a headache. I do, however, read the newspaper daily (it gets delivered to my office) and I read news online.

  12. chaz says:

    Nice post. I especially like your fucking gratuitous use of profanity in the B2B context. You don’t see enough of that shit, in my opinion.

  13. Cara Stein says:

    Johnny, this rocks. #8 and #28 are my personal faves. Thanks for this post–like you said, I tend to think successful people don’t have these problems. I really appreciate the reminder from an actual successful person that yes, they do.

    • Johnny says:

      Everyone thinks that… I swear we’re programmed for hero worship. Bringing everyone off the pedestal makes things a lot more sensible for everyone… including the heroes.

  14. Dr Steve says:

    hi Johnny B. A great article and I certainly can relate to all of your points . I give you my two cents worth and that is attitude is everything! And if you really want to get out of yourself when things are not quite going your way, what I have found is that by giving to others you immediately change the focus of attention of poor me.. In fact if people would just concentrate on those two skill sets attitude and giving back, this world would be a better place. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…

    Dr. Steve

    • Johnny says:

      That’s great… I should have added one about helping others.

      In fact, I think I will right now.

  15. Anisha says:

    Loved it and and relate with it 🙂

  16. Alden says:

    Great article Johnny!

    I love how you talk about showing tough love for one’s slef in life, allowing us to push ourselves forward, but yet you are real about it.

    All too often I think people hold on too tightly to certain values when they should be a little flexible in order to better themselves. Like #4. Ask for help. Some people have so much pride that they refuse to get help from anybody. I even heard of cases when they are physically ill and they just refuse to seek real medical attention!

    I say, be flexible, be real. Because we are only human and part of why we are put on this planet is to coexist and help each other.

    • Johnny says:

      Yeah, I’ve had to ask for help a few times in various things, including recently. Humility is a good thing, and it’s important to remember that no person is an island… or was intended to be.

  17. Sjoerd says:

    Hey Johnny! Just what the doctor ordered! (hence my lack of contacting you about the vid), suits perfectly! But yes, number 34… ?

  18. Stephanie says:

    Amazing post! Love the honesty!

    Perfect timing for this article. Tough love is awesome.

  19. Amy Wright says:

    You are a Goddamn genius.

  20. Riin Gill says:

    I don’t watch or read the news either (if none of my friends mention something on facebook, I’ll never know it happened. Fortunately someone usually mentions a tornado warning as it’s happening). I never thought of the cat shit analogy, but that’s perfect!

    • Johnny says:

      I actually do have a weather radio that sounds an alarm if there’s a weather warning… I’m paranoid about tornadoes and harbor a childhood fear of them.

      But everything else, you’re right… you can’t avoid the truly big news, so it always gets to you somehow!

  21. Johnny I must say you certainly are thorough. When I read the title I just expected 34 bullet points!

    By the way I don’t see your blog as being a bit of a downer, rather a confirmation that the challenges I face are just “me”.

    You’re so right about no man being an island. So many people want to get into an online business so that they can “be the man”, work from home in their underwear, and keep all the money.

    But I think there’s far too much to do, for just one person alone.

  22. Kate says:

    “Most people think that people who have what they want are geniuses, and everything is simple and straightforward for geniuses. So if something you’re doing is really hard and giving you a ton of trouble, that means you’ve fucked up. It’s over, and you should quit.”

    So, so true. When I was growing up (well, actually until just recently, and I’m 43), I believed that books came straight out of the author’s brain and onto paper without any rewrites or editing, songs sounded exactly like the record without practice or editing, and models actually looked like they do on magazine covers without starvation or airbrushing.

    Needless to say, I skipped the singing career, had body image issues, and just recently started plugging away at writing.

    Now, I remind myself regularly that only incredible heat and pressure can turn coal into diamonds.

    As usual, a brilliant and insightful post. Thank you for your work.

  23. Selena says:

    Johnny – awesome. You always remind me to stay true to myself and not take myself (or my life) too seriously.
    I am a type A person and I have to say, WALLOW — that’s tough. I rather shove it in a corner and cover it with a blanket. But sometimes you do have to look your crap in the face and deal….or it just keeps biting you in the ass.
    I better take that advice…


    • Johnny says:

      Right… look at #11. What we resist persists, so I honestly think that with some caution, sometimes it’s best to give in for a while and stop fighting so damn hard to avoid feeling the garbage.

  24. Rhonda Lane says:

    These are great ideas. Seriously – in a couple of months, Kindle up this list and sell it on Amazon like your other essay.

  25. Sonja Miller says:

    Just listened to your interview with Julia Zabell and thoroughly enjoyed it. You have a no-nonsense approach that is great. I came to your blog to read more and landed at this article. I appreciate the list. I have definitely done some when I have gotten stuck but you’re giving me some new ones to try the next time I hit a road block – probably not far off so now I have more ammunition, right? I like your message and I like your attitude. I try each day to get up and face what is coming head on and stay positive yet real. And definitely strive for no excuses, a message my children sometimes don’t want to hear. Thanks for sharing – I look forward to reading your blogs.

  26. Shawn Tuttle says:

    Dude, I feel like I just got the most awesome hug of support from you with this one. Don’t know if that was intended, but it was received.

    When I signed up for a Wild Ride in this lifetime, whodda thunk that would = growing a business? In gratitude, ST.

    • Johnny says:

      Not directly intended, but I suppose intended indirectly. It’s more speaking to the reality check that is required in order to do good things…

      • Shawn Tuttle says:

        You wrote that (i.e. intended to be a reality check) at the beginning of the post but I don’t totally get that. Maybe that was the intention of writing it in the first place? What I read this one to be about is: learning “how to face those turds with courage and aplomb”.

        (The feeling of support that I had was directly related to the reminder the post gave me to look for a way out of the pit of despair that I had found myself in today.)

        • Johnny says:

          No, I totally get it, and I’m certainly glad you got support out of it, for sure.

          All I meant was that sometimes “motivation” gets a bad rap because it’s just like puffing people up, and not actually making a difference. When I say I’m trying to just keep things real, what I mean is that I’m trying to cut through the crap that so many other people put out there. It’s like how normal people compare themselves to magazine models, and then feel bad about themselves because they can’t achieve “perfection.”

          It just drives me nuts when people have expectations that cause them to be disappointed when reality they should be encouraged… if their expectations had been set correctly. So it’s roundabout motivation – motivation with a purpose, if you will. Does that make sense?

          • Shawn Tuttle says:

            I hear you—and I appreciate the encouragement to go Do no matter what. And I totally get the danger of unrealistic expectations. They set you up for wicked downward spiral action.

            IMO motivation comes from within and the most important thing is to keep it propelling us in the right direction (and to stay clear of whack expectations). I think we find our motivation and inspiration to continue on our journey from different places and in sometimes odd ways. To wit, my needing comfort more than action the other day and getting just that from reading your blog post. It was because your style is keep it real that I was actually able to let go of the struggle to try to be somewhere other than where I was. So, in its own special way, your motivation with a purpose worked. lol.

  27. Alden says:

    I already love the first part.

    “Most people think that successful people don’t fail. So if you fail, that means you’ve fucked up. It’s over, and you should quit.”

    Failure is like one of your greatest ally, but many fail (oops there it goes again) to realize that. It ain’t over when you fail, it’s only over when you STOP TRYING.

  28. Ali says:

    Love it all! Always trying to put a bit of a spin on the tough shit to make it funny for the blog of life. And love the cat shit analogy – when I lived in the country as a kid we used to have 30 mins of world nastiness on the news, then 45 mins of local stuff – schools kids, feel good local stuff. Back in the old days…..
    I’m currently thinking positively about some bluddy minded soul……who has managed to make me so uncomfortable I’m ready to get out of my comfort zone and do what I should make an effort to do on my own – but it’s too easy to see the problems until the present becomes more problematic. ! Thanks to them, altho they’d hate to know they were helping me 😉

  29. Dogmeister says:

    I’ve been at home for the past eight months trying to kick a burnout and depression.

    This shit is on the mark.


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