#567 Getting to the light at the end of the tunnel

My world was spinning in 2008.

After finishing school in Boston and going on a cross-country road trip with my friends Chris and Ty, I moved to a dusty suburb to live with my brand new wife in my brand new life. Yes, we got married young, we got married quick, and after living on opposite sides of the border we were finally moving in to get busy living.

So I slapped on a crisp, fresh shirt and started a new office job while trying to settle into a brand new town where I didn’t know anyone. My high school and college friends had long scattered like marbles so I was looking for a new place in a new world.

Now, my wife had been teaching for years so she had a bit more going on. She’d coach baseball tournaments and I’d stroll around waving at old folks on their porches. She’d play volleyball and I’d eat cookies and flip past reruns. She’d watch Gray’s Anatomy with friends and I’d practice the fine art of taking long naps and playing video games.

I was feeling pretty lonely and whenever I flipped open a paper the news didn’t exactly cheer me up, either. Polar ice caps were melting, pirates were storming the seas, wars were raging around the world, and the stock market was in a deep freeze.

It seemed like everything outside my window was just bad and everything inside was a little … sad. Yes, although my wife and I had respect, trust, and admiration for each it was becoming clear after a few months that … something was missing.

So one chilly Spring night in 2008, alone in our dark house, feeling cut off from the buzzing world of bright lights outside, I went online and on a whim started up 1000 Awesome Things. I wrote about broccoflower to kick things off.

I think I needed to remind myself there were bright spots in the darkness. I think I needed a cold breath away from the hot swirling clouds around me. I think I needed a place where I could smile at the little things we all smile silently at throughout our days.

Over time our nights at home grew a bit quieter, our dinners a bit shorter, and our laughs faded into polite smiles. While 2008 rolled on we kept living together but were growing further apart. She’d coach badminton and play on her volleyball team and I’d stay at home writing for hours about nachos and gasoline.

We kept trucking, kept slugging, kept soldiering on, until the rubber finally hit the road one quiet night while we were sitting on the couch. She looked me straight in the eyes and through painful tears summoned the courage to tell me she didn’t love me anymore.

It was heartbreaking.

Tears spilled all weekend and wet pillows, sweaty blankets, and head-spins came in waves. By Sunday night I blinked bleary-red eyes and suddenly realized I didn’t have anything to write about except crying. So that’s what I did.

When I look back on that post it reminds me of heavy times at the bottom of a dark well staring way, way up at the tiny pinprick of light at the top. But it also reminds me of the pure joy and relief of letting awesome things cheer me up while I struggled to keep moving.

I guess I’m addicted to letting thoughts of new bedsheets, fresh bakery air, and wobbly couch cushion forts swirl in my head and lift my brain sky high. I love talking with all of you and reminding ourselves of the many awesome things we all have to share.

For us, we just happened to be two different people walking two different paths. Sure, it was painful as painful can be, but we need to grieve, we need to let emotions overcome us, and we need to choose to walk towards those bright lights in the distance. Even if that walk seems pretty far away.

So, come on: When bad news squeezes your lungs and the weight of the world pushes you underwater, let’s always try to catch our breath by focusing on the best things in life. Yes, let’s focus on hitting a string of green lights on our way home from work, getting free time on the parking meter, and flipping on the cold side of the pillow. Let’s focus on beautiful pick-me-ups like getting long hugs when we really need them, laughing hard with friends, or the last day of school. Let’s focus on all the magic moments, eye-twinkling memories, and small special touches that make every day so sweet and make every day worth living.

Yes, life’s too short to swim in the deep forever so when it hurts remember to focus on the end of that tunnel and let those lights guide you forward and forward and forward and forward and forward and forward and forward.


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This post is Part 3 of 1 2 3 4 5

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134 thoughts on “#567 Getting to the light at the end of the tunnel

    1. I agree so wholeheartedly that this post is great. Thank you for being so honest– it is refreshing to be able to recognize other people’s vulnerability and, at the same time, positivity for the future. YOU’RE AWESOME!

  1. Many of your posts make me smile, laugh, and reminisce about the good old days of fingerpainting and old rickety playground equipment. However, every so often you post about something that is down to earth, serious, and altogether brilliant.

    Your New Years post actually made me cry (and I’m a guy, so that was my one time that month :D) because it really gave me a chance to look back on what an eventful year 2009 was for me, and boy, was it eventful. I changed so much, especially in that past month, and your post was something I really needed to hear.

    What I’m saying, Neil, is that you’ve done it again. You’ve shared something so personal and so real that I feel like I know you as a good friend, as I’m sure many people feel about you already. It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: this is a site that everybody should see. It is amazing in more ways than I can count. Far far more than 1000 ways. You’ve opened eyes, changed lives, and, at the very least, helped put a smile on the face of someone who really needed it. At times, I was that someone, and I’d love to thank you personally.

    I guess this will do for now.

    Neil, you’re so incredibly


    1. Word for word I would agree.
      In 2009, at age 17, I moved to Los Angeles to persue something that noone, but myself believed I could do. It was the most difficult, liberating, and eye-opening year I have ever experienced.
      That summer, I moved back home to a loving family, but I felt so disappointed for the way to handled my opportunities. I couldn’t find the courage to get back up and keep pushing. I was swarmed with feelings of regret and hoplessness.
      And that is when I came accross 1000awesomething.com
      The New Years post really hit home with me!
      I’ve always been the girl that doesn’t need encouragement to persevere, but during that crossroad in my life, i definitley did.
      This website was the light in my tunnel. Thank you, Niel! I hope the book-release, and every other aspect of your life is full of God’s blessings.

      Niel, you are absolutely most definitely


  2. I completely agree with Cary’s comment (except that I’m not a guy and thus can cry whenever I feel compelled to do such *wink*).

    I’ve never commented, but am a very faithful reader. I wait up until 10 p.m. (central) to see what the latest awesome thing will be. Every single day, as mentioned to you a million times I’m sure, I smile and always say to myself (or to anyone around who will listen), “That IS awesome!!”

    Your posts are so well-written and are things to which so many people can relate. This post was very personal and heartfelt, as was the one prior. Though it’s your own story, it’s still easy to be empathetic and feel a sense of “Ooh, been there … ” even if the situation is nowhere near the same.

    Thank you for capturing the essence of awesomeness in everyday things and for reminding us of them.

  3. I wanted to write something about that post and the previous one (Mother’s Love)… But Cary said it all for me… (that’s a relief considering my first language is French -from Quebec- and it wouldn’t have been so well written) Thanks Cary!

    One thing I might add to all this: your website is so refreshing… It changes from all those failblog and FML, etc. It is not cynical. And that’s really appreciated…

    Thanks Neil!

  4. wow………. that was incredible.

    as soon as i read this i literally just went and ordered three copies of your book right now….

  5. Wow, Neil.

    I gotta say I love when you post things like these. It looks like a way to help people overcome depression, to know that after something bad there is always something bright and happy that will help you see how wonderful the world is.

    Thank you, It is impressive to see how much you add of yourself into each post, and how much you actually enjoy and dedicate yourself to this blog. Please, keep going, Neil, for, seriously, you are truly…


  6. you are so very rad. thanks for trusting us with this, your story.

    and you’re right. time keeps chugging on, and in the meantime we all do stuff. some of the stuff is really cool. and we should pay attention to it while we can.

    thank you.

  7. Thank you for sharing your personal and touching story. It’s such a nice reminder to focus on life’s good things because life is too short to just focus on all the negativity around us.

  8. wow, talk about perfect timing
    today was a rough day, but coming onto this website only to get a beautifully written reminder to keep on pushing through? well, that’s my light at the end of today’s tunnel
    thank you :)

  9. Thanks for the great story. It hurts, but I, too had just FINALLY gotten over a really bitter break-up. Granted, the break-up happened two years ago, but it was the first time I had to go through something like that. This blog indeed reminds me that you should stop to appreciate the little things in life.

    After reading your story, I find it highly amusing that your first thought about “awesome things” was Broccoflower. Such a perfect little detail that you can find awesomeness in.

    and Speaking of “lights at the end of the tunnel,” does anyone else think of Tiny Toons where they held their breath and made a wish whenever they went through a tunnel?

    1. I’ve always thought of that scene from Tiny Toon Adventures Summer Vacation when I go through a tunnel. I thought it was just me. :)

  10. 1000 awesome things makes u appreciate the little things that brighten ur day so thank u for that! and im glad u found ur light at the end of the tunnel.

  11. Great post. I sort of feel like I am approaching a light, although I didn’t have anything like a breakup or divorce. Isn’t it strange how little things make such a big difference?

  12. Holy crap. Have you been following me?

    I’m young and only been married a year. One month ago my husband left me to live with the other woman. I didn’t even know we were unhappy.

    This post made my ______. Thank you for reminding me that during the times I cannot breathe and cannot sleep (like now) I am not alone. And that there is a light somewhere even if I can’t see it. I think my tunnel must have a curve.

    1. Even if it’s only a pinprick now, rest assured that there is a light at the end of your tunnel. 2008 was my year of being broken and healing. In the beginning, I realized that there weren’t “good days” and “bad days,” but “good moments” and “bad moments.” Be grateful for both of them and little by little there will be more good than bad. Surround yourself with people who treat you the right way and at the end you will be stronger, happier, and wiser than before. And, of course, never forget what’s


  13. Thank you so much for posting this. I’ve been in a really tough place lately. I’ve been feeling really forgotten, and alone, and bitter. But you, my friend, have made things much better. Whether it be reading about broccoflower or something as pertinent this. I’ve developed something a lot like love for you and your website. And that love carries me through the day like a long hug when you really need it.

    So thank you. You’re the flashlight I need in this tunnel. Can’t wait to see the light. :)

  14. Thank you for sharing this. Right now I feel like I’m in so deep I don’t know which way is up, or where the light is, because all directions seem equally dark. This reaffirmed that I need to find something somewhere to aim for, that I can’t stay in the dark indefinitely.

    This broke through my mask, and all my pretending to be happy because its what other people want, and for a little while let me cry. Thank you.

  15. I think this is a message for many people. This is your story, the way you lived, what happened, and how you coped, and am happy to say it is inspiring that you are still going strong thru everything.

    Am only 15, can’t start to think of that pain, imagining a break-up from girlfriend pain times a million, summat like that, ruddy painful at any rate, but this is a glimpse both into the reality that there is pain, but also that there are always ways to overcome it. Always something constant in life for everyone, just gotta grab hold for dear life, and for me, tis those bright lights in the sky at night, the dots of white and the ends of my tunnels.

    You are the epitome of optimism, and you know what, that’s


    1. Forgot to click the ‘Notify me of follow-up comments via email’ and ‘Notify me of new posts via email’ buttons, so doing that with this =)

  16. This was such an incredibly uplifting post. Every post has made me smile and this one certainly didn’t disappoint. Thank you for sharing something so personal that I know so many people can relate to (whether it be through any kind of loss, or even an unexplainable bump or lull in the road of life).

    Thank you for reminding everyone to stop and remember the little things that can get you through the day until well, you find the light at the end of the tunnel!!

  17. the thing that is crucial about this for me is the reminder that while everyone else around you might seem like they are a million times happier than you are, with their mish-mash of beer after a party or inside joke from5 or so years ago, they might be in the exact same lonely place that you are. While lying in bed, desperately searching for sleep, its hard to realize that they are people all over the world feeling just as crappy as you are, and that just like them you’re time of recovery will come to. i like your form of therapy. i hope i find something that works as well for me someday.

  18. the thing that is crucial about this for me is the reminder that while everyone else around you might seem like they are a million times happier than you are, with their mish-mash of beer after a party or inside joke from 5 or so years ago, they might be in the exact same lonely place that you are. While lying in bed, desperately searching for sleep, its hard to realize that they are people all over the world feeling just as crappy as you are, and that just like them your time of recovery will come to. i like your form of therapy. i hope i find something that works as well for me someday.

  19. Thank you, I sat through that exact same painful moment on my couch, next to my then wife in 2005. I guess I’m not alone.

  20. I remember that very same conversation when my first wife told me she wanted a divorce. Things came crashing down and I thought my life was over. I ended up with custody of our son, and I figured I would be alone (adult wise) since who would want a 23 year old single dad? Well, a few years later I found a 27 year old single mom, and we’ve been together for 25 years now and couldn’t be better. So hang in there – life has a way of allowing you to put the pain behind you and to enjoy the awesome things that are out there.

    Thanks for sharing Neil – it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who’s been there.

  21. Wow. I have never commented before but I just wanted to stop by and give some support. This was beautifully written, and I am sure that you both will end up awesomely happy. Thanks for your honest and poetic post.

  22. Dude, you made me cry at work again! ;)
    Wow, what a post. You really laid it bare and that takes a ton of courage. I’m so proud of you. I love that you keep on reaching out to us all here in cyberspace. You may never know how many lives you touch, but just reading the comments so far has been incredible! Let’s keep on going forward and forward and forward and forward…

  23. I read these everyday, and they never fail to cheer me up and keep my feet on the ground. I just turned 19 and often feel COMPLETELY without direction in my life, but your posts show that sometimes that’s ok, and that all you can do is persevere and focus on the good, the silly and the awesome! So thanks, Neil. If nothing else I’d never heard of broccoflower before.

  24. this post is…. AWESOME! i’ve been there – in a relationship where something was missing. it was heartbreaking. but now i’m moving on and focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel too :)

  25. I’m sorry that you were in a such a dark place, but I for one am very grateful that out of that came this blog. For the last six months, I’ve felt trapped and miserable at my job, but someone sent me this link and since then, everyday I find a reason to smile. And I agree that with all the scary, bad stuff going on in the world, it’s important to stop and remember there are AWESOME things too!

  26. Thank you for being so open and sharing so much. My marriage isn’t failing but I am struggling with starting a new business and do try to stay positive even as I worry. Thanks for the extra reminder to look for the positives and celebrate them

  27. Thank you for the wonderful post. I read every one with immense pleasure – today’s with a lump in my throat. Your humour is disarming, your honesty is courageous.

  28. This really hits home for me, I’m about to make the same heartbreaking decision and spit it out. Its not an easy thing to do but reading this has helped me know that after the major emotional tidal wave, it will be ok.

    Reading your posts everyday really brings me a ray of light, its much needed in times when all you can do is stare into space and hope to stop the continuous drum roll in your head. Uff, life is hard sometimes but remembering the little things is what its also all about.

    I wrote a list similar to this in college (also a very difficult time in life) called The Sweetest Things, I would get my pack of friends to add to it late at night after we had been boozing etc and the most amazing things came out, silly, stupid or deep it was fun to throw the ideas around and think about the little things that make us happy.
    Thank you again and I’m really looking forward to your book!!!

  29. I look forward to your posts every day, though I haven’t commented before. I appreciate what you’re doing & applaud you for sharing so much honest emotion here. You, Neil, are absolutely awesome. Thank you for sharing such an emotionally naked series of posts with all of us.

  30. Neil, you constantly inspire me. I can’t imagine how hard these posts must be for you to write, especially in the optimistic way you do. The fact that even through the darkest times in your life you have managed to appreciate these little things and continue to post them here for us has changed people’s lives more than you will ever know.

    I don’t need to tell you that everything will work out and you will be happy because I’m sure you already know that. But just in case, I do know you will be happy, because there is just no way someone has awesome as you couldn’t be.

    Thank you, Neil. We all appreciate what you do so much, and we all support you.

  31. I’ve been following your blog because it gives me a reason to smile, and appreciate the little things — some I’d forgotten, and some I still think are awesome. It brightens my day.

    The timing for this one though… I really needed to read this. Thank you for sharing your story. You have no idea how much this meant to me, this morning.

    Keep up the Awesome. :)

  32. Just wanted to say how much I admire your ability to see the good in life during the darkest of times.

    Looking forward to the book and another 433 awesome things.

  33. So…this is how “Awesome” came about! It’s so good that you can now share your story with us. There are many days that you give me my FIRST smile of the day!
    Bless you Friend!

  34. I just cried a little. I love love your blog so much. Thanks for reminding me of the little things that can make every day positive instead of miserable.

  35. I read this in a boring english lecture on the verge of tears. After enduring several months of a long distance relationship I saw slowly slipping away, I finally decided to pull the plug last night. As the hours wore on… feelings of relief were clouded by regrets. I wondered if I was strong enough to do something I didn’t want to do… but needed to do. Until I read your post I wasn’t able to see the light at the end of the tunnel for us… for me… at all.

    Thank you so much for giving me this strength.

  36. your site never fails to make me smile, and yes, you truly made my life a lil bit more AWESOME :) cheers. and yea love you :p

  37. I’m echoing so much of what other commenters have said already today: (1) This is my first time to comment; (2) I love knowing the backstory to “1000 Awesome Things” because it makes all the posts that much sweeter to read; (3) I sat on the same couch last year and heard the same words from my then-husband; and (4) The timing of this post today is perfect. Mine hasn’t been an easy week and my tunnel seems to have a lot of curves lately (LOVE that, TrixieRix!). Thank you for the encouragement, the re-focus, and for an AWESOME start to my day!

  38. Bonjour de France :)
    I have been addicted to your website for months now,and today,as I am in first year of what is a prep class in France,in school in Paris,it’s cold,it’s bleak,it’s dull,I miss the countryside,and I’ve got loads of work ahead of me before the holidays (on Friday…the tiny light is getting closer)…
    Everyday I go on 1000awesomethings after my work,and today your article made me cry.
    Thank you ever so much for your articles so full of joy and hope,I cannot go a day without them…


  39. We love you, Neil! Keep going! Thank you for all the awesome things you share! May you be blessed with love, joy and happiness!

  40. “If you believe that there is more good than evil in the world, there will be.” Well I guess you have done that. If you have not already found someone, you will. You have helped out so many people with what you’ve done. Thank you and blessings.

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