Ed Latimore says that he’s lived exactly four lives (so far).
His first life started in Pittsburgh.
I was a typical at risk youth, born in public housing projects. Single mom. I knew my dad, but he didn't live with us.
I had to deal with a lot of those things that people typically associate with that environment; the violence. I never felt safe at home or really at school or in the street.
You develop this constant vigilance. You really have to learn to read people, but not let yourself be weak; you’ve got to be friendly, but not too nice.
Growing up, he never felt comfortable.
He never felt safe.
“I never felt safe at home or really at school or in the street.”
He had, as he puts it, “an unflinching relationship with reality.”
All he had on his mind was survival.
And to survive, he thought he needed a new environment.
Identified as “gifted” in middle school, he was sent to another school one day a week where he saw that the unsafe reality he was living in wasn’t the only reality.
I got to see different approaches to life that I had never seen before. It was a respite and a refuge for me from my normal school environment.
He remembers the first time he made a friend at that middle school and casually asked, “Oh, how many fights have you been in?”
He was like, ‘Fights? I've never fought before.’
Ed was shocked. Everyone he knew got into fights – it was how they survived – protected themselves – trying desperately to find safety in the only way they knew how.
Ed wanted to go find a way to go to a different school.
In 8th grade, he asked his mom to apply for the high school lottery system – those who are randomly selected are allowed to go to a high school outside their region.
He was willing to try anything.
What I did know is that where I was now was unacceptable; I was not happy and I did not feel safe. It was stressful.
And I felt like I lacked opportunities.
He felt like he had nothing to lose: teased and tormented for his looks, he felt like an outcast at his middle school. Going to a school where he didn’t know anyone sounded better than staying where he was.
The probabilities were in his favor: “I've always had a strategic mindset; I was able to look at these situations and go, ‘Okay. This doesn’t work, but this might work better.’ It's a probability. I don't know for sure, but I know that it’s a better bet.”
He bet his future on the Pittsburg high school lottery.
“It was the first time in my life that I felt like I belonged.”
And when he tells me, we both feel the weight of it – the injustice that some lives hinge on that kind of chance, on those kinds of odds.
“I got to really observe what was possible.”
Ed felt lucky, especially when he made friends at his new high school, “whose kindness would change my life.”
They treated him with something he’d never quite felt before – respect.
And in their homes he found comfort and safety for the first time. They showed him, “what a functioning family could look like.”
Around their dinner tables, he says, “I got to really observe what was possible.”
Love. Comfort. A place to breathe. Let down your guard.
Ed had never had that before.
It was the first time in my life that I felt like I belonged.
High school was wonderful, eye opening.
But then he graduated, and his dad died, all in the same month.
That’s when his second life began.
“What have you done for the past four years?”
After high school, Ed went to the University of Rochester on a football scholarship.
He was alone again, and “was not emotionally mature or ready for any of it at all. I almost immediately fell into the drinking and partying crowd.”
He didn’t drink in high school; but in college, terrified of feeling like an outcast, he drank. And, being competitive, he tried to be the “best” drinker.
I figure if I can outdrink everyone, and always be down to party, I'll gain more approval.
After three semesters, he was kicked out of college.
This time, he literally started playing the lottery, hoping to buy time as he figured out what to do next. He had no support system. He had no idea what to do.
He survived the next few years by clinging to whatever odd jobs he could find. But surviving is all he did.
“There was nothing to show I had been on this planet.”
Drinking became his everything. He was bitter.
One day at the kitchen table at his then-girlfriend’s house, after resentfully ranting about the uselessness of college, his girlfriend’s mom, a biology professor, spoke up:
Okay, let's pretend you're correct and college is not worthwhile. What have you done for the past four years? What have you done other than eat my food?
It was a wake-up call. She woke up the young kid who’d dragged his mom to the high school lottery.
She had a good point. What was I doing? I hadn't done anything to develop myself. There was nothing to show I had been on this planet. I said, ‘I need to fix this.’
He thought about his options. Should he go back to college?
No – he could never get past the math classes.
The military? Maybe. But right now he felt too lost to make such a serious long-term commitment. He needed something to get him back on his feet – trying again. Learning again.
That’s when he saw a boxing match on YouTube and thought, I could do that.
And so began his third life.
Now he had a lot to lose.
In his mid 20’s, Ed became an amateur and then professional boxer, beating out an opponent who would later go on to the Olympics. Ed too was recruited to become part of an Olympic training program.
For a short while, he made a living boxing.
But, more than that, he says, “it changed my life in just about every way a person's life could be changed.”
In boxing, he found a community again.
He also saw, directly – physically – that he had the capability to improve.
He’d fallen into a fixed mindset – believing only in luck and misfortune.
With no safety net or support, he often scraped by, living in a constant state of stress and survival, feeling trapped, helpless, always one step away from calamity – checkmate.
But boxing showed him what a growth mindset was and what it could yield – how it could change things; how he could change.
He decided he would go back to college. Boxing helped him believe he could learn how to become good at anything, even math.
And to pay for college, he joined the military at age 28. He was sober for 22 weeks during bootcamp.
When bootcamp ended, just before Christmas, he was released to go home for a while before deployment.
On December 22nd, “I go out and party and make a fool of myself.”
He went right back to drinking. A lot.
But this time, the probabilities were shifting.
This time, he had something to lose.
That night, he tried to imagine himself five years into the future: “I’m going to turn 33 one day, God willing.” He didn’t want to turn 33 and still be in the same place, not having moved forward.
Now he had the military. Boxing. His college dream. An incredible girlfriend.
Now he had a lot to lose.
And – this time – he believed he had the power to change.
I put down the bottle and haven't gone back since.
December 23rd was his first day of sobriety. And so began his fourth life.
“That's never going to happen again.”
Not drinking anymore opened up a lot more time for Ed – which he filled with college courses, tutoring jobs, working at a bank, and serving in the Army National Guard.
He continued boxing as well, but – especially after almost getting hit and killed by a car – he no longer relied on it as a way to make a living, knowing he’d always be only one injury away from the checks stopping – which they eventually did.
He pursued everything he was doing with intensity.
I was serious. At this point, I'm terrified. I've been close to the bottom now twice. And I'm like, ‘That's never going to happen again.’
He also started a blog the year he got sober – edlatimore.com – as a creative outlet.
He was always writing.
At bootcamp, he would hand-write blog posts and newsletters in a notebook propped up on his bed in the barracks; he’d tear off those pages and mail them to a friend who typed them up and posted them on Ed’s blog.
Ed wrote about his life, his challenges, and everything he was learning about growth.
His mission: “I take what I've learned the hard way, and I break it down so other people can learn it the easy way.”
He knew he couldn’t go back in time and fix his childhood, but he hoped others could learn from his past, and his present.
After a few years of writing every week, his blog took off. He made money from ads and wrote and sold books like Sober Letters to My Drunken Self and Not Caring What Other People Think is a Superpower.
He also started getting paid to speak, and his email newsletter grew by the thousands.
Ed built his business like almost every creator in the world: “from trial and error, from figuring out how to generate money. It's simple, but there's no blueprint, you know?”
In May 2018 he had his first five-figure month, week, and then day from his writings.
I remember thinking to myself, I really have a shot here. I have something. I have a chance to make a decent income and do it on my terms.
For a kid who never felt comfortable, never felt safe, never felt like he had a safety net – being able to support himself on his own terms felt incredible.
“Let's run with this,” he decided.
That same May he also graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Physics.
He was 33.
“I'm building myself.”
In Ed’s first life, he saw a person get killed.
Where, I ask, did he find hope in a situation where most people would (understandably) lose it?
Ever the strategic thinker, he answers with a kind of statistical analysis:
What I do know is probability – that every correct action you take has the potential for positive moves.
The more of those you can take, the greater your chances are having a positive outcome, or one that's beneficial to what you're trying to do.
And that's what I try to do.
That's what drinking came down to for me.
The decision is calculated. It is looking at everything I stand to lose, versus everything I stand to gain.
So all I try to do is take the steps that are going to make it more likely I'll win.
I reply: “I think you just turned hope into a math problem.”
And all those steps have led him to winning something he never quite knew was even on the table – self-respect.
He’s still close with those high school friends who first showed him kindness, and his boxing community, but he no longer feels a need to belong in the same way he used to:
I like who I am now, and that really helps.
It also helps him as a creator.
With an email list in the thousands, a thriving business, and over 100,000 Twitter followers, it would be easy for “old” him to judge his worth on that kind of success or attention; but now he’s learned that respecting himself is enough:
Attention only feels like respect to people who don't have much of either.
I'm not chasing attention.
I don't have those issues anymore, largely because I'm building something.
I'm building myself.
Which is why it shouldn’t surprise me when Ed alludes to a potential fifth life – as a weatherman. He might pursue a PhD in meteorology one day. He’s fascinated by the weather:
There is something uniquely interesting to me about a system that is predictable, but still has an element of uncertainty.
In the purest sense of the word the weather is a game; you know what should happen when you see certain conditions, most of the time, but you're still dealing with incomplete information.
(Ed also loves the idea of living near the beach, where most meteorology programs are located.)
He doesn’t really know what will happen next, but for the first time in his life, he feels like it’s something he can create.