w: ajleon

The Very Last Inch or Death by a Thousand Cuts

“What we call our destiny is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny.”
— Anaïs Nin


And there I sat.

More isolated and hopeless than I had ever felt in all of my days.

Incarcerated in a prison cell of my very own making. Except this one was locked from the inside and I was the one holding the key.

You see, my boss had just called me into his office and verbally confirmed that I was getting that promotion we had always talked about. And that I was going to be taking over the managing of an entire fund in the firm. And that he was grooming me for great things.

This wasn’t news to me, of course. These were all things I knew were in the works. But with each word that dripped from his mouth about this fantastic opportunity I was about to embark upon, I could viscerally feel the last vestiges of my soul departing from me.

I was going to be one of them.

And any idea, any dream I had of living a life of intention, of purpose, of meaning, of adventure was gone forever.

I had basically already relinquished myself to this fate. I was a closet manic depressive, who used money as a way to anesthetize the fact that he didn’t have the courage to do anything other than to live the life that was expected of him. I wasn’t greedy. I was simply a coward who had quiet convictions, but no potency to act upon them.

But the next thing he said to me was the most defeating.

He looked over his desk and said to me, “AJ, you’re too important to this company to leave for more than a week. I’m gonna need you back here after your thing in Miami.”


You may have heard the tale of how I walked away from my former life as an unremarkably average finance guy in Manhattan. How after having received confirmation about this promotion, I walked out of my boss’s office, walked into my own, wept uncontrollably recognizing that I would never be able to walk away from that type of money again, until a brief moment of audacity struck where I remembered that age-old verity that we always have a choice. And so I walked out the door after yelling at my boss (who hilariously said he was firing me as I was heading to the elevator with my stuff).

At this point, I have shared this story a thousand times in a hundred cities. I’ve written about it. Been interviewed about it. Even spoke in my beloved Fargo about it at TEDxFargo last week.

But here’s the one thing you don’t know.

The tale of the very last inch.


“The thing in Miami” that my boss was referring to was my wedding. You see, in four days’ time, I was going to marry my best friend, the love of my life and the only human on earth that continued holding out hope for me years after the last flint of self-belief had been snuffed out of the chambers of my disconsolate heart.

What he was specifically telling me was that I should cancel my honeymoon.

“You’re in finance, man, everyone schedules their lives around busy season.”

I couldn’t believe it.

Over the years, they had taken everything from me.

My creativity. My dreams. My hopes. My joy. And now it was my Melissa.

Yard by Yard. Inch by inch. Every last remnant of the boy I grew up as or the man I always hoped I’d become, eroded with every next paycheck and every new bonus that I willingly accepted in order to placate the demons in my own mind who woke me up every evening to remind me of the glory of a life that could have been.

Now, if you don’t know who Melissa is to me, then let me explain.

To say that I love this girl, to say that I cherish her, that I adore her and that I worship her — would be the wildest anthology of understatements that the world has ever known.

It’s not that I can’t imagine what my life would be like without her in it, it’s that I cannot imagine that Life itself ever took place without her around.

In my Universe, she is the last and luminous remnant of a fallen world. And I would trade every sunrise on every planet in every galaxy for all eternity just to see her smile one more time.

And now.

I was going to have to call this woman who I had loved since I was a boy, who to me is like breath itself. And I was going to have to tell her that the surprise African honeymoon that I had been quietly planning for her for six months was going to be canceled.

The reason?

My boss needed me to push some more paper money around.

If you’ve heard me tell this story, then you’ll know that after this conversation with my boss, I sat in my office and wept profusely.

But here’s the thing.

That which I dreaded most wasn’t that my life was going to be forever laid on the altar of mediocrity. I had pretty much already acquiesced to that reality long ago.

The thing I dreaded most was hearing the quivering voice of my beautiful Melissa on the other end of the phone when I had to tell her that not only had I chosen money and career and security and safety over my own self, but that I had chosen it over her as well.

Now, Shakespeare says cowards die many times before their death, but the valiant only taste of death but once. And in a long list of cowardly deaths I had disgracefully endured over the years, this would be the final one that broke me entirely.

Melissa was my very last inch.

They could have my hopes and aspirations. They could have my dreams and ambitions. They could have the months and days and hours of my one and only life.


I could not permit them to pervert the fierce and ferocious love and loyalty I have had for the person without whom I would have been lost for so many years.

So, what did I do?

I walked. I left everything I had ever known, and burned every bridge behind me.

And in the end, I did it for the woman I love.

But before getting into the elevator in that office for the very last time, I walked into my boss’s office, delivered a Shakespearean soliloquy about the machine in which we are all cogs, and said “I would slap you in the f*cking face just to put a smile on Melissa’s; what makes you think I wouldn’t walk away from all of this right now for our honeymoon?”


There are times in life when our posture should be one of attack. Leaning into the fear or the darkness and losing sight of the shore behind us in order to pierce into the horizon and pursue things that actually matter.

But then there are those other times.

The times when you’ve been lost for so long, and have abdicated so much of who you are to the Fates, that the prospect of creating or making or attacking anything is altogether impossible.

And that’s okay.

As long as you don’t give up the very last inch.

Mine was my Melissa.

What’s yours?


Maybe you’re there right now.

Maybe you can feel the world itself encroaching in upon you, and absorbing every last pixel of the person you are into the one that they want you to be. Maybe you can feel your last inch being ripped away from you right now.

But if you’ve gotten this far, then maybe you were meant to read this today. Maybe it’s more than just sheer luck that you landed right here, right now, on this particular day. Maybe this isn’t all a game of cosmic chance.

And maybe, just maybe this is your moment to change everything.

From my hotel room in San Fransisco
Your Fellow Misfit,

P.S Tomorrow, we launch our Misfit Send Me to School fundraising campaign. Over the next 30 days, Misfit is running a social experiment to bring together a collection of world-changers to raise $500 each to hit an overall target of $15,000. These funds will remove the barriers to education faced by children at a school in one of the poorest areas of the world. If you would do me the honour of sharing it with your world tomorrow, I would be forever grateful. As would a few hundred kids in Uganda. 🙂

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