I think the crash woke me up, but I’m not sure. When you’re trying to sleep on the floor, or in any uncomfortable position, the lines between sleeping and waking get blurred. But the sound—steel meeting glass—did jolt me out of whatever dreamlike stupor I was in.
I peeled myself off of my sleeping bag, which I had rolled out on the floor in the small third-floor hallway I was calling home. Downstairs, my friends were heading outside to investigate the sound.
Across the street, a Ford F-150 had driven through the front window of a combination McDonald’s-Chevron gas station, and the front half of the truck was in the restaurant’s dining area. I don’t remember much else about that night, but I do remember thinking that the crash across the street, and the resulting hullabaloo it was bound to stir up, would keep me up for at least another hour. And I had to be awake in four hours to go to work.
It was the fall of 2009, and getting enough sleep was a challenge. I was living in the hallway on the top floor of my friends’ rented townhouse, where I slept on the floor and stashed my belongings in a small closet. Those belongings included my “bed”—a green mummy sleeping bag and a flattened throw pillow I had borrowed from the living room couch.
The floor itself was only one source of discomfort. Another was the townhouse itself. In all, there were five of us living there—three other guys, one of their girlfriends, and me, the only one without a bedroom. We were all young, and we liked to stay up late, drink heavily, and otherwise get rowdy. Though I was grateful for a place to stay, it meant that I rarely got to sleep until after everyone else had gone to bed.
I wasn’t forced to sleep in the hallway. I had chosen it. I was a fresh college graduate and had spent the summer traveling with some friends who were in a band, criss-crossing the country and Central America. After that, I spent another month backpacking in Europe.
I slept most nights on strangers’ couches, armchairs, and floors, all of which served as a primer to my hallway bedroom. By the time I had to choose whether to return to my hometown and figure out my next moves from my parents’ basement—probably the wiser, more comfortable choice—or take a chance by moving to a new city and starting from scratch, I knew I could handle starting anew.
If I moved back into my parents’ house, I knew I would be unlikely to move out of my hometown again. Spokane, Washington, where I grew up, is a relatively small, insular city. It’s big enough to feel like it has everything you need, but it also has a way of lulling you to sleep, allowing you to get comfortable enough to settle down and forget about any big plans you may have had. Very few of the people I grew up with ultimately left the area, and if I had stayed, I would’ve had friends and family to keep me company.
That wouldn’t have been bad, necessarily, but it would have closed a lot of doors for me, personally and professionally.
So I chose the floor. I chose sleepless nights, an aching back, and a complete lack of privacy. I knew a bout of temporary discomfort would likely serve me in the end. And I was right.
After a couple of weeks of living in the hallway, I got a job as a valet. That allowed me to pitch in money for utility bills and to feed myself. Still, my nights were spent on that six-foot stretch of carpeting, and they began to take a toll. I was exhausted all the time, and sore.
As the cash I saved from tips slowly accumulated in the closet, it served as a visual reminder that I was almost able to get my own place—a place with walls and a bed.
After a few months, I saved up enough money to get an apartment with another friend and moved out. For Christmas that year, my parents visited and gave me a mattress. I was finally off the floor. But my time in that little hallway stuck with me. It showed me how to be comfortable with discomfort, both physical and psychological.
In the following years, I held a number of jobs and living situations that involved varying degrees of discomfort. I used the grit I learned from my time sleeping in the hallway to push through many late, late nights after I started a small business, which would sometimes require grueling stretches of manual labor until as late as 3 a.m..
I developed a sense of mental grittiness, too. I found that I could generally be patient and keep cool under pressure, and I kept my head down through the uncertainty of freelance and contract work well enough to receive a full-time job offer or two.
I also used my newfound ability to sleep in uncomfortable positions to catch some shut-eye in my car while working multiple jobs. It allowed me to save time (and gas money) on many occasions between shifts.
I tried to keep in mind that almost everything, including job and living situations, is temporary. And if I could last a few months sleeping on the floor in a cramped hallway, I could do just about anything.
Now, in a real bed with my wife and dog by my side, I sleep soundly.
Sam Becker is a New York City-based writer. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, his work has mostly focused on money, investing, and personal finance topics. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, he worked in radio, video production, and owned a small business. He grew up in Spokane, Washington, and has a journalism degree from Washington State University.