Last Days in the Desert: 3 Lessons From One of the Lowest Points of My Life and How I Escaped

Keith Hayden
2 min readSep 9, 2022


Pain is a powerful teacher.

Those years wandering the metaphorical and literal desert taught me many lessons about myself and who I wanted to be in the future.

Here are some of the most memorable ones.

I leaned less on external validation from friends

This process began in the snowy mountain dungeon, but really took root here. With less people around that I could rely on, I had to become a better friend to myself.

Learning something new always makes feel better and leads to unexpected connections

Even back then in 2008, I was laying the foundation to become the multihyphenate person I am today.

At the height of my depression I still wanted to learn and improve myself.

Looking back, that tendency saved me back then, and has helped out during especially stressful times throughout my life.

Between periods of self-loathing, I began working on my graduate degree, continued studying Japanese independently, and kept up my fitness with running and going to the gym regularly.

Those small actions helped me in a big way.

Even though I was emotionally frozen during the frigid desert nights, a small fire illuminated the dark. Providing just enough heat to keep me going.

That was all I needed. To last until dawn.

Dreams can come true

During my exile-like existence, I applied to work as an agent with the elite and highly selective Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI).

I had always loved James Bond, 24, and other spy-related fiction when I was younger. Joining OSI would allow me to live that life (at least that’s what I thought at the time.)

It was my dream job. And after two years of shieldless suns I was accepted into the job, ending my trudge through the desert early.

It sounds cliche to say but, “I never thought it would happen to me.” As in, I never thought I would get in because they accept so few applicants every year.

So many things out of my control aligned to allow me get into that coveted position. To this day, still view it as a tiny miracle.

A favorable wink of fate that drastically altered the course of my life.

Questions for readers

What valuable lessons did you learn from a low point in your life?

How did you overcome the setbacks from that point in your life?

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