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You Can’t Change What Happened, But…

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With a business partner, some investors, and his life savings, Brent Underwood bought the abandoned mining turned ghost town, Cerro Gordo, in 2018.

The plan was to bring the town back to life, to turn the 336 acres and 22 buildings into a historical destination. That plan largely revolved around the American Hotel, the literal and metaphorical center of Cerro Gordo. But then on June 15, 2020, 149 years to the day it opened, the American Hotel caught fire and burned to the ground.

“It was probably the most devastating day of my life,” Brent writes in his gripping book Ghost Town Living (which came out today). “You are literally watching your life savings and hopes and dreams burn in front of you.” As he stood atop the ashes, the town’s previous owner put his hand on Brent’s shoulder. “You can’t change what happened,” he told Brent, “but what happens from here is up to you.” More than just providing comfort, Brent wrote, those words were “a call to action.”

It’s a reminder that for everything outside of our control, we retain—at the core of our being—an incredible power: The power to choose what we do with what happens to us. The power to decide what role an event will play in our lives. The power to write the end of our own story.

No one can take that away from us. People can hurt us. Money can be lost. Jobs can disappear. Cars can crash into each other. Stoicism can’t change what happened. No philosophy is a time machine.

But what we can do, what the Stoic practice is meant to help us do, is to prevail over what happened, and decide what comes next.


You can read more lesson-packed stories like this, including what Brent did after the American Hotel burned down, in his new book Ghost Town Living: Mining for Purpose and Chasing Dreams at the Edge of Death Valley. It’s an extraordinary call to chase after audacious dreams, defy the conventional, and pursue a life all your own. We have limited-edition numbered and signed copies of the book over at the Painted Porch. And if you’re in town, join us TONIGHT for an unforgettable in-person event with Ryan and Brent at the bookstore, where Brent will take questions from the audience and sign your copy of Ghost Town Living. Head here to secure your tickets while they’re still available!