It was New Year’s Day, 2018. My wife and I had sold our marketing events company, and the previous day was officially my last day of the year I had agreed to stay on with the new owner of the business we started 10 years previous.
For those 10 years I gave everything to this business. I traveled to hundreds of locations around the world. I sacrificed time with my children (ages 4 and 6 when we started). My wife and I sacrificed time as a couple to create something out of nothing.
Then poof. It was gone.
Now don’t get me wrong. It was a fantastic exit for us. We always planned on selling the business, and it couldn’t have worked out better.
But, I can tell you, it’s strange waking up one morning and not doing what you’ve done for 10 years, day after day after day.
A New Start
On that first day of 2018 I decided to spend some time resetting my goals. Goal-setting is a very serious concept for me. The formula I use has been critical to any success I’ve had.
First, I write everything down. Actual pen and paper. Nothing electronic. A small Moleskine notebook works perfectly.
Second, I divide my goals into six categories:
- Financial goals
- Family goals
- Spiritual goals
- Mental goals
- Philanthropic goals
- Physical goals
Under each area I wrote down two to three (never more than three) goals that I wanted to accomplish in the next year. I reviewed these every morning for at least five minutes.
For example, I had a physical goal of staying in size 32 pants (always a challenge). Or, I had a mental goal of reading at least two physical books per month.
While those are fine, quite a few of my other goals needed to change. Why? They revolved around the business. The business that wasn’t there anymore.
I was honestly anxious about it. It was hard for me to fathom not having a business project to work on.
So what did I do first?
I took the next 30 days off. To take the pressure off, I gave myself permission not to have any pressing goals. I chose just “to be present.”
Specifically, I quit social media and email cold turkey. I used my smartphone for messaging only. All my social media and email apps were removed (so I wouldn’t be tempted).
After an itchy first couple days, the move was life altering. I started to truly be present with my children. I mean, I’ve always considered myself a good father, but the business preoccupied my thoughts. Now, in 2018, I could listen and laugh and sit with them without anything else getting in the way.
And my relationship with my wife took on an entirely new flavor. It’s like we were first dating all over again.
And she’ll tell you, I started to see the world differently. I “noticed” things. Crazy things like when the dishes needed to done or the laundry flipped. My wife loved the new Joe.
Then I was inspired. I’m not sure why. Maybe because all the other stuff in my brain — the business financials, the growth concerns, the hectic travel schedule — was gone.
I came up with a new goal, a combination spiritual and mental goal, to write a novel.
I’ve written five pretty successful marketing books, none that my wife has ever read. Besides the acknowledgements page, my wife never read one page of any of my books. Not one. I wanted to change that. I wanted to combine my writing passion with her reading passion.
The problem was that she loved thriller and mystery books. So there was only one choice — writing a thriller novel was my next project.
And … Nothing
It started with a big thud.
From February to September was a big nothing. I’d start. Then stop. Then create something and get it reviewed. The honest feedback was that it was terrible (and it was). Business writing is so much easier than fiction writing.
I tried to write specific chapters. I tried an outline approach. Nothing worked. I couldn’t find my groove.
Then, upon listening to a James Altucher podcast, I heard some advice from an accomplished writer. He said that “writers write.” That the solution for writer’s block (or whatever I had) could be cured by simply waking up and writing at least 500 words a day, every day, and not stop. What do writers do? They write.
And that’s what I did. The first day I wrote 500 truly horrible words.
The next day I wrote another unreadable 500 words.
But the next day I saw some progress, and a week later, I found my rhythm.
One day, my 500 words turned into 3500.
I set a goal (in my notebook) to finish the thriller manuscript by the end of 2018. Unfortunately, I didn’t hit that goal. I finished it three weeks into 2019.
Fast forward through multiple reviews and edits and here we are, almost 2020, and my book (The Will to Die) is published. But the best news of all? My wife read it and (actually) loved it. I think she really does.
What I Learned from the Transition
I was a content marketer. I ran events. I traveled and gave keynote presentations. I employed people.
That was the past.
Today, I consider myself a novelist, if only for the fact that I’ve written and published a novel (I guess we’ll see if I’m any good in the next few months).
In making a successful transition like this, I would say these are the most critical learnings:
1. Give Yourself Permission to Rest — I’m so glad I didn’t jump from one thing to the next. I would have chosen poorly. Taking the social media sabbatical gave me time to find new inspiration. If you don’t have a month, I recommend at least taking a few weeks.
2. It’s Okay Not to Have a Plan — After leaving my business, the most popular question I received was “What are you going to do next?”. It created so much unnecessary pressure. I honestly couldn’t find the right answer for a while. Then, I just said, “I’m going to take a break for a while and spend some time with my family.” No one could object to that. And they didn’t.
3. Finding Rhythm — When I kicked off the novel, I nearly gave up countless times. It wasn’t until I wrote consistently, every day, that I found my voice. I believe the commitment to the daily activity of writing made all the difference.