What’s that sound?!
It’s 7:30am. I hit the snooze just one more time before I have to get up.
Having to be seated at my desk at 8:00am sharp is rough. Me and Marla naturally run on vampire hours. But she has it far worse.
Marla was up nearly 4 hours earlier. She’s already driven an hour to get to the High School where she teaches and likely already has students surrounding her desk. A foreshadowing of the coming 10-12 hours for her.
The alarm jolts me awake one last time. It’s 7:45am. Time to run to the closet and throw some clothes on. In an ideal world I’d have grabbed clothes that I didn’t wear the day previous. Oh well.
Where’s that oatmeal bar thing I eat every morning? We can’t be out!? Oh well I have to jet.
Luckily, although still dazed from having just awoken, I remembered to put in my contacts.
Car in drive.
Pushing the speed limit as far as I’m comfortable.
Parking spot… parking spot… how is there not a single spot… ugh.
Fly to the remote lot. Park.
Run-walk to the door trying to avoid drawing too much attention. Swipe in.
Long strides to the shared, window-less room. Pull the chair, wiggle the mouse. Thankfully the computer’s still on from last night.
“Some people die at twenty five and aren’t buried until seventy five.” – Benjamin Franklin
I guess I’m a go getter. I should be proud. I was able to beat Benjamin Franklin’s projection by 5 years.
For seven years, from age 20 to 27, I lived the life that Benjamin Franklin depicts. A life that Trent Reznor so perfectly articulated with the song Every Day Is Exactly The Same.
Looking back I can’t believe that I let it go on for so long, but hindsight and all that jazz.
I was simply too close. I couldn’t see it… until I did. From that point forward there was no way I could un-see it.
Me and some of my closest work friends had been talking for years about the next big idea. We each thought we could create the next Google or Facebook or whatever it is that would go viral. Then we would sell for millions and live the lives of our dreams.
Business 101. Right?!
The dream was to build something massive. Something hugely valuable.
But I guess it must be easy enough to build and execute during our non-work hours. So there’s that.
The idea that we were going to come up with would simply be so great that all the biggest companies would throw untold millions at us.
Then, and only then, could we be free. It was the only option.
We needed that big ticket. That pie in the sky dream of selling out. Then we could live the unarticulated lives of our dreams.
I was unconsciously ready to devote the rest of my life to creating this, whatever it was, to earn access to live my life.
Looking back I can’t believe how ridiculous it all was.
If I could go back to 20 year old Jeff and tell him one thing it would be,
Time. It’s all we have. It’s our non-renewable resource. Always learn from the past and anticipate the future, but the present. That’s it. Spend your minutes as a non-renewable resource. As the currency that is is. One that you can never earn back.
It was Spring of 2007 when I started rehab. Rehab from the American Dream.
I had been a silent lurker within the burgeoning small business, entrepreneur community for several years. I watched, firsthand, as many people started to make names for themselves by building thriving web-based businesses.
Though I still stuck to the notion of having that one big idea.
But suddenly, while crossing the same old intersection I was jackknifed. A little known author changed my life.
I have very few distinct memories of the seven years that I spent working my day job. Yet I remember the day that I discovered The Four Hour Workweek like it was yesterday.
It was one of only a few days during my tenure that I had the opportunity to leave the daily drudgery of the office to attend a conference in the city.
We were on the train, Blackberries in hand, while I read the latest post in my feed reader. It was an interview with this guy named Tim Ferriss. He went on to talk about his new book and explain the difference between living like a millionaire and having one million dollars in the bank.
Despite the gimmicky title I quickly discovered that this new book wasn’t a get rich quick scheme, but a guide for cultivating a rich life. The life that I actually wanted.
As soon as the clock struck 5:00pm I dashed straight to Barnes & Noble, walked up to the counter and anxiously inquired, “where can I find The Four Hour Workweek??”
The woman proceeded to walk me over to the shelf . All the while expressing her disgust for yet another get rich quick book. Little did she or I know that this book would change my life forever.
I devoured the book. And suddenly piece by piece my current lifestyle began to unravel. The emphasis we place on stuff, on earning more money, on the corporate ladder…
What are we doing??
We quickly began to pare down our stuff. Donating, throwing away and altogether removing everything superfluous.
My time at work was no longer filled with dreams of that million dollar idea. Instead the monotonous hours at my desk were spent diving head first into the world of entrepreneurship. Dreaming up small, sustainable business ideas and having a go at them.
I suddenly understood that I only needed enough, not a lot. The life I had always dreamed of was at my fingertips all along. I was simply too entrenched in the promise of the American Dream to see it.
During the next couple years we tried our hands at a handful of little business ideas. I spent some time creating custom artwork. Marla loved planning our rockstar styled wedding so we started a similarly named wedding planning business. She tried her hand at artificial floral arrangements – Infinite Floral. The list goes on.
Prior to and during this time of business experimentation there was one constant. One business idea that I was consistently coming back to, yet, like the unfulfilled life that went previously unnoticed, I simply didn’t see it.
It wasn’t until the day that everything changed.
Looking across the table I can sense the manufactured cold demeanor that’s necessary for such a situation. Her following words are inevitable and have been for upwards of the last year. Nevertheless I await with bated breath.
”…we’re going to have to let you go.”
A look of subdued elation now clearly present on my face I responded with the eloquence that I had become known for throughout my 27 years,
The necessary, but unreasonably difficult, decision was made for me.
My elation was clearly confounding. She seemed perplexed beyond words, but nevertheless we shared small talk as my belongings were delivered to me in a small cardboard box.
Now my life can begin.
I never considered filing for unemployment. I never looked for another job. I got to work, helping people.
The thing that I had overlooked during our many business experiments was the “business” I had been running, unbeknownst to me, since my senior year of High School – web design and visual brand development.
At the end of the twentieth century I built my first client website. It was horrendous. Yet I earned a hefty $500 for my efforts.
That was my first foray into entrepreneurship and, in essence, the beginning of the business that sustains us to this day.
Throughout college and my day job years I had been refining my skills at web design and brand development. Mostly for our own purposes (our wedding was branded as six4eleven – I’m 6’4”, Marla’s 4’11”.), but now and again for paying clients as well.
For whatever reason it never dawned on me that I could simply devote all of my attention to this business.
During the 14 days following the last “real job” I ever had, I reached out to one of the entrepreneurs that I respected most.
He wore many hats, as entrepreneurs do, but web design and brand development wasn’t his strong suit. Seeing some shortcomings in the packaging of his latest product (the cliche is true, we do judge a book by it’s cover), I spent a little time creating some visual assets that he could use.
I had no monetary expectation. No expected ROI (Return on Investment) from this simple email. I truly wanted to help this person who I respected and appreciated.
He had provided value to my life in helping further my business knowledge so I simply returned the favor the only way I saw fit.
Over the next several days we shared a back and forth dialog. I helped where I could and provided my advice on a few areas of his offering. No money changed hands. Nothing was expected.
Me and Marla had already began paring down our stuff and reducing our monetary obligations years earlier. Outside of our mortgage we were debt free.
We no longer had cable television. We no longer purchased superfluous items to mask unhappiness. What we had was already more than enough. Large sums of money – or more accurately, dreams of large sums of money – were no longer necessary.
As a result of this growth beyond blind consumerism my joblessness was not the heavy burden that it once would have been.
Without any income of my own I continued helping my new friend.
It was less than a week after my termination that he was launching his next product and asked if I would moderate the discussions, provide the same kind of advice that I had been giving to him.
I graciously agreed and was immediately granted complimentary access to his valuable business course. In no time I had made countless new friends and acquaintances within the course and suddenly found myself thrust into the entrepreneurship scene that I had once only watched from afar.
Before I knew it I was approached by another respected entrepreneur. Suddenly we were both being recommended in the same breath so she wanted to find out who I was and where I came from.
After a brief conversation, just 14 days after being terminated from my day job, I had suddenly joined a popular web design team. With no shortage of work in sight I had just made the 180 that would forever change the trajectory of my life.