When I was 21 my girlfriend and I moved to Bristol, UK. It was our first time living in another country. Bec had a job working in a local convenience store. She made sandwiches. When I visited, and no one was looking, she’d say the secret phrase “caramello frogs”. It meant I was to grab as much as I could get my hands on and head to the counter where she would pretend to scan items, but really just bag them for free. I’d gather sandwiches, crisps, redbulls and the like.
You see like most expats in England, we weren’t thieves by nature but circumstance. We both worked 6 days a week but we were skint. To get some perspective we couldn’t afford to pay £500 a month on rent. It meant we had to get another two people to live with us, so we had four people living in a one bedroom house. We had no shower, and for the first three months, we couldn’t even afford a mattress. We slept half on the floor and half on a couch turned on its side.
Our money issues largely came down to my job. At the time I was doing door sales. We’d meet around 11am in the office to do role play training for a couple of hours before heading into the field. We were kids in suits armed with clipboards, redbulls and marlborough gold. From 1pm to 9pm we’d knock one door after the other selling gas and electricity deals.
The most challenging thing about the job was that we were paid 100% commission. Some days I would do well, selling three or four deals in a few short hours. Other days I’d slog it out in the field for 9 hours straight and bring home nothing.
Eventually, I had to leave my job. I couldn’t afford to stay despite knowing how much I was growing. I remember my boss, a big Irish guy with an enormous head and a big heart saying to me, “Come back when you’ve found yourself”. It was tough leaving. I loved the job because of the challenge. Never before had I learned so much about myself. And I knew he appreciated having me around because I didn’t have the typical loud mouth ego many of the other kids had.
It wasn’t that I wanted to move on. It was because I had to. I knew I couldn’t master sales until I had learned to silence my inner critic. And I knew I couldn’t silence my inner critic until I went on a journey to better understand myself.
That was eight years ago.
Since then I feel I’ve searched high and low for who I am. I’ve travelled to over 30 countries. I’ve sat with a Shaman in Mongolia. I’ve watched a mecca where Sadhus led hundreds of thousands people into the Ganges for ceremonious bathing. I’ve listened to Guatemalan locals describe the brutal destruction of their culture. And given my shoes to a Swiss expat in Nepal who told me he’d walked with the Indian God, Ganesha. I’ve watched hundreds of Russians file past a subway corpse without a flinch. I’ve seen a man beat on a women in the streets of Prague. And used a stick to wave off an attack from dozens of street dogs in Greece.
For eight years I’ve been searching. I’ve lived in Berlin, Montreal, Vancouver, Melbourne and Perth. I’ve worked as a painter, a travel writer, a copywriter, a content producer, and a marketing manager. And all along the way I’ve heard the same thing from my bosses, and my colleagues, and my friends. “You need to find yourself”.
Yet every time I asked them how I met dead ends. They said things like, You’ll know when you find it, or identity is a lifelong journey, or what’s your religious stance? I knew they had no idea. That they had never tried to find themselves.
Fast forward seven years to early 2016.
I was 28 and the creative director at a rapidly growing Melbourne-based startup. I loved my job. Who wouldn’t? I could live in Vancouver six months of the year. I chose my own hours and worked from home when I wanted. I had my own team. And I had stakes. I’d been there from the beginning, when me and the CEO, Jon, turned a hobby mortgage brokering firm into a multinational, venture-backed online training platform.
I loved my job, especially in the early days of 2014 and 2015. Back then we were just a couple of guys sitting across a table dreaming up business ideas. We laughed a lot and got excited about new ideas daily. We were close friends and backed one-another 100%. Jon was young like me. He was 33 at the time but he had the business smarts. He’d been running his own things since he was 17. He was risk-tolerant and a hustler who could find the money and the customers when push came to shove. I brought the creativity, heading up the marketing, and eventually transitioning to head of product.
Over the years the business slowly transformed into a colossal machine with investors to answer to and a complicated product to make. It was hard to see how much things had changed from within the organisation. All I saw was the immediate problems that needed to be solved. And for a long time that was enough.
Only as the business grew, so did the problems. As I shifted into a management role I began to take on other people’s problems as well as my own. I had a team in two countries, a complicated product, no roadmap, and no prior experience. All the while I was expected to be creative on demand, show no stress, and justify the whole thing as a living.
The most difficult thing was that the ceiling stopped with me. I was the only manager in a team of 15, and Jon had his own problems, answering to investors and finding customers. If I had a problem I didn’t have council to help. I solved problems alone and with a smile. This wasn’t just problems with the product. I had team members at each other’s throats, very little feedback from customers and a budget that was being blown time and time again.
Eventually, I lost grip. I had too little time to build the systems. My team was unraveling. My product was behind schedule. And all the while I was expected to save face – to show up and be a leader.
I thought I was okay. I thought I was just doing my job. But it all came to a head one day when I had a panic attack. At the time Jon was in the US so I sat down with a long standing mentor of Jon’s who also happened to be a behavioural expert. Let’s call him Phil.
After kicking the tyres a little, Phil asked me, “What do you really want to do in life?”. I didn’t have a doubt in my mind, “I want to write books”.
I should remind you I was running a video production team at the time, so when I had said “writing” it was clear to both of us that I was in the wrong field. You see I’m one of those people who self-sabotages when my heart isn’t in something. Not by choice, but I think deep down I know I can only be really great when I dedicate myself to the mastery of one thing. And that one thing for me had always been writing.
I had a decision to make then and there. Option one was to give up on my dreams and give everything of myself to the company. In exchange, I would receive a great wage, shares, and a top tier position in a potential billion dollar company. Option two was that I could be true to myself and quit.
In that moment, Phil told me, “One day you’ll recognise that you’re enough”. He could see that I had one foot in and one foot out. I wanted to stay because a big part of me needed to prove myself. But another part of me knew I had built this company as much as it had built me. I thought, imagine what I could do if I was all in doing something of my own?
Phil then went on to warn me of his story. You need to understand this was one of the most well put-together people I had ever met and he was warning me of his greatest mistake. He explained that he had begun very similar to me. He had stepped into a finance position in a rapidly growing company in his mid-twenties. By 35 he was the CFO of a 7 billion dollar corporation. He continued on this trajectory for the next two decades, eventually becoming the CEO of a different company that was eventually valued at a billion dollars.
All the while, the money rained in, but his family life took an enormous beating. He explained for the first 12 years of his son’s life he was absent and stressed. It took him another 12 years to repair the damage he’d done. Today, he is in his late sixties and just rekindling the damaged relationship with his 24 year old.
In that moment, I thought, no. I don’t need to prove myself. I don’t need to run myself into the ground for someone else’s dream. I don’t need to take on someone else’s stress to run up a corporate ladder I helped build. I’m enough. I need to do something true to me.
So, I resigned on the spot.
I had no idea what I wanted to do. I just knew I no longer wanted to drag myself through the mud. Not in my youth. Not when I knew I could go it alone and choose my own course and pace.
Since quitting in August I’ve done a lot of thinking. Through this thinking it has become clear to me that I want to write as much as possible. I thought, what do I do when I’m supposed to be working? Writing. What gives me clarity and energy? Writing. What do people ask for my help with? Writing. And that was it. I became a full time writer.
I know what you’re thinking. How will I make money?
To me that’s easy. If you want to make a million dollars, help a million people. I’m not worried about the money. The money will come. I’m 100% focused on building an audience. I want to devote myself to trying to genuinely help self-critical creatives find peace with themselves. Maybe one day you’ll buy one of my books, or donate a couple of bucks to say thanks.
In the meantime, I will write every morning and every night. And by day, I will work any job that requires nothing of my mind. I will work as a gardener, or furniture removalist, or a storeman, or delivery driver. And I will give every ounce of my mind to this.