Chapter 18 – My Story

“I don’t know what you are doing, but if you don’t stop it, you are going to have a stroke.”  Those words rang in my head for a good 10 seconds before I could speak.  Here I was, only 31, with two small kids, and a “successful” business, with a doctor telling me that if I did not “stop it” I was in for serious health trouble.

This ended up being a turning point for me.  That is, I realized the business that I thought was so “successful” was really a failure on many levels.  Sure, I had all of the ego-pumping aspects of a successful entrepreneur, a big paycheck, a cool company, legions of loving customers, etc.  However, in the process of building this wonder of modern commerce, I had lost my life.

For the first time, I really started to question the why’s of what I was doing.  Why was I working so hard to build something that left me so empty?  Why was I sprinting towards a finish line that didn’t really exist?  Why was I pouring every last bit of myself into something that was giving so little back?

If you are asking yourself the same questions, let me give you some cheat-sheet answers.  Trading in your life for a business is always a bad deal.  Your business can never give you back the life it took once it takes it.  Waiting for tragedy to strike to finally realize what is important in your life is truly tragic.

After these realizations started to come, I could finally be honest about what I was doing.  I was building an unsustainable nightmare that, one way or another, would eventually take me down. I was short-changing all of the other people in my life to give to a business that could not possibly give anything back.  I was sacrificing my entire family’s lives on something that in retrospect was almost completely hollow.

It is amazing to me how easy it is to trade-in something you already have in the hopes you will get it back someday.  With a business that has consumed my life, this was exactly what I was doing.  I had given over possession of my life to this business in the hopes that it would give it back someday.  The folly in all of this is, of course, that the business can’t give back.  All you can really hope for is to someday come to your senses and reclaim what was already yours.  Personally, that is one fact I wish that I would have known before I started, since like most people with this knowledge, I would have never traded in my life in the first place.

But, pain is often the price of education, and I guess I was lucky to get a PhD in business flagellation.  I was one of the lucky ones to actually be able to get to the other side and understand the true nature of my misguidance.

After realizing that the life I had built simply could not stand, I immediately gave myself a new job.  I went from being President to being the Chief Radical Change Officer.  I knew that my house was on fire, and there was no time to delay.  I knew that I was in for the battle for my life, and I wanted my life back.  I knew that I needed to change almost every aspect of my business, starting with the ways in which I approached my work.  I needed to really challenge my priorities, and expectations.  I needed to expose everything I was doing to the light of day and figure out where this machine was broken.  Because, that is all a business is, a machine.  A machine that will take a certain variety of inputs and give you a certain variety of outputs.

The first thing I did was set a goal.  I needed to be “out” of my business within six months.  I didn’t really know what this meant when I said it, but it sure felt good to say.  Next I had to figure out what “out” meant to me.  I did not think that selling it was the right path for me, nor did simply shutting the thing down feel right.  I ended up deciding that the right path for me was to automate the business as much as possible, and work from home the majority of the time.

As I think anyone who every accomplished any large goal will say, setting the goal, and deciding to go after it, is truly half of the work.  There was no way I was going back to how things were.  I had a whole new attitude, and I was an unstoppable force.  Finally, I was working toward something that really mattered, something that had meaning, and I have to say those six months were some of the most enjoyable I have had in my working years.

At the end of the six months, I moved out of my office at “work” and moved home.  Yes, I had done it.  I had gone from 90 hour weeks to being onsite in the business 4-5 hours per week.  At last, I truly had a business worth working for.  I had the freedom to work when I was inspired to, and I knew the business was automated to the point of not really needing me anymore.  In fact, on more than one occasion, my assembly foreman would catch me tinkering with something in the warehouse, and politely ask me to go home.  He would always nicely explain to me, with a wry smile, that the warehouse was running perfectly, and he did not need me to “fix” anything.  Being an entrepreneur, I see the world in terms of deficiencies.  I see what I think the world lacks and I immediately move into fix-it mode.  The reality is, though, that often “fixers” can cause more harm than good, working to fix things that would be best left alone.  My foreman, who was 20 years my senior, wisely knew this, I thanked him for his wisdom.   And at that moment, I realized that he had freed me (again) from my own nature.

So, what did I do with all of my new found time?  Well, some weeks, I did nothing.  I worked maybe 5-10 hours and spent the rest of my time with my family.  Other weeks, when I was really fired up about a new project, I worked 50-60 hours.  However, since I was free to work on the things I wanted to work on, it never really felt like work (at least the four-letter-word definition of work I had always held).

With the rest of my time, I worked to take this new knowledge that I had gained to try and help others.  You see, for me, it was critical to take the experience I had just passed through, complete with all of its pain and suffering, and work to do whatever I could to try and spare as many other people from it as possible.  I had a feeling there was a bigger purpose at play, and so I started to work to distill down what I had learned.  First, I immediately volunteered with my local small business mentoring programs to work one-on-one with business owners.  Second, I developed this material in a five-part class form, which I taught to local business people.  All of this material, honed down through the experience of teaching it, would become the book you are reading.

In summary, I sincerely hope you find some value in what I have written, as it remains my goal to try and save as many people from the pain I experienced.  Thank you for purchasing this book and I wish you nothing but the greatest success in life you can imagine.  Thank you for letting me be part of your journey.



John Coleman