Learning to Reinvent Myself
As an EO member, I have heard other EOers talk about how their businesses collapsed or were sold, and now they had to start all over again. On the one hand, I empathized with their struggles and supported them through the difficulties. On the other, who among us with long-term companies hasn’t thought, “Hmmm, I don’t want their pain, but wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy all of the excitement and creativity of starting over again and building something new?”
Perhaps I should have been more careful about what I asked for. In 2007, I had reached a pinnacle in my career, and my business was stable and making money. I leveraged my success from writing Building Your Own Home for Dummies into lucrative joint ventures, and now I was coasting. I was working an hour a day, kayak fishing for two hours a day at my New England beach home, and I was close to being debt-free. Then the economy crashed.
Between, the failure of IndyMac Bank and Lehman Brothers, I was completely wiped out. Battling double bankruptcy and multiple foreclosures, my 20-year mortgage company became a smoking whole in the ground. With a wife to support and a kid almost in college, I had to reinvent myself, and fast.
Once I got over my anger and denial about the situation, I skipped right to acceptance. At the moment, I just needed stability. Thankfully, I had my Forum and EO friends. Not only did they support me morally while I assessed my skills, talents and desires, but at times they helped financially, too. Borrowing money is hard. During this time, I learned valuable lessons about keeping communication clear when borrowing from close friends.
Once my son was (thankfully!) accepted into Georgetown University on a full scholarship, my wife and I reset our lifestyle so that we could enjoy a simpler life. Once that was done, I set out to build a new business-- no quick and easy task. I decided if I was going to work for little or no money, I better do something I love.
I began by exploring Jim Collin’s “Hedgehog” concept. I worked with EO friends to figure out my passion (teaching ideas on marketing and customer experience) my unique skills (writing and presenting) and the economic model (consulting fees, speaking fees and book royalties.) Applying Collin’s advice, opportunities were beginning to find me; however, execution required a whole other level of commitment.
With no resources, I knew I could only count on my ability to network and the hours I could commit in the day. Writing was my best sales tool, so I wrote prolifically, and I was always testing material with EO friends for honest feedback. The networking was arduous, and in these tough economic times, I found that people are busy and heavily focused on their own needs. Rightly so, but getting connections to others allowed me to ask favors that were often soon forgotten. Somehow, I worked to find compelling ways to stay front of mind.
The most important lesson I learned was to manage my impatience. Building a new business takes time, especially when you don’t have any resources. No amount of wishing or pushing can make it go faster. Another Collins concept, the “Stockdale Paradox,” brought me comfort. I knew without a doubt I would attain success, but I had to confront the brutal facts that I wasn’t totally in control. My focus was to work hard, be consistent and not get wrapped up in my own ideas. I needed to keep my ego in my wallet where it belongs.
These lessons, combined with a positive attitude and persistence, has led to my growing success 18 months later. I landed a national column for Smart Business magazine, speaking gigs and consulting opportunities are flowing in, and I signed a book deal with Wiley, a major trade publisher. Committing to success, I even tattooed the words New York Times Best Seller on my chest backwards to remind me every morning of my focus and goal.
The beach house and cars are gone now, but I love the simplicity of my new Manhattan life, and I feel great relief with a small monthly overhead. I am confident of paying back those who helped me. Most of all, I am excited because I love what I do. Every day I am excited and energized about being creative. I revel in following my passion and validating my ideas. I wouldn’t wish my crash on any EOer, but if it happens, I’ll be the first to support them in their reinvention.