As I write this, it is my 26th birthday. I’ve always been the youngest guy at whatever company I was working for. I was always admired for having my crap together and getting things done. People always made a big deal about how fiscally responsible I was. People were always surprised by how young I was and what I’d accomplished in my short time on this planet.
Today I am no longer the youngest guy where I work. I’m technically unemployed. My crap is no longer together. My admirers have forgotten all about me. My finances are laughable. And my accomplishments are stale. Here’s how things went downhill fast in 2012.
January – 2012 looks promising
In 2011 I got it into my head that I was doing enough freelance work on the side that I’d be able to quit my job and just skyrocket to millions. I thought I’d be able to travel at will, home school my kids full-time, keep up with all my current freelance clients while expanding my business, and still maintain the greatness everyone expected of me.
Around the same time, a buddy of mine and I launched Manteresting, a Pinterest for Men site that instantly took off. The first few months, while development was in full swing, were stressful and they engulfed much of my life. I was looking forward to having a lot more time after quitting my job so I’d be able to continue dedicating a big chunk of that time to Manteresting while maintaining my sanity but after launching the site, I found that wouldn’t be the case. The site was crashing constantly because we didn’t expect the traffic, and the traffic brought with it hundreds of bug fixes and feature requests. This is a great problem to have. It was a great time to have it too as I would have plenty of free time after I quit my job…
February – “I quit”
I put in my two weeks notice in February 2012. My boss started negotiating some way for me to continue to work for them or help them transition to new hires during my resignation sit-down. Here I am trying to quit and they are begging me to stay. They can’t live without me. I am awesome.
This only fueled my desire to cut ties but I let them talk me into staying, took their offer of working entirely from home, getting a raise, keeping my laptop and cellphone, health benefits and regular bonuses as if nothing had changed. I only had to put in 30 hours a week…
I couldn’t help but tell everyone what went down, how “in demand” I was. Look how great I am now!
I quickly realized what I had known all along about my job. I wasn’t quitting just because I was doing well on the side, but because I hated working where I was. I hated the work I was doing and the way corporate was running the company. Most of all, I hated how stagnant the atmosphere was there. I’m a go-getter. I’m a hammerhead. I’m self motivated and going places, working at a place going nowhere.
Now I was working from home, a place where I was free to do whatever I wanted…but I was still doing the same crap for the same company. Nothing had changed.
March – Disneyland!
So I decided to revel in my freedom. Late March, my family and I packed up and went to Disneyland. I know, how cliché.
Looking back, what this really meant was, now that I’m free, I’m moving back in with my parents.
We went to Disneyland and had a great time. While in California, we stayed with my parents. We had planned to stay for a couple of weeks but I couldn’t go back home yet. I am location independent now after all. So we decided to stay at my parents as long as we liked. It was sunny, we were eating all our favorite foods and getting nice and tan. Why would I want to go back home, to the cold and snow, to my dead-end job that I let follow me into my “early retirement”? No, it was better to stay in California with my parents. To enjoy what I had earned and get away from it all.
Only, I didn’t quit my job to get away from it all, did I? I quit to build my business. I quit to dedicate more time to my clients’ needs and make it absolutely certain that they would tell all their friends about me. Because I’m that awesome, young, fit, brilliant, good-looking guy who’s way ahead of the curve…
A place to get away from it all…that’s what California has been for me since I moved away. It’s been a place for me to relax, put work stress in the back of my mind, turn my phone on silent and just enjoy life. That’s exactly what I did. Only, now that I was location independent I could work from anywhere. I had no reason to go back home and get back to reality. I could just live it up in California as long as I liked. Oh, and my parents didn’t mind at all. They loved seeing their grandkids and enjoyed our company too. I even took up some of my old routine from when I was a kid, helping with chores, cleaning the house and of course, goofing around with my siblings.
It was great. Even when in California for vacation over the past years, I always tried to maintain a bit of contact with work, would make a few phone calls a day and check in to see that someone was minding my responsibilities. During this time, I’d check in with my freelance clients too, make sure everything was running smoothly and no one had any issues. But I didn’t need to check into work anymore. I had a few tasks to check off my list here and there but for the most part, all of my duties were no longer my duties. I was now at the end of the list of people to call when something wasn’t working instead of the first to call. This meant I had even less of a need to boot up my computer. Client emails came to my phone so I wouldn’t miss any emergencies. All my clients have my phone number too, just in case. There was no reason I shouldn’t take some time to really relax.
So I did. I checked email as often as I felt like it. I’d skim through emails on my phone here and there between beach trips and lounging around the house. If something urgent came up, I’d take care of it and while I had my computer on, I’d skim through the past hundred emails or so to make sure I didn’t miss anything else. If nothing urgent came up, well, my laptop got a break too I guess.
I could get used to this, I thought. I did get used to this.
As our extended vacation continued to extend, as we continue to find excuses to extend it, my mind continued to slip into this relaxed state. I’m on vacation. Things can wait. People understand. I deserve it.
April – Depression
What I didn’t realize then was that this state of mind, it wasn’t all sunshine and butterflies. It was actually a deep depression. I wasn’t relaxing, I was hiding. I was hiding from this image I had created for everyone, the one of the awesome, young, fit, brilliant, good-looking, sexy, enterprising, invincible guy with his crap together, the one of the guy that created a booming business out of nothing, this image that I couldn’t live up to any longer.
While in this state of mind, anything and everything that came up would only push me deeper and deeper into this depression. Everything got blown out of proportion in my mind. Family things that came up made the earth stop spinning. Little disagreements with my mom, dad, brothers and sister, even disagreements with my wife and kids would explode into screaming followed by days of cold stares and silent treatment. Misunderstandings between my wife and I would turn into much of the same, followed by days of despair.I was incapable of thinking of anything else but our exchanged words, over and over in my head. No matter what they were, they broke me for days. I’d mope around feeling indescribable sadness and guilt because I knew whatever it was we fought about wasn’t really that big of a deal but I couldn’t let go.
While neither my wife nor I understood exactly what was happening in my head, we assumed it was all due to staying too long at my parents’ place. They were driving us crazy and we needed our space. So we packed up and headed home. Our six-week vacation was over.
May – Back home
12 hours. That’s how long it takes to drive from my moms in California back to our home.
During that 12 hour drive, all I could think about was getting my head on straight. I had a ton of projects waiting to finish, or start. Client work had started to pile up and I had a long list of things I’d be able to tackle once I was back home, comfortable and relaxed.
One hour. That’s how long it took once I was back and rested up from the drive to realize my mind was messed up.
I sat down to get some work done and couldn’t even bring myself to open my email. There I was staring at an inbox with nearly 3,000 emails and I couldn’t bring myself to even look at what was inside.
It was about this time I realized something might be wrong but what? What could it be? This is me…I’m…I’m awesome?
How could there be something wrong…with me? No, there’s nothing wrong with me, I’m just still tired from the trip. I’ll get back to work tomorrow…It’s only 2PM, I’ll get up in a few hours…Thursday is almost the weekend, I’ll take care of everything on Monday…
Remembering back, that’s how much of the month following my vacation went. I couldn’t sleep because I was always waiting for the perfect time to get some real work done. I couldn’t get out of bed because I knew how much work had piled up. Day after day I just couldn’t pull myself out of whatever I was in. I couldn’t get back to normal. I didn’t recognize myself. I’m a morning person, what am I doing sleeping in till 4PM in the middle of the week? I quit my job to spend more time with my kids, why can’t I bring myself to get up and make them breakfast or walk them to school? I wanted to spend more time with my wife, why am I so anxious for her to leave the house?
The last few weeks we were in California were one thing but here I was, at home, comfortable, wife and kids off doing their normal routine and I couldn’t function in the least. In my mind, everything was blown out of proportion. Not just conversations, disagreements or misunderstandings but everything in my life. It was like my world was now under a magnifying glass. Things that I normally would shrug off like getting a cold were now this huge ordeal that would shackle me to my blanket and pillow wherever I went in the house. And it wasn’t even just me that was under the magnifying glass. If anyone in my household had a problem it shook my world. Minor health scares, tiny changes in habits, disagreeable news from the in-laws across town. Whatever it was, I was completely unequipped to handle any of it.
My mind would just stick on things and run for days thinking over all the different possible outcomes or it would completely shut down and I’d find myself numbing the despair with hours and hours of movies. I even fell into an old habit I swore off years ago and started playing video games again. Anything to get away from the thoughts going on in my head. Anything to get away from my responsibilities and the reality. Anything to get away from the guilt, the sadness, the anxiety.
Now, I knew something was wrong. Nothing was getting through this dark barrier around me. Emails were going unanswered for weeks. Texts which I got a lot more of now that I didn’t answer emails, were always urgent things and I’d scramble to solve but clients weren’t happy waiting for me to finally get back to them. I even started getting phone calls from worried clients and friends when their texts would go unanswered.
I had to do something. It’s me, I have to fix this myself. I’m the guy that retired from his job in his twenties. I’m the guy that started his own company right out of high school. I’m the guy people come to with their problems. I can do this.
June – Band-aids
So I started band-aiding everywhere I could. What I mean is, while the thought of facing my ever-growing inbox head-on was unbearable, even impossible, having someone call me because I haven’t answered their emails or texts was embarrassing and shameful. The person I had let myself become ashamed me and that feeling of shame was motivating some change…to a degree. At the very least, at this point I knew there was a big problem I had to do something about though I didn’t fully understand the depth of it.
Some band-aids that seemed to help at least for a short time were alerts, an alert system set up to sort my email and alert me to important or urgent matters. I still couldn’t bring myself to just open my inbox and see everything in there but if I set up alerts for certain people, certain clients and friends, business partners that typically needed prompt responses, I could deal with the slow, small stream of emails from those specific people.
July – Making Amends
What happened that finally made a difference was opening up about the problem I was having.
I told my wife. I told her exactly how I was feeling. We talked all night. I told her what a failure I felt like. I told her about why I was acting the way I was, what I thought was behind it. She already knew I had changed but didn’t know why or how much. This helped answer a question she had asked me for a while, why our relationship felt so strained lately, why we were fighting all the time and why things were becoming so difficult between us.
We just celebrated our sixth anniversary in May. She told me how she felt the last six months were the hardest point in our marriage. This was difficult to hear from my wife, but I had felt it too. As difficult it was to talk about this with my wife, to shatter the strongman image of myself in her eyes, it was the only way to move forward with our relationship. It was the only way to fix the damage I had already done.
Things after that got better at home. She understood more of what was going on with me, she openly supported me, she pushed me to do better, she encouraged me to work when I needed to do things and it was much harder to hide things I shouldn’t have hidden from her to begin with. She was now on my team against this problem and I didn’t feel so alone.
After seeing the power this open communication had against my depression, I had a few other people I needed to talk to. My business partners deserved some of the same honesty and trust that my wife received when I was finally ready and able to talk about what was going on. These people have been a part of my life for years too and are more than just business partners, they are my closest friends. So I started emailing them. My business partners and I have a great relationship built on friendship and trust. Nevertheless, it was much more difficult to tell them of my troubles than I thought it would be but I had to do it.
One by one, I patched things up with as many people as I could. My friends were understanding. Our friendships grew stronger and I was now accountable. I couldn’t just hide from these people anymore because they knew what I was doing, they weren’t going to take my excuses and they wouldn’t let me disappear again. Just like my wife, my friends were very supportive and encouraging. I’m still making amends today but getting closer.
I was still fighting the urge to crawl back into bed every single day but I felt like now I had a fighting chance with a team of great people pushing me back into the real world.
August – Exercise
During the rest of the Summer, I tried to spend as much time away from my bed as possible. I tried to spend time outside in the sun getting exercise. I had put on a little over 20 lbs since March and that wasn’t helping with how I felt. I started doing things I enjoyed again like playing Tennis with my wife and playing at the playground with my kids. My wife’s workout season was in full swing so I tried to tag along with her wherever I could keep up. She’s die-hard in the Summer and it helped motivate me in that arena.
I continued patching things up with clients and friends. Some clients left me and understandable so. No hard feelings. Other clients had their own stories to share of tough times in their lives. I had lots of making up to do but it seemed sharing my personal troubles strengthened some relationships.
With a renewed commitment to my responsibilities, a team of friends and loved ones standing behind me as I stepped back into my life and eyes on the future, I was finally shedding the dark shroud I had worn for far too long.
September – FINCON12
The next step was FINCON12, a personal finance blogger conference held every year by PT Money. I bought my tickets earlier in the year, booked my hotel room and submitted a speaking proposal that was accepted. This was an obligation I knew I couldn’t cancel now and something I was actually excited about. I decided to speak at FINCON to stretch my comfort zone and being someone driven by a challenge, this lit the fire deep down inside me again and I felt really good about it.
As FINCON quickly approached, I got more and more excited about it. I was excited to see my old friends, clients, and meet new people. I was nervous about speaking but in a good way, a way that I hadn’t felt in ages. My speech was coming along and working on it, working on the speaking topic I picked out, made me realize I still have something in me to share with others. I still have expertise that is generally valued and knowledge I should share. Preparing for my speech and working toward FINCON gave my confidence a kick-start it needed badly.
I still didn’t feel mentally 100%. I was still struggling to tackle certain tasks like email and was still behind on some projects so I decided to take it easy at FINCON. The prior year, I had pushed myself to build new relationships with as many people as I could. This year, I relaxed and enjoyed the sessions. I took everything in. I took three notebooks full of notes and didn’t push myself to meet everyone in attendance. I kept to myself more than I wish I had, looking back now, but I still spent most of my time talking with old friends.
When the time came for me to speak, the thing I was most worried about was that no one would show up. I had 30-40 attendees and the conference room I was in, a rectangular room with me at one of the short ends and a video camera at the other, with seats between us, was comfortable and looked more filled than it actually was. That helped.
I ended up rushing through my speech a bit so had more time for questions, but attendees brought up some great questions and the time sped by. I stumbled on my words a few times but overall I couldn’t help but feel good about my first public speaking gig.
The rest of FINCON was a blast…oh, except for being fired…
As we drove home from FINCON, ideas were swirling in my head like crazy. I came up with and outlined the ideas for two books, wrote up everything I want AntiNecktie to be, came up with some ideas for several other projects and felt really great. I felt like my old self again. I felt like I could do anything again.
October – Getting Caught Up
Even though I had lots of ideas for new projects and connected with a few new and potential clients at FINCON, I still had tons of catching up to do. I had clients to make smile again and family business long overdue. It was time to get caught up. I made a big to-do list on my IKEA whiteboard and got to work.
I couldn’t believe how great I felt again. I still had some bad days but all the things I quit my job for were there waiting for me. I started making the best of every minute with my wife and kids. I started spending more time with them. Not just being in the same room, but actually made time to spend with them and did fun things that we will remember for a long time.
I gave my clients the attention they deserved. I started answering emails within hours instead of within days (or months in some of the worst cases). I did my best to get organized again and kept on top of things better. My to-do list started shrinking, slowly but surely, and I felt like the sun was shining in my life again.
By the end of October, I was mostly caught up with clients and finished a few overdue family and personal projects.
November – Balance
I still had plenty of work to do and knew to continue to pay my bills, I’d need to get even more work. I also knew that if I piled things on again, I might break and be back where I started, overwhelmed and looking for a place to hide mentally. Throughout November, I did my best to balance my work, family time and mental breaks. I took on new work but only work I knew I could handle with ease. I didn’t take on any new challenges that would strain the balance I was looking for.
I also went through the services I offer to clients and pruned those that weren’t worth the money for me anymore. When I decided to freelance full-time, I revved the engines and would do anything for anyone, online. Some of these jobs weren’t taking advantage of my expertise, they were just something I could do. Since anyone could do them, I couldn’t charge anywhere near what I charge for things that I specialize in so I was spending an inordinate amount of time doing things that brought in pennies. That had to stop if I was to balance my life.
Balance is something I think everyone struggles with their whole life. I feel better about the balance I have now. I take enough personal, offline time as I need without letting my mind slip into a stupor. I keep better track of what I do and how much time I spend on things. I keep better tabs on my contact accounts (email, twitter, etc) so clients don’t ever wonder where I am. And I try to communicate what I’m feeling better with the people around me.
December – Wrapping up the year
I won’t say much about December other than it was great. Things continued to improve at home and with clients. I signed a few new clients, was able to satisfy their needs and make them happy which felt good. Over delivering has always been important to me. I have to make clients so happy that I’m the first person they think of when they need something or when their friends ask them who they can trust.
Christmas was great. We spent it enjoying the company of family, mine and my wife’s. The kids got their first pets. I worked a few days before and after Christmas but made sure I didn’t schedule anything during when we would be spending time with family, so I didn’t let anyone down when I wasn’t online.
What this experience taught me
I’m not invincible. I thought I was. I thought I could take on the world and I had no limits. I had never experienced anything as difficult as this past year was for me. I learned that I’m not the only one affected by my mental state either. I never thought I’d be unable to take care of my family, but that’s exactly what happened this past year. I had become dead weight in the family and dragged everyone down with me. I never thought I’d be the sole cause of that much difficulty for those around me.
I learned that I have limits and I have a good idea of what they are now. I know now the kind of projects I need to avoid to keep my sanity, the kind of time I should set aside for my mind to recharge and for my family relationship to grow.
I learned how much I rely on others every single day for support and encouragement. I learned how many other people play a part in my business and life.
I was truly humbled by what happened in 2012.
The people in my life did so much for me this past year, I can’t thank them enough. Thank you to my wife and kids for being there for me when I needed them, for doing their best to understand what I couldn’t, for loving me through the misdirected anger and hostility. I love them so much and get up in the morning just to see their beautiful faces.
Thanks to Crystal, my business partner and friend who text when I avoided email, who called when I avoided text, who wouldn’t let me disappear no matter how hard I tried and who trusted I would come back throughout it all.
Thanks to Ninja who helped me continue to dream big and who encouraged me to focus on my expertise and cut things out of my life that were dragging me down.
Thanks to my clients who were patient with me, who were understanding, who shared their own stories with me and who let me make things up to them.
What happens now?
Now, I press forward. I built a successful business pre-2012 and 2012 was a rough patch that I have to move on from. I won’t forget what happened in 2012 and how wrong things went but I am thankful for everything that I learned along the way and use that knowledge to my advantage. AntiNecktie will embody everything that went right and everything that went wrong since I started working online.
Check out my expectations page to learn more about my vision for AntiNecktie. Read over my about page to learn more about me and my life, my experiences. Head over to my Failures page to see what things haven’t worked and why. Connect with me through social media or send me an email.
Please, leave a comment. Share this with someone you know that’s having a hard time, let them know that it gets better. And thanks for reading.