I nervously sat down. First on the edge of the couch, leaning forward, intent. Then quickly shifting to the back, putting my arm up on the rest, more relaxed.
I was fidgety. I couldn’t compose the anxiety that was brewing.
This guy had been recommended by a good friend, and I trusted this friend. And this friend told me to trust this guy, go where he asks me to go.
Easy enough, or so I thought.
I’m sure this guy I was supposed to trust has seen guys like me before. Where the cover story looks good, the words are crisp, the story tight, the appearance impressive.
We’d been in counseling a bit years before, but the pain wasn’t real to me then. The stakes not as high.
But they were that day.
It was an innocent enough, get to know you type question. Maybe more of a leading statement that trailed off…
“So, tell me about, well…you…”
I got this.
“Well, we got married almost 15 years ago, had 5 kids in less than 8 years, lived in 8 houses in 5 different cities, worked for 3 different companies….”
Probably not impressed but certainly engaged, his response was something like:
“Wow, that’s a lot.”
“Uh, yeah it has been a lot. See the thing you should know about me is I’m really ambitious, there’s always a lot of plates spinning and balls being juggled…”
“Yeah, because you’re a clown,” he replied.
OK, he didn’t say that last part, but in hindsight, I’m sure he thought it.
There’s this current. A strong, steady, relentless current at work among self-starters, entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, side hustlers, break free from corporate America-ers and the like.
It’s not all bad by any stretch, but when you’re not self-aware (a boat I was most certainly in), the promise sounds sweet but is poisonous.
It’s a current that’s nearly impossible to identify and even more difficult to escape. Like a brutal undertow but one you can’t see or feel. Until you’re in so deep, you’re out of luck.
The promise it brings is that you can hustle your way to what you want. The belief that more ambition is what you’re lacking. The statement that more and more hard work is enough.
It all sounds great until you hustle your way to near death, like I did.
Where you have so many side hustles going that your main hustle and your relationships are on life support.
Where you burn the candle at both ends until you realize there’s no light left in your heart for the things most important.
And damn, it’s a tricky, not black and white situation. Because hard work DOES matter. Hustling and grinding IS important at times.
But when the ambition becomes the chief or to continue the ocean references, the captain, you’re in trouble. At least I was.
Ambition, when unhealthy, produces lots of results and feels like great energy. But it makes for a terribly preoccupied husband and dad.
I work from home many days now. I own a small company that continues to grow. I do work I love with people I enjoy. I take my kids to school many days, unless I tell Brooke I need to sleep in a bit. I’m home when they roll home from school, unless I’m at our rehabbed 1860’s office on the square of our town. I leave work two days a week to coach them at 4:00 in the afternoon. I work out in the middle of the day, when I’m not eating ice cream. I have clients who are changing the world.
I have a dry-erase marker phrase on my office window that says, “Dads Offs” that I won’t ever be able to erase.
I have the exact work life I wanted for years, maybe decades.
The exact one I tried to hustle my way to obtain. The exact one I sacrificed nearly everything to obtain because it was “for them”. The one I wanted so badly I’d subconsciously manipulate bosses, coworkers and potential business partners.
And it’s not even close to something that will ultimately satisfy me.
I’m still riddled with anxiety often. I make terrible decisions at times. I don’t have a 5-year plan, let alone a 5-month one.
This insight isn’t to boast, the exact opposite actually. It’s to highlight that if you’re hustling your way to the top of something, let my life warn yours.
The way up is down it seems. Things have to break in order to be rebuilt stronger. Some things have to die in order for others to grow.
The truth is, and I’m so glad it’s this way, is I can take zero credit for it.
It took my life falling apart, it took the charade coming down, the plates to stop spinning and the balls to bounce on the floor for any semblance of success to start to emerge.
Not success in the financial sense. Success in the heart sense. In the becoming more aware sense. In the waking up to reality and stop using ambition as a cover-up to avoid painful truths sense. In the understanding of how much denial I used in this so-called hustle.
The ambition almost killed me. The hustle almost drowned me.
In some ways it did actually.
But it made way for something new…