Founders aren’t supposed to walk away from their creation. But what if the business you created is the wrong one? What if your next idea or creation is the one you’re destined to build? It’s time to challenge everything.
From the outside, it seemed like I was on top. Social media was painting the picture of old-fashioned American success:
- A high 7-figure business
- Working with celebrities and industry titans
- Traveling the world giving speeches
- New book out
- Freshly remodeled house in a coveted neighborhood with a white picket fence
But I felt stagnant. Unchallenged. Dead inside.
The Seed of Doubt
For about a year before I quit my company—the one I had worked for nearly 9 years building from the ground up—there were “signs”.
People close to me began to say things like, “I support you if you want to leave.”
“Weird,” I would think. I was the co-founder. Why would I want to leave? I couldn’t leave. But I just shrugged my shoulders, filed their comments away in my brain, and went on doing what I knew how to do best—grinding.
Then my grandmother died.
I rushed to the hospital to get there before her final moments. I was too late. She was gone.
I hadn’t planned on speaking at her funeral. But something about sitting in her presence for the last time compelled me to share. I found myself speaking about her fire and strong opinions. She was a post-WWII Japanese transplant to the US. She was a survivor, a true re-inventor.
As I told the story of my grandmother, it was like a light switch had been flicked on inside my head. I began to ask the question I was most afraid of . . .
“What if I left?”
I battled with this unfamiliar question for months. Finally, I shared it with my wife. In talking with her, I began to realize that I wasn’t happy.
I once thrived on stepping out of my comfort zone. I loved public speaking and dancing in front of strangers. I shaved my head on stage at seminars. I was spontaneous. I was alive.
Now? I was miserable.
Was this just a momentary “dip” or was it the end? And if this was the end, I was supposed to fight until my last breath. Wasn’t I?
But I was tired.
No. Worse than tired.
I felt like a boxer deep into extra rounds with a bloodied lip, blurry vision, and shaky legs. I had lost sight of my vision. I felt like I couldn’t speak up. I was barely on my feet.
Through it all, I told myself that this was normal. I told myself that I was supposed to feel this way. This was the path of the entrepreneur. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
Then came the right hook to the face . . .
The Turning Point
I knew we shouldn’t have done it, but we needed the cash flow.
My company entered into hosting an event with . . . let’s just say . . . a questionable partner.
There were red flags everywhere—missed calls, unanswered emails, unsigned contracts. Details of the event were constantly changing. Meanwhile, my second son was to be born just days before.
For the event, I was simply going to show up, speak, and leave. At least that’s what I thought.
We received a call with no time to reschedule. Our questionable partner had stopped paying the bill and the hotel was going to shut down the event. We already had vendors booked. Attendees had traveled from all over the world. Everything was on the line for us.
Scrambling, I found a late-in-the-game financial backer to hold us over until the event. But there was far more work to be done. I kept the hotel staff at bay while finding a way to either raise money or generate sales through the event so the hotel could get paid. I worked onsite for all three days.
I was angry. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to hold my son.
To top it off, I had to go on stage and pretend that everything was great. I couldn’t let them see the bags under my eyes, the knots of stress in my back, least of all the desperation I felt to be somewhere else.
We limped through the entire event but came out of it still standing. There was an amazing small core team that made it possible and we celebrated the amazing feat we accomplished.
Our "questionable partner” showed no remorse or empathy for anyone.
And that was it. The damage was done.
The decision made.
The knockout punch.
Did I really want to work with people like this? Did I want to continue inserting myself into these kinds of environments?
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to tell yourself that stress is a part of the gig. It’s easy to see misery as the price for success.
But for me, some realizations were too important to ignore:
- I did not enjoy my work anymore
- I was no longer driven to build or transform the company
- I felt purposeless
And then other realizations followed . . .
- You cannot live for someone (or something) else
- Reinvention is a tough but vital step on the path to greatness
- I would feel more fulfilled doing something else
Life is too short.
When I told my partners about my decision, they didn’t get it. How could I leave? This company was our baby. We were all friends, and we had worked together for years.
But I told them. And told them again. Until they got it.
I had been on the other side of the table when our first partner left. I knew what to expect. Except this time, they had an attorney. And I had me.
Looking back, I believe they got the deal of a lifetime. I wasn’t negotiating for a better contract or a payday. My eyes were on something much bigger: My new future. My next creation.
It’s easy to point fingers—at my former colleagues, at the shady character we’d partnered with—but what I’ve realized is that the reason I left was me. I needed to go. And it was the best thing for everyone. I was checked out for a year or two before I left. Perhaps I’d been holding the business back.
Leaving was hard, but it left me energized. It left me excited for what would come next. It gave me optimism and hope. And I would need it . . .
Because leaving was easy compared to the next obstacle: finding what was next.
The Best Choice I Ever Made
It was my favorite time of year—the holidays. For the very first time in my adult life, I could take time off and live in the moment.
I spent almost all of my time with my boys. We built things, carved pumpkins, baked muffins, made sand castles, and enjoyed each other's company
But it couldn’t last forever. January rolled around. The holidays were over, and I needed to start looking for my next big idea.
What venture was I going to start?
There were so many avenues I could take: Would I get a job? Would I go to law school to learn business law? I did really like the show “Suits.”
Without my company, I felt like I had no identity. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I began to panic. I questioned my decision so many times. Had I done the right thing—leaving without any plan for the future?
I searched far and wide for opportunities. I didn’t know where to start. Would I create something new, or join forces with an already great team?
I contacted my mentor, and he gave me some simple advice: start by reaching out to your network.
I made a list on my son’s chalkboard and I started calling. Some people I enjoyed catching up with, some not so much. I texted a guy named Than whose couch I’d slept on while managing a product launch for him 9 years earlier. No response.
Eventually, I scrolled down to the contact name “Andy.”
We’d met at a seminar years ago as newbies to the business world. We both had “baby faces” and a drive to create.
When I didn’t hear back from him at first, I didn’t think anything of it. He was in Hawaii. There was a 6 hour time difference.
But eventually Andy got back to me, and he told me about WealthFit. Seemed interesting—interesting enough that I got on a plane to meet with the WealthFit team in San Diego. And then my buddy Than, who I’d come to find out was also involved.
Their vision of helping entrepreneurs and go-getters resonated with me. I wanted people to understand that they should be building wealth while building their ventures. I wanted to help them get those ventures off the ground.
After 9 years of building a company that I thought was going to be my big contribution to the world, I had found something better: an opportunity to share the lessons I’d learned on that journey.
- Your life is your life and you get to make it whatever you want.
- Don’t let family, society, or even your own perceptions dictate what you should do.
- Your next idea or venture might be your home run.
- You can change directions, paths, and careers at any time.
With WealthFit, I could share my story and the lessons I’d learned along the way. I asked how I could help and they made me an offer. I accepted.
That’s when I became the Chief Wealth Evangelist.
Dustin is WealthFit's Chief Education Officer. He is also the co-author of "No B.S. Guide to Powerful Presentations". He inspires entrepreneurs to reach their full potential through his mission of empowerment.