How to sink your lean bootstrap #5: the final mea culpa

This is the final installment of a series of blog posts that I thought was over with post #4. When I eventually come up with yet another way to dramatically implode a self-funded business I suppose I will have to come up with a new title.

First, let me lie to you, just a little bit, laced with truths and half-truths, in case you tell yourself the same lie I do.

I am a special snowflake. I work all day, most evenings, and most weekends because I love my business and I love programming. And because my long working habits are fueled by love and not some manic need to compete with my co-workers (who would I compete with? I’m the king!) or to wear exhaustion like a badge, I’m able to work 60–80 hours a week indefinitely without wrecking my life.

Besides, the way I overwork matters. Most people who overwork sacrifice their families to do that. Not me. I sacrifice myself instead, cuz I’m awesome. First I gave up watching television series, except occasionally with Shannon as a way of spending time with her. Then I gave up watching all sportsball events. That wasn’t quite enough, so I also gave up hobbies. I stopped building stuff. I stopped writing stories. I stopped reading books. But I started listening to books in the car in my 7 minute commute each day.

I kept doing the things that matter most. I put my kids to bed nearly every night. I took my family to Universal Studios for a week, and I only worked a little bit. In the morning, just while everyone else was still groggy, and only on important stuff. I went to London with Shannon for a week and barely worked at all.

I’d been working 60–100 hours per week since 2008, and everything was was fine. I can do this forever.

I could keep lying to you this way for a while, if some things hadn’t happened that made me stop lying to myself.

It started with a little hint. Jake (8), who can’t remember a time when I had a normal job, told me that I never play with him anymore. My weight got close to topping 300 pounds. My temper started getting short. I yelled at my teenager for being a teenager. I justified that because, well, she is a teenager. And they are hard.

And then one day I found myself yelling at Shannon, the nicest, most supportive person in the universe. My own siblings and parents have told me that in a dispute between Shannon and I they would side with her, no matter what, simply based on how inexhaustibly kind she is.

I told myself it was a fluke. I was more stressed than usual at the time, and it was just a one time thing.

Except it wasn’t.

It happened again, just a few weeks later. And then again.

I didn’t want to admit it, but deep down I knew it would continue, and maybe even get worse, unless I made a change.

And it was all driven by one thing:

I was unhappy.

Not with my family. Not with Shannon. Not with my business. I was unhappy with me.

I am just a big fat bag of meat who works all the time.

There is no way that makes anybody happy.

And then Jason Fried said something he’s been saying for years and that I have ignored, even while I have listened to and embraced everything else he’s ever said.

It started with two tweets:

Here’s the full post mentioned in the tweet.

This was nothing new. Jason has been talking about this topic forever, but with my family failures fresh in my mind, I couldn’t dismiss it the way I normally did. Instead, I made a public, feeble attempt at defending the special snowflake I surely am:

One of the reasons I like Jason Fried is because he is not a jerk on twitter when people disagree with him. I’ve never met him, so I can’t pretend to know him, but he engages on Twitter in ways that always seem nice to me (brief aside: this is a powerful way of becoming influential).

Jason’s response to me was, as always, nice. But it hit me like a ton of bricks, and for whatever reason I could no longer deny the truth.

I am not a special snowflake. I can’t keep doing this forever, and I resent what I have done to myself in the name of building a business.

I used to be fun. I used to be happy. I played basketball. I attempted backflips on a wakeboard. I built things. I served in my church cheerfully and lovingly. I talked about all kinds of things. I wrote stories, even books.

I have become a drone. I work constantly. I only talk about one thing. Everything that isn’t work is an inconvenience and frustrates me. I have become TroopTrack.

This has to stop, and there’s no reason for it not to. And that’s the saddest part.

I don’t need to work so hard.

My business doesn’t need me that much. I could work 35 hours a week and TroopTrack would be okay. That’s not the problem. The problem is I don’t know how to not work anymore.

So… it comes to this. I quit. I’m not going to be TroopTrack anymore. TroopTrack can be TroopTrack. I’m not going to let that be my identity. TroopTrack will always be my business, and I will always love it. But I am done with letting it be my identity.

I’m gonna be Dave again. Probably not the old Dave. I can’t imagine myself attempting backflips on a wakeboard ever again. But writing stories and building stuff? Totally.

So, here’s my final lesson on how to sink your lean bootstrap: let it become who you are. The business may still succeed, but you… you will disappear. And that’s worse than failing.

Thanks Jason Fried. I wish I’d listened to you sooner, but I’m glad I finally did.