A Case Study: Turning Problems Into Startups, Books, and More

My life changing moment occurred on a random Tuesday night, in the company of new friends. Glasses of wine in hand, we seized the opportunity to get to know each other better while our kids played underfoot. The conversation turned to me, and the most unexpected sentence reframed the last three years of my life.

My friends, Justin and Lindsey, were interested in what I did for a living and what I was pursuing since I quit my job. What seemed like a simple conversation starter was actually a portal into my midlife crisis. So, I told them what I did for a living. I told them that for over 15 years, me and my brother had built a multi-million dollar company that brought our father’s life work out to patients nationwide.

After I told them what I did, sometimes whoever was listening would be excited. Sometimes not. I always had to explain it in a way that didn’t make me seem like I was bragging but at the same time, tell them honestly what I did.

But despite the normal connotations of success attached to what I did — the money, the prestige, the position — I always felt like I was explaining someone else’s life. Not my own.

Why I Wasn’t Happy

I had worked hard to achieve the success I had.

But somewhere along the way, I ignored my authenticity. I just went after what I thought was right, rather than what was right for me.

When I quit my job, I was 30,000 feet in the air, on an airplane, and crying. It was hard — but necessary. But ever harder, were the next steps. I had quit my job; done the deed. Now what?

Where do I go from here? What does it mean to be authentic? How do I get it? What am I doing?

“Failed passion” after “failed passion”, somewhere along the line I had convinced myself I had wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write a book. And when I told my friend Justin, a writer himself, he perked up and asked what it was about.

I told him I had quit writing several months ago and I wasn’t too happy to recount yet another failed attempt to find my life’s passion manifest through my career. I felt emotionally out-of-whack. Crazily enough, I told him that I wanted to write a book called Emotional Obesity.

We brush our teeth, shower, put on lotion, and dress accordingly. We eat, exercise, and obsess — to an astounding degree — how this all works.

But what about our emotional fitness? What about figuring out your authenticity? What about keeping your mental and emotional game on point? Where’s the guidance and knowledge for that?

Justin stared at me intensely, then smiled and said, “you are the book and the book is you.” I just stopped. All I could utter was, “what?” He said, “you took off three years to find your true self and started writing a book about how to find our true self. You are the book and the book is you!”

The book is me? I am the book? Had I really spent the last three years working to find my true self while thinking about a book about finding our true self?

Problems Today, Solutions Tomorrow

He was right.

When I left my job, I had one goal — do something that felt entirely authentic. I wanted to be the person who said she loved what she does. It took hard work, but after years of experimentation, I figured out what it took to lead the life I wanted and be emotionally in check.

And then, I wrote a book about it. That was the key.

We all face problems in our lives. We all have points of failure that define us, that move us, that we obsess over. For some, it’s as every-day as emotional health and for others, it’s as far-out as space travel. We all have problems and mysteries that make us wonder, make us think, and move us.

The point, though, is that these problems aren’t just beautiful because they can be solved. They’re beautiful because they can open a door to other people who share the exact same problem.

At it’s essence, a good company, a good startup, a good book — ultimately, a good project — is one that fixes a problem that people have. Once you take that problem, fix it, and sell the solution, you have a gift that you can give the world. You can help other people fix the problem they’ve been having for years.

And oddly enough, it’s the problems that we fixate on the most, that become what we become passionate about.

It’s where our dreams lie. Because the problems you obsess over the most, are the very problems that not only need solutions, but could use your voice in finding them.

What problem could focus all your energy on and help someone by finding a solution?

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