How did I end up here?
Want to know why I am fearless enough to stand on stage at Big Omaha in front of hundreds of people and take off my shirt? What follows is an outline of how I got there, and how I think you could too. Don’t complain about the length. Personal change doesn’t happen overnight.
Big Omaha 2, 2010
In May of 2010, I was completely unsatisfied with my corporate engineering sales job and subsequently trying to decide where to take my career. My first love was entrepreneurship, and I had it on my mind all the time. I found out about Big Omaha randomly and drove up from KC by myself not knowing what to expect.
I remember the night of the opening party. It took me three drinks before I could muster the courage to have a conversation with anyone, and bless that poor woman’s heart, I talked her ear off so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone else. Through the conference, I managed to meet a few people who remain friends to this day. Every single person I met and talked to seemed to be genuinely interested in everyone else, and willing to help. When it came time to listen to the speakers, I was captivated. Despite my nerves, it was a transformative experience.
By the time I left, I was convinced that entrepreneurship was where I should spend my career. I remember driving out of Omaha talking on speakerphone with my wife, telling her through tears that I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
Living through pain
I spent the next year trying to convince her that we should sell our house and most of our possessions so that I could devote more time to starting my business. It did not go well, and it was an extremely difficult time in our lives. I have never experienced unhappiness like I did during December 2010, and I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. With the help of some friends, we made it through the worst bits. By March of 2011, we were in marriage counseling working to figure out how to live together in our new reality.
Big Omaha 3, 2011
Since Big Omaha had a huge impact on me, I figured that maybe it would work on my wife too. I was also writing for Silicon Prairie News and volunteering at the event. I had been working on a project in my spare time that attempted to fix some issues in alcohol distribution, so I hustled a chat with Gary V. I knew he could give some great input, and he told me the one thing that killed the idea, which was a good thing. It saved me tons of time.
One night, I was out at a party and went up to ask Dan Martell some questions about his presentation. After a short chat, he introduced me to someone else, telling them I was a badass. I was so embarrassed that I could barely make eye contact with them. He asked me when I was going to quit my job, and after trying to avoid answering, I settled on December 31, 2011.
When my wife and I were driving out of Omaha, on the same stretch of road where I called her a year before, I asked her what she thought.
Well, I mean, there are LOTS of crazy people.
This was a major win. Until this point, she basically thought that I had gone completely insane. I was able to convince her that a career in entrepreneurship didn’t necessarily mean we would die poor, even though it was a possibility. Two months later, I had sold my car, listed our house with a real estate agent, and was turning in my two weeks notice at work.
Doing things I don’t like to do
What followed in the next few months was difficult. We were forced to downsize our lives to a minimum and live off of much less money than we were used to. We lived in my parents basement for six months. I founded a new startup. I learned to cold call. I read intensely. I complained a ton about everything. I was the Louis C. K. of startups, but I wasn’t funny. I still feel pretty bad for how I treated my friends.
Despite all of that, I pushed myself to get out and try my hardest. My friend Neight Allen and I spent two weeks on a roadtrip to San Francisco, begging for couches to sleep on throughout the trip. I really didn’t like it.
Big Omaha 4, 2012
By this time around, I was in the throes of my startup. I had just returned from another SXSW and was feeling the grind but not making much progress. I knew the opportunity was there, but I just couldn’t unlock it. I was lucky to even be able to attend. Even though my fear of just about everything had been disappearing for some time, I wasn’t able to put myself out there. I didn’t feel like I was making good enough progress.
I honestly didn’t talk to very many people, but was thankful to have a supporting community around me. I left knowing that I needed to do some soul searching to grow. A few months later, I let go of all of my community responsibilities.
Through the last year, I have shut down my startup, joined a friends company, and put myself in a position to earn my way to what I want. I have chosen to get back to basics and started rereading some books that have helped me to rediscover my center. When I combined this with all of the time I have spent pushing my own boundaries, I discovered that I don’t have anything to be afraid of anymore.
Big Omaha 5, 2013 – Live and in living color
Watch the first 8 minutes of the video. It’s pretty funny.
In summary, I am fearless today because of all of the times I have felt terrible in the last several years. I was willing to throw everything away, and it caused me tremendous pain. I forced myself to do lots of things that I didn’t like, pushing the boundaries within myself. I chose to grow as a person and reclaim control over myself. In the process, I discovered the things that truly matter to me, and I didn’t have to give up anything that I really care about. I am in control of my life and I enjoy everyday as an opportunity to live up to my values and to pursue my career goals. At this point, I am not sure what I could possibly be afraid of.