I get asked a lot about my background, and how I arrived at my present circumstance – living in Baja for 15 years, being a full time author of some notoriety after having achieved a degree of financial independence that allowed me to pursue my passion with single-minded determination.
So here’s my story, in sanitized form: I worked for others from my early twenties to my early thirties, and wound up with about what I had when I started, saving little, working at things I was mostly ambivalent about to pay the bills. Along the way I pursued some interests like music, but as with most garage band hopefuls, nothing panned out with anything but chicks, beer, and hazy memories I wouldn’t trade for anything.
In my early thirties, I was between jobs – careers, actually, having dropped out of the computer business after burning out in sales and marketing products about which I knew little and cared less – when it occurred to me that I could well spend most of my life existing as I had rather than crafting a life I wanted. I became determined to break the patterns I’d been in, and researched until I came up with an idea that I thought could make for a nice lifestyle business. I risked everything with only a couple grand in the bank, hung out a shingle, and put the contacts and skills I’d developed to use, leveraging relationships until within a couple of years the business was turning a handsome profit, and I had three other people working for me.
Fast forward eight years, and I sold the company at forty and retired to Baja to engage in navel gazing (code for binge drinking on the beach). That got old after a couple of years, and I started a custom home design and build business in Mexico that still operates today, and which I’m extraordinarily proud of – I still love designing dream homes and seeing a patch of dirt become something that I imagined in my mind’s eye, and created from nothing. That’s key with what inspires me: I love to create new things, whatever they may be – businesses, designs, stories, whatever. It’s the act of creation that makes me feel alive.
During the period I was doing the design/build thing full time, I also started a wine company, and made vino in Argentina with one of the country’s largest producers. After a couple of seasons of commuting on ten hour flights and importing some to Mexico and the U.S., I decided I preferred drinking it to making it, and shelved that company.
When the 2008 financial crisis hit, the construction business softened in Baja around 2010, and I found myself looking for other ways to keep busy. A friend of mine had seen some articles about kindle sensations finding fame and fortune as self-pubbed authors, and having read some of my earlier scribblings, suggested I should give it a whirl – I was entrepreneurial, had a good imagination, didn’t mind working hard, and certainly had time to kill. June, 2011, I released my first book, and I never looked back.
I’ve started five businesses from scratch, and three have done well. Two didn’t, mainly because I was unwilling to put in the time necessary to make them hits. I learned my lesson – being engaged and involved in the business is the necessary ingredient for success. I’ve been an angel investor in another dozen companies over the years, and noted the same thing with the winners – the founders driving the company were hell bent on making them succeed at all costs. Some that failed also had the same type of management, but all that taught me is that you have to expect strikes if you want to hit home runs. Goes with the territory. And you need a leader with real passion for what they’re doing, or you’re screwed.
What does all this have to do with anything? As Jan. 1 approaches I was waxing nostalgic about years gone by, and I realized that the turning point in my life was when I was between jobs and decided I would create a future I wanted, that was compelling, instead of trying to deal with what life threw at me – that I was responsible if I didn’t like the ride I was on, not my parents, or circumstance, or the market, or a fickle universe. I got comfortable with the idea that it was better to fail at something I wanted to do than to never try it and go to my grave with regrets.
I’ve lived like that ever since. That decision to live unconventionally if it took me in a direction I felt interesting led me to expatriate to Mexico at a relatively tender age – I’ve now lived outside the U.S. for almost a third of my life, and I don’t regret a moment of it. I’ve taught myself architecture and building, wine making, writing and publishing, and am convinced I can do anything I set my mind to if I want it badly enough and I’m realistic about my abilities. That’s enormously freeing, but the first step comes from making the mental leap of refusing to lead a life of quiet desperation. I realized that in order to have a life I wanted I needed to imagine it first, and then figure out how to get it, not wait for it to come to me.
Along the way I’ve made countless mistakes, made and lost fortunes, had them stolen and frittered them away. I’ve realized there’s more to everything than money. But I learned lessons each time I won, or lost, so I view it as an expensive education rather than anything else – as the saying goes, I’ve never seen a U-Haul at a funeral, and those experiences resulted in who I am today. They inform my world view, and my writing, and I like to think they result in a certain veracity to the stories – there’s a lot of truth and hard won experience in them.
There are parts of my life I don’t discuss – my personal life, some of my pursuits when I was working for others. Let’s just say I got to travel a ton, and live in some really interesting places, if only for short periods. I’ve seen misery and boundless joy, and witnessed both incredible cruelty and the most tender of mercy, and been involved in matters I’m ashamed of, and others I’m proud of but will never mention. Guy’s got to have some secrets, after all, and I have more than a few.
What’s the takeaway? Cliche, I know, but you have to take responsibility for your life, and your future, and work to craft one that’s compelling, that is uniquely yours, and that makes you happy regardless of what others think. You need to find your muse at whatever pursuit you’ve decided upon, and follow it fearlessly. That doesn’t mean foolhardily or delusionally. It means you have to accept the fact that failure is an integral part of success, and find a way to sing on the way to the fields each day to toil at whatever you’ve decided gives your life meaning.
If I know anything, that’s the lesson. Your time on the earth is an adventure, and how you spend it is up to you. Sure, everyone has different challenges and abilities, but ultimately you need to become the captain of your vessel, or accept whatever the tide brings you, which is often flotsam. Even if nothing changes but your attitude, that’s a start – the most important one, I’d argue. So when considering resolutions for the new year, you might want to try that one on, and pursue a passion that makes you feel alive every day, whether it pays, or not. I knew the odds were a million to one when I launched into publishing, but I did it anyway, because I believed my stories were decent, and more importantly, I would have never forgiven myself if I hadn’t. I hold myself accountable for my own happiness, and I’d rather have spent a couple years trying and failing at something that was really important to me, than never doing it at all.
The other thing I’ve realized is that it’s lonely at the top if you don’t help others get there (not that I’m there, but I can sort of make out the pinnacle through the clouds now, which is progress), which is why I still offer advice to other authors, and chime in with opinions, informed or otherwise. Being gracious and compassionate costs nothing, and nobody ever went broke giving someone else a hand when they needed it.
So that’s my deal, and pretty much all I have for you as thoughts at year end. Have a safe and prosperous New Year. I’m going walkabout and will be gone for a week or two, and then will be back at the grindstone, doing what I love.
As always, thanks for the continued support. Maybe tell a friend. Never hurts…