Make shit that matters

3 years ago, I had a stroke at age 27.

I don't remember a lot. One minute I was in the office, and the next thing I can recall is coming out of the MRI, 8 hours later.

I found out afterward that I had two seizures - one at work, and a second in the ambulance. The doctors diagnosed me with cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. A small clot had formed in one of the veins coming from my brain, and the pressure had built up until it burst, causing the seizures. They told me I was extremely lucky I was somewhere safe when it happened, and not driving.

We spent seven nights in the hospital, then went home with a fistful of medications. I wasn't allowed to drive for a month, and I'm now taking thyroid medication for life.

I was back at work after only a week.

3 months ago, I quit my job.

I spent years moving up the ladder, into management, and eventually product. I was managing new product development, working with a fantastic team of engineers and designers, and was well positioned for continuing my career growth.

But there was something wrong.

Over the previous few months, I had become less and less productive. Thinking creatively was impossible - I struggled to write even short emails. I lashed out at coworkers and at my wife. Even playing with my 2-year-old daughter felt like a burden.

Eventually I realized I was struggling with severe burnout, bordering on depression. I had spent years taking on more and more ambitious projects, in a vain search for success, but trying to power through was only making the situation worse.

A close mentor helped me realize I had lost my "why" - the purpose behind my work. I felt like my world was upside down, and I had no idea how to fix it.

I forced myself to take two weeks off. My wife and I spent the time talking about what I wanted out of a career, and out of life. How I kept shoehorning myself into other people's definitions of success. How my long-term goal had always been to start my own business. We both agreed that continuing to grow my career was not worth sacrificing my mental health and happiness over.

I still didn't have any answers - all I knew for sure is that if I went back to work, things would continue getting worse.

We slashed our spending budget, I turned in my notice, and I jumped into the unknown.

3 days ago, I had an epiphany.

After quitting my job, I took a couple of weeks to decompress, then threw myself into the search for a viable business. I had a vague idea that I wanted to work with smaller customers - creating products for the enterprise felt too far removed from the people I was helping.

I binge-read blogs from Amy Hoy, Brian Casel, Dan Norris, and other veterans, and tried to come up with a productized consulting offering. Consulting seemed like a fast path to income - if I could only mimic what the experts were doing, I thought, I too could find success.

The more I researched, though, the more uncertain I felt. I was constantly switching ideas and audiences, searching for something I might be able to build a business around. But nothing felt right - nothing felt like it fit. I started to swing back into a familiar cycle, bouncing between confidence and fear multiple times a day.

Then, a few days ago, I came across Justin Jackson's blog. Justin's story was similar to mine - he was also a product manager that left behind a solid career to create his own business.

Instead of doing what I was trying to do - targeting freelancers, software companies, or other groups he wasn't a part of - Justin focused on "product people". Makers, entrepreneurs, designers - creators of stuff.

Immediately, something clicked. This was the group I want to spend my life helping.

These were my people.

Suddenly it felt less about expertise, or money, or fitting into someone else's idea of success. Realizing that I could create things that help other people create awesome things was the breakthrough I desperately needed.

If I could find a way to help other people like me - product entrepreneurs, bootstrappers, designers, and developers - create epic stuff, maybe - just maybe - I could build a business that worked for me.

The last three days, I've felt the happiest I have in years.

Where will you be in three days? Three months? Three years?

Will you be focusing on your work instead of your health and happiness?

Will you still be trying to power through a job that burns you out?

Or will you be doing what matters to you?

Here's my mission:

  • Create epic products that generate massive value for my customers
  • Inspire and help others to also create epic products that matter
  • Be happy

I don't yet know where I'll end up.

But maybe - just maybe - it'll be the best thing I've ever done.

I'm going to make shit that matters.

How about you?

- Kieran

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