Twenty six months ago, I sold my software business.

That business consumed my focus and attention for more than a decade. It defined so much of who I was as a person and served as a timeline of history and events of my entire adult life.

Selling it was unequivocally the hardest thing I had ever done at that time. Nothing in my life had even come close to the anguish, worry, fear, and anxiety that accompanied the process of making the decision to walk away. Now two years later, I still find myself continually challenged with the mental burdens that I struggled to bare during the period leading up to the sale, and frequently reflect on the periods during, before, and after walking away.

Two years goes by quickly and I find it hard to believe it’s already been two years, but these past twenty six months have made it very clear to me: selling my business and walking away from the tech world was the right decision.

It might even have been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Planning for what came after

Every resource I consumed (blog posts, podcast interviews, etc) had the same advice: make sure you have a plan for what you’ll do after the exit. I’d heard and read the same advice over and over again, and I followed it.

Well before the final paperwork was signed, I had a plan for what I was going to spend my time on. I’d laid it all out and was going to dive right in after my transition period with the acquiring company was completed.

What I did not expect, however, was for the post-sale period to be so emotionally heavy. I suddenly had all the freedom I could possibly want and the ability and resources to do as I pleased, but mentally I found myself paralyzed. I just couldn’t seem to drum up the motivation to do anything. For weeks on end I found myself laying around idly using up time scrolling Reddit and other time wasters.

I wanted to be out working on our land, planting trees, removing invasive species or a myriad of other projects.

I wanted to be focused on the brewery my brother and I co-founded with a third partner. It had so much potential and so many places it needed attention.

I wanted to be doing something but the motivation was gone.

I had been so completely and utterly invested in my business for the last many years that when it was no longer mine, I had no idea what to do with myself. In a deep and profound way, I had handed away a significant piece of myself, and I felt it immensely. It wasn’t exactly a depression or lack of purpose that I’d heard many founders describe, but it was a complete change, and I didn’t know how to respond to it. Mentally I was paralyzed.

Mentally resetting

It took six months or more for me to mentally reset enough to feel somewhat “normal” again, though, if I’m being honest, my own definition of “normal” was forever changed. Even today, I am deeply aware of how different I feel now compared to the period leading up to the sale.

Immediately after finishing my transition period, my wife and I rented a cabin in the Adirondack mountains for a week of hiking, exploring new places, and spending time together as just the two of us. That time alone together was immensely valuable as we re-assessed what our lives looked like and what we could plan for and expect in the months and years to come.

A few months later we took a second week-long trip into the mountains of Colorado, but this time with our three daughters. Again, taking time away from everything was incredibly valuable and gave us more opportunity to mentally reset and consider our futures.

Today, more than two years after the sale closing date, I have mostly found my center again, but even still there are many days where I find myself a bit lost. It used to be that when I had idle time or a few minutes or hours to spare, I could open my laptop and work through support tickets from customers or dig into the codebases to figure out the cause of a lingering bug or perhaps even build a new feature request. Between five individual products and a team of 26+ people, there was always something to work on that could occupy my mind and my time. Today, however, I frequently find myself unsure what to do. That’s not to say that the brewery doesn’t always have something to work on, nor is it to suggest there isn’t always something to do around the conservation properties we maintain, nor is it to imply there isn’t something I could spend hours doing with kids. What it is, however, is a recognition that the way I spend my time now is fundamentally different than how I used to, and I still find that mentally challenging far more often than I expected.

It took a while, but eventually I found myself accepting and embracing that it’s okay to not be busy all of the time. In fact, I now cherish the fact that I rarely am consumed by work for more than a few hours at a time.

Re-Discovering my strengths

There’s something I’ve known about myself for a long time: I’m good in a crisis.

I don’t share this as a brag or for any egotistical reason, but rather as a simple observation of myself. I’d actually go as far as to say that I thrive in a crisis. I think it’s because it gives me an immense sense of purpose, and one of the things I hate more than just about anything else, is not having a purpose.

In a crisis, I have a purpose: solve the problem, whatever it may be.

One of the things that had really begun to bother me in the last few years of my WordPress business was not having a purpose. Of course that’s an exaggeration–there were many things I was responsible for–but very few things in my day-to-day work gave me high levels of satisfaction with the work I was doing. I wanted a purpose that was challenging, and fun, and stressful, and meanginful!

Almost exactly a year after leaving WordPress, I had a challenge dropped on top of me that I didn’t expect and certainly didn’t want, but, in a sickening sort of way, I absolutely loved and relished it.

The microbrewery that I own/operate with my brother and another partner faced a crisis. An antiquated law threatened to shut us down in a very short time window if we did not find a way to sell an immense amount of food products in just ten days. It turned into a whirlwind couple of weeks where we fought tooth-and-nail to save our business and were rewarded with an absolutely astonishing amount of community support that still humbles me to chills a year later.

You can read about that whole saga on the Sandhills Brewing website.

That challenge motivated me and gave me a purpose to my work again, and, even as much as it was one of the most anguishing and stressful periods of my professional life, I loved it. I thrive in a crisis and the crisis fueled me.

That challenge led on to the next challenge, which was to get the antiquated law that had landed us in that situation removed from the law books, and after 12 more months, we succeeded. This past November, our county voted to revoke the rule that nearly closed our microbrewery, and I orchestrated and spearheaded the information campaign for the effort.

I had never intended to find myself entangled in local nor regional politics, but that’s where I found myself, and even though I hated it through-and-through, the experience thoroughly delighted me after it was done.

Among many other things, leaving WordPress by selling my primary business gave me the time and freedom to rediscover my strengths, even if accidentally through necessity of crisis management.

In a period of profound purposeless, I found purpose in a crisis and the challenge of preventing that crisis happening again.