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The Break that Broke Me

I hope you enjoyed the shift in this blog that started last week. Instead of writing about myself, I’m delighted to take questions from others.

But today’s question straddles the old blog and the new blog. Shawn from Cincinnati wrote to ask me:

How did you find the "why" to leave your job and pursue "the writer's life"?

It’s a great question.

Many of you know that I worked for a major technology company. By outside standards, I ‘had it all.’

But I didn’t have it all. I needed a break that broke me. Here’s how it happened …

In September 2011, I went to the North Woods of Minnesota for a management retreat. The entire management team, about 25 people, went together and we checked into a traditional lake resort, not far from Brainerd.

I should mention that this trip was the first ‘break’ I’d had in two years. Yes, I’d be working while away, but at least it wasn’t in the office. In theory, I could relax a little.

I should also mention that my left foot was trapped in a walking boot. I had just sprained my ankle so badly I had to keep it immobilized. But even in the boot, every step hurt.

And finally, I should tell you that I was angry — pretty much all the time. I had this sarcastic, snarky, bad-tempered persona emerging and I wasn’t even aware of it.

We got to the resort, I checked in, and learned that my cabin was about a mile’s walk from the main office.

I saw red. I started seething, but as a good team player, I made a snarky comment, grabbed my luggage, and got ready to walk a mile.

Then an elderly guy walked up to me, pointed at his elderly Jeep, painted with the resort logo, and said “Hey, can I give ya a ride?”

I woke up from my rage a bit and thanked him.

That short ride taught me what I had become. The caretaker just talked, telling me that he had been at the resort for 32 years, loving it, finding joy in the morning loons and helping kids make s’mores around the campfire at night.

Our talk broke me open.

I saw that I was so caught up in the status quo that I couldn’t possibly think ahead.

So, I vowed to try.

I spent the next few days reflecting on everything I wanted. I wanted to be more thoughtful and more effective. I wanted more time with my kids. I wanted the freedom to take vacations. I wanted to create things that mattered.

And my behavior changed. I pushed myself out of old, frustrated habits. I worked to be kind to people there who felt out of place. And I spent hours looking at the lake, the loons, the geese, and the occasional walleye.

When I left, I was fired up — ready to change.

I had realized that the status and money didn’t matter at all if I lost my soul pursuing them.

And I also realized that I wanted the writer’s life. I wanted it more than money, or status. I wanted it more than corporate benefits. I wanted to write for people who needed my help.

To put it simply, I found out that a change of scene and a chatty caretaker broke me open to new possibilities.

Now, I’ll admit that this might not work for you, or might be hard to replicate. But it certainly can’t hurt if you take a break from the status quo. Even now, I find that real thought takes space — you can’t do it if your mind is cluttered with bills, errands, the to-do list, and all the other preoccupations that distract us from what really matters. If you’re stuck, go someplace where you can think (and feel) about what you really, really want.

And what I want is to help more of you.

So far, I have a short list of questions from readers. But keep them coming — even if I can’t write about your question in the blog, I’ll send you a personal email. Drop me a note at

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Published: January 28, 2013

2 Responses to “The Break that Broke Me”

  1. Great story! Everybody's why is different. I realized my back can't hold out to wearing a lead apron for hours at a time in the cardiac cath lab and taking call and working all hours of the night.

    I am on medical leave now and focused on making the move to full time copywriting. I paid off all my bills from the sale of a home and my husband is being so supportive now. What a change in personality when a person has options.

    Thank you for your story.It hits home.

    Dede Sindelar

    Dede SindelarJune 11, 2013 at 12:22 pm

  2. Inspiring story Brian, i hope to follow in your footsteps soon as a copywriter.

    jacan24December 15, 2013 at 11:51 pm

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