Pulling the Plug on an Old Life

It's no small thing to reinvent one's self. This is how I went about it.

I didn’t know I was stressed until I walked away from my first business. Chasing one deadline after another, burning myself out, assuming that having twenty thousand things going on in my head was normal—it built and built and built until I wasn’t even present with my own wife.

My thoughts wandered to the latest project, the latest fire, or the most recent email to hit my inbox. I was mentally incapable of being still. Of having no thoughts in my head. Of focusing on one task at a time. I don’t have ADD, but I was operating as if I did. And again—this felt completely natural. And no wonder. I’d operated that way since I got my first homework assignment as a kid.

From the moment I started school to the moment I slammed the door shut on my first business, I never stopped “doing.” Because, in my mind, if I stopped “doing” things, I would stop making money, and if I stopped making money, I wouldn’t be able to support myself and I’d be a failure.

Bear in mind that I had never actually tried doing nothing. I didn’t know how to; plus, the risks were too high. As an entrepreneur, I was convinced that there was no stopping. Not until I achieved “X” revenue with the business or hired “Y” people to support me. So vacations were really remote work sessions. Holidays had no impact on my work schedule. I simply never stopped. Never gave myself a break. Hustle was the name of the game, and if I didn’t hustle, I didn’t deserve success.

It wasn’t until I had enough courage and support from people who loved me that I was able to finally step away from a lifestyle that was, quite frankly, slowly killing me. My testosterone was dangerously low, my energy levels weren’t nearly what they should have been, I wasn’t sleeping well, and my immune system was in poor shape.

So I closed my marketing agency of nearly a decade, kindly cut ties with a tech incubator I was working with, and, in my wife Melanie’s words, retired at 32. Though that’s not entirely true, it did have a glimmer of truth to it. We were in the fortunate position of having Melanie’s business, Confidancia, growing by leaps and bounds, so we agreed that I was going to take a minute and re-evaluate my life.

Getting back to idle

It took exactly 37 days for my brain to slow down to idle speed. I officially cut myself off from anything to do with marketing on January 27th. Over the next five weeks and two days, I found myself feeling different. Not better, really, but different. The best way I can describe it is that each time a thought passed into my head that was related to work, I reminded myself that I no longer had anything to do with that thought, and it was released from my mind. Permanently. This happened probably a hundred times a day. And still – it took over five weeks.

I went back to my favorite personal growth books, meditated, journaled, and rested. Slowly but surely, I began to realize exactly how out-of-whack my mind had been. I found myself calmer and more grounded. I was able to meditate more easily. I became less fidgety. Things started to feel easier.

Then, on day 37, something happened that I really don’t think I can explain properly. Something clicked into place in my head. I had just returned from a 4-day retreat that Melanie was hosting a few hours north in Cocoa Beach, FL. I was standing in the kitchen doing dishes when I suddenly realized that the only thing I was thinking about was doing dishes.

The only thing.

And the result of that was a profound sense of joy—even bliss—in just doing the dishes. With nothing else in my mind, I was entirely focused on the task in front of my face. I was, put simply, completely and totally present. My mind wasn’t wandering, wasn’t thinking about the past or the future, wasn’t worried or anxious or concerned about a single thing. I felt my body. I pushed my soapy fingers against each other and marveled at the slippery wetness. I smiled and laughed like an idiot, just feeling joy at the marvelous act of cleaning a plate. Thirty seven days of nothing to think about and my mind had finally arrived at idle speed.

Dan 2.0

Later that evening, I was having a conversation with Melanie and realized, with a bit of a shock, that I was interpreting her words differently.

Her sentences seemed to make more sense somehow. It wasn’t that she was saying anything in a different way, or that she was saying it with a different tone. She was still talking to me the same way she always did—but I was hearing her differently.

When I told her about this and tried to explain what was going on, a haunting realization entered my mind: I was almost never fully present with my wife for more than a few minutes at a time. I was listening to her intently now—feeling what it feels like to be fully focused on her, watching her body language, hearing the inflections of her voice, and forming thoughtful responses.

I actually had to sit her down and explain what was going on. I couldn’t help but apologize for being so absentminded in the past; I felt as if I had missed out on so much quality time. And while that wasn’t entirely true, as we shared plenty of beautiful moments and memories, if I was really honest with myself, I knew that in most moments, my thoughts wandered to something else. As if my brain wasn’t comfortable with being present with my wife.

It made me feel angry. Ashamed. Not worthy.

To her credit, she handled this moment of honesty with nothing but love. Of course, she was a little shocked. For the next few days there was this adjustment period where she was much more aware of how present I was in our conversations, ultimately realizing that I was “there” more. I was more engaged and more interactive. Not the “regular” Dan who had to ask her to repeat certain things in the middle of a conversation. When she saw that, the weight of the situation really hit her—who had she been spending the past few years with? What was I thinking about that was more important than her? It was embarrassing, eerie, and a bit scary.

Long story short, we processed it together and I just started referring to myself as Dan 2.0. The humor was all I could do to combat the frustration of coming to terms with my own incompetence. But I was grateful it happened, as it led to a deeper love with my wife and opened a chapter of my life that I couldn’t have possibly predicted.

A fresh start

You know how annoying it is to work with an old, slow computer? Everything takes too long to open, it seems like there are a million programs running in the background, and even the simplest tasks seem to be too much. That’s how my mind was working before this shift happened. I had a million programs running in the background: client projects, money stuff, travel plans, household chores, etc.

Now, though, it felt like I’d purchased a brand new computer. If I opened a program, I was doing so intentionally, and I remembered to close it before opening the next program. I was aware of my thoughts and, thus, in control of them.

And it was in this clear mindset that I found the largest creative streak of my life—the same creative streak from which Hama was born.

I was writing nonstop. I began to put the pieces together for my new business, sharing them with Melanie every step of the way. I was creating stuff I was proud of. I started a website and loved the process of designing it—instead of the dread and resentment that I had felt with marketing work before. Things just became easier. I was thinking more clearly than I ever had in my life. I was in flow 24/7.

The seven months that followed were filled with creation. I created content, I came up with ideas for my new business, I created new relationships that I knew would flourish, and I created a future for myself. I felt, for the first time, that I was on my life path. That I had found my purpose.

Don’t let old decisions blind you from your path

I was 23 years old when I got my first job at a marketing company and took my first freelance marketing project. From that point forward, marketing was my chosen path—but not because I loved it. Because I was good at it, and because I could make money with it.

I was young and broke and wanted to make something of myself. If I had to learn a skill I had no interest in, deal with late nights, and live in a seedy basement apartment in Englewood, New Jersey, so be it. My thinking at the time was that I was playing the long game, and to play the long game, you have to make sacrifices.

These were all decisions that I made at the age of 23—and I let those decisions stay in place for nearly a decade. A decade—of not revisiting a major life decision that I made from a place of scarcity and fear. To be clear, I have no regrets for these decisions, but I do understand, now, the importance of looking back on them with a questioning mind.

Think about your life today, from the work you do to where you live to what you eat, and consider the question: what decisions did I make years, or even decades ago, that are causing me to live this way?

Seriously evaluate those decisions. Look at the effects of those decisions on your daily life. For me, the effect of that early decision was chronic stress. I was delusional in thinking that I was functioning at 100% of my potential. I just liked the idea of having my shit together, so I told myself that I had my shit together. You can do that sort of thing in your twenties.

Don’t let the decisions of the past haunt your present and future. Scrutinize everything—and if you feel at all out of place in your life, or like you’re not on the right path, start by simply asking yourself the question: what is one thing different that I can do, right now, that will make me happy?

Start taking care of yourself. Start prioritizing your happiness. Start having faith that if you stopped doing that thing you feel like you need to do, but aren’t happy doing it, the world will not, in fact, come to an end. You’ll be okay. You’ll be more than okay—you’ll be happy. And when you’re happy, the Universe provides everything you need to not only survive, but build a life of abundance beyond your wildest dreams.

P.S. In retrospect, those 37 days of slowing down constituted a massive healing experience for me. “Healing” can mean many things, from a wound forming a scab to trauma being released. The experience I shared in this post is an example of a mental healing experience that manifested itself when I finally gave my mind the right environment to heal.

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