When I first started the Ice Cream Diaries just seven years and a few days ago, it was all about trying to capture and share the adventure of starting my own business. I'd just returned from what turned out to be nearly two years of amazing travel, reflection, catching up with friends and family throughout the U.S., and more so towards the end, trying to figure out where to steer the drifting boat that was my career. That slice of life between professions was sweet. I was just lucky, and perhaps thrifty enough to have been able to turn a definite low (getting laid off) into a rare opportunity to 'see the world'. I was an apartment-renting single person who'd lived below his means for most of his decade-long career, so when that window of free time opened up, away I went. 38 states, 14 national parks, and countless Motel 6's and sketchy campsites later, I returned to find one of my best buddies waiting for me, pink slip in hand himself.
'You up for another trip?'
'Sure, why not. What are you thinking?'
'How about Australia and New Zealand?'
Needless to say, that offer was too good to pass up. The funds were holding up ok, and I was feeling no pressure to return to the work force just yet. So away I went. We backpacked the entire east coast of Australia from Sydney to Cairns, stopping wherever we felt inclined along the way. After an unforgettable dive in the Great Barrier Reef, it was back to Sydney then over to New Zealand for a month of vagabonding in the most beautiful place I'd ever seen. A quick warm up in Hawaii on the way home and it was back to reality for me.
Of course, reality happily still came in the form of writing and a few shorter trips. One thing was becoming crystal clear, my old cubicle lifestyle just wasn't calling me, or if it was, I just wasn't answering the phone.
The next key moment during my metamorphosis came one morning while I was having breakfast with Dad a few months after my return from the lands of koalas and sheep.
'Hey Dad, what do you think about me starting my own ice cream shop?'
'Don't do it! You'll never have a life. You won't have a family. It's really hard work...'
He truly did his best to try to talk me out of it. This despite the fact that his professional life was all about ice cream - first as ice cream inventor with Hood then HoJo's, then with his own 'mom and pop' shops in eastern Mass. He knew first-hand how all-consuming it can be to work for yourself. Unable to extinguish my enthusiasm for the idea, he finally conceded, 'Well, if you find a good location, I'll help you get it started.'
That was all I needed.
My search was on.
I hunted all around the eastern part of Massachusetts, especially between Boston and the Cape Cod canal. Nothing. It turned out to be much tougher to find a town without already a good ice cream shop. And the ones that were for sale were just plain expensive and intimidating.
I never gave up, but I must admit, I was starting to contemplate a return to the corporate world.
Then I just happened to come out to western Massachusetts, Worthington to be exact, to visit an old friend. We drank wine and caught up in the backyard of her B&B. I casually mentioned my ice cream shop idea.
'My bakery guy has a candy store he's trying to sell. That might be a good spot for your ice cream shop.'
She made a call. I stopped in the next morning on my way home. As soon as I peered in the window, I just knew.
That was 7 years ago, and here I am.
What got me reminiscing is I'm being interviewed tomorrow for a great little blog called 'Quitter to Winner' , one that defines itself as 'a resource for those quitting their job for a career break, sabbatical, entrepreneurial venture, or new gig'. The first time I came across it, I thought, 'Hey, that's me!' Although I must admit, the quitting part was probably the one thing that wasn't a conscious choice I'd made during my life reinvention project that kicked off back in the spring of 2001.
So as I mentally prepare to tell my story, timed nicely with a few days of driving rain and a noticeable scarcity of customers, I think back to those exciting first days and months. Sure, Dad was right. Running an ice cream business is really hard work. It's a ton of hours and can be physically exhausting. But it's also been the most satisfying thing I've ever done, and I wouldn't trade a day of it for anything.
Well, maybe for a weekend off in July, but I'm working on that too.
So if I'm asked during the interview, what was the 'key moment for you'? I could recall that breakfast with Dad or describe that lack of enthusiasm I felt for returning to the engineering world, but neither would be exactly right. For me, it all comes back to my days at my 'big company job' at Lucent Technologies. Perhaps more specifically, one day. I was in a meeting with a bunch of other engineers as we discussed the latest quality numbers or shipping shortages or something like that. I never hugely minded 'working for the man', but I remember that day looking across the table at a guy probably 30 years my senior. He was scribbling into his little notebook just as I was, adding input to the meeting when his opinion was needed, drinking coffee and gnawing at a stale danish.
I remember thinking, that's me in 30 years.
Not unhappy, probably had a great family and a nice life. Fulfilled? Who was I to know. One thing I did know, I didn't want to be that guy. I knew there had to be more to the professional category my life. It was time to get out before whatever scrap of creativity and initiative I had left was gone.
The next day I put my resume on monster.com.
A few weeks later I had a job offer at an up-and-coming tech start-up.
And it would be that start-up, around eighteen months later, who would be responsible for the 'quitter' part of my equation.
I still believe it was that moment in that meeting that changed everything for me.
Isn't life funny like that.
Now you know a little more of the story.