My Dad Died. The Way I Think About What I Do Has Changed Forever.Oct 06, 2022
There’s no perfect opening line for this story.
There’s no clever wordplay to hook your attention.
Instead, you’ll get a raw insight into my soul after the worst month of my life. I hope you don’t have to go through something like I did to rewire how you think about business and your career.
What’s the worst possible message you can wake up to?
On a business trip in New York, I woke up to a message saying my dad was in intensive care and was struggling to breathe. I rushed to the airport and canceled all my meetings on the way.
Somehow I convinced the airline to let me change my flight home to London despite choking on every other word. The seven hours on the plane were hell. I cried to the stranger next to me because I was terrified my dad would pass while I was in midair.
Over the next month, my dad improved and before long we were chatting like normal about the future. One time we talked about how Rings of Power and House of the Dragon were coming soon and I showed him the trailers on my phone. It meant he would have lots of shows to watch while he was at home recovering.
But he never came home.
Another infection hit him hard and though the doctors told us he might only have days to live, I didn’t believe them. I clung to every positive sign from him and ignored the negatives. Even after I watched him take his last breaths, I still childishly thought he’d wake up again.
It’s been 54 days but the war between reason and delusion isn’t going anywhere.
We all know everyone must die someday but the permanence of death doesn’t feel real when it’s someone close to you.
I’ve experienced loss before. I’ve experienced pain before. But this is new. Half of my brain is trying to make sense of what’s happened but the other is fighting as hard as it can to reject reality.
I’m questioning everything I thought I knew about myself. I’m not the same person anymore and never can be. Death has a way of making you rethink what’s important about life.
I’m paying much more attention to my health for obvious reasons. I’m making sure I keep an eye out for my family. I’m trying to work out how I can be the best person I can be.
I don’t have all the answers yet but I am crystal clear about the role my work will play in my ambition.
Work isn’t a different dimension
Stop listening to the hustle culture robots telling you to not let your personal life affect your work ethic. Sane people are far less impressed by your need to work hard than you think they are.
Whether you work for yourself or someone else, your emotions are going to affect your mindset and your ability to perform. There’s no point pretending otherwise. Turning up every day when you need a break isn’t being strong, it’s toxic.
Cut yourself some slack.
My indefinite out-of-office went up a few hours after my dad away and I only took it down a few days after the funeral.
I know many of you aren’t in a position to do the same.
To understand how my mind has changed about what I do, you need to understand what I did first.
It’s only been 15 months since I started working for myself full-time and I gave myself a year to experiment before niching down. Try all the things. Take all the opportunities.
This is what my business did:
- Mindful & Driven podcast
- Entrepreneur’s Handbook podcast
- Ghostwriting articles
- Ghostwriting book proposals
- My book proposal
- Entrepreneur’s Handbook editing
- Online writing courses
- Affiliate sales
They’ll tell you a diversified portfolio gives you resilience but they forget to mention how it’s a curse too.
Harry Potter spoilers: Voldemort split his soul into seven Horcruxes and each time part of him died.
I was doing the same thing Voldemort did — though without the magic powers. I was splitting my soul in so many directions that everything became a chore or a to-do. Life was a blur because there was too much going on and I wore too many different hats.
I knew this was a problem but I failed to do anything about it.
When my one year was up, my dad went into the hospital almost straight away so I didn’t do the consolidation I intended to do. Everything just built up more and more.
It’s ironic because I went to New York as a vacation to break the cycle but everything got a hundred times worse.
When the music stops
Everyone wants to talk to you when you’re doing well. Don’t let it go to your head. Many will abandon you when your world turns upside down.
The music stopped for me these past few months. Most of my plans have been canceled or postponed and my reach tanked. On paper, I was less useful than I was a few months earlier. And yet,
No one was mad when I canceled all my meetings in New York.
No one was mad when I decreased my availability to visit the hospital.
No one was mad when I canceled projects to mourn.
It’s because I build my relationships in 3D, not 2D.
The size and quality of my “network” have exploded in the past two years but I don’t accumulate people for the sake of my ego. I hate calling it a network because the word symbolizes everything I stand against.
If you connect with me you better be prepared for me to take you way off topic to get to know you. I don’t want to talk to you if you only care about business-talk. I’m more than a way to make you money.
The real magic happens in tangents.
Test it for yourself. Watch body language in intro calls. Those who only want to use look physically uncomfortable at you showing any personality.
My life is too short to help them and yours is too.
Here are some professional shoutouts:
- So were my editing team of Lou and Jamie.
- I had calls with Nihal Mehta of Eniac Ventures, Vasu Prathipati of MaestroQA, Hasan Kubba of The Unfair Advantage, Caleb Bushner of Unusual Ventures and so many more.
- I can’t name any of my ghostwriting clients for obvious reasons but they were all amazing.
Some anti-shoutouts from strangers who started with “So sorry to hear about your father…”:
- “Can you follow me back?”
- “Are you single? I’m looking for a long-term relationship.”
- “Can you do me a favor?”
- “Can you write me a review?”
- “Can you share this?”
How people react to tragedy in your life shows you their true colors. If they don’t care then run away as fast as you can. You don’t need them in your life.
I learned a lot about those around me and luckily most of it was good.
You can’t quiet quit on yourself
Entrepreneurship is 100% overrated on the internet. They only ever tell you the good to justify their life decisions.
A few weeks out when you work for someone else might delay a promotion but you’re still getting paid and a colleague can cover you. When you’re back, your colleagues can protect you and make sure you aren’t overwhelmed.
The internet seems full of horror stories of coworkers who hate each other’s guts. I know if I was at my old day job, my colleagues would have let me be a zombie for a bit because they cared. I’d have done the same for them.
When a lifequake hits and you are a single-person business, there’s no security. Promising leads find someone else to do their projects. By working less, I’ve earned significantly less.
If I don’t give 100% then I’m the man who suffers not the proverbial one. My dreams stall and my hopes fade away. As the face of the business, there’s nowhere for me to hide.
For the first time since I quit, I started to wonder whether I’d made the right decision. I know other entrepreneurs who’ve gone back to the corporate world after a lifequake. There’s no shame in that.
I chose to find a fire to keep myself going instead.
The most fascinating question you can ask yourself is why do you do what you do.
In a world obsessed with status and validation, how can I tell if my public handling of my dad’s death is to help others or for likes?
A promise I made to myself earlier in the year forced my hand. I decided to never lie when someone asked me how I am. I get over a hundred inbound messages in the average week on social media which as you can imagine I didn’t feel in the mood to answer.
I announced what had happened to avoid telling everyone individually and have no regrets. I followed up with further short thoughts over the next few weeks.
Of course, I was flooded with messages of support but more importantly, I had some people open up to me about their own experiences. No one’s parents live forever and some of my followers felt I had put into words what they wish they could. These messages mean more to me than a million likes.
My first interviews after my break were terrifying for me — Wes Kao of Maven and Anne-Laure La Cunff of Ness Labs. They both knew about my dad before I started recording and they couldn’t have been kinder when I told them I was more anxious than normal. They saw me as a human rather than an item on their to-do list.
You might feel like you’re alone when you’re dealing with trauma and you need to not show weakness to those you work with. The truth is everyone is going through someone and they might relate to you more than you think.
The Four Drivers
The next level deeper I explored isn’t about how I act with other people but what story I tell myself. I, like you, want to think of myself as good yet humans are a funny breed. What we say we’re driven by often isn’t the reality.
I’ve dissected my intentions in a million different ways and found four key drivers that motivate us at any point.
If you’re reading this then real necessity is unlikely to be a major driver for you. This is where you do what you need to do to not starve and keep a roof over your head.
This is going to hurt. I’ve been driven by insecurity for most of my life and you probably have been too. I’ve earned more than I need because I want to feel safe. I’ve worked hard to maintain my social status. I’ve trained to stop feeling weak rather than to be strong.
This can be summed up by running away from something rather than chasing what you desire.
Over the last two years, I’ve decreased the power insecurity has over me significantly and I plan on keeping it this way.
This was my primary driver from leaving my job until the day my dad died. There was a simple beauty to life. Whatever I found exciting, I could explore without any restraints.
Yet too much freedom can be overwhelming and I suffered from shiny object syndrome. I was all over the place and lacked a clear vision of where I wanted to go.
This is the most powerful driver of all. When you truly believe what you are doing is right. You act because you care without thoughts of status or external reward unless they help you achieve your mission.
I always have tried to be a good person but until now it wasn’t driving my career decisions. The new project I’m working on dedicated to my dad fills me with a burning passion I didn’t know I had.
P.S. You can see insecurity was still a major driver. It might look like a lot but I know my demons. My self-awareness keeps it under control and I believe it’s all we can do rather than denying our flaws are there.
It wasn’t a natural progression from curiosity led to morality led.
Not at all.
My dad died a year before he was due to retire. He worked hard his whole life and never got to fully enjoy the results of all his hard work. He won’t be at my wedding. He’ll never meet my kids.
I’ll never hug him again.
These facts could tear me apart if I let them.
The darkness of a severe existential crisis was closing around me and my curiosity wasn’t bright enough to defend against it.
Being led by morality has its flaws but the inner strength it gives is unbeatable. I needed a cause to throw all my energy behind.
I’m lucky to have had my dad for 30 years.
Many people never have a caring father figure in their life or lose them even earlier than I did. This loss only hits me so hard because I was blessed to have something worth losing in the first place.
I believe I have a responsibility to not only my dad but myself to use this gift positively.
How to truly judge your impact
So much of what you read online is from people trying to sell their products rather than wanting to make a difference. They want to show off how much they’ve sold or how much money they’ve made. They’re led by insecurity.
If you to build a business which truly makes an impact, how can you judge that? You don’t have to be a charity or work in a stereotypical industry. Any and every business can make a meaningful difference if the founders choose to.
My dad ran an accountancy firm. It’s hardly sexy yet strange things happened when he passed away:
- Clients and former clients broke down in tears when I told them what had happened.
- Current employees who I’d never met kept calling me to see if there was anything they could do for our family.
- Retired employees offered to help out the business if needed because they wanted to preserve my dad’s legacy.
I heard so many stories I’d never heard before while talking to those who knew my dad through his work.
Utter disbelief was always the first emotion. In many instances, it felt like the roles had flipped. I was comforting them because the news hit them so hard rather than them consoling me.
One employee told me how just a few days before, he asked for three weeks of annual leave at short notice to see his sick mother in Asia. Despite it being a busy period, my dad said yes instantly and reassured him how much he was valued. He told him to take his laptop out there and stay longer if needed.
We received handwritten letters from clients with a common theme:
- My dad had saved their businesses many years ago and enabled them to provide for their families.
- My dad was calm and friendly with them no matter what crisis they went through.
- My dad talked about us all the time to them and they told us how proud he was of us.
So many of us can be obsessed with the number of customers we have but depth can matter more. I want to build the kind of business where when my day comes, my clients care so much they choose to write handwritten letters to my future kids. This is impact.
The truth is I like attention more than my dad ever did.
He was silently working away helping people to achieve their dreams without ever wanting the limelight. I respect that but I wish I knew all these stories about how many lives he touched while he was still alive. He was already my hero but I didn’t appreciate enough how much of a hero he was to so many others.
My dad may be gone but his light lives on through not only me and my family but all the others who he helped. The great thing is this light just keeps passing on from one person to the next.
True beauty is when your actions cause knock-on effects that make a difference to people who don’t even know you exist. When you can separate good deeds from the need to be appreciated from it, you’ve truly become morality-led.
Don’t start with your mission
Today I have greater clarity and untethered ferocity than I’ve ever had at any point in my life. I’m 30.
I’m where I am today because, for the last few years, I didn’t know where I was going and I was okay with that.
- First-class honors in Economics
- 1 year in the Monetary Policy Committee Unit at the Bank of England
- 7 years as a CRM consultant in the tech industry
- 12 years of Karate including 5 as a Sensei
- 47 countries visited
- 10 years of Bhangra training
- 5 years of yoga training
- 3 years as a writer
- 100 podcast episodes
Being multi-dimensional is a huge competitive advantage when building a business. There are lots of people out there who want to do the same thing and share the same interests so compete in the same way. It grated you to hear “the same” words three times in the last sentence right? So be different.
Follow your curiosities and experiment first. Don’t close your mind off to other experiences. Don’t be a stereotype of your industry. Don’t be an 18-year-old personal development writer who hasn’t had any life experiences and just regurgitates what they read elsewhere.
When something comes along which makes you want to shift from curiosity-driven to morality driven, you’ll be far better equipped to pounce.
I’m going for the jugular with my new project but first I had to make space in both my time and my energy.
It’s easy to quit something when you think you suck at it.
Yet I love learning new skills and getting good at them. Then I keep doing them for longer than I should! I get addicted to the praise even when they aren’t adding value to my life anymore.
When you look at the projects you’re doing at the moment, you need to ask yourself these questions to decide whether they should stay in your life:
- Do I still enjoy this? Do I look forward to this? — At the start ghostwriting was fun but after several hundred articles, I’m much pickier with who I work with.
- Am I still learning or have I got as far as I want to go? — You can always improve at any skill but to get from a 9.5 to a 10 takes way more time and energy than going from a 5 to a 5.5. It’s fine to stop at a good level and pursue another skill.
- Do I meet people who add value to my life because I do this? — The main reason I love doing podcasts is that I meet such fascinating people. This adds immense value to my life.
I sat down and went through all of my projects and answered these questions. The results were brutal. I was doing many tasks for the wrong reasons.
I applied another filter to tasks I was doing to learn even though I didn’t enjoy them anymore. It was simply whether or not the skill was relevant to where I’m going. If it wasn’t then I could offload it.
The perfect blend
Ikigai is misunderstood by most westerners as I’ve explained before.
You might know it as finding purpose through:
- Something you’re good at
- Something the world needs
- Something that makes you money
- Something you love
I don’t recommend using this framework to find a purpose but it can be a good way of validating whether you’re the right person for a business idea. If you don’t have anything to run through it then allow yourself to be driven by curiosity instead. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Starting something new is hard and I think too many people underestimate this and waste time rather than contribute to an existing organization. You need an all-consuming fire in your soul to keep going when the obstacles get taller and taller.
My idea is The BAE HQ. It’s a community to inspires, connects, and gives practical advice to British Asian Entrepreneurs.
Overwhelmingly my online career has been US-focused despite my living in London. I’ve honed the skills to build an incredible community through working with Americans but there’s an underserved group here in the UK that I understand deeply. I am one of them.
Many don’t have the skillset and connections I now have so I can use my power/luck to help them. Eventually, I will fund people to build the businesses of their dreams that they never thought possible.
It’s a big mission that comes with a lot of pressure but one which I have no doubt I can achieve with my co-founder Gurvir.
And crucially for me, it honors my dad and his desire to lift others.
The idea came while he was in hospital as a small side project. He loved it and was going to help. It wasn’t to be and now it’s going to become way more than the vision I outlined to him.
If you watch the YouTube version of this or listen to the podcast I’m sure you’ll hear the fire in my voice.
This will not fail.
My Robin Hood business model
I don’t want this project to be a cash grab from the people I’m trying to serve who are often less well-off than I am.
Yet the money I’m investing will run out at some point and I’m not worried.
My intentions are pure so the community I build will speak for itself. We will find patrons who want to support our mission and sponsors who want to tap into our vibrant network.
We can effectively take from the rich and give to the poor. When members of our community succeed, the hope would be they’d invest in us to empower us to help more people. It would never be an expectation just a hope.
I will further fund the community by using my existing skills to teach founders how to write like me. My course is only $200 at the moment but I will raise the prices because the value to founders is far higher.
Can you provide value to the rich and charge for it? How can you then provide value to the less privileged for free?
I’m launching The BAE HQ on 16th October and will tell you all about my strategy. I’m continuing as the host of the Entrepreneur’s Handbook podcast and I’ll also be writing much more again to share my deepest thoughts.
Words have power and I hope my struggles have made you consider making changes in your own life. I hope you hold your loved ones a little closer next time you see them. I hope you don’t experience their loss for many years to come.
My dad is gone yet I need to make the most of the precious moments I have here. I will use what I have to hopefully help as many people as I can.
I’m hurt. I’m lost. I’m heartbroken.
But I’m still going because I must.
I have a new mission.
Wish me luck.