1,868 days. That’s the number of days I spent on the ConvertKit team.
12,408 days. That’s the number of days since I was born.
I’ve spent 15% of my life at one company. 32% of my adult life. Nearly 47% of my working life.
10,000 hours of deliberate practice is the mark of an expert. I’ve now spent at least 12,000 hours dedicated to the mission of helping creators earn a living at ConvertKit. Add in my prior 2+ years working to educate creators at Fizzle and I’ve spent well over 15,000 hours thinking about the creator economy, in conversation with creators, and building a team obsessed with making creators the heroes of our brand.
What does it mean when one person spends 15,000+ hours working on one mission?
To say that my identity and ConvertKit are tied is an obvious statement to anyone who knows me. The same goes for my identity and the creator economy. Nathan and I were working on this problem before any venture capitalist cared one bit about creators.
But no more.
On August 27th, 2021 I left my job as COO at ConvertKit.
As of today, Barrett is not ConvertKit. Barrett is Barrett.
I’ve been through this transition before. Barrett is not Living for Monday. Barrett is not Seth Godin intern. Barrett is not Fizzle.
Today I am nothing. At least professionally.
Despite having to peel myself away from work-based identity time and again, I still strongly believe that to do our best work — the most impactful work we’re capable of — it is healthy and necessary to associate a piece of our identity with our work.
For the entire history of our species, we have attached meaning to our role within our group. Hunter. Gatherer. Cook. Child protector. Warrior.
These roles have meaning because they signify our contributions. They represent how we spend our time and how we create value for one another. We would not survive as a species without playing a role in creating progress and opportunity for one another. Our roles represent the reciprocity principle.
Saying that we should not attach identity to our work is merely a way of protecting ourselves from the psychological impact of being stripped of that aspect of our identity. It is painful to quit a job precisely because our identity is tied to our role in the group. It is even more painful to be fired for the exact same reason. I have done both and I cannot honestly say that one is easier than the other.
I quit my job at EY. I shut down my first company. I was fired from my role at Fizzle. And I quit my job at ConvertKit. In each case, I woke up the next day with the same feeling: who am I now? Who will I choose to be going forward? In the absence of any existing professional obligation, what do I want?
When resources are scarce, as they were when I shut down my company and was fired from Fizzle, there is little time to thoughtfully consider the answers to these questions. With no financial buffer, I scrambled to find something new to pay the bills.
I looked for the best and fastest option, not just the best option. I raced to re-attach my identity to some new cause that would provide for my family. Hopefully that thing would also provide a sense of purpose and meaning to my life.
I have no doubt found a sense of purpose in serving creators. We named our pandemic-era podcast The Future Belongs to Creators for a reason. The creator economy is in the earliest innings of its existence and has only produced a small fraction of the global GDP it will account for over the decades to come. ConvertKit has played no small part in bringing this to fruition.
At the same time, I have spent the past eight years of my life primarily trying to create some semblance of financial security for my family. I have sacrificed my mental and physical health in an attempt to ensure we are never in a position of financial scarcity again.
Today, as I embark on a new career chapter, our family is in a different position than the past. I thank God for that fact. My wife, a talented, well-respected entrepreneur and loving, powerful mother, has worked every bit as hard and made even more sacrifices than I have to help get us here. I am now in the privileged position to take a break from work for a period of time.
Today I am nothing. At least professionally.
Today I’m at the edge of an exciting cliff — with my skis on, ready to take the plunge. There are infinite paths in front of me. I don’t know where any given path leads. I don’t know what I want. I don’t really even know how to know what I want. What I know for certain is that I cannot go back. There is nothing for me there.
This is an uncomfortable place to be. I’m the F***ING COO. I’m the guy who makes the trains run on time. I’m the one who casts the vision, defines the values, sets the strategy, makes the plan, inspires the team. “Here we go, together,” are my words of encouragement for everyone looking to me for confidence, inspiration, and belief.
And yet here I am. Looking down the cliff. Seeing many paths. Knowing nothing. Today, I am nothing.
Who do I turn to for confidence, inspiration, and belief?
There is no one else. That is the point of walking into the wilderness. To find what lies inside. To articulate what it is that matters. To understand what I want.
Today I enter the wilderness. I trust there are adventures ahead. I believe the future will be better than the past. I hope I will reconnect with myself. I wish for a return to the childlike wonder I’ve felt my entire life towards the world and the possibilities it contains.
I’m scared. The unknown is perhaps the most difficult reality to face for us as humans. The unknown is why darkness scares us. The unknown feels dangerous, threatening. Or at least that’s what they would have us believe.
As I enter this next phase… The phase lacking identity. The phase in which I will take my time. The phase during which I will once again find who I am, truly. The phase in which I am so lucky to have space to think and feel for the first time in far too long. As I enter this phase, I will embrace the unknown.
The unknown. The path that is not yet defined. The infinite lines down the side of the cliff ahead. These are where I am being called. Maybe it’s not scary. Maybe it’s exciting.
Today, I am nothing. At least professionally.
But what I know for certain is that today I am also a husband. A father. A Christian. A son. A brother. A friend.
I am naturally optimistic. I am full of joy, hope, and faith. I am curious. I am capable of learning and growth a younger me would never have thought possible. I am fascinated by the hard problems we face and hopeful that we will solve them, together.
I love my family, the outdoors, dinner parties, deep conversations, building, reading, writing, sneakers, hip-hop, fashion, sports, and so much more.
Today, I am nothing. At least professionally. But in every other way I am so much more.
I don’t know what is to come. But I am excited to once again find my way to the next adventure and attach my identity to that thing.
Barrett Brooks, the adventurer. That will be my identity as I explore the wilderness and choose the path I’ll take off of this cliff.
If you’re entering a season of transition (like so many people around the world as we search for more in a post-pandemic world), I hope you find encouragement in this approach.
Today, you might have lost a piece of your identity. You are no longer who you once were. You might be facing the unknown of the wilderness. Perhaps you are in a place of financial scarcity or perhaps one of abundance.
Regardless of financial position, you are full of abundance and possibility as a human being. You are much more than your role. And there will come a day when you are excited to take on the identity of a new role. The unknown between here and there is nothing more than our teacher.
Good luck (to you and me both).