Episode 184 – An Empty Tank Gives You The Chance To Fill Up With Better Fuel

fuel gauge on empty
When the tank is empty you can fill up with a higher grade fuel.

I quit. Again. Not my first time. Doubtful my last.

I’d invested 40 years sharpening my business building skills. You don’t survive four decades doing something if you suck at it. Of course, surviving it doesn’t mean you’re great at it either. But I was both a survivor and great (tongue firmly in cheek).

Careers usually don’t have the ideal hockey stick curve. Mine sure didn’t. There were up’s and down, but mostly the overall trajectory was favorable. Accomplishment was the fuel that drove me. Not income. But I was highly compensated because I was a faithful steward to every man who hired me and I was great at running their businesses so they didn’t have to. It was my personal business model that I had fallen into in my early 20’s. It remained my business model until I quit. The first time.

That was back in the spring of 2008 following a tough 3- year period where I ran the business full-time while trying to buy the company so I could convert it into an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan). Running the company and working feverishly to make a deal exhausted me. I chalked it up to sprinting hard for over 3 years. That would run anybody’s tank low.

When I finally made the decision that I was no longer going to chase the buyout, I hunkered down to really focus on my role of leading the company. I thought it would re-energize me. We had done good work for nearly 20 years. The company had a stellar reputation and a unique place in the Dallas retail landscape. There was much to be proud of and I put my head down to push our company’s accomplishments to new levels.

After almost 9 months of intense efforts to “do the work” I realized how miserable I was. I was simply sick of the game. My tank held only fumes. It was a first for me. I’d never experienced it before. Not really. Being tired is one thing. Being empty is quite a different sensation.

Success can foil greater success. It did for me. Success can prevent you from doing something different, something better. Something for which you’re better suited. Because as we all know, you can’t argue with success. Well, you can, but nobody does!

Success caused me to run on empty. By the Spring of 2008 I was 52 and highly compensated. Everyman has his price. You don’t like to think so, but that’s just because you’ve not yet hit yours. Trust me. You’ve got a price. And it may not be money.

I had been running on empty for too long. We’ve all done it. Kept going. And going. And going. Watching the needle slowly (or quickly) descend.

Growing more anxious as we boogie down the highway at night looking for any sign of civilization, life and a gas station.

Hoping to see one soon.

Then the overwhelming relief we feel when we spot one and navigate successfully to the pump before the engine dies.

Other times we run out on purpose because the fuel we have isn’t the fuel we need, or want.

For years I’ve driven little 4-cylinder high performance cars that require 93 octane fuel. There have been times when I could only find 91 octane. It’s just not the same. The sooner I could burn that tank full of 91, the sooner I could refuel with 93. And be back on the high performance I wanted. It involved an intentional, purposeful running the tank down to empty. When your tank is full of an undesired fuel…you’ve got to empty it so you can refill it with what you want.

I hadn’t been happy for a very long time, but I was successful and responsible. And I wasn’t a quitter. Yet.

Serendipity happened. I hit my ceiling price tag. The details are unimportant except to tell you that I faced a non-negotiable standard. Most of us have those. We may not know what they are exactly, but when we’re faced with choices…there are things we simply won’t do. Actions we won’t agree to. Decisions we’ll refuse to make. Without so much as a phone call home, I resigned.

Unlike the gas tank in my car, I wasn’t able to pull up to a pump and just fill it up. I thought I could, but I had never known an empty tank. I was unprepared. Completely.

Empty meant lost. For a long time. Years.

I had devoted my life to management, marketing and all the stuff involved in building businesses. Now, I couldn’t find sufficient energy to do it. I did the usual consulting and helping people. Clients told me I helped them, but it was incredibly unrewarding. I poured myself – as much as possible – into their businesses and their challenges doing everything I could to affect improvement. Mostly, it frustrated the soup out of me.

Fast forward to December, 2012. I’m sensing the tank is empty. Sick and tired of being sick and tired. Frustrated with a client (my largest) who was determined to be miserable (“it’s never going to be any better” was his daily battle cry), I was miserable. So I fired myself. Or him. Again, I quit. I wished him well and began a quiet, unannounced hiatus while I searched for my next move.

By the time May 12, 2013 rolled around I was spent. It had been coming for months, but in the early morning hours I got a text that I had been expecting. It simply said, “He’s gone.” I’ve said and written all about it.  You’ll find it here.

I’d love to tell you running on empty was intentional, but it wasn’t. It just happened. In part, because of my own foolishness. In part, because it’s a stage of life I’m going through that has more to do with experience than age, but I’m not sure about that.

It has everything to do with coming to grips with important issues that everybody faces. It has to do with contribution, service, passing it on, helping and making a difference. It has to do with figuring things out.

Finding answers is tough work. Finding good answers is still harder. Finding great answers is harder still.

So it is with habits, too. Whether we’re trying to change something temporarily or permanently, it’s tough to shake things up.

It means avoiding some things, reducing some things, eliminating some things and starting some new things.

It’s been almost 4 months since the funeral. I’m starting to feel normal again. Kinda. Sorta. More days are easier than hard. So that’s progress.

Now what?

It’s time to create art. Again. Something I haven’t done since I was a teenager.

It’s time to give more. Again. Something I have done my entire life.

I’m shaking it up.

It means…

• Checking Facebook no more than twice daily
• Checking Twitter no more than twice daily
• Checking email no more than three times daily
• Writing something – anything – every single day
• Taking photographs of something – anything – every single day
• Talking with somebody about something emotional – happy, sad, frustrating, thrilling, etc. – every single day
• Reading fiction regularly
• Reading biographies regularly
• Avoiding books, articles, blog posts, podcasts or videos that are all about business and only business
• Listening to more music
• Singing more (why don’t people sing more?)
• Drawing (I used to do this all the time)
• Picking up my guitar and for the first time with purposeful intention to learn 5 cords (G, D, C, A and E)
• Relaunching the podcast over at Leaning Toward Wisdom (I did that, even though I’m not terribly regular at producing content.)
• Interviewing at least 3 people a week for the project – Chasing DFW Cool (I’ve already smoked that goal. I just started this a week ago and I’m already past 5 with more on the schedule.)
• Intently focus more on my paying clients (this will be hard because I’ve always been an “all in” kinda guy with people who hire me to help them, but I’m still trying to up my game)

It’s that next to the last thing that is the professional thing. I say “professional” and not “business” for a reason. I have no idea about making money with it. That’s not the point. I don’t even care about it. I’m going to launch Chasing DFW Cool because I want to. Because I know I can do it…and do it well. Because I know there are tons of people in this area – Dallas/Ft. Worth – doing cool things. Because I want to tell their stories.

It’s the last thing that is the money-maker. That provides the income, and has since I stepped away from running companies. It started out coaching executives, but I’ve narrowed it further into coaching and working only with CEO’s or business owners. There’s enough creativity in that to keep me juiced in that endeavor, but Chasing DFW Cool is the bigger creative outlet.

I’m determined to fill my tank with high octane fuel.

Yes, I have to make a living. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much these days. I have one client who will get all my business focus. That’ll pay the bills. I’m letting everything else go!

In the meantime, I’ll be running on better fuel than I’ve run on in a long, long time. Fuel that gives me more energy, more horsepower and greater thrills. Without any thought about money. Because I can.

I’ve spent 40 years running on the fuel of business building. I found success. I figure I’m smart enough that what I don’t know about this new adventure – I can figure out. Eventually. And I’ll do it as I go.

Cause that’s how I’ve now decided to roll.


“If you wanna run cool, you got to run
On heavy, heavy fuel”

Scroll to Top