There was a time when I was very resistant to changing my life. This is about that time.
I owned a business. Called "Young Isaac" — after the founding partner, Brooks Young — it was an advertising agency where I sat all day, but I never did the true work of an owner. I didn't allocate the resources. That's what business owners do.
We did hire excellent folks and they did great work. But I wasn't an executive. I was more of a college professor. I didn't like telling adults what to do.
As the years wore on, a friend observed: "I have never seen a business that is a more clear representation of the owner. For better or for worse, all your personality traits are evident in this business and how it works and how it doesn't work."
He was right. The company bore my name. And it bore my personality.
And it bored me. I was frenetically bored. (See this about that: http://tinyurl.com/FreneticBoredom.)
But I didn't leave.
Here's why I didn't leave.
I had convinced myself that I was on top of the world. I actually imagined myself atop a mountain.
To be sure, an argument could be made that I was indeed living one of the greatest lives in all human history. Not that I was famously valuable to the world. Not at all. (My father, Arthur J. Isaac, Jr., of blessed memory, once quipped, "No Jewish family has been in America longer and not produced even one famous person.")
The argument — that I was on a mountaintop — was based on my freedom to act, the creative spirit of the business, the life that the business (mainly) funded. As a friend once said, "If you have any complaints about your life, be sure to tell me. I'd be interested to hear."
Being atop the mountain is a delight. And a quiet curse.
The Quiet Curse
What's the curse? It's in the fear of descending the mountain. I would tell myself: "I cannot change my life, because that might require me to descend. And how would I feel if, years later, I looked back and saw that I was on a lower peak? What if I looked back and saw that I had given up one of the best lives in the history of the world — for something lesser?"
So I stayed in a job that bored me.
Then A Trip.
Fourteen years ago, amid this workaday boredom, I returned from a mind-expanding trip. A journey half-way around the world. Into antiquity. Into the soul.
It was mind- and heart-expanding, but I didn't realize it. Something must have changed in me. But I just didn't see it. I didn't realize the impact on me of what I'd learned.
Education can be that way. Travel is certainly that way. At the time, it's just plain fun and challenging.
Then, later, it hits you.
Here's When It Hit Me
The day after returning from this trip, I sat, back at Young Isaac, chatting with a friend, colleague, employee, and teacher, Rachel Hillman.
(Rachel's the one who taught me about the effect of stress on my health.)
Anyway, Rachel heard me describe my trip and quietly said to me:
"Sounds like you're ready to change your life. Do you want to change your life? Is that what you're saying?"
I didn't realize I was saying this. I hadn't thought about changing my life. I mumbled the usual defense of the status quo. "No," I mumbled.
I feared descending the mountaintop. I was scared that Rachel might see me look toward another horizon — and she and our other colleagues would look elsewhere for employment.
So she adds these priceless words:
"If you are waiting for someone's permission to change your life, I give you my permission.
"I know this might be absurd. I mean, it's not as if you need my permission to change your life. But now you have it. Do with it what you want."
I returned to my desk.
So What Happened?
Five years later, after a giant experience at my college reunion, I sold my business. Walked away. It took me that long to accept Rachel's permission.
I sold my business seven years ago. Seven years ago, I walked away from Young Isaac.
At the time, I was accused of courage. I don't think it was particularly courageous. The Great Recession sparked the event. The business was entering its third recession and I had no ambition own the company. So why would I invest into the recession? The business was making money and the staff were doing great work. So I closed the business that week. (And sold it two days later.)
After all, I had the permission.
Do You Need Permission?
So, allow me to give you some permission.
As Rachel said to me: If you are waiting for someone's permission to change your life, I give you my permission.
I mean, it's not as if you need my permission to change your life. But now you have it.
Now that you have my permission, what change will you permit in your own life?
[The title of this piece, "Alone Atop The Mountain," is the title of a 1973 book by Samuel Sandmel. It's about a different guy, on a different mountaintop, wrestling with what has happened.]