“Good things happen to those who hustle.” – Anais Nin
“Embrace the hustle and the struggle of chasing a dream that will give you financial freedom.” – Muna Oto
I started a new business yesterday called “Battle Ground Bookkeeping Solutions.” I started my business for three reasons:
I have an “eagle-eye” for numbers and details.
I love helping people achieve their dreams.
I wanted to work from home.
I wanted to run a “side hustle” without quitting my day job as a writer. Writing is what I am passionate about, but it doesn’t always pay the bills.
When most people consider launching a new business, they imagine quitting their full-time jobs to risk it all. For some entrepreneurs that works. You also risk abandoning financial stability and possible bankruptcy.
More than 50 percent of new startups fail before the four-year mark. The risk-it-all mindset is often too much, too soon. So sticking with a traditional job while you grow a business idea is a safe and viable option. I am all for taking a complete leap of faith by quitting a job you hate to do what you love, but why do it if you don’t have to?
I love writing for a living, but I wanted to build something else. Something I’ve learned about over the past few years is how to make and manage money.
A Reality Check
I am a disabled veteran. One morning, in Afghanistan my world literally exploded. I was hit by a 500-pound roadside bomb. It destroyed the vehicle I was in and killed three of my buddies. I hit my head three times in the explosion and rollover. Having Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is like a stroke on steroids. I had a ringside seat to my destruction. Over the next eight years, I watched as my brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, self-awareness… and worst of my all my memory.
I was amazed to find myself alive. I spent eight years recovering my ability to think, walk and talk. I never dreamed I would become a spokesperson for recovery. I came back from my brain injury stronger than before. In my case, although the explosion damaged the left side of her brain, my recovery unleashed a torrent of creative energy from my right side. I started to write about what happened to me.
A New Normal
Over the past eight years, I struggled with my brain injury and chronic pain. It’s hard to work in a conventional job due to my memory problems and physical limitations. Besides my brain injury, I have two herniated discs in my back, labral tears in my right shoulder and hip pain. I am in constant, chronic pain.
I needed a job where I could work from home and earn a living. A home bookkeeping business was perfect. I am not a CPA but have had helped a dozen friends with business, financial and tax advice. I wanted to start and grow, and my own successful business. Now I can do it and get paid for it.
I think being an internet entrepreneur is a great new way to break into the new, non-traditional economy. Helping people with their money plays a big part in creating freedom with their lives.
How It Works
With a virtual bookkeeping business that I run from home, I can earn a part- or full-time income. The program I signed up for teaches me how to make a net profit per client.
Average client work will take 3-4 hours a month for this style of the client. This means an hourly equivalent of more than $60.00. The internet is a great equalizer, enabler and provides leverage for home-based businesses.
My new business is based on a virtual bookkeeping business model. It tosses all the old rules of a traditional bookkeeping business. I am not at the beck and call of my clients. My business model allows me to stay-at-home, work flexible office hours, and most important- focus on my writing.
There are some traditional obligations such as communicating with clients and sending emails. But this can be done during the workday. The bulk of the work is 100% flexible.
There is a huge trend within different industries to outsource human resource functions. This includes payroll, tax consulting and financial services. My business is a micro-business- a firm of fewer than five employees. I am the only employee or owner my business will ever have. One partner is one partner too many.
I have no prior experience with bookkeeping. The only taxes I’ve ever done are my own. I read about this business model in Entrepreneur Magazine.
I found a successful training model. I paid an initial start-up fee to enroll in their training program. I started yesterday. I am building my business from the ground up with this simple business model.
Every business requires bookkeeping. It’s not a hard sell to potential clients. It will take a lot of hard work, especially on the front end. I know my hard work will pay off in spades as I create the life of my dreams: a near-complete freedom and flexibility to work from home while I write.
The business model is a “turn-key program.” I am learning three things:
How to run my business an effective, efficient and professional manner.
How to draw clients, even though I know next to nothing about sales and marketing.
I am an excellent proofreader and editor as a writer. I know I can tune my “eagle-eye” from letters into numbers. Starting a side hustle isn’t for everyone. I know that I won’t get it right the first time around. I have to remember three things in starting any new endeavor:
Faith- in yourself and the idea.
Patience- staying organized and get things done.
Perseverance- you learn by making mistakes, the trick is to apply what you learn.
Over the next few months, I will tell you everything I know about business, financial statements, getting and keeping clients and running a successful business.
How did I learn to cope with my life-changing injuries after getting blown up, twice?
“You are a success when you have made friends with your past, are focused on the present, and are optimistic about your future.” – Zig Ziglar
Zig Ziglar’s inspirational message of hope saved my life. I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and chronic pain. I served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an infantryman.
“I learned some very valuable lessons in war: War is a nightmare. War is awful. It is indifferent, devastating and evil. War is hell. But war is also an incredible teacher, a cruel teacher. And it teaches you lessons that you will not forget. In war, I saw humanity at its worst, but also at its best.”
– Jocko Willink
One morning, in September 2008 my world literally exploded. There was no sound, just a rush of air and heat. There were five men in my truck. Three brave men died. I awoke amazed to find myself alive, but my life was forever changed. I was over my physical injuries in a couple of months. It took me years to realize that my brain was not getting better.
Making Things Worse
I made terrible and life-changing decisions. I started drinking. I dated the wrong women. I didn’t want to deal with what had happened. My situation got worse. I knew that if I opened my Pandora’s Box of issues, I might not be able to close it. And I may not be able to deal with the things that come out.
I had to accept my old life was over. I didn’t feel like a good leader or even a whole man being back home. I spent a few years feeling completely out of place. I pretty much stayed away from people. I felt my life slipping away. I could walk, talk and move, but nothing seemed to be going right. I realized that what I was trying to do myself just wasn’t working.
Having TBI is like a stroke on steroids. I had a ringside seat to my own destruction. Over the years I watched as my brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, memory, and self-awareness … I have many pragmatic deficits because of my TBI. I am hyper verbose- I talk too much. I became tangential- I can’t keep track of a topic.
Before the injury, I could connect the dots. After the explosion, I would hit one dot, skip a dot and see a dot way out in the distance. I have difficulty concentrating, keeping track of time and memorizing names. I spent eight years recovering my ability to think, walk and talk. In my case, although the explosion damaged the left side of my brain, my recovery unleashed a torrent of creative energy from my right. I started writing.
Potential and Possibility
The Polytrauma team at the Indianapolis Veteran’s Hospital made a difference in my life. It allowed me to look back at my life. To look at the good and bad experiences, to allow me to grow and to learn from what I’ve seen and done.
I know that war is life’s severest school. I also know those who experience war, endure it, and thrive in it have the ability to return home. I found out that if you are willing to learn and grow, you can be successful. If you don’t, you won’t be.
The Polytrauma unit used an interdisciplinary team approach. With cognitive and speech therapy I slowly began to rebuild my brain to reconnect the connections it made before I was injured.
During therapy, we practiced scenarios using an “artificial reality.” We practiced talking to strangers, withdrawing and managing money. We practiced scenarios to put our new coping skills to use. We were in a safe and secure environment to get better. The Polytrauma unit gave me a new lease on life. It was an important part of my reintegration and socialization into normal life. I was free from the shame of my disabilities. I recognized I was not in this alone.
My injuries weren’t just TBI. I had multiple injuries both skeletal and emotional. Multiple parts of my body system were impaired and injured from the explosion. In three tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, I was exposed to a dozen explosions- two of those were massive roadside bombs that injured and killed other soldiers. I got at least ten concussions in those three years.
The area of my brain where my memory and attention are centered were injured. The part of the brain that relays functions became impaired- one part of my brain didn’t talk to the other part of my brain. I could recognize objects, but I couldn’t name them. I would recognize people, but I couldn’t tell you where I knew them from.
I had to develop new strategies and coping skills to keep myself on track. This allowed me to compensate in areas where I was weak. Going to the polytrauma program allowed me to go back to school. It gave me time to reflect, to remember and to leave it there. I had a new family, a family of disabled veterans just like me.
Enter Zig Ziglar
The first time I listened to Zig I was hooked. Zig was the most interesting speaker I ever heard. His message of success was simple and positive. I was spellbound with enthusiasm. The more I listened and read the more motivated became. I found myself happy, motivated and ready to conquer the world. Zig’s message of positivity and personal achievement was a summary of all the positive stuff I had learned in the Polytrauma unit.
I know the Lord put Zig in my life for a reason. I am excited and anxious to share with you what a positive impact Zig’s message has had on my life. His “system of success” has renowned my commitment to God, my family and made me try to be a best man I can be.
The Polytrauma unit taught me that life is more than a physical challenge, it’s the realization that their goals are achievable, one step at a time. I want to become a spokesperson for TBI recovery and for the possibility of coming back from brain injury stronger than before. I want to my experiences with PTSD, TBI and chronic pain to offer a message of hope for others struggling with these life-changing issues.
With Zig’s message I was reminded that my past is not my prologue. Attitude makes all the difference. I am grateful that I am alive and have continued to thrive. I made friends with my past, I am focused on the present with my wonderful wife and my beloved grandson Jack, and I am more optimistic about my future than I have ever been!
I want to give you some helpful information by talking about PTSD, TBI, and depression. I have all three. In the last six months, I have made tremendous strides to take my life back.
I know a lot of friends and family members who have these issues. Hopefully, reading about them and sharing what I’ve learned will help those suffering.
My goals in this emails to be as honest as I can. Some of these issues are deeply personal and embarrassing, but If it helps only one person, it will all be worth it.
The Black Cloud
I have an amazing life. I have a wife who loves me. I teach the future leaders of the army on my weekend drills. I write for a living, something I love to do.
Despite all these wonderful things I live with depression. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by overly negative feelings and thoughts.
Sometimes something brings it on like the loss of a loved one or a friend. Sometimes nothing whatsoever brings it on, and a black cloud will form on the horizon of a happy day.
Living with depression is disabling and awful. All the pleasure is sucked out things I love to do. I start to leak confidence and become blind to the good things in my life.
I become forgetful. I can’t keep track of my finances, or remember simple appointments because I am overwhelmed by feelings of self-loathing and a loss of self-confidence.
I become a stranger to friends, family and myself. I tell people I am doing well. In reality, I can’t bear to clean the house or simply do the dishes.
The worst thing is I lose all my compassion and become selfish. I feel like a useless, ugly, stupid blob. In this state I become unpredictable, afraid and lazy.
I miss the old me full of energy, brimming with confidence.
Over time I see glimpses of my old self. It becomes harder and harder to get up the in the morning and face the day.
The worst part is how I see myself. I feel like a bad person, a rotten, selfish human being.
I feel like I fell down a black hole. I quit taking care of myself and forget to bath and eat. I feel like I will be stuck here forever.
I lost track of time, each moment feels like forever. I’m completely alone on Depression Island. I am isolated, trapped and nothing will ever be the same again.
It becomes harder and harder to get out this frame of mind, to see any hope.
I am Italian and Catholic- we do guilt, not suicide.
I do know why people kill themselves when they feel this way. It is draining and leaves you so tired you don’t want to go on. You feel once you’re gone you don’t have to feel these negative feelings anymore.
At some point, I decide to fight back. I am determined to be strong and I remind myself I live through this. I usually do something fun to let my feelings flow.
I learned this state of mind has nothing to do with willpower or attitude. It’s like being bald or short. It is what it is.
I have tried all sorts of remedies to relieve my depression: yoga, running, hiking, behavioral, cognitive therapy, regression therapy, group therapy, religion, and meditation.
Some helped, and some made no difference at all.
Sometimes a good night’s sleep was helpful. Sometimes I stay stuck in the hole for a few days. I realized this last time I needed some professional help.
What I learned
Some depression is hereditary like male pattern baldness or brown eyes. I was probably born this way with a temperament towards depression. I think it has very little to do my experiences in the military.
It’s a well-known fact that some families have a disposition toward depression. I am reminded of the “Hemingway curse.” Ernest, his father, his brother, his sister, and granddaughter all killed themselves after suffering from severe manic-depression.
Part of it may be a chemical imbalance in my brain.
The brain is a magnificent organ. It is the command and control of your body.
The brain is very soft. It is the texture of soft butter. Only thin layers of fluid-filled membranes cushion the brain from an impact.
The brain sits in the skull- a hard helmet of bone that protects the brain. The head is full of bony ridges and sharp points. When you hit your head, the brain hits these hard places. These blows cause Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
My real problems began about a few months after I got home from the last tour in Afghanistan in 2012. I started to slip into a parallel world for minutes at a time. Instantly, I was back in Afghanistan, sometimes Iraq, but mostly Afghanistan.
Sometimes it was in dreams, other times it was when I was awake in flashbacks. I had the same feelings and sensations I felt there. It seemed very real.
Once in a while, I would replay the explosion that killed Bruno. Other times it was stuff that happened in Iraq. I would snap back to a former reality during a deployment and exist in it for a period of time.
The war for all the things wrong with it became the defining experience of my life. There I was loved and had a purpose. I took part in the adventure of my generation.
I started to write down what was happening. It was a repetition that became a compulsion. I began to understand that my flashbacks were an overwhelming need to repeat the experience, to resolve it.
I was replaying the movie in my head to get a satisfactory ending. I just couldn’t let go of it. I was living both a nightmare and a dream. This was PTSD.
TBI is a physical injury. PTSD is the mental injury. The combination of PTSD, TBI, and depression is a “perfect storm.” Symptoms of the three can be overpowering and destructive. Sometimes they overlap.
The rate of PTSD is much higher in veterans who have a brain injury.
In 2005, I was blown up in a small explosion in Iraq where I hit the side of my head. It knocked me out for a minute or two. It was not that severe. It was early in the war.
Three years later I hit my forehead on the steering wheel in the initial explosion that killed Bruno. I hit the side of my head on the door, and the roof of the truck as the truck blew apart and into the air. I was knocked out for 10 minutes. I woke up and passed out twice before Jerry rescued me.
Surviving an Explosion
An explosion does horrible, violent things to the human body. A blast wave is like being hit with a tsunami, then an instant later you are pulled back into the ocean to drown. This all happens in an instant.
A complex pressure causes the explosion. A wall of heat, pressure, and sound hits you at over 700 miles per hour. The blast wave passes through your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Air filled organs like your lungs, and gastrointestinal track lose all oxygen. A fraction of a second later, debris and fragments fly through the air.
I hit the steering wheel with my forehead, the roof, and cab of my truck. I hit my head three times in less than five seconds. Each hit was like getting whacked with a baseball bat. I had major problems.
I smacked my forehead where my prefrontal cortex (PFC) is. The PFC is the part of the brain handles decision-making, planning and impulse control mixed in with depression and TBI. I was a perfect cocktail for a disaster.
My brain injury gave me a lot of problems in the years after the accident.
I can tell you from personal experience, having issues mentally like impulsiveness or memory problems is not lack of willpower or a bad attitude.
Compulsiveness is not about rigid people who are over controlling. Understanding and optimizing your brain is sometimes the missing link to being successful in getting better.
A Brain Injury
My problems came from a brain injury. There was no “getting over it” with willpower or a positive mental outlook. A high-performance car doesn’t run with a busted engine, and a cripple can’t walk with a spinal injury.
When the command and control center of the body is injured, everything else is broken.
I had no patience over trivial things like waiting in line or being struck in traffic. I was anxious or frigidity. I couldn’t talk about happened without getting angry.
I was dealing with the physical and mental scars of war. Things had changed while I was away. I lived in four places in two years unable to settle down.
I knew I had to understand what happened to get better.
The Human Brain
The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It is made of billions and billions of nerve cells. It is estimated there are more nerve cells in the brain than stars in the known galaxy.
A single piece of brain tissue the size of a grain of sand contains a hundred thousand nerve cells. These nerve cells make up your personality, character, and intelligence. It’s what makes us who we are.
Dopamine, the pleasure and motivation brain chemical, and serotonin, the happy and anti-worry chemical, help with anxiety, depression and obsessive thinking. When there’s too much or too little of these chemicals between connections with nerve cells, things get out of whack.
Anti-depressants get things back on track. They can help to regulate, generate and control the flow of chemicals in the brain. I have seen them help some patients and hurt others.
The brain and body connection is amazing. In Iraq, after my buddy Phil died, I started to lose my hair. After getting blown up in Afghanistan what was left of my hair turned white, and I had an unhealthy skin tone.
In three months after getting home, I put on 20 pounds. The mountain of physical and emotional stress took a negative toll.
When you have chronic physical and emotional pain life is a struggle mix in depression, and life can become unbearable. Everything gets mixed up and seen through the prism of pain and jumbled thoughts.
Pain, both physical and emotional, is a very personal thing. Pain is a monument to wartime trauma. Pain makes you divide time into two parts: before the pain and after.
Bruno died in September, I went to my buddy Bruno’s funeral in October- where I told his loving parents how their brave son died, while I lived- and I watched Phil’s murderer be acquitted in December.
In the last three months of 2008 I aged ten years.
From that day on I grew weary and worn out. The experiences drove me like a stolen car. I was run too far, too fast and never maintained. I was broken.
My own combat experience is what baseball players call a “cup of coffee.” It’s a slang term for a minor player getting in one game of major league of baseball.
I saw enough combat for a “cup of coffee.” I’ve been shot at and mortared but never anything serious. A few frantic, scared seconds with a couple of rounds. It was over before it started.
My issues came from PTSD and TBI. It wasn’t about the duration of the experience, but the intensity. My problems were chronic pain, flashbacks, nightmares, and depression.
My worst symptoms were memory problems. Negative thoughts and images lived in my subconscious.
I would be having a normal day and a damaging thought or image would invade my brain. I’d forget where I was and what I was doing. It was ruining my life.
Last fall, with the love and support of my wife Muna, I decided to get professional help.
Over the past couple of years, but more so in the past 6 months, I really had some problems- physically (knee/shoulder/back pain and balance issues), mentally (lack of sleep, memory and concentration issues), and emotionally (withdrawing, loss of interest in formerly fun activities).
My issues snuck up on me. They were cumulative. Being a soldier is a hard life. Physically, mentally and emotionally it can be draining. The physical pounding of over 20 years in the army started to add up.
My real problems were sleep issues. At first, I didn’t see it. Over the years, five hours turned into four hours turned into three hours and 45 minutes.
Good health begins with a good night’s sleep.
Having chronic pain, with PTSD, TBI and sleep issues is like living in a dumpy third world country with a strange language and unfamiliar culture- everything is hard and crappy.
It was ruining my life. Mix in all the fun of anxiety and depression, and you have a perfect cocktail that drained my well-being. All of it makes you feel worn out and far too old.
In the past five months, I did one-on-one and group therapy. I started eating right, taking fish oil and vitamins, exercising for 30 minutes a day, sleeping for at least 6 hours a night and got better at handling the stress in my life.
I feel younger, clearer and vibrant. The best thing I did was start to write again. It’s what I love to do most. I get joy to help others. I can’t draw, so I write.
It is important to re-enter the world when you feel strong. I feel like I can cope and work through life’s surprises.
Depression is tricky. It can be a one-time event or it can be a long haul, lasting days or months. Either way, you’ll have to wrestle with it or hide it when you have to. Sometimes being positive makes you end up feeling positive.
Getting through depression and my other issues is a big struggle. It’s a victory when you start to come of out it. It’s like winning a title bout.
You may be a little battered and bruised but you’ve learned a few things about yourself and maybe you can help others because who have been there.
Slowly things change. Little things start to have meaning again. You survive a little at a time. Things gradually start to get easier. Maybe you’ll want to help others. Maybe you’ll even learn to love parts of yourself.
I hope this posts helps by talking about these problems. It helped by writing about my struggles with PTSD, depression and TBI. Maybe you’ll have some tools for when it shows up again.