What’s your passion? It seems to be a bit of an overused question. Discussed on every job interview, first date or college application. It’s all a bit cliché. But maybe it seems cliché because we have never really focused on the question. Have we ever given any real thought to the answer?
In 2012 my wife was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was a shock. We were relatively young (late 40’s…. that’s young…right?..right?). We are not supposed to have to deal with this yet. This is what our parents’ generation is supposed to be dealing with. After getting her through the radiation, the surgery and the first round of chemo, we were finally able to spend some time at home as she recovered her strength. This recovery gave us a lot of time to talk, reflect and just catch up after years of running at the speed of life.
As we started settling into the reality that my wife was going to be fighting this disease for the long haul, we had a conversation about what we want out of life. At the time I was a military aviator and was too often away from home. Sure, like everyone, we always had discussions about our dreams after military retirement; travel, flying for the airlines, vacation houses, boats, motorcycles etc. This time it was different. We could clearly hear the clock ticking. This time it was real. With our new found respect for the fragile and finite time that we have on this planet, we talked about what we really wanted out of life. It gets to be about much more than motorcycles, vacation homes and the rest. We decided to write down all of the things we thought it would take to make us exceptionally happy. As we talked, I started writing the items down.
When the conversation was over, we had a list of five things. That’s it. Five things that we thought we needed to make us exceptionally and forever happy.
- Spend more time with friends and family – We had been living the military life for 25 years. Lots of missed birthdays, years spent away from the ones you love most. That had to stop. We knew I had to retire.
- Start a family business – Funny, when you are faced with recognizing how short of a time we have here you start focusing on a legacy. Why are we here and what are we going to leave behind? We wanted to start a business that my family could be involved in and continue to grow long after we are gone.
- Do something with agriculture – Our ancestors had all been farmers. We have always been attracted to the notion of getting back to farming in some way.
- Be home every night – We spent so many, too many, nights apart.
- HAVE FUN – I mean what is the sense if you are not going to have fun.
That was it! Five things. That is the list of everything important to us.
Armed with this new clarity, we set out to find an opportunity that would check off all the items of our newly formed list. For the next several months we would keep our eyes peeled as we drove around the valley. We looked at pick your own berry farms, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, vegetable gardening, wineries and more. It was wineries that got us thinking about distilling. Instead of growing grapes, we would grow grain and instead of making wine we could make whiskey! We were on to something. We started studying the industry, attending training at Michigan State and Cornell as well as an internship with Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane Washington.
As soon as I returned from that trip, I knew that distilling was the way that we could check off all the items on our list. We put our house in the suburbs up for sale and immediately bought a farm. We started working with a local farmer to help us grow the grains, and we broke ground on the distillery in June of 2015. We opened our doors in January of 2016. It has been the adventure of a lifetime. We make less, and work harder now than we used to, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything.
People ask, “Did you always have a passion for distilling”? The answer is no. I’m passionate about the items on our list. Spending time and having fun with friends and family, agriculture, our family business. That is what I am passionate about. The distillery is the vehicle that we use to check off all of those items.
So that is my passion. The list of five simple things. We have been fortunate enough to check them off, and we couldn’t be happier. So, the next time someone asks you what you are passionate about what will you will you say? What is on your list? What is truly your passion?
P.S. My wife just celebrated the 6th anniversary of her cancer diagnosis. She continues to battle hard every day like the champion that she is. I’m so proud of the example she sets for our kids and me every day. I love you, Jodi Butters. 8
FB and IG @eightoaksdistillers