Riding the ride is a tough gig, when you have aspirations and goals, and wants. It means letting all of it go and enjoying whatever is going on.
Romanticism is nice and also a bit mental
I’ve done barely any writing that I’d call ‘significant’ in the past six months. That is somewhat of a side effect of spending working hours writing things for other people, dancing a lot, and wanting just to spend down time doing things that are away from a computer.
In my office is my beautiful little typewriter. And I had even considered dragging her out and writing in hard copy. And that, instead of leaving a raft of easy-to-remove writings that I would end up with a box of papers. Those things that we read about in biographies of people like Clive James and Charles Dickens and Edmund Wilson. I recall that as a young child I wanted to leave behind such ‘papers’, with a faint shining hope that one day, long after I am dead, they will be found and read and then found to be significant.
Such a romantic child. I was that girl who, at age six or seven, was in the corner of the school playground reading books and writing poetry. And almost 30 years later, I sit in the corner of the ‘sitting’ room, a wall of bookshelves to my left, and at my left elbow a raft of diaries that I have sporadically kept during my adult life. Most of them, as you’d expect, kept during dark times when I had no real friends, no real family relationships, and was being gradually convinced that I am insane. Some of them are scrapbooks of work. You know, back when I was an actual writer (not a paid one), and collected observations, thoughts from the air, and captured snippets of life.
Though I am not insane, I am neurotic, granted. In fact, I develop weird neuroses a lot and apparently at random. The latest is a totally unreasonable fear of eating something that will cause a physical reaction; and this in a woman whose full round of allergy tests were all negative. It manifests in a belief that my throat is being restricted, only after eating, and most perniciously at night, when in fact it’s not at all. The result is that I eat hardly anything at night, and when I do eat, I make it myself. Mindfulness helps me realise it’s just a retarded version of anxiety and a few minutes of clear meditation stops it pretty fast. It’s just annoying, more than anything. If I’m not careful it’ll turn into a fierce eating disorder, so I must really do something about it.
The not-writing bothers me. A lot. It’s hard to remember that the energies that drive it are being eaten by other things. I dance four days a week: twice in evenings, twice on the weekends. I have 1:1 pilates sessions every fortnight. And then there’s the fact that I’m running my own business. And a side hustle that requires creative time and output. And then there are networking events, and meetings, and other things. In any given week I have only two nights free. You think I’m going to sit in front of a computer then? Not on your nelly.
Oh, and home life, where I do all the fun things like be a wife and a housekeeper and a gardener. And I have friends (none of whom I ever see, of course, but we stay in touch in other ways).
Creative lives are always kind of insane
In this huge, mad, mental mix of a life, I also have a piercing feeling that my business, which I really want to grow the point where I’ve outgrown it and am exiting it, is either drifting, or not on the right track, or can’t be scaled up. This notion I think is as irrational as my weirdo food thing. It’s like that thought that sits in your head and eats away at the edges. You don’t know whether it is right or wrong, so you can’t really deal with it in any way. It just eats at you.
And it’s not just me. Other entrepreneurs and people in startup phase describe it, too. It’s that thing where you do a thing. And then halfway through you stop thinking it’s the right thing to be doing, and start wondering whether it is the right thing to be doing. And if you’re not careful, you never finish a thing, or see the experiment out to the end.
To cope, you need what startup execs call a tolerance for uncertainty. Sure, life is uncertain. Nobody feels it as sharply, I’d argue, as an entrepreneur.
The thinking goes something like this:
Is this customer segment right? Is the fact that selling to it is tough telling you that it’s the wrong segment? Or is it that the size of that segment is wrong? Maybe you’re not hitting the right type of person in that segment? Maybe you haven’t been doing it long enough? How will I know that?
Or, maybe your methodology is wrong. Or your sales pitch. Or perhaps they don’t get it and you need to teach them. How do I do that? Events? Webinars? Meetings? I’ve only tested the pitch a few times – less than 100. Maybe I should persist until I hit 100 and then see if the pivot is necessary. How long do you do this for before you cut your losses?
You think that your first attempt at cold calling failed, but it didn’t really. You are starting to feel that small business is the wrong place and you have to punch above your weight. That requires different tactics. Can you do that? You can do anything, right? How long will you do this for before you know it as a certainty?
… and so on. It’s an interminable, mindless chatter that goes around, and around, and around, and around, and around, and doesn’t ever resolve.
Incidentally, mindless chatter is one of the key ways of stopping yourself from becoming enlightened, so say Buddhists. Before you scoff, note that this is also true for non-Buddhists. You can never become wise if all you do is talk dribble to yourself all the time. You can’t be focused if you don’t have mindful clarity. And if you believe this chatter, then you’re actually fucked.
Right now I’m riding the ride
I scored a great contract with a government department fairly recently, and my acquisition drive was stopped in its tracks. I freaked the fuck out for a week, and got really depressed for two days, and felt totally hopeless.
Weird, right? I felt like my trajectory was interrupted, and that my time would be locked down in a corporate building for the next quarter. I got frustrated, I met young people doing amazing things (who caused me to feel jealous of their success at their age), and it all got really NEGATIVE. Whoa you’ve no idea.
And then I realised that all the planning in the world will be smashed when things happen. The jealously passed.
You can’t compare you life to anybody else’s ever. It’s that thing: Your beginning is not comparable to someone else’s middle. By the same token, your mid-30s are not comparable to someone’s early 20s.
To deal with it, you ride the ride. If nothing else, it covers your downside, it gives you a bit more time to test your hypotheses, and it also stops you from bailing altogether.
So, while I want to do all the things, I’m taking the time now to do some problem-solution canvases, some thinking, some connecting. And, today, some writing and reflection. It’s easy, when you’re amongst entrepreneurs all the time, to feel like you should be scaling; that you should be growing; and you should have targets and exits. But when you don’t do product (necessarily), it’s a different game. The theory is different. I wonder if people have written it. If not, then possibly I should.
In any case, in the long-run it doesn’t matter. In closing, here is some wisdom from my husband, who is one of the wisest, most Zen peopleI know.
Success is not money. Success is peace of mind. That is why I might be a shit-kicker in a factory, but am more successful than most.