Cultivate Strength over Momentum.
Starting a business isn't easy. There are no paths to follow. There is no right way to do it. There are plenty of people out there who are more than willing to talk about how they succeeded. Who doesn't want to sit around and talk about their accomplishments? A few people are willing to talk about the hard parts, mostly in the context of how they overcame them. Almost no one talks about the day to day struggle of starting or owning a business, mostly because it can be kind of boring and ugly. I also think that in part it is because our brains like to block out the bad parts and only remember the good. It's a defense mechanism. This is why I've taken to writing it all down. For the first year of my business I dutifully wrote down every fear and worry I've struggled with. I'm now well into my second year of being an independent business owner. I have gained a lot of experience and I'm much more comfortable with the risks associated taking the path less taken. I've also learned a very hard truth. The second year is much harder.
Year one is marked with highs and lows. I had lots of sleepless nights because I honestly had no idea what I was doing. There was the first time I disappointed a customer. The first time I got into a really big show. The first account I had to cut ties with. The first time I got mentioned in the paper. The first time I made a dumb call that cost me money. The first time I ran into a stranger who had a friend that bought something off me. The first time I was asked a question I didn't know how to answer.
It's all those firsts that helped get me through it. Even the bad ones were some sort of new horizon. There is a lot of momentum created when everything is new and people hear about you for the first time. All you have to do is stay on top of that momentum; just stay ready for anything. I've found the second year is all about hard work because the momentum has to come from within me. I think that is why a lot of business don't make it out of the honeymoon phase. At some point you have to stop drawing on the energy from around you and start drawing it from yourself. It's exhausting and it is constant.
I can see now how successful business fail. You keep pouring your energy into it. The bigger you get the more energy you pour into it. Your reserves run low. Something goes wrong, and because this is real life, lots of other little (and usually completely unrelated) things go wrong a long with it. So you reach this weird juxtaposition. Where you've kind of made it to your goal (or at least you are making progress on the path to it) but the part of you inside that was driving you dries up.
Now that I know what to look for I see it constantly. A new business is suddenly everywhere. Their Kickstarter funded. They're getting lots of press. They can't make new stock fast enough. Then the updates start getting farther apart. Then the orders start to get more and more backed up. Then they just walk away and no one understands why. There is this new television show. The plot is great, characters gripping, and the critics love it. Then suddenly two years later they've jumped the shark, quietly get canceled, and no one will ever know the ending (I'm looking at you Heroes). Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They move in together. They annoy the crap out of their friends and disappear into their own little world. Then one day they have nothing to say to each other anymore. They part.
This is the reality of the second year. Sounds horrible right? It's true. There are some moments that can really suck. There are days when it's hard to keep showing up. The dream is still there but it's so hard to keep reaching for it. I'm in one of those moments now. This is why I’m writing this now because later my tricky brain will whitewash over this. I am, however, not willing to walk away.
Fortunately I've learned a few tricks. First, realize that newness is like a steroid. It can build you up quickly and provide a lot of strength, but it is false strength. Real strength comes from within. There is a big difference between the professional athlete that gets carried off the field because of a bad hangnail and the one who finishes the quarter with a broken thumb. One of them is strong and the other was just big.
Cultivate your strength. Sometimes the best way to do this is to walk away. Get some exercise. Go for a run. Hit the gym, hard. Hike in the woods. Play tag. Get away from your work and work your body instead. You'll live a longer and you'll give your mind a break.
Do something unproductive you've never done before. Take a pottery class. Go to a museum and look at art, not because you are looking for inspiration, but because it is freaking beautiful. Drive to a nearby city that has nothing obvious to offer and spend the day exploring. Volunteer somewhere.
Talk to someone that is in the same boat as you but does not love you. This is important. Your friends and family care about you, which is great, but their primary concern will be to make you feel better. Finding a good peer to talk to will give you a good place to vent to someone who actually knows what you are feeling. You'll also probably discover that they are going through the exact same shit as you and for some reason that will make you feel better.
Put down your phone and walk away from your computer. Because the internet is the devil and here to make you feel like you are being productive when really it's just sucking your life away. There are no answers for you on the internet. So stop looking. Strength comes from within. You can't find it on someone's blog (this one included). So put the phone down. Not for an hour. Not all morning. Put it down for as long as it takes. What ever happens while you are not there will be waiting when you get back. Right now it is just sucking up the little bit of energy you got left.
Most importantly I try to remind myself that my life is about more than the business I have created. I'm more than my job. If my business implodes tomorrow I'll still be here. Those reserves I was talking about before are there because of the richness of the life I have lived up to this point. If the life I'm living outside of work is dull and grey then of course the energy I'll have to devote to my work will be lack luster. When I take some time and live a little a can see that my business is just a little part of me.
Will I feel better when I'm done? Will the problems go away? Will the day to day struggles become less of a burden? Nope. What I will have, however, is a new coffee mug, a healthy heart, a new gallery to check out, a greater appreciation for Hudson, Ohio, and the strength to take another step forward. That is what owning a business is really about; finding the strength to take the next step forward.