Recently, an acquaintance of mine, obviously going through a difficult period in her life, took to social media to ask if others were also feeling bewildered by their ambition, or if she was the only person who was seriously contemplating discarding her dreams. The wistful, exhausted tone of her comments struck an emotional chord within me: the psychological underpinnings that make our dreams so vital to our daily existence, are the very same things that can make dreams appear permanently beyond our grasp. Acknowledging our dreams means acknowledging the deepest part of ourselves, the secret parts that seemingly don't fit into the day-to-day reality of our so-called lives. Our dreams expect a lot of us.
It was recently is Small Business Saturday, a day, that for many entrepreneurs, including myself, is about more than shopping locally, and supporting neighborhood merchants: for many entrepreneurs, our businesses are our authentic lives. My small business saved my life.
I know that entrepreneurship is very trendy nowadays, but when I started my small business, it had nothing to do with trends, and everything to do with giving me a reason to get out of bed. I was a year out of law school, 35 and buried in debt. The long-term relationship that I had hoped/dreaded would result in marriage, was over. My life made no sense to me. I truly believed that my best years were behind me. I had spent the past nine years making excuses as to all the reasons I couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't start my coaching business, and surprise, surprise, those excuses just led to more excuses. I didn't know it, but I was at the perfect place to start my business: I had nothing left to lose.
With my back against the wall, I understood, finally, that I could either start the business I had been dreaming about for years, making a rough peace with the tantalizing daily mixture of joy and trepidation that is every entrepreneur's lot, or, I could continue reciting the same (tedious) script of stylized despair. Perhaps if I had never known what a rush true job satisfaction can be, I would have presumed, as so many people seemingly do, that being unhappy is part of the territory of adulthood. But I knew better. Starting a small business was terrifying, but being miserable is damn hard work.
When I was in my twenties, straight out of college, I was lucky enough to be in the right place (Moscow, Russia) at the right time, and I fell into a great job at the Moscow bureau of an American TV news network. I spent approximately the next 8 years of my life working for a variety of TV networks. True, by the time I left network news, I was completely burnt out, but I also had experienced the rare privilege of knowing what it means to truly love your job. I have very clear memories of being in my twenties, and leaping out of bed in the morning, absolutely ecstatic to go to work.
When I finally bit the bullet and started my business, I held on to those memories of being happy. Not that the early years of being an entrepreneur weren't straight up misery. I was broke, exhausted and lonely. I was running on emotional fumes. I had years of waking up at 3am, the hour of the wolf, wondering, "Oh God, am I making a horrible mistake," as law school friends and former TV colleagues, younger than me, flaunted the predictable results of Doing the Right Thing.
But even at my worst, as I was broke, my entire life hanging by grit and hustle, my brain was furiously making plans. My brain had places to go. And the more I did, the more I was able to do. I was broke, sure, but I was happy: I was living my dreams, instead of my excuses. Over time, through mistakes and endless pep talks and debt and rejections and referrals and determination, I created my dream business. I created myself.
My small business saved my life by forcing me to stop destroying myself, in order to somehow fit in and become "normal." Whatever normal means. Perhaps normal is for people who aren't willing to put in the work and accept themselves as they are. Creating a successful small business from scratch forced me to trust my gut, and live off the high wire of my instincts. To become an effective brand, I had to become comfortable and confident in my own skin, so as to be able to help others, who were drowning in theirs.
My small business allowed me to accept myself. To quote the playwright Joe Orton, "I'm an acquired taste." And first and foremost, I had to acquire myself. I had to earn my own approval.
It was recently Small Business Saturday, and if you are reading this, brooding on your own nascent small business ideas -- that scribbled business plan on a napkin in your kitchen cabinet drawer, for example -- wondering if this is the year you'll finally be ready to start your own business... No, of course you're not ready. But do it anyway. Acknowledge, politely, your insecurities, and then commit to your dreams. What else is there? My small business saved my life: what will your small business do?