How well do you know yourself? Your darkest corners? Your deepest feelings? I hope that reading this story you might have a glimpse into those parts of your life, where resistance rules the game. Whether it is a painful kind of resistance, like fear, worry, sadness, regret; or a much more agreeable kind, such as desire, pride, holding on to people and things. We’ll do a little exercise in letting go at the end, but first, let’s pull back the curtain, let a little light in and see what lies in the darkest corners of those worries and insecurities.
Have you ever wondered why certain unpleasant events happen to you? Sometimes, it takes patience and persistence to come to the point when everything suddenly starts to make sense — as if the final piece falls into the puzzle and you see the big picture. And unfortunately, sometimes it takes years of patience, persistence and faith that things happen for a reason and everything is going to be fine.
It took me over 3 years to finally learn my lessons and get out of the dark. I believe that we keep on getting the same lessons over and over again, sometimes disguised in quite different experiences, until we finally get the point — a paradigm shift, a new look at reality, a new set of beliefs.
First, it was unicorns and magic
About 10 years ago, I got into a business partnership with a friend. Or, to be precise, I got into a business relationship and became friends with my partner.
We had a lot in common. Similar backgrounds, similar life experiences, our children were the same age and became best friends. So, naturally, we clicked very quickly. And this was the first independent business for both of us (I had helped with my husband’s business before, but did not feel the ownership there).
However, it wasn’t simply our first very own business. It was a bit of a miracle. And here’s why.
We were both born in Soviet Union, going through Soviet education. Doing business was out of our model of reality. Any kind of entrepreneurship was strictly illegal in the USSR and so we were raised to be perfect cogs in a huge machine, rather than self-sufficient, independent individuals capable of creating things on our own.
For me, entrepreneurs were like unicorns — magical creatures never to be seen in real life. And here we were — two magical unicorns starting our very own business.
I don’t think either of us realised how much we were to learn and discover on our way to success. But we did succeed. In a few short years we had made our first million dollars. I was proud of myself and my business partner. As if I had proven myself capable, worthy of love and respect.
Our lives were magnificent. We were traveling the world, meeting exciting successful people, attending grand events and the best parties, while our families and households back in Malaysia were taken care of by maids, chauffeurs and nannies. The hight of our success was marked celebrating (in cat outfits) at a marvellous party on Necker island, Sir Richard Branson’s private island in the Caribbean, with a bunch of most successful entrepreneurs and Sir Richard himself.
Then, it was war
Yet, our triumph was not very long. In 2014 a war broke up between the two countries, which made up 80% of our market — Russia and Ukraine. Both countries were plunged into economic crises and both, Ruble and Hryvna, started plummeting.
I remember a holiday campaign we were running in December that year. We wanted to be loyal to our customers and fixed the prices in Roubles. It was a 4-day campaign and by Thursday we were selling our goods for one fourth of their price on Monday.
It was a scary time. It would have been scary for anyone, but we were relatively new in business. We’ve had it super easy. We were golden kids to whom success came faster than we were ready. We learned to live a good life and giving it up was not part of our plan.
It was hard to deal with the economic meltdown and dark times in the business. But it was even harder to deal with the emotional impact this meltdown had on us — the loss of confidence, the doubt if we were really that great, the worry if we can make it to the other side of the dark.
Unfortunately, by that time, our relationship was not great. It had started eroding a few years earlier and the reasons were completely not business related.
The reasons were elsewhere, but it was mostly the business that had the brunt of the burden of the worsening relationship between the two partners and founders.
I remember wondering in the mornings if our partnership made sense at all. I felt burdened and unhappy, constantly irritated at my business partner, dreading our work together. It just stopped making sense to me from a purely human point of view. Aren’t we supposed to be happy in life? So why am I in this relationship?
The road to hell is paved with good intentions
The relationship with my business partner stopped making sense to me, but then, I was gripped by terror. How can I break it off? We have a business together, 20 people working for us, authors, partners, a quarter million customers. I had a moral obligation to stay in this business. A kind of sacrifice I had to make for a greater good, or so I thought.
But the deeper reason was much less glamorous. I was afraid that I cannot do it on my own. After all, I was born a perfect cog, not a magical unicorn who starts her own businesses. In my mind I was absolutely sure that I will die as an entrepreneur the moment I am left alone.
But the business was not doing good and we needed to do something urgently. In the beginning of 2015, our panic was turning into paranoia. We let go of half of our people (I had the honourable task of breaking the news to the team), we stopped our advertising to save money and we lost our biggest partner.
I knew we could not go on like this. While we struggled and fought for our lives, deep inside, I felt that there was a better way. I’ve always had issues with resistance. I believe in flowing. So I said to myself: “I’d rather go bankrupt but enjoy the ride, than fight for life with my teeth gritted.”
Yet, this was not an option for us. While I could afford loosing everything, and so playing big and risking big was absolutely natural to me, my business partner was in a much less favourable position. I was married and the business we had started with my husband was doing great. I had a huge family to support me. My business partner was a single mother fending for herself with no-one to help her.
So we had to keep gritting our teeth. There was no playing big, no “have it all or lose it all”, no radically reinventing ourselves. We had to do what we had been doing for years and do it despite the painful resistance of economic crisis, bad business decisions and nightmarish personal relationship with my partner.
I remember a meeting we were having in March 2015. It was just me and my business partner, since we had let go of most of our people. She was quiet. Silent, in fact. I was trying to suggest some action steps, needed an opinion, a discussion, a decision. But she was silent. Not a word was coming out of her mouth.
I couldn’t bare it any longer and asked what was the matter. Her answer was like a knife between the ribs: “I’m tired of pulling us through all alone. I want to see how you manage without me.”
So not only did we have hard times in economy and business, my business partner had zero respect for me and my contribution in our common endeavour!
I was shocked, I was crushed, I was done.
When I got home, I sat down with my lap-top and started writing a letter to my partner. I told her how much I was hurt by her words, how it was unfair, and all the usual accusations and complaints. At the end of the letter I wrote: “If this is how you feel, isn’t it better for us to part ways?”
As I wrote this phrase, and that was the first time I had vocalised the feeling I had been having inside me for the past few years, I stopped and stared at it. Was I really ready to part ways? Was I ready to do it alone? Was I ready for a nasty business divorce (I knew it would not be nice).
Or was it an empty threat? A manipulative tactic? A way to get attention?
I was looking at my letter for half an hour, knowing that I will only press “Send” if I can earnestly say that I’m ready to part ways. Only if I know with a 100% certainty that this is what I want.
When I did, finally, press the “Send” button, I didn’t have a shadow of a doubt. I was certain. But more than that, I felt relief.
The wings behind my back
I immediately felt like sharing the good news. The horrors and worries of economic crisis, near bankruptcy and uncertainty were suddenly gone — evaporated like a dark cloud after rain. What a surprising relief it was? I stopped resisting, I started flowing.
I still remember the next morning. I came into the bathroom to brush teeth, looked at myself in the mirror and I felt as if I had wings behind my back. I was excited. I was elevated. I was not worried or scared of making this journey alone. I was excited to see how I will express myself, when I’m unburdened, unhindered, when I do not have to compromise for the sake of keeping a frail and painful balance with a much disliked business partner.
I was alone. And I was free. I could finally be myself without feeling guilty or afraid of judgement.
Whether I’d stay alone in this journey was to be discovered in the next few days, when I broke the news to the team. Our most valuable team member, a woman who had been with us from the start and knew everything about the business, Liuba, was a close friend of my business partner and I was really nervous telling her the news.
I told Liuba that she had the freedom to either stay with me or go work with my partner. Fortunately for me, she chose to stay. Liuba is still my most trusted team member and a few weeks ago she confessed: “While you guys were bickering and sacrificing yourselves to the business, the team was suffering. You couldn’t fool us. We all felt uneasy because the two of you didn’t like each other. What a relief it was when you finally separated! It was like haven after hell!”
So what was my sacrifice for? Have you ever sacrificed yourself for “the greater good”? Have you sacrificed yourself in a dysfunctional business partnership? Have you stayed in a dead relationship “for the sake of kids/family”? Have you put up a nice good face and suppressed your pain and emotions just not to hurt the feelings of those around you?
If you sacrifice yourself for any grand idea, please stop and think again! As His Holiness Dalai Lama once told me when I asked him about this dilemma: “Who can you help, Kristina, if you are not happy?”
What are you willing to sacrifice for the greater good?
I certainly have huge respect for the sacrifice in the heroic sense of this phenomenon. When our forefathers sacrificed their lives for the right ideals and a brighter future. When rescuers sacrifice themselves to save lives of ordinary people.
However, when we talk about sacrifice in everyday life, we usually have to deal with mundane (and often cowardly) compromising of our own wants, needs and values in fear of breaking a fragile peace, throwing things out of balance or causing a conflict.
While finding the way to your true self, recognising your values, finding your voice and courage to stand for what is important to you is a process, which cannot be covered in such a short format, I want to suggest the first steps to take after reading this article.
Learn to let go
Sacrifice is resistance. Happiness is flow. In the words of Dalai Lama, you cannot help anyone if you are not happy. So, naturally, I want to suggest to you an exercise in letting go.
Here’s what you do, a little meditation:
- Get comfortable, close your eyes, take a deep breath and relax.
- Think of any area of your life where you feel resistance. It may be a painful resistance — fear, worry, sadness, frustration, regret. Or a more pleasurable kind of resistance — strong desire, impatience, righteousness, holding on to something dear.
- Think of this feeling, locate it in your body and then tell yourself: “Let go!”
- Just take a deep breath, relax (physically) and say: “Let go!”
- Let go of everything that causes you pain… and everything that brings you intense pleasure. Just let it all go!
And be happy.