You spring awake. Something isn’t quite right.
Smoke. You can smell it.
You turn the light on. There’s more than a little.
You rustle your spouse awake and race to grab the kids. You hold your breath as you race to their room. They’re asleep and limp. You haul them, each over a shoulder, and race to the window. There’s no chance you’re going down the stairs with all this smoke.
You break the window and throw the mattress onto the bushes. You go first so you can catch the rest of your family.
You land wrong and everything fades to black…
You come to with a light being shined in your eyes. The world spins for a few moments, in a whirling display of colors.
Fingers are waved in front of your eyes. Panic settles in all of a sudden. You jolt upright.
WHERE IS MY FAMILY?
“Your wife didn’t make it. I’m so sorry.”
You can’t believe it. You just had dinner with her a few hours ago.
“James is the younger one? He has a broken arm. Your other son is fine.”
You just cuddled with her. She grabbed your hand like she always does, one last time before falling asleep…
You’re going to be sick.
And then the day before starts to come back. You just lost your job. And you still hadn’t finished paying off your MBA loans.
You put on weight from the past few months with how stressed you’ve been. And now Jennifer is gone. Leaving me behind. Leaving behind two kids…
This is what it feels like to build a company. Not exactly as imagined when someone tells you they started their own business. That sort of talk usually conjures up images of stardom, excitement, and a fast-paced, rewarding environment.
Don’t get me wrong, those are also part of the tide’s ebbs and flows, but I’ll be damned if it’s more than a small minority.
Sometimes the house burns down. And it’s usually right around when you lost your job. Pain knows no boundaries, has no master.
The burnout I now feel is an actual wound. One where you kept picking at a particular sore, over a few years, and it no longer heals the way your body is supposed to. The most you’ve let it heal is a few days, which left a small crater in your leg.
Perhaps it is your fault for picking at it like an idiot. Maybe you’re an idiot for getting yourself into this mess at all.
Maybe entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Maybe it isn’t for most people.
That sentiment somehow doesn’t give you strength this time though. You watch the house burn down and you wonder about all the items you considered so important that they had a place in your home.
All the photographs of a time you’ll never revisit, electronics you can’t afford to replace, and the sentimental stack of books you’ve held onto since forever. The things you simply cannot replace, at least not easily.
You watch the smoke billow and pick at that sore spot in your leg. It’s bleeding pretty badly. You wonder how you’ll explain to your kids that they no longer have a mother. That you now are that much more important in their lives.
And you start to drift off to a place that isn’t here, wondering how you’re going to replace those lost books. How will you remember every title?
Everything All At Once, No Exceptions
Entrepreneurship is the art of dancing through the fire without getting burned.
It’s sleeping with a girl you just met, blindly accepting risks you know you can’t face sober.
It’s the choice of whether to eat a crew member when stranded at sea — and knowing when to make that choice.
And sometimes you get burned all over, most of it the third degree. The girl calls and tells you she’s pregnant. And you’re the one who ends up getting eaten when lost at sea. Seemingly all at once.
As you accumulate what I might call life liabilities, you become more fragile. Parking tickets and taxes are the death by a thousand cuts you simply cannot afford. You continue to add more small issues to your life, not dealing with them because you need the money for the company. Everything becomes about the company.
Your girlfriend wants you to go to sleep with her. You can’t. You stay up to make the company possible. Tensions rise. Suddenly a small issue the next day becomes a bigger issue. You want to lay by her side at night as her dreams take her away, but the company doesn’t exist without your attention. All this pain until now will have been for nothing.
And all that time spent is on something similar. It brings back the burnout. You tried exercising, eating well. It didn’t matter. Your body rejects your futile attempts to block it’s outrage. You aren’t meant to live like this, stupid consciousness running the show! Go lie with your girlfriend! Pay your parking ticket!
There is no middle ground with entrepreneurship. Everything is consumed. Social life? Forget it. Relationships are all half-baked. You might get lucky with a short break.
That’s what most people don’t understand. The few who do, wish they didn’t.
And anyone who has the luxury of balance-while-building is really just running a mediocre operation. Or building a company for lifestyle. A waste of energy if you ask me.
To do it right is to inflict constant pain. Hopefully not too much, but what usually happens is the house burns down right when you lose your job.
This may seem like an cruel joke from a cosmic power, but more likely you should have chosen something else to do with your life. It was your own power. Your own cosmic stupidity.
And damnit you’re a few weeks away from being done. Funny how you’re always just a few weeks off.
I wonder when life begins.
Probably a few weeks thereafter. Probably.