Failing is hard

It’s been a trend to talk publicly about your failures as a startup/entrepreneur and almost every story I read finishes with a very positive twist in the story, but I want to talk about the mental cost of failing or being on the edge of failing.

But let me start at the beginning, when I took the decision to become a freelancer, I had no idea, it would be the best and the worst decision of my life.

7 years ago I started as a freelance photographer and it have been 7 years of loosing sleep, feeling insecure, being scared and pretending everything was going glamorous. During these 7 years I have had and sometimes still have my fair share of past dues, bailiffs, notifications of foreclosure of my things, phone calls from the bank and collections departments.

It’s been so bad that in July 2013 I was literally 2 days away from personal bankruptcy.

Do I tell you this because I want your pity, no not at all. The reasons for my problems were plentiful, by myself as well as by outside factors. I want to tell is more how these things have impacted my life in more ways than I could imagine.

During the last years, I lived in a constant state of stress, let me give you some examples.

  • Everytime I went to get the mail, I expect the worst.
  • Every car that stopped in the street, I feared it was a bailiff.
  • With every telephone I had the fear of needing to find a new excuse why I didn’t pay yet.
  • Every time I came home, I checked the door for scratch marks of the locksmith, because the bailiff passed to write up my things.
  • Every doorbell, I hid my important things.
  • Every time I checked my account, I wondered what to pay first.
  • Every moment of the day I was looking for creative solutions to pay something and still being able to live.

But those are only the small things, I had learned to hate and evade the question: “How are you doing?”. I didn’t want anybody to know that it wasn’t going well, not that anybody wanted to hear that anyway. So I kept the charade going. I smiled and hid myself behind my extrovert personality.

But I wasn’t sleeping anymore, I stopped eating, I only drank water. I had small panic attacks. I hope for some good luck and started playing on the lottery, against my better judgement. I hoped for accounting mistakes from my clients, I stopped taking phone calls from unknown numbers.

I hoped that hiding would solve my problems, but actually I was slowly killing myself, mentally and physically. I supposed it was part of the entrepreneur experience, as nobody was talking about it. Even those admitting to failure on the Fail conferences, never talked about the negative effects, only about getting up after you fall. So I must have been exaggerating.

One day I decided to stop hiding and just told everybody that asked, no it’s not well. As I made the click, it seemed that all felt in place. When the day came that I almost payed off all of my debts, I thought great, from now on it will be all better.

However, with most of my debt, I also lost my drive. I do realize I’m still not safe but I’m tired, I can’t go at 250% anymore. I’m still doing 90%, but that feels like standing still. I’m tired, empty, broken. I’m still passionate about photography and my jobs, but all other work (administration, marketing, …) is too much.

At least that is the feeling I’m having for the last months. So when on 1 of the Fail conferences I heard every speaker talk about failure as a stepping stone to success, I had a bad taste with all that. Failing is not only a stepping stone, but also very tiresome and hard. You only get hit by it afterwards. You only know what it took, the moment you start to get up again.

— — Footnote —

I wrote this post in december 2014. At the time I had the following intro:

First of all, I have to say, that I don’t really know what I want to achieve with this post. It’s something that has been bothering me for some time and I’m writing it here to get it of my chest.’

Since then my life has gotten better, I have a beautiful daughter, a lovely girlfriend who understands me and I can live a bit more relaxed. However my sorrows are far from gone and every time I hit a rough patch, I’m noticing I fall back in the same old routines.

So even now almost 2 years later, it still takes a huge toll on my mental health.