It was a Friday and it was going to be my very last pay cheque. I’d made the decision to walk away from the startup I spent the last five years building. In my dreams, it didn’t feel that bad, but in reality, it was like facing a crack cocaine addiction with a loaded gun in my hands.
The whites of my eyes had turned yellow, I had dark bags under my eyes, and as strange as this may sound, I played a game with my colleagues that showed just how bad things had got.
The game was to sit in silence, and for me to try and hold my hand steady. The result was that my hand would shake like crazy — that’s what stress and anxiety looks like when it’s in full swing and ready to knock you flat on your face.
At 3 PM, I did my final walk of the floor and said goodbye to each of the staff members. I tried very hard not to burst into tears, and I didn’t until I got home that night and reflected on what had just happened.
When it all turns to shit, you really have no idea what will follow. The moment everything went wrong in my life, all I felt was a tidal wave of emotion building. Instead of facing my reality, I waited for it to take me out to sea and see it all as one big natural disaster.
It’s hard to see any good in these moments. Surely the best thing that can happen is that it all goes away and life goes on.
Strangely, when it all goes to shit, having it all work out nicely is the last thing you should want.
The mystical world of startups looks so great on the front cover of Success Magazine. When I was faced with getting a job or doing a startup, I naturally chose a startup.
Startups seemed to come with freedom whereas a job, at the time, seemed like a death sentence. No what tells you what you’re in for.
- Nights where you stay awake thinking about those 10–20 customers you have
- Summers spent unloading stock from shipping containers
- Confusion when your best salesperson leaves and you have no clue why.
- A constant fear that you shouldn’t be in a startup because you don’t have enough experience.
Then there’s the work.
You have to work incredibly hard because paying the rent is so much harder when you have no leverage, no finances, no experience and no people to do the work. The inevitable reality that it’s all on you to do the work sets in.
All I’d done before startups was produce music and do a few DJ sets. A lot of this could be done from my bedroom and success or failure didn’t matter.
Despite what you may think, I wasn’t born with any skills in self-improvement or entrepreneurship. These skills were developed when everything in my life turned to shit.
The rock-bottom moment was the only advantage I was given.
This moment came and I was entirely unprepared. All I can remember is knowing the moment was coming and feeling like there was nothing I could do about it other than to live through it, or not.
The realization that there may be any good in losing everything never even crossed my mind.
The year everything turned to shit was my break out moment.
Walking away from a startup broke everything in my career, interrupted every habit, tore any patterns in my life to pieces and made me quit every hobby or after-work activity.
The situation was so dire that the only way to survive was to quit everything and go back to a blank canvas.
The beauty of that blank canvas took a long time to become clear.
What caused it all to go wrong? Okay, this probably won’t make sense, but the truth is, lots of unrelated circumstances that I didn’t see coming.
These circumstances included competition, staff walking out, a change in business model and my health declining at a rapid rate. I hung on for so long trying to find another way. There were so many times that it looked like I would leave only to end up staying.
The time it all went to shit felt like all the previous times where I said to myself that’s it I’m leaving once and for all.
Issues with startups stem from the strangest of places.
It’s easy with hindsight to look back and pretend as though the few key factors that could become your downfall are as easy to spot as a rainbow zebra walking down the middle of Central Park, New York. When you’re living through it, it’s never that easy to see — especially when you’ve gone through it before and won several times.
Startups go wrong for so many reasons. It’s what you sign up for.
When all the growth in your life stops because of one moment, you never believe that you can surpass where you used to be.
For me, having everything go to shit was the defining moment in my life where everything I now value, and that others value in what I do, started from.
It would be very easy to stay in bed and be comfortable. I did this for around six months. Every night I’d sit in bed and watch Hollywood Movies — movies such as Mission Impossible, Fletch, Ghostbusters and my favorite: Harry Potter.
These movies seemed to help with what I was facing.
There came a point, though, where I realized that this wasn’t a long term strategy although it was certainly part of the recovery process. The endless art of watching movies distracted my brain and allowed it to heal so that I could prepare for what would come next.
The recovery didn’t happen quickly, though.
One night I was sitting at home and decided to watch some Youtube. One of the ads was for Tony Robbins and for some reason I clicked it. No action happened after this except it left a lasting memory in my mind.
That memory was the trigger for an idea That idea led nowhere but triggered another idea. That idea died too. And this process went on and on until somehow that ridiculous YouTube ad led to an idea that became the catalyst for everything that followed.
How did those ideas link together? Which idea was it?
To this day, I have no clue. Just like you can’t remember what you had for breakfast 16 days ago, I can’t remember what the idea was that took me from everything going to shit, recovery, and then to explosive growth that took 2–3 years to produce any visible signs of life.
When it all goes to shit, letting go of what has happened really helps. If all you do is dwell on the past and try to understand it, you can never move forward.
What I found was that I had to let go of the past until a few years later I was ready to revisit it properly, with a magnifying glass, and understand it for what it was: experience and the best thing that ever happened.
Having it all go to shit is almost always followed by a new discovery and then growth.
The growth starts very small.
The growth doesn’t feel like growth.
The growth stops and starts in a 1950s, VW Beetle kind of way.
Turning to shit, recovery and growth is the cycle of life. When you’ve been through it enough times, you begin to understand it. One day when you have your first grey hair, you’ll even begin to appreciate this cycle.
(For the record I got my first grey hair recently…yay!)
I thought this startup failure was the last of my ‘going to shit moments.’
It wasn’t.There were a few more.
Finding a girl, having it blow up, being single and learning to date again by simultaneously having to love myself first.
Then, there was the epic fall from grace that was my career in finance. That too had to tumble and die for me to find the next level of growth. There are many more, but they all seem to rise from nothing.
You can’t predict when the next rock-bottom moment will occur; all you can do is be prepared and find the beauty in it.
Questions like Why me? and Why is this happening again? are not going to get you through these times.
These thoughts will help:
“I’ll get through this.”
“There is meaning in it all.”
“This is the moment I need to go further.”
Everything will turn to shit at some point. There’s no avoiding it just like there’s no avoiding death.The moments when it all goes to shit are where your life is defined.
You can get it through it. You will get through it. That’s all a given. What’s not a given is whether you will grow from the process and learn to respect it.
That’s what these turning to shit moments can do for you.