There are things I don’t like about creating businesses. For one, I don’t like the risk associated with creating a new business. Over the years these different risks have taken a toll on me. For example, it’s not uncommon for people to say to me how great it must be to own your own business. I usually respond, “If you don’t mind losing your mental and physical health, it’s the only way to go.” They laugh, thinking I’m joking. I used to think so too. But, I think it’s exactly what I mean.
Every new business I have ever started, at some point, has unique risks tied to it. Risk is inherent in start-ups. There is no such thing as prudent risk, or smart risk or calculated risk in a start up. There is just risk. Risk in all its bizarre twists and turns. For example, when I started my first management consulting firm, it was pure magic until about two years into it. And, then, one day the CEO of the company that was our largest client informed me that they were thinking about cancelling all of their consulting contracts, including ours. For the first time in my life, I had a full-fledged anxiety attack. Such a move on their part would have dire consequences for our firm. Eventually, however, we weathered that storm, but the effects of the anxiety attack have never entirely left me, emotionally or physically. Over the years there would be new storms. They too would be weathered, but as usual they would continue to leave damage in their wake.
At times it puzzled me as to why I continued to return to an activity that had caused me so much pain. One possible answer was that the rewards so far outweighed the pain, that I willingly accepted the pain for the potential of the gain.
Another possible answer lay deeper in my personal make-up. The truth is, I am a contradiction when it comes to risk, because there is also a pleasurable side of risk for me. At moments, there is an excitement in confronting risk. When you create a new business, you put everything on the line for it. There are no illusions with a start up. There are no default positions. There are no games, rationalizations, or excuses. There is just hard, tough, uncompromising reality staring you down. Only by taking on this kind of business risk have I been able to get to that kind of unvarnished reality, where life is really real. And when I have gone to war with those realities, and survived, I have experienced the freedom of both feeling and being independent.
Being independent is the opposite of being dependent. And, being dependent is one of the demons which has bothered me the most throughout my life.
For example, when I worked in a corporate environment, at times, I would have bouts where I would feel emasculated. For example, there would be these times when I felt intimidated by the power my supervisor had over me. And, the higher I went in the corporate structure the more intimidated I would feel. It was as though I was becoming a dependent child again. I found myself agreeing with those above me merely to get their approval. I was interpreting every facial expression as having the power to determine my future success or failure. I can remember specifically meeting with this one supervisor who wore wing tipped shoes. I had these impressions come over me of him kicking me in the butt with those shoes, just like what might happen when I was a child and was being punished. (Although my parents never kicked me).
I think somewhere during this time I made a life changing decision. I would rather go out on my own and risk failure for the possibility of feeling independent, than stay where I was and potentially lose my self respect. In retrospect I believe this was the best decision I ever made. I have no regrets. Although there are many problems owning a business, at least they are my problems!!! I’m free to solve them my way, and reap the reward or failure for my efforts. There’s nothing or no one between me and the cliff. Whether I go over that cliff is solely up to me. I would have it no other way, because at such moments I am fully engaged in life and as a result fully alive.
So, I’m a mixed bag when it comes to risk: I hate and love it at the same time, but truth be known, I love it far more than I hate it. I’ll accept the risk of failure for the pleasure of being independent any day.