Shortly after writing a post (“Email to my CEO”) heavily tinseled with feel-good, morale-upping content, I lost over one third of my consultants and current business within a day. I learned of my loss half an hour before COB (close of business) the Friday before the Christmas holidays. Within a day, I had lost a substantive chunk of my projected earnings. Of course, there’s the more altruistic-based loss where, in between the thoughts of dollar-signs, I realized there are people’s livelihoods involved. There is an entire group of people (in the double-digits) who need to figure out where to go next, who need to think about re-marketing themselves for the next job, worry about how to break the news to their family and how to support them, and figure out what to do from a geographical standpoint (most of these consultants relocated from across the country for this engagement).
I drove home towards the weekend in a state of shock– half-glad for this mental stasis, because there’s an inertia in the state of being in shock before the actual gravitas of it all sinks in fully. Before you wake up the next morning– fully feeling the grief and pain of it all and either tear yourself a new one in terms of tear ducts or one in the intestines/liver (hello, Vodka Redbull.) All that happy non-hum-bug I had pressed upon my colleagues and management, now, I needed to abide by– in the most concrete, physical sense of the concept. It’s the seminal moment– making the decision to commit to a growth-mindset, which means understanding every loss as an opportunity to grow bigger than one’s problem and recondition the risk-aversive mind, honoring loss as the true possibility of gain, and re-connecting with the pillars of what it means to live consciously.
Most of my life has been a ‘spurt and sputter’ endeavor in overcoming the way I live– in fear. When I was little, I prided myself on coloring within the lines– scorned the (wrongfully labeled) lack of discipline with which my baby brother zig-zagged outside of the clearly-delineated lines of the color book’s picture. That misguided pride carried itself through my early adulthood. Up into my middle/high school years, my peers quite often voted me into the superlative likes of being successful, or famous, or a covert superhero because of various intelligence and talents. Yet, I sensed that all that technical aptitude had me woefully prepared for the actual knocks and flows of life. Even in the sense of that knowing, I couldn’t bring myself to think beyond thinking inside of the box because I didn’t understand the relation of failure to success. I went through the personal and professional with a live-to-die mindset where I was only fighting to preserve and protect my status quo: In dating, I bet quite calculatedly; I willingly let go of any prospect too risky– even if it meant losing the possibility of that great love that moves you up and down, back and forth. In finances, I obsessively read up on Warren Buffet, ETFs, Mad Money, Motley Fool blogs, any and all reads on short term/long term investments…and then, sat for over half a decade in analysis paralysis.
I was always the kind of person who needed to learn the lesson the hard way, who needed true loss to galvanize me into the motion towards winning by understanding what was intrinsically important. I was the kind of person, so faulted in my level of construction as to resist meaningful deconstruction and disruption, that ended up bucking and balking against the true meaning of life flow. Which meant that I couldn’t flow into falling in love, whether it was with an individual or a vocation. I couldn’t activate my passion and energy in the fullest sense. I was such a fearful type of creature that I had to bottom out– engines dying– before I could really begin the journey up.
Falling into flow and out of fear is a wonderous experience. It’s an experience to which you have to constantly recommit yourself because it’s a double-edged, pleasure in the pain type of experience that leaves you sated as you are hungry. You start to understand this seemingly paradoxical yet symbiotic relationship. You start to understand that linear growth is not effective growth.
I asked my brother (who is continuing to color outside the lines as a CTO of an IT startup) the other day how happy he was. His response: “Pretty sure neither happiness or peace are on a linear scale. A linear scale can’t explain why i’d probably put a negative number on both but still tell you I wouldn’t rather do much else. When you do a startup, you’re trying to make something from nothing. That makes the internal picture very complicated.”
On a smaller scale (smaller because I haven’t completely left the security of a 9-to-5; I still have a fallback, a hedge that prevents me from leaping to his level of intensity– that ‘real skin in the game’), I understand his response. Happiness is something that people try to capture in a gift-box soft of manner where they forget that one’s goal in life is really not about seeking happiness. The pursuit of happiness as the be-all and end-all of goals often climaxes as a stopping point where you embed yourself into this transient feeling, that really has no longevity in the big sense of being.
In Year 2013, I started understanding the diminutive construct of happiness, as I threw myself into balls-to-the-walls, War-of-the-Worlds work. In Year 2014, the exigency of my business clients’ requirements ebbed into a pace where I had the danger of resting– without that gun to the head, fire under the ass type of circumstance. My brother mused upon the discomfort of returning to ‘civilian’ life. And because I couldn’t have said it better, I’m going to again straight-quote him: Once you’ve touched it–the smell of doing something truly creative–i’m not sure you could be satisfied plugging back into the matrix. That’s why i never have a good answer when people ask me if i’m happy with what i’m doing. On the one hand, hells no, it’s the most difficult and painful thing i’ve ever done by a margin i can’t even explain. On the other… i cant look at a 9-5 “job” anymore without gagging. What an empty life.”
This past year was a re-emergence into civilian life. I found myself fighting constant despair and ennui. I walked into my boss’s office one time– literally tearing as I told him how much I missed that feeling of my head about to explode in every which direction. I was no longer fighting for world domination in an over-saturated market of competitors within a breathless-type of turnaround time-frame. I was no longer trying to the effect the impossible and, consequently, no longer feeling any active current. I don’t want to stay in that ‘civilian’ type of lifestyle. I want to rush back into a dimension where work is not work, where work is inseparable from loving and living, where I can giddily don on my ‘game face’ every breath of every moment of every day, where the perils are irresistable in their sparkle, where 14+ hour work days feel so much shorter than a usual 8-9 hour day, where the material and immaterial marries itself in the meaning of what it means to live.
The following is not a “New Year’s resolution.” Perhaps, part of my scorn of the perennial New Year’s resolution stems from my elitist aversion to the conventional, and also the short shelf-life implicit in the temporal-based timing. So, the following is a life-long resolution (something I wrote back in undergrad-college):
Letting go in an exhale, in a yawn,
In a smile.
I tried being perfect
But it was easier to fly falling.
I want to breach finite inner/outer barriers. I want to gain more of myself in every loss. And let that charring of the wings be another notch on the belt that is not so much a notch in its face as it is facing the in of everything, the understanding that every upward flap of one’s beginning, begins inside.