The Broken Bucket

I don’t know if I call it shame, or grief. Either way, I’m not ready.

It’s been 1 yr since my life changed with my business partners and things didn’t go as planned. That month was the hardest time I’ve ever faced and the 3 yrs leading up to it, not much better.

I read an article recently that details the unfortunate alignments with entrepreneurship, suicide and mental illness. I am not surprised in the slightest.

Entrepreneurship is hard. It’s like someone takes your life, your pride, your self worth, your ego, your values, your experiences, your reputation – everything – throws it into a bucket with a bit of slime, gold, and bad karma and sloshes it around for about an hour a day. Depending on where the bucket stops is what you get. People say, don’t take it personally, it’s just business. I think that’s bullshit. It IS personal. It is YOUR business, and what happens here is personal. I’ve not always made the best decisions or the right decisions and when that’s happened, god it’s hurt. It’s hurt so bad, I can feel it physically aching in my gut. It’s actually not quite in my gut, it’s kind of at the bottom of my oesophagus and middle of my throat – a bile feeling. And the crummy part is that sometimes these feelings last for weeks if not months. They ache and then they prod. Sometimes they go away. Sometimes they are replaced with beautiful things that happen in business like watching one of your staff grow into what you always thought they could be or seeing a client refer to you another potential client – these days are gold. That’s the nice part of the bucket.

Sometimes though, the bucket just keeps sloshing. It keeps throwing slime at you, and when you come up for air, you think you’re doing the right thing but you’re so scared of the slime you end up grabbing bad karma and the cycle continues.

I admire those entrepreneurs that don’t align their self worth with their businesses – I think it’s rare. They don’t, but I do. It’s damn near impossible in my opinion to not feel intrinsically connected to something that you gave birth to, watched grow, and sacrificed for. I’d love to know how they do it.

Sometimes these things are so much easier said than done aren’t they? Like, don’t feel so bad, you’re better off without him. Or, she’s’ not good enough to be your friend, or they’re just family and they should know better or the best, it’s not you’s me. You’re right, I shouldn’t’ feel bad about any of those things, they’re not in my control, they’re not necessarily connected to me and I have the power to disconnect from them at will, but to mentally just let go. Man, that takes work.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for 16yrs. Since 1999 I’ve been building and selling businesses. Some were worth more than others and some were more fun than the rest. All in all being an entrepreneur is awesome, but it can become weary after a while if you don’t come up for air.

In 2014, I took a good long hard look at myself and realised that I needed a break from this entrepreneurship business. It had taken it’s toll. I was physically and mentally ravaged by years of the bucket sloshing me around and spitting me out when it saw fit.

I no longer laughed as easily, nor did I let things slide, my confidence was shattered, my body ragged, my mind no longer at ease and the pain of going into an office every day was becoming greater and greater.

We lost a big client, I was devastated I had to let most of our staff go. Something I’d worked so hard not to do. I was doing everything in my power to rebuild a culture; a vision and we were on track for something so very special until this.

That day was sad, relieving and painful all in one. As I sat at my best friends kitchen table sobbing, her pouring me a whiskey at 11am, I realised that the tears flowing were not of great sadness, they were actually relief. It was a decision I should have made a long time ago as the client was never the right fit for our business, they treated our staff poorly and well, hindsight’s an asshole.

Needless to say, the decision was made and we had to make most of our team redundant. The shame I felt. The guilt. The fear. Whilst relief was definitely a highlight, I had a reputation to uphold and I fell deep into a drowning pit of despair. I tried hard to keep my head and heart above this growing tide of fear but it just kept washing over, with me desperately trying to take snippets of air to keep my so called dream alive. I told very few people – and unfortunately, the response wasn’t what I needed from most. I wasn’t ready for the catapult into questions or prodding of well, what are going to do next? I didn’t know. I had no idea. The fear, guilt and shame swallowed me up.

Worthless is what I truly felt. How could I possibly be worthy to anyone or thing now? These emotions were hard and heavy hitting and I wasn’t ready for them. I couldn’t breathe with the thought of them. I put on a brave face but they ravaged my brain and my gut and confused the two. How could I think clearly or make articulate decisions with that kind of emotion overriding the system?

The answer came through in a camping trip late October 2014 where I realised I needed a break. Some space. The feelings I had were all muddled and I couldn’t fix them. I couldn’t be the big entrepreneur I thought myself to be, I needed to…not do.

So, here I am, now on a completely different journey traveling around the world. How does it feel 1 yr later you ask? I feel broken if I’m completely honest. Broken in so many ways, physically and mentally. The people I trusted fell away, the situations that meant so much became irrelevant, the hierarchy I had became insignificant and I felt and still do feel broken.

But here lies the big question – How do you build the person you want to be if you haven’t’ broken the one before? It’s kind of like a mandatory evil that has to happen for the next thing to emerge. I use the analogy of bush fires allowing trees to regenerate, adversity to create success, in all stories of history and life, it requires a level of personal destruction before rebuilding the real story. It’s like it has to happen for true success to emerge.

When I read that article about the entrepreneurs journey being difficult, I can completely relate. I too have been suicidal. I too have a mental illness and mange my anxiety disorder daily. I too have connected my self worth and personal value to my business and when it didn’t go as planned, all of that came crashing down with it. I get it.

I’m broken.

It hurts.

But that’s what’s meant to happen before the really good stuff shows up.

To get to the good stuff though, so many questions are asked.

Who do I want to be? If I’m no longer connected to my business who am I really? What’s really important? What makes me tick?

The dilemma between my heart and head is such an argument that sometimes I have to tell myself out loud to just shut up. To be still. To not analyse, that not everything is going to be laid out on a silver platter, that I’ve got to experience the emotions and the frustration before it’s really worth it.

You trying telling ME that – it’s not that easy.

I received a call last week. A very exciting call. They wanted me to be on a TV show, they wanted me to advise people about what they were doing right and wrong in their businesses. The first thought I had was…who am I to say what’s right and wrong. 5 yrs ago, a voice would have returned booming with confidence reeling out the awards won, the accomplishments had, last week…the voice was quiet, timid, protective. It whispered “You know, you have been there, you have done it and you’ve learned more than your years and is this really what you want to do?”. I tried to listen, but shame is still creeping in and guilt and all these other completely useless emotions that do nothing for anyone but themselves.

I believe this process, although painful, is such an important step and I’m viewing it from afar like an out of body experience where I can see my body lying on the gurney but I know that I’m going back in to my body. Morbid I know…but it makes sense to me and I hope you.

I’m still doing great work, I just have bigger questions and perhaps more important questions like – How can I contribute to the world in a bigger way? How do I find peace in my mind and my heart at the same time, or the mecca of How do I find that dream of combining all of my skills and passions into one?

Travelling and seeing so many other things has turned off a lot of buttons. The snooze button for one. The drive button – another.

It has however, turned on the curiosity button, the question button and the learning button. I’ve read more books in 3 months than the past 5 yrs. I’ve listened to more people tell their stories in 2 weeks than the last 12months and it’s been so beautiful.

I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up … In reality I don’t want to grow up. What I do feel I have is a second chance. A second chance to create something powerful, positive, purposeful – game changing for people. Something that empowers people, that allows them to feel like they too can achieve their greatest, because even if the depths of despair which as an entrepreneur I’ve felt, I still know that I can achieve whatever it is that my mind is set to do. But first, I’ve got to pick up the pieces, one by one, and put them back together – perhaps in a different order or scale to create the person I’m building to become when I’m ready.

I leave you and I with the words of Ali "I hated every minute of training, but I said "Don't quit, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion"...

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I've been an entrepreneur for over 17 yrs working in both Australia and Canada.  I now reside in Sydney working to change the world on business at a time.

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