December 2013 wasn’t a good month for us. We were in Tokyo during that time, and the business just wasn’t doing well – sales were down. There are a million ways to rationalize why the business wasn’t doing well, such as seasonality, 1-off bad month, emerging competition, something we changed in the business that we weren’t aware of and unknowingly caused the decline, or even people deciding that they don’t need our products and services any more.
I was pretty distraught that I went through an entire list of possibilities with Connie and tried to figure out, one by one, what the reason could be. Did people really find our business lacking value? Trends change, and they change very rapidly especially on the internet.
The more I dug into it, the more confused I got. The more confused I got, the more agitated I became. The more agitated I became, the more I became toxic to myself and to those around me. I wasn’t very self aware that this was happening to me, and that brought a lot of negative energy to my surroundings and really end up hurting Connie along the way.
I just didn’t know how to deal with it, and I wanted to find a solution… “the” solution that will fix everything. With that “goal” in mind, that was a set up to only end with even more disappointment.
What I discovered was that there isn’t an answer to everything. That’s just life.
It sounds incredibly simple, but when you’re neck deep in uncertainty, it was incredibly difficult to find comfort in that. It was so challenging to take a step back and see what’s really important in life, and to calm down. It was a very emotional time for me. Fear, is a very powerful emotion and it completely blinded me.
I tried to work harder, I tried to think deeper. I drove myself up the wall… so silly.
So one day when I was listening to a podcast on the train in Tokyo on our way to a festival in a suburb, an entrepreneur shared about her massive failures. You see, as an entrepreneur, there are so many mind games, and these games are all played within our own heads. Master the game, or risk being destroyed by our own mental games.
She said something that really hit me like a ton of bricks. Now, it sounds pretty corny, but it worked pretty well for me.
She said something along the lines of… “give yourself permission to fail… give yourself permission to feel frustrated, and be okay with it”
I thought about this for quite a bit… and then I started practicing it in my mind.
I give myself permission to feel terrible about the business, to be angry, to be lost, confused, to feel powerless. Once I allowed myself to to recognize all these emotions, I instantly felt better. It was so strange! I know it sounds a bit weird, but it calmed me down right away. I addressed my emotions, gave myself permission to feel terrible, and I felt much better after.
I think I wasn’t in a happy place because I tried to fight my negative feelings. Maybe my head wasn’t in the right place NOT because the business wasn’t doing well, but my head was in the wrong place because I was all riled up and consumed with fighting my negative emotions. I didn’t want to feel bad (who doesn’t?) and so I was spending so much energy in fighting and suppressing these negative feelings.
I’m not sure if that makes any sense whatsoever, but allowing myself to accept and be a failure at that point in time, gave me a lot of peace and calmness.
My friend Christian said about a month ago that sometimes when something upsets him, he just imagines that he leaves his body and floats above himself as a 3rd person, then looks at how he’s behaving, what is he feeling, what is he thinking, from an objective perspective. This exercise allows him to effectively take a step back, take a deep breath, before moving forward.
This technique is pretty powerful and I wished I knew about it a few months ago. What it could have done earlier, was allow me to observe my self as a third person, what I was feeling, recognize my own emotions. If I did that, that would have been addressing my own insecurity and fear, instead of fighting them. Giving myself permission to feel terrible, actually would have liberated me at a much earlier point instead of bottling up so much negative and pessimistic energy.
I’ve since tried to use this technique in more aspects of my life, including my relationship with Connie. Having a wife as a business partner isn’t always smooth sailing. A lot of times I just react, and admittedly, that has sometimes caused a lot of harm and grief to both of us. Being able to stop, take a step back, look at what I’m doing & what I’m feeling, before acting, has been such an important lesson in my own personal journey.
I feel like I’ve done a bit of growing up over the past few months, and I’m pretty happy with that. But I know there will be more dark moments ahead for me, for us. There will be times where I find myself in bad mental situations again. But that’s all part of the life journey. Live and learn, and improve.