What Now?

I’ve done some cool stuff during my career; at least I think so. At the time, there was no suggestion that I had a career at all – it was a random walk through life and business, jumping at whatever came along. I was Don Quixote, taking on the most improbable of challenges with boundless enthusiasm.  Most ended badly economically but ended wonderfully in experience.

I’m at the looking back stage of life now. I never should have gone into business, but I was good at it. I have an MBA – for what it is worth. I just wasn’t good in the cutthroat, get-it-done style. I enjoyed partnerships with interesting people and interesting projects. I especially loved startups and the creative thrill of listening to an idea and for one moment imagining spectacular outcomes – success, fun, travel, esteem. Out of all the dispiriting rejections, “… that’ll never succeed.”, that entrepreneurs encountered, I was always willing to believe, to share the passion, and give them a chance “… well, if you believe, then let’s see what it would take to MAKE this succeed.” I never deterred; I informed and tested and moulded and always strove to find a path.

Mostly, I liked small projects working shoulder to shoulder with enthusiastic, undisciplined entrepreneurs. Maybe I had more or better tools of business, maybe I was better at analysis but they had spirit and courage. For every success there were many, many failures; I was particularly good at failure, an important contribution because each failure is essential in the ratio of failures to successes. As I see it — I was contributing to the success of others – every failure meant that somewhere, someone was achieving success.

I had no specialization, I just took on whatever came along. I was a hummingbird of  business, flitting from idea to idea, giving what I could and finally – toward the end of my career, realizing that the theme, if any.  of my career had been seeing dreams, sharing the transient joy of embarking on a new idea with the limitless enthusiasm of (arguably naive) entrepreneurs and giving dreams a chance. There was never a ‘Plan B’ for these entrepreneurs; there was only certainty, self-confidence and a single path. As the formulas and rigour of business analysis led to dispiriting insights, I saw adaptability, flexibility and grit. For those undertakings headed for the undertaker, I saw the emotion of disappointment, fear at the loss of savings – some deep, deep losses, the marvel of relationships as partners endured or abandoned, and I saw lives changed – for better or worse – the broken and lost, the indomitable spirit.

I guess my career was one of observation. It was an emotional roller coaster – my investment was the full depth of my enthusiasm and effort and sometimes money. I seemed to evolve a farmer’s sanguine perspective, that whatever the crop this year – large or small – whatever the events greater than man – drought, storms, insects – that challenged, I found the spirit to accept – not  surrender – and look into the future with hope.

Few of those I worked with have kept in touch. I wonder at the outcome. Was there another attempt, was there resignation, was there the liberating acceptance that allowed them to return to former careers in the satisfaction that ‘they’d taken a shot’ and felt good.

I’m a believer that every experience leaves a mark. I believe that it is important to find the good in every experience. Sometimes dreams die – over the kitchen table with family, at the bank with bankers, the boardroom with investors or in the dashboard glow of the loneliest twilight drive, unconsciously following a trail of taillights in a trail of thoughts that will end in a decision which is in the same instant the heartache of disappointment an incredible unburdening as the decision resolves every impasse and the unsolvable that have been your nightly companions. Suddenly, the unbearable, the unthinkable shrinks to manageable dimension, a future appears, hope returns and you can face the future.

The guessing game of ‘what if and if only’ always leads to believing there would have been a better outcome. What I learned is that each failed attempt lead to deeper insights of what one truly values.

In September of 2001, I completed a summer-long implementation of a national marketing campaign in the US. I had funded it personally. I had excellent product and wonderful business partners. Prospects were back from summer relaxation and ready to do business. There were sales to make, bids to submit, contracts to negotiate, the joy of closings and the fulfillment of delivery. It wasn’t to be. As I watched the smoke from New Jersey, my thoughts went to the victims and their families. It was much later that I would feel the impact as my clients – municipalities – simply stopped purchasing.

This isn’t a tale of sadness. It defined me. To others I lost a business, a house, a car, a wife and a way of life. Fight as I might – and I did – I came to realize that I had strayed so far from who I am, what I felt to be of value, what I really wanted to do and how I want to life to unfold.

This is not the beginning of my story, it is the turning point. I can’t say I found courage or strength, but I did find me.