Look at this guy! Star of the basketball team, captain of the soccer team, leader of the group project and the kid who always took everything to an extreme. I was already half way down when the other kids were still daring each-other to jump. The entire season's on the line with seconds left on the clock? Thats great coach...give me the damn ball and fire up the mini-van because I like pizza right after a big win.
I was something like 21 years old and I was literally clueless. My parents said stay in college, my friends said drink with us, and my heart said absolutely nothing. I grew up with all kinds of steam blown straight up my ass. Everybody told me I was going places. I believed it. What the hell happened? It was a pretty surreal feeling being 21 and clueless, worthless, and quite frankly scared shitless.
I'll never forget the day. 45 minutes into some mid-level accounting class and my professor was giving a lecture about inventory. That was it. I couldn't handle it anymore. I stood up from the front row, put my laptop in my bag, took a quick look around, walked out, and never came back. Looking back, the worst (and most pathetic) part is that my BIGGEST concern about leaving school was what other people would think. Sure I heard about it through the grapevine. Big potential Ben was a failure. I absolutely was, but please hold.
Making decisions in un-charted or pressuring territory has been without a doubt the most challenging thing for me throughout my career and life. Little did I know that the hardest decision I made, was by far the most important. The importance wasn't necessarily the choice to leave school. The importance was taking that first major step for myself, which eventually led to many more confident decisions straight into darkness. The kid from paragraph one was going to make a comeback, but It would not come easy. What I've learned from making way too many major life decisions is that consequence can be a really rough and painful word, but you cannot be afraid to fail.
My brother was a cancer survivor about to graduate from one the best culinary schools in the world. My dad got his degree at night school while working two jobs and starting a business. My mom was educated, and held an amazing career not only raising us kids, but later after my parent's divorce, going back to work a very respectable job at a large corporation. Naturally I had started several businesses during college, and they all failed.
During this time, I learned everything that I was supposed to learn in that accounting class that I walked out of. I learned how important it is to plan for the worst financially, manage quickly rotating inventory, and support rapid growth with limited (no) resources blah blah blah.
I learned that when it's you vs you, time is much less relevant than management of your ability to get shit done. I learned that trust is earned, and that the world doesn't slow down when you struggle. I learned that favors aren't free, and that your time is worth much more than money. I learned what it's like to be told NO after weeks of preparing without sleep, and what it's like to (literally) never hear the word YES. I learned that nothing ever goes as planned, and that everybody on the outside will always know what's best for you and your business. I learned what it's like to give your entire life to something, and watch it fail time after time again.
I learned what 3AM alone in a warehouse feels like. I learned what 3AM at an office I couldn't afford feels like, what 3AM alone in my car feels like, and what 3AM... you get the idea. I learned what it's like to suck up a lot of pride, wear a big fake smile, and forget about your 503 credit score. I learned what real self-doubt feels like. I learned what kinds of words your landlord uses when you're 3 months behind, and how to deal with angry vendors 120 days later. I learned what asking your dad for gas money at age 22 feels like. I learned what it's like to have lunch with your big brother, tell him all about your 'growing' business, and watch your card get declined when you offer to split the $21 tab. I learned that you're never too good to shovel some snow. I learned that depression kicks in quickly when none of the pieces are fitting together, and everything seems to be falling apart. I learned A LOT. This isn't half of it. However, the most important thing is... I learned.
I learned how to deal with my problems head on. I learned that resourcefulness was far more important than knowing it all. I learned that I was more capable than even my big dreams had led me to believe. I learned who my true friends were. I learned that I was still one ruthless kid when I put my mind to something, and that other people were starting to learn it too. I learned that every situation (good or bad) is temporary, and that being an underdog isn't necessarily a bad thing.
I learned about my passions, what truly mattered in my life, and what I was willing to do when there was nothing left in the tank. I learned that I'm really brave, and that once I believed in myself, anything was possible. I learned how to handle failure and rejection, slap a positive spin on it, and laugh all the way to the bank. I learned that cliches had to come from somewhere, and that my scars were my biggest strong-suit. I learned that everybody is different, and that patience is an acquired skill. I learned teamwork, how destructive a big ego is, and that helping people must always come first. I learned that learning was the most and only important part of failing. I learned that 29 no's and 1 yes is still one big yes. I learned that every day is an opportunity, and failing was a large part of success. I learned my purpose, I grew up, and I put my failure driven pedal to the floor and went for it all.
Throughout all this failure and learning, I came full circle to the kid who wanted the ball in his hands with seconds left on the clock. I was taking risks, going for broke, and I wasn't failing anymore. Things were clicking, the pieces were fitting together, and I was back. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Hope on a tight rope.
There is no shame in ripping off the water wings and jumping in head first. You will learn how to swim before you drown, but you have to be willing to accept a little water in your lungs. What's failure? What can possibly be worse than eating dinner every night talking about how much you dread 60% of your life?
In 2016 we all look for the magic pill. After 20 excuses and reasons why life is so hard on us, we turn to some book on the shelf in hopes of it lighting a fire under our asses. We navigate to buzz feed and read '8 reasons I'm a winner' or '20 ways to succeed at work' and it pisses me off because the answers to YOUR story aren't in somebody else's god damn handbook.
I can't tell you who you are or what you're capable of. I can't force you to find your passions or start a business doing something you love. I don't have 10 quick tips to success. NOBODY DOES. Nobody can truly teach you what simply getting up and trying can. If you think your dreams are going to fall straight on your lap, or that you're going to get them by reading a book written by some asshole on a yacht, you're going to die with a lot of questions.
The answers are inside. We can only find them by trying, failing, winning, bending, and breaking. What's far more important than technicalities and specifics about your business and industry, are the character traits and lessons you develop when you reach extremes. Discovering who you are and what you want in this short life is 90% of the battle. Do you see yourself finding any answers by staying on the path you're currently on? Walk the rope with me. The choice is yours, but remember what we are. We're simply dying, and your 10 year old self is looking straight at you right now with a lot of questions.
Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear.