One Setback, Two Steps Forward

Another first today, on the road to nirvana.

Within the safe confines of my mind, my idea makes perfect sense. Not only do I see a consumer need that I think I’m qualified to meet, but I envision a philosophy, brand and identity that address a gaping hole in the financial-services landscape. I’m not the one to point out – but will repeat here – that the best known brands out there set themselves apart not by virtue of what they do, but why. (To borrow the example from the video I just linked to, many companies make computers, phones, etc. Meanwhile, Apple’s meteoric rise above all competitors can be attributed to the fact that they’ve had a very clear purpose along the way: to make products that challenge the status quo.) I mention this only to make the connection that the ‘Why?’ of my idea is extremely clear to me, so naturally I feel poised for Applesque success. (That’s how that works, right?)

But because of the clarity of my vision, it can be easy to forget the fact that I didn’t get here overnight. I mean, sure, the timing of my leap from Purgatory was decided in short order upon being hit with my pivotal idea. Still, all of my observations and experiences that preceded that decision, and the thoughts and values that those things helped shape, took a long time to materialize. (In both the literal and figurative sense, really, they represent the culmination of an entire lifetime to date.)

So it shouldn’t really come as a surprise when others don’t immediately share my vision, or the values upon which it’s based, or my certainty that it will work, or my comfort with the practical realities of pursuing it. The absence of any one of those things could (and will in many cases, I’m sure) end up being a deal-breaker for someone who might otherwise be a good candidate to join me on this quest. And as determined as I am to make this venture work, there’s an important lesson to be learned in acknowledging that.

Today was the first instance of a setback that stung a little.

Objectively, the particulars of the incident are undramatic: I learned that the person who I was most hoping would be my first teammate is likely not going to be interested in joining me. The reasons for this decision are, essentially, as I considered above: just because I’ve come to a place of absolute resolve in pursuit of an ideal at the expense of unrestricted income doesn’t mean – not by a long shot – that any other person will be inclined to feel that same resolve. Nor should they. People have kids, mortgages and a financial future to worry about. I have no grounds nor inclination to be mad at that. (Hell, if I had been approached with the same opportunity a few years ago, or maybe even more recently than that, I would certainly have bristled and declined.)

Insofar as the prospects of my building a team are concerned, the practical reality of the matter can’t be ignored: there are some very smart and talented people that I would love to work with who also happen to be worth a lot of money to many (more conventional, deep-pocketed) companies. This means that, in many such cases, my ability to attract those people will depend on their willingness to forgo higher income or the ‘sure thing’ or both. For someone who likes to think he can find solutions to any problem, that’s a bit of a tough pill to swallow: unless I want to abandon ship and build a company that indiscriminately competes for talent on salary (I don’t), I have no choice but to accept that these decisions will  – by their very nature – be beyond my control. Not that there’s no alternative; it just means that I may have to accept the fact that there are many great candidates who are out of my price range. Having said that, to have the very first person I was hoping for (for reasons of talent and disposition) slip through my fingers in this way does, if I’m being honest, sting a little.

The cold, calculating rationalist in me knows that there are, practically speaking, an unlimited number of people out there – somewhere – that would and will make great partners in this venture. Many of them currently underpaid, even. (Finding those people may take some effort, but still – all is far from lost.) The significance of the setback is more that it represents the inevitable reality that there will always be certain things beyond my control, and it’s no one’s fault. Touché.

(You will understand in a moment why, for chronological reasons, I’m including this seemingly unrelated anecdote here. Exactly 10 days ago, give or take a couple of hours, I went to bed having typed up the resignation letter that I was preparing to submit to white-collar purgatory the next day. I noted the fact that I had one more night to ‘sleep on it’ before I was to irreversibly finalize my decision. I even pointed that out to my brain: “Okay, brain. Last chance to change your mind. Ball’s in your court.” When I woke up, I mindlessly reached for my phone as I typically do when I’m groggy. And because having only half of my mental faculties available is the perfect state in which to open Facebook, I did just that. The very first piece of content that presented itself had to do with an old friend whose two-year-old son had recently been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Of course, at a moment where I was on the precipice of a final decision as to how I want to spend the rest of my career, that was all the assurance I needed that I was on the right track. Decision made.)

This evening, I allowed myself a moment to wallow in today’s bit of disappointment. I flopped down on the couch and opened Facebook on my phone, again expecting nothing more than a small dose of mindless diversion. Instead, I was presented with another gut-wrenching sign that, if I choose to look beyond my own fragile ego, there are much bigger fish to fry out there.

The story, this time, related to a friend of a friend who – just yesterday, it seems – lost his life in a plane crash off the coast of the Dominican Republic. Evidently this guy (with whom I was in no way acquainted) was part of a group returning from delivering donations and other forms of aid to victims of a hurricane in Haiti. This was, it turns out, the sort of thing to which he had devoted his life’s work. I don’t need to make for you the symbolic connection between what I was reading and the totally meaningless bit of difficulty I was grappling with, just prior thereto.

This stuff isn’t fun to think about, so I hesitate to write about it at all. But if my journey out of white-collar purgatory has been all about ceasing to ignore the uncomfortable truths around me (for starters, that I didn’t like my work, that I was uncomfortable with not doing more for humanity, that financial wealth hasn’t brought the sustained satisfaction I assumed it would), then I can’t very well ignore a painfully unpleasant but important lesson like this one. Sometimes, things suck. If I want to “help” in whatever way I can, I first have to accept that fact.

The photo accompanying this post has a particular significance. Let me start by saying that I am in no way intending to use it for personal gain. My purpose is only to be reminded of the significance it carries.

The online post I was reading this evening, about the friend of a friend, led me (against my better judgment, perhaps) to the deceased’s page. The very last photo he posted was the one you see above. I know as much about the story behind it as I do about the man himself – which is to say, not very much.

His caption was succinct:

“#Love”

*****

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3 thoughts on “One Setback, Two Steps Forward

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