Embracing the Hard Path

The foundation for the redwoods, covered with needles.

Floor of a redwood grove.

For a long time, I struggled with jealously and resented the success of others. I wanted the easy route to wealth, admiration and fulfillment. This colored many things in my life, rarely in a positive way.

The shift from jealously to inspiration began in early 2009. I had left my engineering job the summer prior and explored the Pacific NW and Canada rock climbing and cycling nearly every day for about six months. With dwindling funds and a mortgage payment, I needed to make money. The problem was that I had zero idea what I wanted to do, other than it couldn’t involve me going to an office and working for someone else.

As my insightful friend Alex Payne mentions in his great post on advice for someone wanting to work for or build a startup, some people create a business just to have one. For the money, fame, recognition, connections…not because they have an idea they’re passionate about, or a flaming idea in hell what to do with themselves.

I was the latter, and I sought the easy path. A friend and I worked on some tech-related business plans with proposed wow-that’s-a-mouthful names like TechasaurusRex and Techmopolitan. We then succumbed to the Siren Song promises of easy riches via a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) company called Lightyear Wireless, then tacked on another one for good measure. ACK. Makes me want to gag just writing that.

That experience of a couple months was short-lived, as MLM’s usually are, and I felt dirty and manipulative every day I worked on that project. Not all are bad, but MLM’s often prey on the hopes and dreams of lazy wealth seekers, the down-and-out, and the uneducated, and I was casting about a lot at that point, desperate not to return to engineering heat transfer tables. Chelsea, ever my guiding light and the wiser of our union, immediately smelled stink and was against it from the start, and she was right. Luckily, I managed to escape with only the cost of an LLC license, a few Craigslist ads and a lot of time, but the hard-core shellacking to my ego took awhile to repair. Five years later, I still cringe and want to delete this entire section, and am sharing only because sometimes success looks so easy, with no obstacles, when indeed there are many.

I’ve come to believe there is no easy ticket for creating success. There is only putting yourself out there into the world in a positive, confident way to share the skills you have to offer and develop those you don’t. After that bitter MLM pill, building my business reputation happened client by happy client, and it has taken five years of hard work to get where I am now. (Parked in the Humboldt Redwoods, at this very moment.) There were phone calls with sobbing, stressed out home buyers late at night (one later took me and the Realtor out to an expensive sushi dinner for the hours of counseling), tough decisions, cold calls, presentations to build my business to groups of uninterested people. Hard. Uncomfortable. Honest. WORK.

Anyone who is successful has failures they use as stepping stones to step to the next level, hundreds of pages of torn up rough drafts, miles of training runs, and plenty of nights lying awake worrying about a disappointed client. The grass is always greener until you step in the cow patty two strides into the next field, yet backing up often results in getting snagged in the barb wire fence of your ego. It is so hard to stick to your guns, believe in yourself, and not jump from project to half-started-project when the headaches hit. Yet following that tougher path will motivate both your colleagues, employees and loved ones, to follow you to the bare, bitter end, so long as you have a plan and a vision. They will question you along the way, and should, but believe in you nonetheless.

Such is the path of those who create and push boundaries, whether their own business or at a company. And once you get there, achieve what you’ve dreamt of, many are doomed like Sisyphus to get bored and stale and start over, pushing the rock back up the hill only to look back over a shoulder at the bottom for new, bigger, more lopsided boulders that create a new, “fun” challenge. How much is enough, anyway?

These days, the tables have turned, and in a good way. Same as Alex, I get a lot of calls and emails from people looking to work for themselves who are scared to make the move. Health insurance coverage is a big one – I should write an entire post on that. Loss of camaraderie with co-workers. Fear of failure, which I think is often confused with fear of success – what if I achieve my dreams and show all the people who bet on my failure and want to keep me in a comfortable box where they know how to relate to me? Growth can scare those around you, make them jealous rather than inspiring them to push themselves.

And sometimes, as Alex mentions, you lose friends, health, and other valuable parts of your life because of work, whether you fail or succeed. “When you’re young, friendships feel like a renewable resource” was my favorite line from his post, and I absolutely believe that. It took me awhile to learn that, and now it drives my devotion to the amazing friend support structure I’m lucky enough to have. And support they do – not financially – but in myriad other ways we all appreciate when it happens.

I recall working as an engineer on a project, a new student dorm. It was Chelsea’s birthday. A document set, which would be revised the next day by the architects and waste all my work anyway, had to go out that day. There just wasn’t enough time, and we had dinner reservations for that night at a nice restaurant. The project manager wouldn’t let me leave – he literally stood over me, the sucker young engineer – until I finished it. I pushed back our reservation twice, with Chelsea rescheduling, and then had to cancel entirely.

This wasn’t the first time I’d had to work late, even getting home after midnight occasionally. “Work 50 hours per week minimum if you want to make partner,” was the mantra. When I finally got home, it was after 10 p.m. and Chelsea was all dressed up to go out, crying softly in the dark. My heart just about crumpled.

I gave my notice to the company soon after and haven’t looked back. It hasn’t always been easy, but for me, it has been the right path.

Wishing you all the success in the world,


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