Everything happens for a reason, they say.
I don’t believe in fate, superstition, karma, religion or anything not based on cold logic. I’m a percentages guy. Or I think I am. I believe if that if you do the right things and keep making decisions, you’ll come off better.
You can’t make all your own luck, but you can improve your percentages. Nobody is immune to fate though. Right?
It’s pretty hard for me not to feel a bit superstitious and ‘fatey’ right now. Like maybe all the crap we’ve been through MEANS something. Because suddenly my experiences seem so prescient and useful. I never expected that. Now it seems obvious.
Back in 2017 my first business Vulpine, seemingly on a trajectory for mega-dollar international success, fame and fortune, died as fast as it grew.
Already on the edge, burnout, in desperate debt, hating myself and lost, I became depressed and suicidal. I was terrified. I thought it was the end. Minutes became hours. Pain.
Me just before it all went very wrong
As documented in my first podcast and again in this video, I thought it was all over, I swore never to start another company and frankly was hanging on by my fingertips anyway, let alone planning a return.
But with time, and little footsteps forward most days, I moved to a better place until, through all the shit, I was ok, sometimes great. Now I’m well and never more contented, because my context has shifted so dramatically and my life is constructed so differently. But my god it wasn’t easy. Life isn’t - but it shouldn’t be awful, for anyone
I’m better than I ever was. Not in a running-around-beating-my-chest-laughing-maniacally way. In a calmer, able-to-handle-it way.
The great (shit tasting) gift of a mental breakdown, for me at least, was now I have context. I wouldn’t want to insult the pain of someone who really HAS had a near death experience, but I got close enough to feel it’s frozen bite. Then the warmth of living and the joy of simply breathing and interacting with the world.
The cliche of reevaluating your life in these circumstances is true. I was and am very glad to be here.
Life before was mostly working insanely hard, not seeing my kids, wife or family, and just smashing my head against fear and problems until I fell asleep. For what? Nice bikes? Press? Meals out? Plaudits? Ambition? Fuck ambition for ambition’s sake. I’m now ambitious for a more contented and fair life, not seeing my name in Esquire and “winning”
All that meaningless crap. But you couldn’t have told me that 3 years ago.
When I dived into depression, my world shrank. I had to because I needed closeness and simplicity. I had to because we were in such dire financial straits we couldn’t do anything except walk the dog and ebay our belongings anyway. No violins - I decided to start that business. It’s my hard cheese.
So much stuff we worry about doesn’t matter. Telling you about our debts doesn’t MATTER. I like people, I care about relative strangers, but I don’t care what you think of me. I care about what I and my loved ones think of me! What matters is breathing, loving, holding, creating, learning, helping…EXPERIENCING.
Only I can experience my life. That sounds stupid, but I’m not going to let some newspaper lifestyle article, advert, troll or ego tell me how to live and what to perceive.
My recovery involved understanding my perception of the world. To have space to think, see, smell, touch. To experience my own presence in the world. Call it mindfulness, meditation, whatever. I call it BEING. The joy of existing.
So now I’m grateful. Through lockdown, I am used to simplicity, being, exercising for pleasure, simple, simple, simple.
Frankly, that experience was so hard and the still fresh memory of it so life changing, that what is happening now isn’t ‘easy’, but I am equipped to deal with it. I’m ok with it. It’s others I feel bad for.
Now I know that as long as I’m here, breathing, I can carry on. It gives me comfort and takes the pressure off.
The pressure is also off because the financial kicking my family took meant we sold up, got rid of most of our belongings and moved to a smaller house last year, to finally rid ourselves of debt, as described here.
I sold loads of bikes and belongings. I got sympathy. I didn’t want it. That’s crazy. I have a bike. I can still ride. Having 3, 5, 8, 15 bikes makes no difference to my life. I have NEVER missed a bike I sold. Because it doesn’t MATTER. It’s just STUFF.
The third way this seeming personal apocalypse has helped me through all the crap of coronavirus, is that I built a business from what I’ve learnt. Safe, lean, simple, with a model based on taking pre-orders, because we don’t sell many. That took discipline. But I wasn’t going to go through losing business again. Though weirdly I’m less scared of it, simply because I know it’s just a business. The lack of fear makes me relaxed, which in turn frees me up to do my best work.
All so different from Vulpine. But we learn best from failure. As long as we do learn - I had a choice, either give up and run AWAY - once bitten twice shy.
Or run IN to the fear, because it is only fear, a feeling, and use what I’d learnt. I’m so glad I did. Hello FRAHM. Hello you!
How does all this help you? Remember:
- Failure is just a necessary by-product of trying. Keep trying.
- You couldn't have planned for this. But you can plan differently for the future.
- If you’re losing or lost a business through this, you had what it takes to do it this time, you’ll be better the next.
- Simple is good. A simple life is better.
- You will recover. It will get better. Just keep stepping forward each day. Tiny steps…Bigger steps.
- When we hurt, we have a choice to hate more, or be kinder - you, you’re the kinder type. Be kinder. Even to the idiots. They’re just hurting too.
- This pain is temporary. For many it really hurts. Hurt doesn’t go away, but it does change and you can use it.
- Do the right things as often as possible, even if you feel you can’t. Eat well, exercise, bin the news and social media, bin the toxic relationships, talk to anyone who cares (strangers like counsellors and helplines* count) and then sleep.
If I hadn’t had the worst experience of my life in 2017, I and my business wouldn’t be equipped to ride it out.
Everything happens for a reason after all. As long as you use it.
That’s enough of the self-help, back to eating crisps and watching old war movies. I am so glad I’m here.
*FRAHM is giving double it’s normal donation to Mind throughout lockdown. £20 for every jacket sold.