I am a failed businessman.
I hate to say it, but it’s true. I can visualize all the systems, all the theory, all the necessary behavioural needs to make real leaders and motivated, happy employees. I’ve fought those battles in big businesses and small, made the mistakes that I had to learn from and I thought that I had the attitude, the self-awareness and the foundation of what it took to do my own thing.
And then I failed, spectacularly, the first time out.
I made all the newbie mistakes. I didn’t have enough reserves. I didn’t cover my angles. I wasn’t a great marketer or salesman. I did the best I could, but ended up with the whole Field Of Dreams fuck-up anyway.
I built it, so I thought they’d come.
But that’s the thing that people like me don’t get, the artists and the grinders, the hard workers who think that because we put in the effort, because the quality of our work is high, that it’s enough.
It never is, if no one knows it’s happening.
We assume people are paying attention. They are not. We assume that if we do good work, that someone will notice and reward us.
More often than not, they will neither notice nor reward us. If it is noticed, it will often be derided for being what we were supposed to do or its value ignored, the way a tradesman can fix or build something beautiful, be wonderfully proud of it, but have some callous middle class jerk walk up and go, “I was hoping for something more modern” or “I don’t know. It’s not really my style”.
Great indie bands may make the best music in the world, but half the population still thinks Kanye is the pinnacle of the music world, instead of a vastly overrated narcissist who makes bland, boring, repetitive music with no soul or depth.
Of course, that feels like it’s trying to equate what I did with genius that was just unappreciated.
That is not the case. I was learning as I went, making newbie errors and churning out a product that wasn’t exactly what it should have been. I was the guy who decided one day he’d create great indie music, learned what he thought was the bare minimum (and wasn’t even close and didn’t internalize it properly) and then ended up being Ross from Friends playing his keyboard. I thought I was Talking Heads when I was actually Devo.
See? I’m snobbish about music as well, though not as much as a New Yorker critic or an old school punk from the “I was there” DC hardcore scene.
I’m not clever enough or pop culture savvy enough to be Kieron Gillen doing Phonogram.
I just know what I like, and I can list the reasons why. I don’t even think all Devo is bad. Whip It has a catchy beat and the remake of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction is passable, though I think I’d prefer The Flying Lizards’ Money for quirky 80s electronica covers. Jocko Homo is possibly the worst New Wave song I’ve ever heard, but what do I know?
They say losing your first business is the secret to being successful at the next one. I recall reading somewhere an angel investor who said he’d never put money into someone who hadn’t utterly failed at their first business.
It meant they learned valuable lessons the hard way, were shocked out of their idealism enough to know not to fall into aspiration blindness, and had the resilience to get up and try again. They’d learned important lessons about the real world requirements of getting a business off the ground, and what it takes to be successful.
I learned those lessons in spades, but I’m not sure I’m up to the task. I no longer think I have what it takes to succeed as a businessman. As a high level employee who, with a good boss, could help change the world, maybe. It’d have to be a good boss, because I’m tired of working for shitty ones, and I’m too old to give any more leeway to bad people behaving poorly, if it affects my life or the world in a negative manner.
The only way I’m going into business again is as a writer. I’ll have to manage that side, with finances and deadlines and meetings and such, but that’s stuff I can do.
It’s the marketing side I’m more worried about. I’m a terrible introvert (another reason my customer-facing business didn’t work out) and as such, self-promotion is not something that comes easily.
Combine that with the breakdown of my entire sense of self over the past decade or so, with the failure of my business, with a series of jobs that have taught me what I hate about work and life and people and shocked me into a self-awareness about who I am and how I behave (and have behaved) and you’ve got a recipe for Semtex-level humility, bordering of a complete and utter lack of self-esteem, motivation and self-worth.
I don’t think I’m useless yet, though I sure do feel like I’m doing penance for how useless I’ve been, and for not being everything I could be.
I am working on that. The whole point of these projects I’ve been working through is to get to a place where I’m at least trying.
And I am trying now. I just don’t have the MBA or the bank account to prove it.
Not yet, anyway.
With luck and a lot of hard work, maybe someday. If the world doesn’t blow me up first.