2016 June 27

I've spent the good part of 35 years absolutely struggling with the confusing and complex question of my life's purpose. As I matured, I only acquired knowledge towards what I didn't want. As I watched my peers around me hone their life's goals with precision, I drifted farther and farther away from any clue of what I wanted from life, why I was here and where I was going. Youth clouds your vision with other people's wants and wishes. Society subtly (and not so subtly) suggests what limited path(s) you march down and impresses upon you which of a set number of things you may do or become.  My approach to self-discovery and life's purpose has been a bit like Pin the Tail on the Donkey. I've tried the 6-figure office life and found myself spending every cent I earned as I was wholly unsatisfied with the even-keel monotony. While I felt secure, I couldn't escape the ongoing feeling that essence of life was escaping my grasp like sand through my fingers. Time was passing, but I felt nothing. I was growing and changing, but incrementally, almost incidentally - without major course or passion. To compensate for the utter lack of living I felt on a daily basis I started doing high-risk, adrenaline-encouraging sports. Skydiving grew from something I never wanted to do, into something I couldn't go a week without. The sky was quiet, the distinction between life and death a nice clear line and everything - from the heat to the clouds to the passage of time was cranked up in saturation and vibrance. Fear always cracks me like a piece of pottery and encourages me to grow into a new shape, again and again. Fear is like turning the volume of life up past eleven - it turns whispers into wild songs and softly-spoken words into certainties.

As I phased out the skydiving, the rock-climbing and other risky behavior, I began to settle into my life. Steady job, steady relationship, steady home, and began to notice that time was whipping past me. I was at a standstill in the middle of a river - but now it was muted and everything was various shades of gray - each day the same as the last, yawning into the end of my existence. We picked up triathlon and began to find discipline and endurance in doing things we didn't always want to do. Waking up at 3:30am to jump in a pool when it's 39° out. Riding your bike another 80 miles when your saddle-parts are all sore from the day before, doing hill repeats in 90° heat, getting up at 3am before work to run 20 miles, again and again and again. We didn't know what we were truly training for, but we knew something was on it's way. Again, fear of breaking out and doing our own thing held us back. When we started a business our entire life was placed in a metaphorical Yahtzee cup, well shaken and then scattered in a billion pieces leaving us in a massive state of disarray. Like scavengers, we ate when we could, slept when possible and leapt from one shaking and shoddy post to another in a desperate attempt to survive.

We'd spent years fearing failure only to find out that there's no such thing. Or rather, choosing to live in abject poverty and sleepless stress was worse than the surety of knowing you'd failed. Constant limbo and uncertainty and the anxiety that couples with it is a tremendously crippling existence. Failure? Failure is easy - you know you've hit the bottom of the pool and can feel reassurance in your toes springing off the bottom of life's pool - knowing you've only got one direction of travel possible - up! Diving into the world of business ownership and having employees massively shifted our life view. It's like being in a different world entirely. You realize that the majority of people in the world are living in SimCity - a weird manufactured construct of ways to keep the citizens in your town busy. If you've never played SimCity, the player is given a plot of land and you began to build your city - you need shops and homes and hospitals and police and markets. Your people need to work and eat and play. Unhappy or bored people are destructive, happy, busy, shopping people are productive. The rules for citizens are clearly defined, their role is clear, the expectations are set. When you bounce outside of that and become the player instead of the citizen there aren't many rules or roles, there is a great freedom - and with that freedom is massive uncertainty.

There are many reasons most businesses fail but I think the uncertainty must be at the top. Imagine yearning for adventure and freedom your entire life but your only option is to be cast out from your village naked, carrying nothing, without any form of map or guide, only the knowledge that once you leave you will never come back the same and that the comforts of the village upon returning will forever seem a lulling falsehood. Do you go forward into the perilous wild? Do you stay clutching the safety of what you know? There's a massive difference between being self-funded and having your rich husband or father or uncle or inheritance fund you. If it's not your survival on the line, the game is vastly different. Going into business with a source of ongoing money is like buying the Business Starter Pack for $1,999,999.99. Sure, it gets you out of the fear a little bit, but it definitely robs you of the experience. There's a difference between what you get from indoor skydiving and outdoor skydiving if you know what I mean.

We got into the food business (despite it being one of the hardest nuts to crack) because it's in our blood - it's what we do, it's who we are. Even after 15 hour days in the kitchen, an aching back and screaming hip flexors, I'd find myself shuffling through our kitchen at home, 8" santoku clutched in my hand, rhythmically chopping until something warm and satisfying was on a plate. Cooking is a passion, but like anyone who goes into business - you awkwardly learn that in order to grow, you must become an entrepreneur, a business person, an employer and not just a creator. Your passion becomes something you pay others to do as your time is consumed in the generation of clients, revenue, and survival. In order to grow, we had to not do what we set out to do. I began to realize that the whole notion of "do what you love for a living and you'll not work a day in your life" is, all in all, complete bullshit. The notion that you can pick yourself up by your bootstraps and if you're strong enough, and work hard enough, you'll rise to the top and shine like gold. There's just so much they don't tell you. It's like taking a serious drama and whiting out all the super gnarly parts - all the death, betrayal, drama, anguish and just leaving the sporadic highs in between. When people say that they're inspired by us - I often don't know what to say or how to express the actual personal and irreversible cost we've paid. To be here, now and know that we paid so dearly and will continue to pay. How do you tell people of the darkest days? Other self-funded entrepreneurs know - there's a depth to their eyes that doesn't exist in many others. It's the knowing that the grass is not only not greener on the other side, it's that in reality - there is no grass.

Slowly, I began to see a path in the rolling landscape before me. After agonizing years of truly getting familiar with the vast openness and uncertainty, a shape is taking place. I spent decades building dreams on goals based on a world with greener grass or less green grass, and now I've been dumped on my ass with the realization that there is no grass. And maybe I don't want grass anyways - maybe I've just been led to think that's what I want. It's as though I've had an endless menu before me and the waiter keeps saying, "Do you want the roast chicken or the grilled fish?", yet there's countless other options he's not mentioning. Finally there is silence in my mind, I can begin to think about what I like, what Adam likes, what we want our life to look like on a daily basis, what we need, what we don't need. The citizen inside me still tries to peel my attention away nudging me in the side to turn around as she whispers that what I'm thinking simply isn't possible. People like me don't get to choose their lives. People like me don't get what they want. She reminds me of much disappointment and failure and expectations underwhelmed. She's good at playing safe, and I've listened to her too long. It's a game that both Adam and I have continually failed at - we don't really want anything, we don't want to be something, we don't want to own a lot of things, we don't idolize anyone - and without that you lack a direction.

The single, pure, gleaming north star of truth came out in conversation between Adam and I the other night. Turns out, like most good ideas, it was sitting 3/4 of the way through an ice cold bottle of Sancerre. And it begins with the most pervasive memory of my life. I've had vivid, recurring, powerful dreams since childhood - at 35 I have a decent mental map of multiple territories in my dream-worlds and have a 50% chance of decent lucidity while dreaming. Dreaming is a highly important tool to my mental health, wellness and balance and I think it allows me to decompress, sort and organize my mind and memory while asleep. The most powerful and pervasive dream is one I've had since childhood. It's clearly constructed to form a mental safe-space as a retreat from my mid-childhood that was rife with some pretty solid drama, screaming and yelling. In my dream I'm an adult, anywhere from mid-20's to mid-40's and I'm laying in the grass with sun-warm dark earth beneath. The kind you can twine your fingers into and feel a solid soft spring to the land. I'm flat on my back, arms and legs spread out, hair fanning around my head and I'm happy. Big blue sky, white clouds, the air is cool and clean. . There's trees around me - tall, deep evergreens, stolidly surrounding my property. They're closely set and smell like woods and pinesap. Beyond that there is water - sea or river or lake - just water. I know nothing will harm me there. There's a modest house, with a big wood wrap around deck, stairs that lead down to the single dirt road that leads away. There's usually someone who's going to come up the road, and it's the same feeling inside my soul as the sun-warmed earth. That's it. That's all I've ever wanted. Talking to Adam that night over our bottle of wine, (and mind you, he's mentioned this before and it never clicked), all he's ever wanted is a little house on a lake surrounded by trees with a dock and a sailboat, not many people and a ton of silence.


What do you want to be when you grow up?

I hated that question as a child. It seemed like everyone else had a canned answer and I was (for once), without a reply. I remember being in the back of a car and the passenger asked me the very question, I looked down at the little stuffed animal I held and answered, "I want to be a veterinarian". Picking something (anything, really) seemed to make the adults happy and made them leave me alone, and I quickly learned to not avoid answering because that led to grown-ups scooting closer to your face and crooning, "But what do youuuuu liiiiiike?" And really, when you're a whopping six years old you like recess, stuffed animals and shiny stickers. Where's the job for that? (If anyone can still answer this question, I'm all ears).

It became evident that my creative round self wasn't going to fit in super-square society when that question became attached to what classes I needed to take and what colleges I was interested in. It was no longer enough to simply be intelligent, I had to have a focus. I had to join clubs. I had to pair my love of books with a supposed love of people. Yet, in high school, the things I were most passionate about were given a solid no by the parent until I had a bachelors degree in something 'respectable'. No art. No fashion design. No culinary school. Regular college only. I was an excellent student, but I never saw my future being aligned with a degree. Sure, I could be a lawyer, a doctor, a professor, an accountant...but I just didn't care enough to bother. Even at a young age that just felt like a farce. Everyone's simultaneously telling you that you can be anything you want if you work hard enough, but also saying, "Except these top 5 things you actually like doing".

Fast-forward to college orientation and I'm at UCI with a bunch of other bodies in a big auditorium. The voice at the front of the room drones on about all kinds of boring rules and expectations and dates. I doodle in my Welcome to UCI notebook absent-mindedly. Minutes tick by, turning into longer stretches and all of the sudden I'm being asked to pick a major and move into groups based on that selection. Here? Now? I just got to college! How the hell am I supposed to know? I haven't even delved deep enough into any realm of knowledge to find a spark of interest. Imagine my relief when we were notified we could at least select Undeclared, but even so, the threat to pick a damn major you indecisive twit was looming.

As a young adult you're constantly cloaked in this where-are-you-going business. Decisions in high school affect reality in college. Decisions in college transfer over to your first job(s)/career. Who you know and how you know them is vital. Relationships are formed to become the base of necessary social networks. I was more interested in getting good grades, going to underground house parties, late nights spent doing drugs and painting by myself and reading endless books. Yes, I realize that's a complicated to-do list, but I was an odd young adult. I looked around at the adults I knew, and didn't really like what I saw. You can work hard for someone else, and they can lay you off. You can work for money, but no passion. You can be passionate, but not necessarily paid. You can own your own business and never have a moment off. I pushed off the decisions about careers, added another degree to my study, cleaned up my act a little and started skydiving instead of career-planning while I finished college. I graduated with two Bachelor's degrees, a minor in Business and very little idea of what I really wanted to do and the overwhelming feeling that it was all a farce. You need things to live, things cost money, you must make money to pay for those things - how many things you are allowed to have is dependent on how much money you make and that's decided by what job you select. All that talk about doing what you love? Not reality chump! (Now pay those bills!)

I always had this haunting feeling that I'd missed the day in life where everyone found out how to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. Everyone else was so certain. "Oh! Just wrapping up this degree, then off to law school, then marrying and having 4 kids!" or "I'll be heading to wherever this fall with so-and-so and diving into my work-study program". And then, there was me saying, "I like skydiving, drinking, painting, camping and reading. I also like plenty of time alone and I still like animals." << crickets >> But I never realized that a lot of these people were like me in some way - they were just doing what they were told they had to do. Be a doctor like your father. Be a good wife like your mother. Be an architect like your brother. It's a good job with good pay, you'd be a fool to walk away. So-and-so is a nice man, you should marry him. When are you having kids? Everyone is on auto-pilot, hurtling through the most formative years of their lives and no one tells you that by 35 you'll be slamming the brakes on your life trying to slow down instead of accelerate and you'll simply be out of time and wiggle room to change your trajectory because you've now got $20,000 in student loans, a $500,000 mortgage, a spouse and a few screaming toddlers and while you're at it, pay the damned bills.

I grew up, as much as I could. I made some money, then I made a lot of money, I spent it all because I was unhappy, because deep down inside I still really just like recess, animals, art projects and reading. And I  thought what if decades of adults got it all wrong? What if we stopped trying to get somewhere, stopped trying to be somebody, stopped waiting for the right time, stopped making excuses for why we can't have what we want right now? What if my childhood aspirations of just being alive and experiencing life were the answer all along?!

Growing up is a trap. Sure, bills need to be paid - but what if we could carefully curate a life in which we didn't need so much and that allowed us the time and space for doing what we love. Me? All I want to do is cook real food, hang out with my cats, ride my bike, read and write books, and watch countless sunrises with my husband. I want to live somewhere quiet, away from sirens, freeways, somewhere that people don't wear eyelash extensions and know who the Kardashian's are. I want to live somewhere with seasons, tall plentiful trees, and neighbors that know each other. I want to update my status by writing books or painting a perfect clearing in the woods on a misty morning.

It's pretty incredible to be born - our very existence on this planet is a cross between a miracle and circumstance - all the things that make us up - how our parents met, how we were raised, the stardust that makes up our cellular composition, the unique pattern of our fingertips, the way our irises are flecked with multitudes of color, the distinct sound of our laughter when we're truly laughing from the gut, the wisps of dreams we wake up with, the fact that we dream, the sound our heartbeat makes in our own ears when you listen close. Our presence alone is a mighty beautiful thing. Don't piss it away climbing a ladder of competition, or fulfilling someone else's dreams for you, or pleasing anyone else. You weren't born to just pay bills and die. You were born to simply be alive, and that is a gift that should be fully explored daily instead of squandered and set aside for a retirement that may or may not come.


The Whole BMK Story

by Elicia Edijanto

The Whole BMK Story

I haven’t published anything in a long time, despite the growing pile of false starts in my drafts folder. It's not that I haven't had anything to say, it’s that I wouldn’t allow myself to share. The past three and a half years has been incredibly hard on us. Cracking his customary wry grin, Adam often said, "Aren't you glad we work this hard to be this poor?” That’s my guy, telling the hard truth, to the last. Starting an unfunded small business was at once exciting, public, and inspiring, but the reality of running one (and surviving the first 4 years) was painful, private, and depressing. Your first customers are often friends, and anyone with business experience knows it's vital to put your best foot forward, even if that’s not consistent with reality. What they don’t tell you in business class is that the first years are mostly fake-it-till-you-make-it. You have no idea what you're doing, how to do it, or how to pay for it, but you'll get it done with a smile and tell everyone how easy it was and how much you love it in hopes that they'll buy your widgets because behind the fa├žade you're in massive debt, afraid you won't make it, and have no clue how to pay your rent should you fail. The road we traveled and the journey we shared publicly are very different. This put me at a crossroads, since I always felt that experience was enriched and validated in its honest sharing – particularly of challenging situations. That's why we're a culture of underdog lovers. They inspire us, make us feel that we too could elevate ourselves with enough grit and hard work; but the underdog story, sans customary happily-ever-after ending can be one of woe.

If you haven't followed our story, here's the abridged version: After spending over a decade securely tucked into my faux-finished desk-and-drawers working for someone else, I grew weary of the yoke, thinking, “Surely I didn't need their paycheck, or their rules!” After a company-looting boss laid Adam off from his small firm, we started our fledgling meal delivery service, Bite Me Kitchen in August of 2012. We jointly realized (always knew, really) that neither of us was cut from the same cloth as the folks climbing corporate ladders in the 9 to 5 world.

Q3 2012 – Beginnings
Our first foray into business ownership was super exciting. I was excited, Adam was excited, our friends were excited, everybody was excited. Everyone wanted to know what was happening along the way! I left my stable and well-paid career and fully committed to our business about six months in. We were so naive. It was hard, but we stayed positive. We pushed through endlessly long workdays and quickly consumed our extremely limited cash flow on equipment purchases, fronting personal cash and credit as we went to keep the business chugging. And then, week after week, it was like slowly being buried alive. We worked 12, 14, 16-hour days back-to-back on tired legs. We skipped meals and splurged on ramen and beer. We slept for a few hours here and there in between work. We woke up shaky, on edge, nerves raw from interrupted sleep and stress. We sold things to pay our bills. We upped our credit card limit. We fought, we laughed, we made up, we worked and worked and worked and worked and worked. We put on weight, and swore we'd establish a training plan. We were injured from constant labor and took time off training. We began to see our lives slip from us. Everyone asked how the business was and commented on how inspired they were. I didn't have the heart to say that I felt more alone than I ever, ever had - and I'm an introvert that prefers solitude. I found true isolation raw, alienating, and defeating.

Q2 2013 – Cutting the Umbilical
I thought the grass really would be greener on this side. I knew we'd have to dig up the land and sow seeds, and water and weed, but it'd be our grass, right? We lived below the poverty line for years, getting increasingly unhealthy, growing tired, alone, and unhappy. We had to miss family events and feel the crushing guilt of, "We're sorry, we can't make the [birthday|wedding|etc.]. We have to work (or we'll be evicted)." We were unable to see loved ones before they left this world, or even go to their funerals because it would mean losing 1/4 of the month's income and not making ends meet. There's nothing worse than not being able to attend a funeral, or having to tell your family that you have to miss yet another birthday or holiday celebration, because you chose a path that offered no vacation days, no savings, no retirement fund, no weekends, no holidays, and no sick days.

Q1 2014 – Troubles Within
I clearly remember one night in bed, crying. Adam asked what was wrong, but I was mired in an inexplicable sadness. I hadn't slept much in weeks, and decided to try taking Ambien to sleep. After a few weeks I found that it was great at helping me sleep, but it had the nasty side effect of plunging me head-first into depression. I remember feeling like an untethered astronaut, drifting in space. Waiting to die. Unattached. Unfeeling. Uncaring. Alone. Cold. I had switched off my feelings to cope with the constant onslaught of work, anxiety, fear, and exhaustion. I didn't care about anything. Add to that the crushing reality of there not being any grass on this side and I was left with some pretty grim thoughts. Why exist at all? If this doesn't work and that didn't work, maybe I’m the problem. What is the point of all this work? Why work at all? Why struggle? I was at once defeated, disconnected, isolated. On the outside I had to smile all day long, keep work-work-working and show the world my happy face. Keep buying our widgets! They’ll make you happy and healthy! YAY!

Q3 2014 – Troubles Without
Later that year, someone unjustly threatened to sue us. Then she tried to extort money from us by threatening to commit libel on the social media channels that were our marketing lifeblood. Legally, we couldn't talk to anyone about it, and we couldn't defend ourselves publicly. Our attorney advised to remain silent in case she filed a lawsuit, which never happened, because it’s inadvisable to sue people unless you have an actual case. So, in the middle of yet another 14 hour workday, we had to call all of our business contacts and send them insurance documentation and legalese, explain the story multiple times, then get back to work and smile and smile and smile like nothing was wrong. When someone tries to steal the meager fruit of your tremendous sacrifice, it's so, so wrong.

Over time, the stuffing of all that down, that almost broke me. I internalize my stress physically and it really messed me up. I’ll spare you the unpleasant details, but I couldn’t sleep or eat normally, and was in terrible pain for weeks. I thought, “This couldn’t possibly be worth it.” Whatever we're working towards, this can't be it. And still, we toiled on. We couldn't believe we could sacrifice so much for so little, only for someone to try to take it away.

While we were shocked and traumatized, we were also overwhelmed with support from our tight-knit community of entrepreneurs, business owners, and customers who rallied behind us.  Their ongoing encouragement to keep pushing forward despite the scary situation was exactly what we needed. We got hit square on the nose that day, and while the pain was tangible, we were amazed at the encouragement we received. Each person we spoke to lifted us up with their own survival story, giving us a needed boost to stay the course. The best thing we heard that day was, "You know you’re on the road to making it when people start coming after you for money!" Thanks for that, [you know who you are].

Q1 2015 – Light in the Tunnel
2015 looked like it would be our breakout year. Our reputation helped us line up a large and lucrative project, and we knew if we could play it right, we’d make it to the next level. All our labor would pay off: we'd be able to pay our staff what they're worth, and Adam & I might be able to make over $3.50/hour. We might even be able to take more than 2 days off to go camping! We were so close. That's the American Dream, right? If you keep focused and work hard enough for long enough, you'll make it. It's like leaping from stone to stone across a wide and raging river. You keep leaping and pray that you'll eventually get to the opposite bank. We took a huge leap in spring, leaving our home at The Hood Kitchen in anticipation of this massive project. To help pay the rent at the new place, we picked up our first wholesale client, designing and producing goods for another meal service. We kept leaping, expanding our wholesale client base, until one day we realized that no matter how hard we worked, our original Bite Me Kitchen concept could never work without a major overhaul. It would require a shot of capital, and alienating most of our existing clients.

Q3 2015 – Realizations
Let's touch on that. Our customers knew that we made delicious, high-quality food, but most had no real idea what really went into each and every dish. Why our vegan mozzarella didn't taste like processed Daiya vegan cheese – we made it from our own yogurt, made in turn from our own organic soy milk. Why our breads didn't make their stomachs hurt: we made them completely from scratch from high-quality whole grains. Why our sauces and dressings were so delicious and calorie-friendly: we used every trick in the whole-food book to cut the fat and crank up the protein. The time it took was absolutely staggering. Hand-rolling piecrusts for 100 vegan potpies would take hours - and forget about my sanity once the temperature climbed above 75 degrees! We pushed the envelope of culinary creativity until we were making stuff up as we went - beautifully, deliciously, passionately. In the end we discovered that isn’t necessarily something you can teach. With a weekly-changing menu chosen from a repertoire of literally hundreds of handcrafted meals, it dawned on us that there we would never be able to take a vacation. EVER. That sunk in. No vacation. Ever. Working eternally. We'd have double our prices to afford enough staff to handle the load and still make enough money to survive.

Unless you've run your own business, I don't know if I can impress how absolutely crushing that realization was. We could never take a week off; never go away for more than a ‘weekend’. Every single time we managed to pull ourselves together long enough to hike or run or ride or snowboard - the lingering fear that we absolutely could not get hurt haunted us. Can't get sick. Can't sprain an ankle. Can't take a risk. Combined with making no money, endless weeks of 12+ hour days, physical damage from overuse injuries - we realized that the very beautiful thing we'd created would eventually kill us. It was like realizing you'd birthed a monster.

At the same time, this golden opportunity was coalescing into reality. We had a potentially huge break! This project was everything that BMK wasn’t: scalable, repeatable, and teachable. We knew it was a gamble, and people in the know cautioned us it might be messy. We took our shot, leapt for the brass ring – and fell, hitting every rung on the way down. We were so focused on ensuring our operation was tight that were blindsided. We swam head-down and non-stop to meet our ship of opportunity, and we made it to the dock! Only the ship was beached.

There are holes in this story of our years. To fill them in would mean detailing countless sleepless nights, mornings when the first step out of bed feels like stepping on broken glass because your feet are so sore from the previous day. The anxiety of not knowing whether you’ll make payroll – and understanding that not only our rent, but our staff's rent, car payments, kids, and livelihoods depend on those checks. Ask anyone who’s worked in a kitchen what the camaraderie is like. The laughter, the sacking up to an immense workload, the endless inside jokes, high fives, and the excessive consumption of bananas, peanut butter, ramen, and cheap beer – it's the absolute strength of each person that makes for a strong ship. The tear-welling gratitude when your staff tells you to get the fuck out of the kitchen, of someone leaving you a 6-pack in the fridge, of watching them help each other and take responsibility, and trust each other and work together like we're the only tribe we have. Despite a mountain of difficulty, we experienced so many kind acts demanding of sheer gratitude.

As time passed, we’ve had past BMK customers contact us, frustrated that we've gone out of business. They want to return their bags for deposit fees and are mad that we're no longer operating the meal delivery service. It feels so raw and personal to us. We know this business cost us our precious fitness, threatened our physical and mental health and our marriage, pushed us into a mountain of debt, and forever changed the way we see the world. How do you relate all that without getting too personal? "I'm sorry I can't make your lunch, but it made me want to kill myself a few times in the past few years, and we're in so much debt I can't sleep, but here's your $25.00 deposit back." Some customers we've known for a long time have heard the whole story, and one wonderful customer (looking at you JS!) said we should share that story, since many customers felt like a part of the business but had no idea what we were going through. Another someone stepped in and said, "Never show weakness, it's none of their business," and while that didn't sit well with me, I had to consider it. When you show weakness, when you allow yourself to be vulnerable, it's raw, naked, frightening, and real.
Q4 2015 – Adaptation
We adapted to survive. BMK currently operates in a wholesale business-to-business capacity where we co-pack or private label products for other companies. We produce, they sell. It's a nice reprieve from doing everything from concept and marketing, to sales and procurement; production to distribution, accounting and customer service all of the time. By unpinning ourselves from a destination, we learned it's not where you're going that matters. As you grow and learn, your understanding of your goal changes – what works changes, what you want changes. We weren’t so hung up on our model that we lost the ability to quickly adapt. We've only survived by polymorphism – being willing to drop our original dream in search of something different, opening doors for new opportunities. It's human nature to cling to a failing dream so tightly that you and everything you worked for go down with it. Instead, swing in the jungle like Tarzan – let go of each vine at the opportune moment, and grab the next.

If you're not happy / not healthy / not living the life you want – change! Everyone told us we couldn't keep working and living the way we were, but we were so tied to an ideal – tied to a dream of providing people with whole, real food at an unrealistic price, that we were starving for it. Along the way, we learned that many people were perfectly ok to watch us starve if it meant they got a discount - and that really sucks. It sucks for us, for humanity, and it sucks for the world.

For entrepreneurs, focus on the lifestyle you want, everything else is secondary. What kind of day do you want? Do you want to not work? Make tons of money? Live a simple life? Increase the good in the world? Who do you want to work with? What you’re making may not matter as much as you think. We thought when we missed our ‘golden opportunity’ that we were done for and would close up shop by year’s end, but in the interim, our staff stepped up, and that meant we could take some much-needed time off. That was truly priceless, and altered our perspective. Working less meant everything to us. Build a clear picture of what you want in your day, and find a way to make it reality.

Define success for yourself. Is it a big house, a 6-figure salary, and Bali vacations? The absence of debt-related anxiety? Spending time with those you love and being able to truly enjoy yourself without worrying or working? For us it was buying new socks. Finally being above the poverty line. Knowing we can make payroll. Being able to tell our staff they can take paid time off around the holidays. Having a little time to actually pick up our house and stop living like college kids/animals. Redefining success allowed us to enjoy true richness instead of perpetually seeking something just beyond the next horizon. Anything above paying the bills and affording health insurance is a bonus!

by Elicia Edijanto
Written by Rose Cameron
Edited by Adam Zalewski


The Process

The Diamond
No pressure, no diamond.
Never look at a diamond without seeing its origin. A diamond is a crystal of pure carbon formed by the intense heat and pressure of the overlying rock bearing down upon it that's brought to the surface by a violent, deep-seated volcanic eruption. Even then, by all appearances in its raw form a rather simple-looking rock. Only through precise cutting are its true radiance, beauty, and unparalleled hardness forcibly brought into existence.

Someone asked me the other day about the cost of leaving our safety nets, our careers, and our comforts to launch our own endeavor. I sat quietly, fumbling for words. How could I give authentic impact to the truth? We've paid everything, and over and over again, we've had to give more. Each time, we dug down, our weathered, cracked hands scraping the rock bottom to dig in a little deeper.

I feel like I've returned from a three year vision quest where I completely lost my shit - like this entire experience shed all excess layers, all bullshit away from my experience. I stripped myself bare, and others too. I peeled back layers of time, meaning, purpose, effort, work, love, marriage, money, depression, frustration, anger, joy, hope, disappointment, outrage, and courage until nothing remained. I cowered in the silence and darkness of having no purpose and no point in breathing. I felt lost in space: drifting, timeless, weightless, muted; without place or reason. I clung to our crew of a handful of trustworthy souls, and leaned on fellow business-folk like lamp-posts on a moonless night, linking kind words to knowing smiles to blindly feel my way towards the next rest-stop.

The Reed

There was once an oak tree growing beside a river, and there was also a reed growing beside that same river. The oak tree was very proud and boastful, while the reed was very modest. Even when the oak tree insulted the little reed, the reed remained cheerful, refusing to argue with the sturdy tree.
"You are such a puny and small plant," the oak tree said to the reed. "Just look at how tall I am and how hard my trunk and branches are! You, on the other hand, are tiny, weak, and worthless." The reed simply smiled at the oak tree but said nothing in reply.
Then one day the sky grew dark with thunderclouds. Rain began to pour down from the sky and mighty winds began to blow. The reed was able to bend and sway in the wind, but the oak tree was torn up by the roots and fell to the ground. In the end, it was the reed, not the oak, who survived. ~ Aesop's Fable 70: The Oak Tree and the Reed

Tired, we kept working. Scared, we persevered. Angry, we held our tongues. Poor, we learned to need less. Doubtful, we quietly stayed the course. These three years have been a blustery storm; to survive, we bent as the wind blew, slowly growing a stronger, more flexible core. That same wind that chafed us, and pushed us, and caused restless nights made us dig deeper and deeper until our roots grew strong, as our outer selves learned to yield to the subtleties of nature.

The Dawn
It's always darkest just before the dawn.
Isn't it though? And isn't the answer to always trust the the journey? The process? Ignore the destination - it's a lie, a farce, a distraction! Nothing has been what it seems in this life, and if I've learned anything it's to embrace the darkness - for the light really is waiting just around the next turn. I recall hiking in the jungle of Costa Rica towards Cerro Chirripo - we started in the pitch black of night. The jungle at 3am is not a pleasant place. To be honest, it's absolutely fucking terrifying. My buddy took off at a quicker pace ahead leaving me with my light of my headlamp, endless uphill mud, the flickering eyes of bugs and creatures, and the nonstop racketing symphony of jungle. I hiked and prayed to a god I was pretty sure had stopped listening to me for the sun to please just come up a little sooner. I could feel the shadows sizing me up; the bustle in branches well overhead of animals moving; the rattle and shuffle of bugs and snakes. The instant dawn broke, it was like emerging from a fever-induced nightmare. Just a hint of violet in the rainforest canopy, a different symphonic movement, birds waking up and shaking off the dew - and it was enough for a simple, but rare thing - hope. That brilliant dawn is worth all the dark nights in the world.


Sisterhood, Time, Meaning and Death

I woke up this morning with tears leaking out of my eyes, running down my cheeks and on to my wrinkled pillow. The dream was filled with bottomless sadness, and the joy at waking to a different world, filled with such relief. I was sitting in a terminal of sorts, an in-between-place that makes no sense, as dreams often don't. Tacky plastic connected seating, molded to some generic human body form, sticky with the remnants of the prior occupants residue. My only sister, Anna, had died. And I was just fine. I had shit to do. And a life to hold together. And I was in public, going through a list of people I had to call and notify. I was flipping through her cell phone, accidentally texting her contacts from her phone that she was dead. And I found photos of the two of us - as kids wearing frilly, uncomfortable matching dresses and saddle shoes, at June Mountain snowboarding, skydiving together and holding hands, and in the dream - I lost it. I'd never have those times again. I'd never have a day in which I could call her, see her, make our same silly faces together and say the same nonsensical things that only sisters can because our language has been written over an inseparable lifetime. In the dream I went from being solid and stable to being flung in the center of an empty, bottomless, wild ocean. Adrift and alone, I realized that without my sister, half my self was missing - forever. This side that was too often taken for granted, simply because it had always been there. The importance of our relationship had been taken so casually, so expected, that I never considered what it would be like to have it lost, forever.

I was stunned in my mourning, and as I woke and felt tears seeping through sleepy eyelashes, I felt a fool. Surely, how could I have undervalued such a priceless and once in a lifetime relationship? How could I not know what a rare gift in a sister I had, that it would have to be taken from me in my sleep to realize how infinitely intertwined our two lives are? Have we not always been the opposite sides of the same coin? Have we not always had a safe place in each other's hearts? Have we not loved each other more than we wanted to tear each other limb from limb? And in our differences, have we not seen our similarities? For sisters are like mirrors - sometimes elegant and sometimes straight from the fun-house - reflecting back at you what you do not always wish to see, and in that offering a second pair of eyes and a fresh perspective.

My first cognizant waking thought was of the Tibetan Death Meditation that my mentor recently discussed. Upon waking - we should calm our minds and meditate upon the things that we have - the air we breathe, the comfort of the bed we lay on gives us, the pillow beneath our heads, the tea we'll shortly make, the loved one next to us, the job we have to pay our bills, the family we have, etc... The second step is to bring our awareness to the certainty of death. Death is, really, really, really fucking certain - no one can escape that reality. One day you are here, and at any time, you will be gone.  Next, we move on to the realization that the time of death is uncertain - the young may die before the old, the kind before the nasty, the timing is simply unpredictable no matter what steps we take to prolong the uncertain. Death may come on the way to work today, in 10 years via some rare parasite, or I may live longer than everyone I know whittling away time itself until my body simply becomes dust and bones. Fair, not fair, death is coming. Finally, we realize that no matter what you do, who you know, how much money you make, what fancy things you have or what religion you are - you will, in the end, die and nothing can prevent, prolong or fix that.

I've been dealing with a lot of high-stress decisions and issues that involve not only our future, but the future of the wonderful folks we work with and work for us. I've been wrapped up in costing and dollars and time and spreadsheets and quotes and projections. I've been worried for the last 3 years about paying the rent and the health insurance. I've been worried about our bank accounts, credit cards and how to survive. And in the end, none of it really matters. Whether we succeed or fail, whether we play it safe or risk it all, whether we offer this percentage or that margin. In the end, all that will matter is how you treated people and how they treated you. The time you spent. The afternoons you took off. The time you put your phone down to really, truly, honestly listen. The time you kept the plans you wanted to cancel. The time you just shut up and let them talk. The time you hugged the random stranger because they really looked like they could use it. The time you set your fears aside and acted as a human being and not a business-person. The times you said you were scared, and needed some love. The times you danced and laughed and lived instead of putting in a little overtime. The times you realized that no matter how many hours, days, memories, and years you create with your loved ones - it will never be enough. And everything else pales in comparison to that feeling of Good God, I would trade the world for an hour with you.

Let me not be so wrapped up in my tiny and uncertainly-timed life that I miss the greatness of loving. I never want to be too busy for a kiss or a laugh or playing hooky or going for a run or taking the time to hold hands and go the long way home. My greatest fears used to be about failure or never finding out who I was meant to be or not living fully. I realize now, my greatest achievements and my highest calling can be to love, to live and to spend my time authentically enjoying each moment as if my card were to be pulled at any minute. Let me be a failure, if I must - but let me spend each of those hours with my husband, my silly cats, my family, my friends, my neighbors, my co-workers, and let's have a really, really, really good time - no matter how much we have left.

The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, 'Yes.'

It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.


Riding a Lion

Owning a business is like being a man riding a lion.
“People look at him and think, This guy’s really got it together! He’s brave!” says Thomas. “And the man riding the lion is thinking, How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?” 
~ Toby Thomas, CEO of EnSite Solutions (No. 188 on the Inc. 500)

I found this quote tucked inside a fantastic article in Inc Magazine,  The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship. When Bite Me Kitchen first began to grow, Adam and I often remarked that owning a business is more like being dragged behind a team of wild horses than riding one, but as we've grown - this analogy is far more apt. Each year in business all the numbers get frighteningly bigger - the sales, the debt, the risk, the potential failure, the possible growth. And one of the most powerful things about that level of fear is that much like skydiving - when fear hits a certain size, it begins to eat itself. Once you go far enough out on the edge, it doesn't matter whether you fall a couple stories or off a cliff because it's going to completely destroy whatever you've been working on up to that point - and somehow, that doesn't matter because now you know how to do it all over again.

When fear is left alone it grows, expanding to fill the spaces between doubt and hope. The more you ignore what you're afraid of, the more it sinks its hold into you until you have no idea of how to live without it. Much like an abusive relationship (and it can be) you learn that fear is a good thing, without it you'd make stupid choices, but fear is there like a good friend to keep you safe. Fear tells you that you don't have the qualifications necessary, that you need more education, that you're not good enough to be a part of whatever you're aiming for, that you aren't from the right circle of friends or weren't born in the right class. And it cuddles you and rocks you back into the lulling boredom of being content with what you have, with a knowing glance back at any of the times you tried and failed.

If I had to pinpoint when I began to pull the holds of fear off, I'd say it came with a random decision to go skydiving years ago. I'd recently come out of a terrifying health issue and made a bold pact to myself that I would begin to say Yes! to anything, after feeling like my mortality was put into question a little too early. Even though I had no interest in skydiving, when the local butcher at the grocery near my mom's house invited me to go (he was in his sixties and had been skydiving since the military), I said yes. It turns out his wife had recently passed away from cancer and skydiving was something they enjoyed together - as a tribute to my recent triumph, he wanted to pass the gift of the sky on to someone else -me! It blew my mind completely. I'd never been so sure I was going to die as I was clinging to that open door staring at the gaping maw of the sky and the vast expanse of the patchwork land below me. I also never felt in such absolute awe as I did that day. The world was suddenly so large, and I (and all my problems) were so miniscule. Fear gave me the gift of perception. What did any of it really matter? The credit card bills, bad dates, self-esteem, what car you drive, what your hair looks like, what job you have - when you've got a few minutes before plastering yourself in the ground? My mind bent, stretched and grew to encompass these new thoughts and I laughed at my pact to say Yes, and kept on saying Yes.

I travelled to the jungle, I rock climbed, I fell pretty bad rock climbing, I fell in love, I fell out of love, I found my true love, I made bad decisions, I made a few good decisions, I contacted my Dad who I hadn't spoken to in about 20 years, I fought for who I wanted to be, I fought against my past crutches, habits and addictions, I did triathlons, and an Ironman, I got married and we started a business. Every single time I've said yes, the world has had many ways of laughing in my face and making me question my willingness to embrace my fear.

Everything else has paled in comparison to the past few years of starting this business with no money, no safety net and no nest egg. We've sunk countless money, time, energy and sanity into what we've created and now we have staff that's counting on us to not only keep it going, but to make it flourish. While on the outside owning this business may look like it's a relatively straightforward process, it's been a constant, never-ending struggle to keep going. You run out of money and you have to either give up or sink more in. You run out of energy and you have to sack up and dig deeper or give in. It's no longer a hobby or a career, and it's no longer just our own livelihoods - we have others who are relying on us to come up with that payroll every two weeks so that they can care for their families and pay their bills too.

With abandoning the little fears have come greater opportunities - some that are clearly not a good move and others that are more in line with our goals. Some that blow your mind entirely and some that with enough regular work and effort may blossom into ongoing streams of business. The lion we're riding clearly, keeps growing and whether we intended to or not, we've become lion-riders and much of our energy goes into not being eaten. More and more I'm reminded that whatever you're currently doing has very little to do with what you're really doing here. And with each passing challenge and triumph, that pledge to say yes tickles the back of my mind and dares me to look past the current struggles and be courageous enough to dream about what else we might create together.


2014: A Look Back

I've sat down to write in limited, scattered moments over the past year. The beginning of this year was so horrendously stressful and exhausting that everything I wrote was depressing and wholly uninspiring. Then I had no time. Then summer came and customers were out of town and business slowed a bit, so we dug in hard to grow. And now, we're here, solidly banging out hard weeks with a steady stream of new and continuing clientele, at the tail end of the holidays.

Without question, this year has been the single most challenging year of my life. I've never doubted myself or the purpose of life as much as I have this year. When your survival is tied to your work, and the hours in the day and the money (or lack thereof) in your wallet are strict limits - there's only sweat, and sleepless nights and the relentless push forward. This entire experience of quitting regular life and starting our own business has challenged our beliefs, our sanity, our relationships, our marriage, our credit and our larger view of who we are and what we want and what kind of world we live in.

We've had strangers help us beyond measure and we've had people we know try to completely kick the world out from under us. We've had family and friends help us by giving us the silent understanding that we're tired, and we can't make it, and that's okay, again. We've built up a little tiny company of staff who truly enjoy spending time together and believe in what we're making. We've joined The Hood and have found solace and solidarity in the company of those that are like us - boldly trying to survive in one of the roughest industries around. And in the past 370-something days, we've learned a few things we'd like to share.

It's Not About Your Dream
Whatever your dream is, your North Star, your brass ring, your end-goal...well.. your journey may not necessarily be about that. I mean, it will, but along the way you might see that you may not even want what you're going for. The last 5 years have been this way for us and I've got a hunch the next years to come will be more of the same. We set out to do an Ironman in November of...uhhh....I don't know....and we set into rigorous, daily training. Everything in our lives was consumed in Ironman, Ironman, Ironman. Wake up and train for Ironman! Eat right for Ironman. Can't travel because of Ironman. Can't stop eating because of Ironman. Can't have a drink, Ironman! Yet, during this craze, we lost half of our income, we started a business, and our priorities shifted entirely. By the time race day came, Ironman didn't mean what it once did. And as we dove into the next year (our first real year of business) we realized the whole thing was not training for Ironman, it was training for the suffering, sleeplessness and dedication that the business would require. Sneaky, Universe. Very sneaky.

As we pursued our dream of cooking for others and we've been barely hanging on to this roller-coaster, there are times I've stopped and reminded myself that all of this....all this WORK...may have nothing to do with Bite Me Kitchen. People often ask us what our goals are or what our plans are for business development in the next 3-5-10 years. They want to know our margins and our profit forecasting and our data. Sure, I studied business. I can give you a spreadsheet, a time-line and a business plan. To be honest, I'm uninspired by that. But we're not really here to build an empire and rake in cash. That's never been the end-game for us. All of this time and work and effort is just another form of training, another journey we're on that may have nothing to do with cooking organic, vegan meals. I don't really know what we're "training" for now (well...okay, we have a little idea....) but we know we're building skills, experience and tools for the next chapter of our lives and that is truly the gift of being here, now. Understanding that you're exactly where you need to be, to get where you're going, in the right time with the right people (okay, person+cats) - that's my compass and I'm happy to stick that in my pocket. I see a lot of people so busy with the blueprints of their supposed future crammed in their faces so tightly that they aren't even here. Be here. Be now. It's all that you have. We wouldn't want to miss a fork in the road, an off-beaten path or a rare opportunity to change our lives completely!

Money, Money, Money
When you start a business with no capital, things are scary. Money must go out, but there's not that much coming in. Out and out and out it goes, frighteningly fast. The only thing guaranteeing a return is a little scrap of faith that if you just keep on pushing a little longer the tide will turn and you'll get a trickle back in. Really, it's as effective as putting a band-aid on a cut artery. What shifted most for us was our concept and understanding of money. The less money you require to live, the less money you have to earn, which means you can do more fun stuff (or work less) to survive. We began to think about what we needed versus what we were just consuming. We could see areas in our spending that were clearly emotional band-aids we needed to perk ourselves up after the drudgery of a boring office day. With our lives as exciting as possible, and our wallets as tight as possible, we began to look at how to trim out unnecessary spending. And you know what? That's a golden lesson. We decided we didn't need hair cuts, we didn't need fancy hair products, we didn't need to go out to dinner, we didn't need new clothes, we didn't need expensive races when we can run for free, we didn't need new bedding (although when our comforter finally exploded we were so grateful my mom replaced it!), we traded for things that are luxuries (massage and personal training) and we became content to spend our free time reading quietly, hiking or riding our bikes.

We save money by making our own food, our own cold-brew, our own morning tea (no over-priced Starbucks here!), mending and hemming our older clothes, Adam changes the oil and maintains the cars himself, fixing things before thinking of replacing them, and walking instead of driving everywhere. Once we have more time, we'd love to work on growing more of our own food - that is a key part of freedom! The more we can make for ourselves, the less we have to buy, the less we need money, the more time we have to be alive. Simplicity and self-sufficiency have brought tremendous (and increasing) happiness.

People always remark at how Adam and I work so well together. Sometimes we laugh and tell them the truth, that we don't have a choice. While it's funny, it's honest - our personal survival, the future of the business and our marriage depend on us getting along. If we attack each other - we cannot make it. If we cannot make it we can't pay the rent. It's that simple. Does that mean we haven't had nights end in tears or senseless yelling? Not one bit. We've had those moments, and we've been so tired and so frustrated that in the process of fighting we've forgotten what we're mad about and simply broken down to basic truths - I'm tired. I'm not having fun. I want to give up. I'm over this. I need a break. I'm scared. 

And the real truth is that it has very, very little to do with each other. And we have built our relationship on the premises that we always come from a place of love with each other and we're never intentionally trying to hurt the other person. It's not always easy to see that, but if we can start with that assumption it's easier to get at the real issue and to finding out what the other person needs to keep coping with the day. We ask each other: Are you hungry? Are you tired? Does your back hurt? Do you need Advil? Want to take a nap? Take a bath?

So that's our secret. We start from a place of love, and we tend to each other. We let each other know when we're feeling exhausted or frustrated or like we live in a world alone. And we let the other person do their best to help us.

The Price
When you start building your dream it's easy to think you'd do anything for your dream! Sacrifice? Happily! Give up sleep? Sure thing! But the true price of a worthy dream is so much higher than you can imagine. It can cost you up to everything you love if you let it. Your beautiful dream can become a monster that eats your life, your sleep, your marriage, your money, your healthy and your sanity. And everyone will say, "Oh you need a vacation!" and you'll show them your teeth in a smile and wonder how you'd miss 25% of your monthly income to take a 1-week vacation (in addition to paying for said vacation). No holidays. No weekends. No time-off. There's a reason why everyone tells you that the first year in business is hard, the second year is the hardest and no one mentions the third year and that's because very few businesses make it there alive.

Granted, if we had started the business with a pile of cash or funding from a rich investor or wealthy parents, our experience would certainly be different. But this little business we've been cobbling together with sweat, tears and hard-work? It's 100% ours. Doing things the hard way has always been our way, and truly being independent is the only reward we have.

But if you're thinking of starting a business or you envy where we're at and our freedom - keep in mind the price. Throughout this year I thought I would lose my marriage, I experienced serious depression (for the first time in my life), both of us experienced crippling anxiety and panic attacks, gained some very unwanted weight, and haven't been able to maintain friendships very well. Every day is a roller-coaster that oscillates between closing the business forever and opening up our own location. We go from intense highs to soul-crushing lows on a random, but consistently changing basis. And somehow, we're coming out of this year - closer to each other, closer to ourselves, maybe closer to paying off our investment, and still alive & cooking.

In Closing
Living with no safety net forces you to be in the present. It's not quite the mental Zen garden I imagined in younger years, but fear, reality, and faith push you onto the very precipice of this moment and nothing else really exists or matters. I can't be upset about what happened yesterday, because today is too big and too in my face. I can't worry about 2-3 years from now, because I never would've guessed we'd be here, now 2-3 years ago. In some ways this year has been heavy on suffering, but that same burden has stripped me of petty things. I now cherish a nice, hot shower. An hour off my feet. Silence. An hour to run. Somewhere in between building a business, living a life and trying not to lose my mind there's a balance - and it's laughably zen-like.