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.