One of the advantages of being a writer is that one tends to chronicle events, eras, moods, relationships. Well, so maybe it’s not always an advantage…
Anyway, I came across this essay I wrote back in the mid 1990’s. I meant to submit it for publication, but got cold feet — an oft-experienced issue for me. Now with blogging and all, I don’t have that age old excuse of “oh, the New Yorker/New York Times/Poet & Writer/You Name It Publication will never accept it anyway so why bother submitting it.” Now I just have to push a button.
So here goes.
Catch 22, Nineties Style
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, I had an idea for a useful consumer product. I made a prototype, created a business to sell the product, was successful beyond expectation and subsequently sold it to a major corporation for big bucks. All this occurred within a 13 year time span. At age 41 I could retire if I chose.
What!? Some of my acquaintances were aghast: give up the power, fame, industry recognition, wheeling, dealing and money? For what, they wanted to know.
For a life. Maybe.
Just as I was starting the business back in 1977, my first marriage was ending. In grief and confusion and fear I segued from trying to make a marriage work to trying to make a business work. However, it was not only the business itself that had to work and be successful, but a business partnership as well. I excelled at the former and failed at the latter. While the business did very well and caused some stir, the partnership that was driving it was, over the course of those thirteen plus years, acutely adversarial at its worst and politely civil at its best. So while financially rewarding, my business was hardly a source of friendship, spiritual sustenance or joy. Teamwork was not the operative dynamic.
I had not remarried, being in fact married to the business. The men who did pass through my life during this time were eventually unable to cope with the reality of the schedule, pressures, and passion of an entrepreneur. The major problem — the relationship ‘deal-breaker,’ so to speak — would vary from man to man. The demands on my time, the extent of my “preoccupation with your occupation” (as one exiting suitor would say), or– frequently in the latter years — the size of my paycheck in relation to his. I, of course, was perfect…
I was not at rest. Something was missing from the mix, big time. At first I thought it was just this unfulfilled relationship thing. But then I realized that it was more complicated than that; more subtle. I first got a clue about this when my niece came to live with me for a time. I came to realize that it was not just a man I lacked, but rather a daily experience of family. And this realization came on top of others, ones relating to the business as it continued to grow and mature.
I was bored. Creating a product and a business had been fun, invigorating. But maintaining it was not. Having the point of this entrepreneurial game be too much about profit for profit’s sake, rather than profit as a scorecard for the game, was not turning out to be my cup o’ tea. And then after selling my business, things changed even more. Now don’t get me wrong; I was ecstatic (and smug) that I had achieved my goal of being financially secure. I was continuing to learn a great deal, and there were plenty of challenges to be overcome. Things were far from static. But I did not like the new rules of the game as it became larger and larger with more and more players. There was this voice in me that kept saying “there are more important things I need to be doing.” It was lent credence by my sense of having won this game; my idea had turned into an accepted reality and a readily available product in the marketplace. That was the primary point of the game for me; not money or job security – though those were great by-products.
Art. Painting, writing. Having the luxury of time, with no specific deadline, in which to just be. Be creative again. Be available. Be aware. Be appreciative. Be serene. Be open to the “is-ness.” These aspirations were being suppressed, too divergent from the demands of busi-ness.
It has been six years, now, since I made the choice to stop. It was really a choice to start — or more accurately, to regain the sense of connection and wonderment that comes when we allow ourselves to be aware of the flow of life and light around us.
I have been pursuing my post-commerce aspirations. I am not wholly successful, yet. The score card is way different; the needed skills only partially developed. In the form of currency, there is little remuneration involved. I have had opportunities to go be a highly-paid executive elsewhere. In moments of insecurity and fear I have pursued some of these — but to no end.
In our culture it can be difficult not to cave in to societal expectations of continued “success.” (“So, Lisa, what are you doing now?”). It can be hard to ignore the often more readily available and easily understood pursuit of success in business. To do so takes a certain form of courage, I find.