I was 20 years old, and sweating bullets.
I had just finished designing the corporate identity for a public multinational, and they were debuting it at the TSX as part of a press junket.
I couldn’t stop biting my lip, or rubbing my damp palms along my pant leg. My eyes seemed dry and I kept swallowing hard. My cheeks were flushed with the kind of red heat that marks the faces of students deeply entrenched in final exams.
I kept telling myself, that what was done, was done. This was it. And really, it had very little to do with me. This was part of something big for investors, stakeholders, for all the directors and employees working hard. Not me.
The CEO noticed my agitation and took me aside for a pep talk. I felt grateful for his paternal, wry smile. And I would remember his words like a mantra for the rest of my life.
“No. Yes. No. Well…”
“Don’t be nervous. I should be nervous. Not you.”
“I don’t know how you do it…”
“Sure you do. You have a business too.”
“Yeah, but it’s not, you know, like yours…”
“Because I feel like I don’t even know what I’m doing. And you guys are huge and public.”
“You want to hear a secret? A big, business secret?”
He leaned in, and motioned me to do the same.
“Nobody. Not me, not him, not anyone knows what they’re doing. No one has the answers. That’s what business is. We make it up as we go along.”
I mean, I knew on some level that this was the truth, but it didn’t stop me from reacting like I’d just found out that Santa wasn’t real.
“Listen. You want to know why I’m not nervous about today?”
I nodded, mouth open in shock.
“Because I know that I don’t know everything. And I’m ok to say that. I’m also ok to hear questions asked that might make me think…might make me do something differently or better from now on. This is what being a business person and a leader is all about.”
I nodded again, feeling some kind of business shakubuku.
From that moment on, I stopped seeing businesses on pedestals. I realized that they were ideas in motion, and that nothing was unattainable or out of reach. That conversation informed my entire belief that failure and success were just archaic dichotomous settings on a pendulum. That conversation made me realize that we are all human even when we hide behind articles of incorporation; that everything is just a beginning and that ‘why not’ was as valid a reason as a bull market and a solid business case.
So, over the years, I’ve made messes and moved mountains. I’ve started businesses rolling and dropped balls. I’ve made friends and written incredibly brave things, and been a coward and self-sabotaged, and written some more. I’ve worked in every medium I can think of (except sculpture but you know, never say never), and I’ve experienced the hyperdrive of workaholism, and the sudden paralytic inertia of depression.
My experiences are like the tactile treasures one collects in childhood. A broken shoelace. A piece of a robin’s egg, a lint-covered shred of playdoh whose colour invoked such wonder it inspired theft from a craft table. That’s how I look at my life. That’s how I caress the good and bad. I run my fingers over each moment of my past and think, how lucky am I?
So it was strange to get bad news.
Bad news that I couldn’t frame with that kind of literary flourish that would have me looking back to the moment as if it smelled of sweet sage; sounding like a cicada filled summer.
After all this clean living, and positive outlook, all the treatment— my condition was getting worse.
“The x-ray we took of your sacroiliac…it shows inflammation. New inflammation…it really explains your mobility issues and the pain…we don’t know why it’s happening yet, though, especially why it’s happening so aggressively.”
But— you thought this was a piece about business, right?
Well it is. It’s about business and plasticity, and change. But most of all it’s about right now.
Our bodies are the bricks and mortar of our ideas. We are our businesses and our bodies reflect and influence the nature of what we do.
Regardless of success or failure, in the world of the entrepreneur there is no 9 to 5 clock, no dodging accountability, no one else to point to if things don’t go the way you want them too. And most entrepreneurs I know wouldn’t have it any other way. We live and breathe our careers. We literally embody our business.
I’ve written about my autoimmune conditions before, so when this last flare started up, I waited. I waited to share the triumphant ‘I overcame this’ post. But it hasn’t passed yet. And over the months my silence has started to deafen me.
My body (my bricks and mortar shop of ideas) has drastically changed in the last few months. And that, I finally realized, meant my business would have to change too.
The words of my mentor from years ago ‘…No one has the answers. That’s what business is. We make it up as we go along…’ started to mean something very different to me. All of a sudden it didn’t bring to mind a kind of laissez-faire privileged experiment of freedom, but a terrifying tip-toe across land mines of consequence.
My ‘brainstorming’ sessions became very different, very quickly.
In the last month there have been talks of disability funding, impacts on my mobility, and new courses of treatment that cost more than graduate school. My dreams felt like they were cracking.
‘…No one has the answers. That’s what business is. We make it up as we go along…’
That’s when I realized it. I looked at the things I wanted so badly to do and finally understood the difference between business goals, a bucket list, and a ‘F&ck It List’. I started saying no easily again. I started saying yes where it felt right.
Within a month of my news I decided to do the things that made me truly happy, and narrowed my focus to B&H, and film. I pledged to just go for it, and a new and fascinating synchronicity emerged. It was like all the opportunities I had been too scared to go after or take on, had been waiting for me to say yes.
Instead of cursing myself for not being able to sustain a business with my body; the changes in my body were letting me shift my business to what really mattered— my dreams.
Today is the first day of a film shoot. I am working with incredible people, and I am sitting in the producer chair— a spot that I love. After a 12 hour day, I will gladly sit down and write some stories about our lives on set and publish them here in my happy online clubhouse of creativity. And I couldn’t be happier.
I don’t know where this will lead. I haven’t run logistics or a 5 year plan on my next steps. And I know that’s ok, because a CEO I know once told me that no one knows.
Listen to your bricks and mortar. Take your pulse instead of a memo. And always remember that sometimes when it feels like your dreams are cracking, they’re actually hatching.