Overnight Success: Merit, Grit, or Luck (or is it Magic?)

How often do we see those overnight successes only to find out that their ‘overnights’ spanned over decades? We don’t really see the years of hard work behind it. The media couldn’t be bothered either. After all, overnight success does sound better than ten years of blood, sweat and tears.

These instant success stories (often stem from ‘one brilliant idea’) create the illusion of .. well .. instant successes.

“If only we can find that one idea; only one idea and we’ll be rich.”

Merit (the quality of being particularly good or worthy)

When I started my business I thought I was ready (not really, maybe 70% ready). I did spend a few years in university learning about business (sort of). And I did have some experiences in a business analysis role.

So I embarked on this business-journey, and it was not at all how I imagined it would be.

My vision was ‘Walmart Contender In Two Years’. My reality was ‘Work Hard For Years And Still No Guarantee Of Walmart Level Success Whatsoever’.

There was a big difference between running a business and learning it in university (or from behind a business analyst desk). Interestingly, for us, it was not about the complexity of running it. I guess we were lucky enough to have acquired a simple-to-run business.

It was the uncertainty and the constant worry that got into me. I reckoned my blood pressure shot up because of these ongoing business-heart-attacks.

There was no assurance that we would meet the sales target for the month or in anything at all. Often, we revised our yearly plan and budget within a few weeks into the year. Don’t get me wrong. Those plan and budget were crucial. They gave us the goal and the general strategy to get there. But we had to keep adjusting, fine-tuning and evolving.

My so-called merit only took me so far in the midst of uncertainty in the business world where they were so many unknowns. Anything could go wrong any day, and vice versa. It was like someone ‘up there’ was turning the ’lucky tap’ on and off at random.

Life to me is defined by uncertainty. Uncertainty is the state in which we live, and there is no way to outfox it. (Thomas H. Cook)

Grit (courage and resolve)

When you have a young family, any decision is never straight forward. I wanted to quit the business, but I never did.

There was the anxiety, the worry, and the stress.

But there was also certain flexibility in running my own business. I could bring home some work, divert the phone, work from my little van, etc. I could pretty much organise it around my young family.

My family became my motivation. And hence I found the courage to continue. I found the seed of my grit.

Now, I did not magically have the superpower to push through all of the challenges, obstacles and dementors in business (still don’t). There was no magic wand to cast a powerful ’patronum’ spell.

It was just as ordinary as any person would have it.

This so-called grit started as a simple decision to keep going. It then grew into something rather substantial, something I could feel, something I knew existed in my heart. It became a mental muscle. There were times when my gritty-muscle needed rest to recuperate. There were other times when it pushed me further than I thought I could.

Nowadays, my simple motto is to do the next thing, and the next thing, and the next one, one by one. Trust me. It gets easier as the years pass. My blood pressure is still pretty high, but I have learnt to live with it (with a daily medicine).

Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. (Angela Duckworth)

Luck (success or failure brought by chance rather than through one’s actions)

Have you ever seen successful people and thought about how lucky those people were? They struck gold. And then more gold, and more.

Me, on the other hand. There were so many times I came across opportunities only to see them flying away. If just I had the resources to capitalise on them.

In the end, I realised it was not ‘luck’ that I needed. It was always about making the most out of luck (not luck itself). And one way to do it right is by having all three: Merit+Grit+Luck (or MGL — read: muggle).

Muggle (a non-magical person)

We don’t have magical abilities. We are just everyday people who work hard and learn hard along the way. And if we do that long enough (gritty-muscle at work here), we will start to notice golden opportunities floating around us.

The crucial part is to turn them into successful results before our competitors do. And this is when our merit comes into play. It is the time when we get to make use of our skills, experiences, networks, and so on.

Within this small golden window is when we seize the opportunity and capitalise on ‘luck’.

My dad gave me a piece of excellent advice about business. He told me that in any industry golden eras come and go like waves. For me to experience a golden era and ride the market boom that comes with it, I need to be an excellent player in it.

Many great companies were built in decades. They look like ‘overnight successes’ because often we focus too much on the short time they struck gold. We don’t see the decades they spent persevering through immense challenges and obstacles, perfecting their crafts, fine-tuning their methods, evolving themselves.

They were just ordinary ‘muggles’ with the courage to go through life and business. They waited patiently for the golden opportunity so they could strike when the time was right and capitalise on luck to the fullest.

And so could we.

Good luck is when opportunity meets preparation, while bad luck is when lack of preparation meets reality. (Eliyahu Goldratt)


As published in The Ascent: Overnight Success: Merit, Grit, or Luck?

Is Your Startup Killing It (Or Killing You)?

Tom was an ambitious young entrepreneur. He started a successful tech company in the healthcare industry — an object of envy among his business peers.

Despite all the admiration, Tom was under a lot of pressures. Working from 6 am to 10 pm on a daily basis started to take its toll. He came home physically and mentally tired, but his brain could not stop working. Constant worry and stress gave him terrible insomnia. Tom realised his health was getting worse. He lost his appetite and survived mostly on black coffee and toast.

There were times when Tom had suicidal thoughts. His mind was clouded in darkness, and the air felt dirty; it was difficult to breathe in.

But his success mattered more than anything else.

He kept going in denial of his fractured sanity.


The Stigma

Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘Founder Depression’?

Founder depression looks a lot like a typical depression. Sadness, loss of interest, lack of energy and constant fatigue.

Sounds familiar?

Look it up, it is real, and it is happening. Maybe you have experienced it yourself. Perhaps you have seen someone else going through it. What you might not expect is the following. Founder depression can happen regardless of whether the startup is a success or not. According to research, entrepreneurs are 30% more likely to experience depression than their nonentrepreneurial counterparts.

Starting a business is stressful. It is the constant networking, cash flow pressure, lack of sleep, customer problem, product failure, staff issues, long hours and so on. Interestingly, despite the enormous stress a founder is under, none of them seems to talk about it much. Ask any founder about his or her business. I bet you; the answer will be along the line of: “I am killing it”.

It seems like there is a stigma attached to founder depression. No founder wants to look ‘weak’. And often they are willing to sacrifice their sanity for that. It is almost like a badge of honour, to be under enormous stress.

The Spiral

A startup is essentially a combination of people and process, driven by its founder. While it seems like the founder has the ultimate control of the startup, it is not always the case in reality. There is a web of responsibility and accountability among founders, investors, staffs, and customers. This intricately interconnected web often puts the founder in a difficult position.

Should the founder allocate resources for the wellbeing of the staffs? Should they pursue new product development? Should they start to penetrate the market now?

And so the initial drive leads to stress, which if not managed, then turns into depression.

“Your face falls. Perhaps you cry. You feel worthless. You wonder whether it’s worth going on. Everything you think about seems bleak — the things you’ve done, the things you hope to do, the people around you. You want to lie in bed and keep the lights off. Depressed mood is like that, only it doesn’t come for any reason and it doesn’t go for any either.” — Aaron Swartz, Reddit co-founder (Aaron tragically committed suicide in 2013)

But the stigma attached to founder depression often prevents founders from opening up and getting help. The inability to get help will lead to further depression, and the downward spiral continues.

Breaking down depression starts by breaking down the stigma.

Breaking down the stigma starts from within. It is the mastery of self that allows us to look weak and vulnerable without feeling insignificant.

The Safe Place

It requires enormous strength to open up about our weakness. We don’t just approach a stranger and start sharing our deepest fear. We need a safe place. We need a place to be us, to be humans that hurt and bleed like mere mortals. Only then we can crawl our way up. Slowly recovering and rebuilding our strength.

The safe place is difficult to find. Yet without it, founders are often reluctant to open up. Before they let their guard down, they need to be sure they won’t be taken advantage of. Opening up requires deep trust and in the world of dog-eat-dog where do you find trust?

The safe place is difficult to find indeed.

The good news is, the safe place does exist. The safe place can be a family member, a close friend, or even a mentor or coach. The bad news is, you need to look for it. The safe place is not hiding, but it is not actively looking for you either.

Once you find it, keep it, and care for it, for it is a rare find.

It is a place where you find the strength to be vulnerable and the inner peace for reflection and recharge.

The Courage

There is a limit to the founder’s ability to withstand constant stress and depression. He or she might have found a safe place to refuel. But still, once the limit breaks, a massive depression will set its foot in the founder’s heart.

It is a moment of courage. It is the time for a tough decision. Founders need to choose one of two things, keep going or admit defeat. Both require a tremendous amount of courage. It takes courage to keep going knowing your sanity is on the line. And it also takes a lot of courage to admit failure and defeat.

There is no right or wrong answer here. Only the founder knows the answer, for only he or she knows the sacrifice that comes with it. The founder has no choice but to endure the agony that comes with either of them.

Whatever it is, a choice must be made. And it is only within the founder’s heart that the ultimate choice can be truly decided.

Only you, the founder, knows if the startup is killing it, or killing you. The real question is, what are you going to do about it?


“Running a start-up is like chewing glass and staring into the abyss. After a while, you stop staring, but the glass chewing never ends.” Elon Musk


As published in The Startup: Is Your Startup Killing It (Or Killing You)?

The Baby, The Ladies and The Workshop

I stepped into the production room, and this giant cutting table immediately caught my sight. It had a heavily worn metal ruler fixed onto one of its edges – such a workhorse.

We acquired this company in 2010. My wife wanted to get into something creative. Curtain Witchery was a small scale curtain manufacturer. It employed nine ladies with almost a hundred years of curtain making experience between them.

The previous owner could not cope with the demands of running a small workshop. Hence, we bought it cheap. It was almost too good to be true. We fell in love with it, with a romantic idea of running a busy workshop, creating arts.

“I cannot believe it,” my wife said to me.
”It’s ours now,” I replied.
“Yup, it is.”
”Are you ready for the big opening tomorrow?”
”Not really.”

Our first few weeks there were slightly confusing with a steep learning curve. There were times that Eve would call headless-chicken days. I figured out that she was talking about herself. She was the chicken. The other ladies, they were fearless witches.

”How do you all manage?” Eve asked Marg, one of the ladies. “There are so many things to do.”
”We just keep working I guess,” Marg replied.
”Well, in that case, could we skip morning tea today?”
”No, sorry ma’am, no morning tea, no work.”

I am telling you, those ladies, they might have been old, but they were fierce.


”You’re pregnant?” I could not believe my ears. “But we only just bought the business! How are we going to cope?”
”Well, I don’t know,” Eve said. “We’ll figure it out along the way I suppose.”
“Oh, I am sorry dear, it didn’t come out right,” I said. “I love you, and the little baby in your tummy too.”

Luckily, things did get easier in the months following our little pregnancy discovery. We figured out a better system to run the workshop. We had indeed become one of the curtain witches.

”This is your second child, right?” Liz, one of the ladies, asked Eve.
”Yes, it is,” Eve replied.
”Busy days ahead, Eve.”
”I know, I know,” Eve smiled.
”Hubby can help I’m sure of it,” Liz smiled back.
”O yes he will,” Eve said confidently.

Well, nine months went quickly, and it was time for baby girl to be born.

”Tomorrow is the day, you will be induced,” I said.
”I know,” she replied.
“Nervous?”
”Yes.”
”Me too.”

We came early in the morning, the doctor was ready, and it was supposed to be an easy procedure. It would have been a lovely morning if that phone had not rung. Jane, one the ladies, had decided to ring at that exact moment.

”Hello, yes, Eveline is giving birth, yes, right at this moment!” I said on the phone. “What? You’re worried about not getting paid overtime?”
”She is giving birth now, can we talk about it later?” I growled.

I could not believe it. I knew I should not have picked up that phone. I did not know what had gotten into me. I mean who picks up a phone when his wife is giving birth?


”Have you slept?” I asked Eve as I saw her wide awake on the hospital bed.
”She looks like a Natasha,” she replied.
”Really? Natasha sounds mysterious.”
”No, she is Michaela,” Eve then decided.
”Michaela sounds more like her,” I said.

Eve and Michaela spent a few more days in the hospital, adjusting to the new routine. She did not sleep much which worried me.

”Your baby is so cute Eveline,” Linda our workshop supervisor said.
”Is she our new assistant?” Marg said.
”Yeah, she will be fine on the cutting desk,” Jane smiled.

Everyone seemed to enjoy having Michaela around despite our never-ending jobs.

”How are you coping with Michaela in the workshop?” I phoned Eve from my office.
”It is a challenge, but we’ll manage,” she said confidently.


”What? Linda had an accident?” Eve was panicking.

Linda, our supervisor, had an accident in the workshop. She fell over a roll of fabric and hurt her left arm. Her old age did not help either as the doctor said it would take at least three months for her to recover.

“She cannot work for three months?” I asked Eve. “Who is going to cut the fabrics? Who is going to supervise the ladies?”
”Well, I guess I have to fill in for the next three months then,” Eve said.
”Ohh, you will be very busy, and tired too.”
”It’s only three months, we’ll manage,” she said.

The following three months were some of the busiest time we ever had in our lives. Some days got worse when Michaela decided to cry at 3am. Why, o why, would you cry at 3am little girl?

”Sorry hunny, I have to go super early this morning,” Eve said to me on a Monday morning. “Can you help prepare Kiera for school? I’ll bring Michaela with me.”

Eve had been coming earlier to the workshop to get more things done. In the meantime, I tried to help by doing my bit to take care of Kiera, our eldest child.

”Hi, are you still there? Do you need help?” I called Eve as it was getting a bit late at night.
”Yup, still here, I need to stay a bit longer to finish a job,” she said.
”Ok, I’ll make dinner then, Kiera said she wanted fried eggs,” I replied.
”Are you sure you’re ok?” I asked again. “I can hear Michaela crying.”
”Yes, she cried because I took away the fabric she was chewing.”

Eve came home at 11 pm that night. Michaela was already asleep in the car. I carried our baby girl in and put her in her little cot. Eve went straight to the bedroom and slept.


”Hunnnyyyy! Linda is back!” Eve said with her smile wide open.
”Oooohhh … thank God,” I said.
”Yes, the storm is over,” she replied.
“Wow I cannot believe it, she’s back.”
“Believe it, she is.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Relieved,” she smiled.
“Hah .. same here” I smiled back.

Linda was finally back at the workshop. She recovered well. The doctor put some kind of metal connector to strengthen her bone. We called her the Iron Lady from that moment on.

Everything was back to normal and no more late night work, yay!

”It’s a good day today,” I said to Eve while holding Michaela in my arms.
”Yeah, look at her cute face,” she replied, trying hard not to smooch her.
”She cries a lot, but her face is so adorable.”
”Aha .. with that face she would get away with many things.
”It was a hard few months, it was not perfect, but we made it,” Eve said slowly.
”And we’ll do it again, and again, and again.”
”Yes, together,” she smiled as she was holding my arm.


“Juggling work and parental responsibilities is no easy task, but I’m trying my best, and just like everything else there are good days, and there are bad days.” — Ali Landry

Failure Is Not The End

“Haha, an extra $350 is not bad at all,” I was talking to myself. ”All I have to do is change the purchase date.”

I owned a Telco Agency franchise that represented some of the biggest Telco companies in our state in Perth, Australia. Our franchise group was so dominant that customers often received better deals to purchase the latest mobile phones from us than if they dealt directly with the Telco companies. We pretty much ruled the market.

We started with one franchise and moved on to add another two. Life was good. It was even better when I figured out how to get monthly bonuses simply by .. changing the purchase dates.

”Fred, how did you do that?” Anton, another franchise owner, was wondering. “You have been getting the bonus for 3 months in a row now.”

”Well, our sales staffs are very hard working,” I said to him.

”I need to steal a few of them from you,” he said jokingly.

”Yeah, you can try, they are loyal to one person only, me!”

”Haha, we’ll see about that,” he smiled.

Anton was not going to steal anyone from me. His sales staffs were twice as good as mine. He was one of the best franchise owners I knew. He knew the industry well and he was such a good leader. Sometimes I wished I worked for him.

Being a not-so-honest franchise owner, I tried to find other ways to maximise profits. So I learnt the system and every now and then I found loopholes. The latest one being a simple change of dates that would magically improve my monthly sales to ‘earn’ bonuses.

***

’Sorry, your account has been deactivated’ – a message suddenly appeared as I tried to login into the franchise network.

I didn’t immediately make the connection. I thought it was a system error. It was not. My account was disabled. They figured it out. My ‘creativity’ had been found out.

The weeks that followed were full of drama. I was fined and given a warning. They let me off easy because I had a good record as a franchise operator. I learnt my lessons though, no more changing dates for the bonus.

”Well, we got our agency back,” my wife said to me. “Please try not to cheat the system again.”

”Yes dear,” I said, feeling down.

I worked so hard after that incident. I needed to prove my ability to build the franchise without resorting to dirty tactics. I had to redeem myself, reclaim my self-respect and push away any self-doubt.

It was amazing how an embarrassing incident could turn things around so spectacularly. Maybe it was not so bad after all. I found my strength at the bottom of the valley.

***

”Did you hear?” my wife was panicking. “The Telco master franchise has lost all of the major Telco accounts.”

“What do you mean ‘lost’?” I started to panic myself.

”Lost as in the big Telco companies are not selling through us anymore,” she tried her best not to faint. ”We are left with small players.”

”It is barely enough to cover rent,” I said.

”I know!”

”So what are we going to do?”

”I don’t know!”

It did not take long before we started to feel the pressure. Small Telco companies typically tried to dominate certain corners of the market. All of their products were tailored to a very specific slice of the population. A great example is an unbreakable (but ugly) mobile phone designed specifically for the construction workers. It was hard to sell their products to the general public that visited our shop.

Making things worse, those big Telco companies started to open up their own shops competing directly with us. So tell me again how we were supposed to survive? It was impossible. Our sales dropped by more than 70% within a short period of 6 months.

I lost my ability to think clearly. I just wanted to stay in bed all day, staring at the ceiling. I was a zombie.

We were part of a small community group called ‘connect’. There were four to five families in each group. The idea was so that we could support each other. Honestly, I never thought much of it. In fact, I always hated going to this group. “Such a waste of time,” I always thought to myself.

“How are you coping, my friend?” Simon our group leader asked me.

”Not good Simon,” I said quietly.

”Come, let’s have a chat, I’ll make you tea,” he said. “We have a few minutes before the others arrive.”

I have to say, it was such a joy to be able to pour out my heart to someone else without being judged. Simon was such a great listener. He was so genuine. He didn’t say much, he just nodded, smiled, asked questions, and most importantly he was there for me.

That night after talking to Simon I went to bed with a lot in my mind. I knew I had to do something, I couldn’t just wait to be slaughtered by big telcos. I needed to find the strength to move on. You know how some people say it takes courage to start? Sometimes it takes a lot more courage to stop and let go.

I had been a franchise owner for more than ten years. It was a part of me, it was my identity, and I was about to let it all go. My mind could not get into gear. I could not comprehend the situation because I had never been in that situation before. How, what, why?

”We have to make a move,” I said to my wife in the morning.

”Yeah, I have been thinking about it too,” she replied.

”I’m not sure I’m ready for this,” I said.

”I’m not either,” she whispered. “But I feel like there is no other way.”

”I cannot do it,” I said to her.

”We’ll do it together.”

I felt like a failure, I felt defeated. The business that I was so proud of. The success that I built with sweat and tears for more than a decade. It was not fair. I did not have a fighting chance.

***

“Well, we’ve done it,” I said to my wife. I had a million things happening in my mind.

”Yup, no more Telco Agency” my wife replied. “Are you ok?”

”I’m .. I guess, yeah, I’m ok.”

”Are you excited?”

”In a way, I actually am.”

”It’s been a long 7 months,” she whispered.

”Yes, a very long 7 months,” I said quietly. “I thought we would never sell it.”

”But we did,” my wife smiled again.

”Yeah, we finally did.”

”Don’t think about it too much,” she said. “Let’s just leave it all behind.”

”I know, I just feel like an era is over.”

”Yeah, that is true.”

”Well, we can, however, start something new,” I suddenly felt much better.

“Yes we can,” she smiled again. “You can now do what you have been wanting to do in the last 3 years – life coaching.”

”I know …” I started to feel my smile creeping back.

”Come on, we have talked about it.”

”Yes we have, and now I really can, I really really can!”

“You can,” she said. “Remember what you told me 7 months ago?”

”What?”

”Failure is not the end,” she looked at me with her most beautiful eyes.

***

”Failure is not the real end, it can be the beginning of your success story.”

I Thought He Came To Say Goodbye

”Ok Fred,” Rob said. “Are you trying to kill me?”

”What do you mean?” I said. “Are you playing the ‘old’ card again?”

Rob was my storeman, he was 60 years old but as strong as most 20 years old youngsters I knew. He went through a lot that bloke, just declared bankrupt, divorce dispute, and most recently health issues.

Well, to be fair, it’s not like he was taking care of his health, not with a bottle of wine every night! Sometimes I wondered how he managed to drive to the office every morning. Although it kind of explained those weird mornings where he seemed to come super early. He must have stayed the night!

Anyway, Rob was a good storeman. He was the only one who volunteered to do extra work when things went a bit quiet. He fixed the water pipe, washed the truck, and even offered to pull the weeds. He was such a humble old man.

“Fred, did you remember to order the white rags?”, I could hear Rob yelling from the warehouse.

”I did order them ..” I said, not too sure of myself.

”Well, where are they?”

”They’re not there?”

”No boss, they’re not.”

”Whatss .. ok I’ll call them now.”

Due to my million things to do I too forgot to do things. But fret not, my supplier was not far, and they were very efficient. The fact that I bought a lot from them probably contributed a little to the excellent service.

Anyhow, the white rags arrived in the afternoon (I told you they were fast). Rob looked rather excited for some reason. These rags must have grown on him. The destiny of a rags worker, sooner or later they would fall in love with those bulky rags.

The month went quickly and suddenly Christmas was just around the corner. It started to feel a lot like Christmas – it was just like the song. We had this tradition in the office to drink the day before Christmas. It wasn’t for us to get drunk or anything, or so we thought. Rob really got into it though, he bought a carton of beers for us to enjoy. Christmas present, he said. They were all for us, he said. He drank most of them, as expected.

***

”Fred, guess who got a new job?” Rob smiled at me in the morning.

”Who?” I asked.

”Me!” he replied.

And that’s how Rob broke the news of his resignation. He could not take the physical demand of the job anymore. He was getting older, and having health issues did not help either. Rob decided to get an easier job minding a hardware store near his place.

My wife and I went to visit him a few times at his new job. He looked good albeit rather bored. Well, at least he didn’t have to unload a truckload of rags there.

Rob returned the favour and came over a few times to my office. He didn’t get any younger though, and his liver problem got worse. I told him many times to stop drinking but you cannot teach an old dog a new trick.

He disappeared after a few months. His mobile was disconnected. We tried checking in at his workplace but to no avail. He vanished, God knows where.

***

”Ahh, there he is,” Rob suddenly appeared on the window.

”Whoa, look who’s here,” I said.

”Long time no see, boss,” he said to me.

”Yes, it’s been a while. How have you been?”

”Not very good, Fred.”

“What happened?”

”My liver stopped functioning, well almost,” Rob said slowly. “Doctor gave me a few months.”

”No … “ I couldn’t believe what I heard.

”It’s true,” Rob said. “I should’ve stopped .. drinking.”

”This is not happening.”

”It is, Fred.”

“Rob, what are you doing here?”

”What do you mean? I wanted to see you.”

”Yeah, I figured that out,” I said. “But why are you really here?”

”Fred, boss, I just wanted to see you.”

”I believe you, Rob,” I said. “Come, sit and I’ll make you some tea.”

We had a good long chat about work, life, family, and everything else. Rob said he missed working in the warehouse. He missed his babies, he said, referring to the bundles of rags he used to carry around.

That night I went to bed thinking I should’ve said something to Rob. Something along the line of ‘goodbye’. I didn’t because I was worried that it would offend him.

***

There was no news from Rob for the next few months. I was back to the usual hectic days at work, getting some daily physical workout in the warehouse. It was getting hot too with summer fast approaching.

”Hi, is this Fredy?” a lady called my mobile.

”Yes, it is,” I said.

”Oh .. this is Gillian, my husband Rob used to work for you.”

”Ahh yes, how is Rob doing?”

”Fred,” Gillian said slowly.

”Oh .. no .. don’t say it,” I said to her.

”He passed away, Fred,” she said. “He wanted me to tell you something.”

“Ok, I’m listening,” I said, trying to calm myself down.

“He said thank you for listening to him when he came last time,” Gillian whispered. “Thank you for not bringing up anything about him dying.”

”He also said that the last conversation gave him the peace he needed to accept his fate.” Gillian continued. “He said he felt his heart was light and he was ready.”

”Fred, Rob passed away the day after he met you.” Gillian finally said.

***

I will always remember that. That phone call. That moment.

I thought he came to say goodbye .. and I was right, but I’m glad I didn’t say anything.

Because I realised now.

He came to see me.

 

“Sometimes the best present you can give someone is to be present.”

I just want to lie down…

Forget five-star travel and the hotel life; when it comes to holidays as a soloist, Fredy Namdin prefers the simple things in life.

 

Back in the days of my corporate years, me and a colleague of mine often talked about holidays. These discussions spanned from possible holiday dates and destinations, to all the different food and drink we would enjoy during the trip.

We strategised about the best possible ways to capitalise on these holidays.Should we take it before Christmas? After New Year? Or maybe mid-year?

We took into account costs, the best weather, airlines, any special events, and so much more. It was almost an obsession for us.

I started a company more than ten years ago. Well, we acquired it but in my defence the company was in a very risky position, one bad move and there would be nothing left. We did quite a turnaround to make it into a strong and healthy business. And boy it took time to do that. I never knew acquiring a business could take so much work.

As with other businesses, things were never smooth nor stable for long. We experienced highs and lows, joy, heart break, excitement, and many other indescribable feelings.

“I just want to lie down on the sofa, relaxing, with a cup of coffee in my hand, and the most delicious Scotch Finger biscuit by my side.”

We worked so hard for the business (especially in the first few years). I remember those nights when the kids would sleep in the car because we had big orders to fulfil the following day. The worst was when the phone rang in the afternoon with an urgent request, and we knew we had no choice but to abide, because it was one of our major customers – another all nighter coming through. Who said owning a business means answering to no one? We quickly figured out that we were answering to more than 500 people (read: bosses). And these ‘bosses’ could be more demanding than our corporate bosses (not always).

Nevertheless we were happy. Things turned around and we made good money. We started to improve (increase) our spending. A new car, a new house, even a new coffee machine. Life was great.

“Hi Fred.” Eddie said to me. ”How have you been?”

“Hi Eddie, what a surprise. Well, I am doing good, man,” I said.

Eddie is a friend from my previous life. He is the one I discussed holidays with back in my corporate days.

“Where are you working now,” Eddie asked.

“I run my own company.” I replied to him. “We distribute industrial products.”

“Wow, I remember back in BankEast you always wanted to have your own business,” Eddie said.

“Yeah, it’s a dream come true.” I said, trying to remember what I really said to him back then.

“Congratulations man.”

“Thanks, what about you?”

“I work in South Bank Institute now.”

“Sounds like a good place.”

“Yes it is, and guess what, we are going to Bali again this year.”

“Again?”

“Yup, the third time this year.”

‘Third time?”

This guy is so lucky, I thought to myself. I haven’t got the time to do all these holidays this year.

“Ok Fred, I need to rush,” Eddie said. “It’s great bumping into you.”

Despite our best effort we could only take holidays during Christmas and New Year. That would be around 10 days per year. We compensate this by making it in such a way that we only work short hours during the year. Practically we structured the business around our kids. We want to spend time with them so we work short hours but somehow we end up with only 10 days break per year.

In all honesty, I never thought about it before meeting Eddie.

It’s not like we need multiple holidays anyway. Ten days break is long enough – or so I thought.

But I just couldn’t let it go. Eddie gets to take multiple trips to Bali and I am just stuck here in the warehouse? What a crappy lifestyle I have now. Surely there must be something I could do to make my life a bit better?

As I drove home I was reminiscing about the time when I too was able to take multiple trips per year. What a great life it was. I remembered the cubicle where I sat. Eddie was sitting just across my desk (hence we talked a lot to each other). The best part was in the morning when I would use the company’s coffee machine to make my delicious morning coffee. Lunch was not too bad as sometimes we had to rush things, especially when there was a big tender due.

Big tender, what a nightmare.

I must have made more than 1000 spreadsheets over the course of my career as an analyst. Oh yeah, and those headaches, splitting headaches. I was consuming pain killers like candy. I had a box or two on my desk and took two tablets per day. If I kept going the way I was maybe I could purchase them at wholesale price based on the volume I went through.

And my boss, OMG, she was the most discriminating, intimidating, back-stabbing $%&6%^.

You know what, maybe I don’t need those holidays.

Life is good as it is now.

We are happy, our business is growing, the wife is happy (very important), and I have my own coffee machine at home (also very important).

You know what, I have a great life.

It’s simple, not glamorous, albeit it’s the best for me.

I just want to lie down on the sofa, relaxing, with a cup of coffee in my hand, and the most delicious Scotch Finger biscuit by my side.

That’s all I need.

I just want to lie down.

By

— as originally appeared on Quora and FlyingSolo

A Night To Remember

It was 2am, and our newborn daughter decided to wake her parents up. My reflex told me to elbow my lovely wife. Fortunately (or unfortunately) she was asleep, and my conscience said it was a big no. Do not disturb a mother in a deep sleep, or else.

What should I do? Maybe I could try to calm her down. I remember my wife always did this whispering thingy. I might try that. What if it doesn’t work?

Arrghh…the struggle is real.

In the meantime, the little baby got impatient and cranked up her cry. I swear I heard the neighbour’s dog got up and started barking.

“Shuuussshhhh….” I whispered to her. I held her tight and rocked her gently.

It seemed to work.

Half an hour was all I needed. My little girl was fast asleep then. Yes, success, well-done daddy.

“Hunny, was she crying?” my wife suddenly woke up.
“Umm yes, but she’s asleep now, all good,” I said.
“Ok, thank you for that.”
“Go back to sleep, everything is under control.”

It was February 2008 and we only just acquired a business. Coming from the corporate background, we had no idea how to run a small business. The only thing we knew was a job description and how to fake sick leave. We learnt quickly that these two didn’t seem to exist in small business.

Our first child was born just before we acquired the business. It was what we like to call: “Miracles Do Happen, Twice”.

It was a dream.

We were starting a family and somehow came across a great business. It felt good, so we bought it. It was like one of those Nike commercials. We would .. just do it.

We were unstoppable.

Our lack of experience in small business did not deter us from jumping into this new journey of self-employment. We realised later on that the very reason it did not, was because we had no idea what we got ourselves into. We got into business blind-folded.

And guess what, we got into parenthood blind-folded too.

The first time I realised this was when I dragged the cot from the office to the back room, with my daughter in it, crying. The reason, was only because I couldn’t talk on the phone.

And also because it finally got to me. The stress, lack of sleep, burnout, and a million other things we never thought possible.

There were times when we would stay back in the warehouse until dinner, had dinner, and went back to work. The little girl would sleep in the cot like a small angel. This was the time when living in the warehouse seemed like a good idea. I am glad we never did.

We tried to learn fast about everything business. The worst was never-ending-day-to-day administrative duties. Who knew something that seemed so simple and mundane like this could give us a headache? Never underestimate the requirement for small business regarding data entry, filing, stock taking, tracking order, monthly report, and so on, and so on.

Did we bite off more then we could chew?

***

“Hi Fred, I need ten boxes of milk, five tins of coffees, and ten packs of sugar,” my customer put an order.
“Yes, no problem at all,” I said.
“When can we get them?”
“Tomorrow,” I replied.

Another late night I thought to myself.

“O no, I forgot to prepare the bags for bread factory,” I just remembered. There were twenty bags to prepare. I needed few hours to do that.

“Are we ready to go?” my wife asked.
“No, we are not,” I said. “We have to go and get the supplies, and I need to prepare bags for the bread factory.”
“But that will take few hours at least.”
“Yes, I know,” I replied. “Look, why don’t we get the supplies, go home, and then I could come back to the warehouse to finish the twenty bags.”
“But you would be working until morning.”
“We have no choice, I don’t want her to sleep in the warehouse again, she is already on antibiotics.”

Our little angel was not feeling well that night. The doctor prescribed her with mild antibiotics, but she still needed a good rest.

We went home, had light dinner, and off I went back to the warehouse. It was 9pm then. I knew I would not get home until around 2am. O well, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. Back in university days, we used to stay up until 4am and was fine for the 8am lecture. This was nothing.

But I guess knowing our child was sick put a little bit of pressure as well. I wanted to be home with her. Gosh, parenthood was stretching me thin. Things worked differently when we had a little baby at home.

It was dark when I got there. I looked around to make sure the street was safe before opening the gate.

It felt weird working alone at night. Sometimes I heard voices from behind the shelves. It must be all of those scary movies coming back to haunt me.

Well, the first few bags didn’t take long to finish. I felt my muscles tensing up a little bit, and suddenly my lower back screamed in agony. I must have pulled a muscle there.

I decided to rest for few minutes and turn off the machine. And somehow that voice came back from behind the shelves.

“Ok, mental note, do not watch scary movies anymore,” I was talking to myself.

I went back to work. My lower back was hurting but nothing I couldn’t handle. It was probably just the old disc-injury playing up. I only had to persevere, and it would be over soon.

The rest of the bags took a lot slower than I hoped for. The back pain worsen. I couldn’t stand straight this time. At least it was almost done now. Just two more bags to go. It was 1.30am. Suddenly, my phone rang (from behind the shelves).

“Hunny, are you still there?” my wife asked.
“Yup, only two more bags to go,” I said. “What’s up?”
“She’s burning up.”
“How bad is it?”
“Very, I think I need to go to the hospital.”
“What, are you sure?”
“Yes.”
“Can you wait for me? I just need to finish the last two.”
“No, I need to go now.”
“Ok, I am so sorry hunny.”
“It’s alright. It’s what we do.”

I couldn’t believe it. Could it be any worse? Excruciating back pain, working alone at night, and now my wife had to drive to the hospital alone.

I continued on to finish the last two bags. My mind was filled with all sort of scenarios. What if something happens? What if the doctor says? What ifs… The worst thing was, of course, there was nothing I could do except to keep working to get it done. And I finally finished all of the bags. It was one very long night.

I closed the gate and rushed to the hospital.

My wife was waiting in the hospital room. She smiled and gave me a hug.

“It’s ok, she’s fine,” she whispered.

***

Time went on, our little girl recovered from her illness, and we were back at work as usual. While still suffering from lack of sleep we were getting better at managing it.

But that night, that was a night to remember.

***

“No one looks back on their life and remembers the nights they got plenty of sleep.”