Nothing can prepare you for the moment you have nothing, especially if you had everything before. Maybe, even, everything you ever dreamed of.
Maybe you made millions and lost it all in a day. Maybe you were the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and got canned after a poor earnings report. Maybe your company just can’t eke out its financials, and it’s time to shut ’er down. Or, maybe your line of credit got shuttered, rendering growth impossible. These are defining moments in business. For every moment of glorious IPO bliss, there are indelible tales of loss.
How we recover and rebuild from these moments is what determines our character, integrity and potential. For entrepreneurs, rebuilding is part of the script. Starting over, either by choice or due to forces beyond your control. Failure may occur, but it’s never the end of the story.
I know about bespoke defining moments because I had one recently. Two months ago, my house burned down in the High Park Fire in northern Colorado. It burned so hot, even the ashes vaporized. It was as though a ray gun took aim from space and destroyed my house. Nothing was left. Not even a fork or a Chia head. Not a photo, or a stitch of clothing. Every story I’ve written, every notebook with diagrammed ideas, was gone. Personal stuff, professional stuff. Poof.
This has been an intensely raw and emotional experience, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure it was appropriate to share it with you here. But the fire and its aftermath have been all-consuming. Even when I sit down to conduct an interview, or try to write a pithy headline or (and this is the worst) participate in some banal conference call, in my head, this is what I hear: “Your house burned down. Your house burned down. Your house burned down.” Sometimes it’s in a British accent or that of a Russian spy. Sometimes it’s more like a creepy nursery rhyme. Regardless, it’s always there, taunting me.
I confess I am somewhat traumatized by the instructions the Red Cross provided to guide me through the process it calls “reintegration.” These include the warning, “You are entering an inherently dangerous area” (an area previously known as my home). Or, hell, maybe it was the bucket, the shovel, the hazmat gloves and the sifter those well-meaning people handed me so I could make some attempt to salvage any scrap of my former life.
When I set out to write this column, I cheated.
I called entrepreneur and marketing expert Seth Godin to interview him about the culture of fear -- an emotion that I have felt altogether too much of lately. I think my strategy was to lean on him, to rely on his wit and charm to articulate and make sense of some of what I was feeling. Basically, I was wussing out.
But Seth reminded me that my personal story could have value to you, the readers, and that it has parallels to the radical ups and downs faced by those intrepid (or crazy) enough to take on such an inherently risky pursuit as entrepreneurship. Dangerous area, indeed.
The bottom line is this: No matter what life tosses your way, do these things and do them in this order: Fall to your knees and cry (but not more than seven minutes), stop crying, dust yourself off, go buy some new clothes and start over. Reintegrate. Whatever your ashes are, emerge from them as a better version of yourself.
Amy C. Cosper,
Editor in chief
Follow me on Twitter, @EntMagazineAmy