Amidst piles of pizza boxes and empty Molson bottles, I started running ROYCE from my McGill University dorm room in 2010. Empowered with a veteran staff coupled with our monogramming niche, I thought I was going to take over the fashion world. Rather than engaging in the ubiquitous college experiences -- fraternities, student societies, trips abroad -- I was steadfast in my mission to transform my family’s business into the fashion industry’s preeminent personalization service provider.
I was not merely passionate. I was a zealot. From the onset of my first semester, I had a different college experience than most of my peers. Mid-lectures, if I attended at all, I would be on client calls and event performance reviews. I spent my evenings constructing P&L statements and reviewing payroll figures.
Undoubtedly, small business ownership is an emotional roller coaster. Thus, it was difficult to discern the normal fluctuations of a burgeoning business from my brain’s chemical imbalance. Moreover, I naively assumed that impulsivity, restlessness and aggression were just the hallmark traits of an 18-year-old man. It was not until much later that I recognized my feelings of heightened power when dealing with esteemed fashion executives as well as reckless budgeting and elevated sense of despair when deals fell through were actually pendulum swings of mania and depression.
That my classmates could not relate to my struggle of simultaneously pursuing academia and entrepreneurship created a sense of alienation, further compounding my bipolar disorder symptoms.
The alienation was furthered by my inclination to live silently in the fear that my hopelessness and discontent during my low mood swings were indicators of my failure as well as my overt boastfulness when it came to sharing my excitement about developments with the company. Despite the tendency to share when there is good news and remain quiet when the stress is sapping, it does not have to be that way.
Seven years, five prescriptions, three psychiatrists and two college degrees later, I have adopted author Emily Ley’s notion of measuring progress in terms of flawed joy rather than attaining perfection. We are all entitled to compassion, most notably from within. After all, nobody is perfect, least of all ourselves. Why is it that we have the propensity to demonstrate incredible empathy for others’ displays of weaknesses yet we succumb to the idea that we are flawed if we are not perfect?
It was this way of thinking that had exacerbated my bipolar symptoms for so long, subsequently stifling both my personal and professional life. It had gotten to the point where I questioned what was the point of even attempting to be the fashion industry’s best monogramming brand if I could not achieve perfection which I deemed to be unrivalled market share. It was only through reading Emily’s book that I realized suppressing such negative speculation could actually prevent me from creating anything at all, let alone capturing market share.\
Her advice is universal in scope; it does not only to apply to student entrepreneurs suffering from bipolar disorder, student entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs, period. Whether you are a schoolteacher or pro basketball player, bureaucrat or priest, the best we can do is our best and we ought to realize that that is good enough.