A quick preface, this post has a lot of swearing. I like swearing. It’s cathartic. So if that kind of language bothers you, I’ve got this nice video of puppets singing that you can watch. Now, on to the story:
When I was 10, I joined the Denver Nuggets Junior Basketball Camp. My friend, Drew and I, were placed on the same team – the Raptors. Our jerseys were bright red and I was #4.
I practiced almost every night – layups, free throws, stepladder dunks. Just incase, you know, I had a growth spurt mid-game or something. Gotta practice your dunks if you want your photos to look cool in the paper the next day. Incredible 10-year old Nick Armstrong, the next Jordan – seen here levitating in mid-air for a full thirty seconds before an unprecedented 360-behind-the-back-upside-down-dunk.
We had games every weekend. My team and I – the 10-year-old basketball prodigy, the next Jordan – went 0 for 10.
For those of you who aren’t hip to the sports jargon, we lost every game.
At the end of the season, we had a pizza party. And got trophies. Small, shiny, victoryless trophies with our names on ’em. So did the 10-0 team.
For the record – that was the only trophy I ever got for participation. Trophy generation my ass.
Anyway, it wasn’t the pizza or the trophy that mattered. It didn’t matter if we won or lost, how many points we got, or who fouled who.
The only thing that ever mattered to me was getting called in. I was chubby. If you wanted a chubby brick wall to stop mid-run to draw a foul when another kid ran into that brick wall, I was the one to call. It was a brillant strategy, except that I only made about 25% of my free throws. Even that didn’t matter.
More than anything, I loved just being in the game. For me – every time I got to play – that was winning.
Nick – we get it. You were a chubby, somewhat delusional 10-year-old who relished in the spotlight any time someone took pity and put him in. What’s your point?
My point is: working for yourself is a lot like being the coach of an 0-10 little league basketball team. Especially at first.
You lose more games than you win. Your players are unskilled, chubby little runts that get knocked around every game. And you have to take every opportunity to manufacture victory.
Some people call it finding the silver lining. I call it efficient, effective failure.
That’s really important, I think. That whole idea of manufacturing victory. There are days as an entrepreneur when you actually loathe the thought of touching a computer. Or picking up a pen and writing an idea down. Or even putting on pants.
Those are the days you absolutely have to manufacture victory. Because the most important skill you can learn when your work is the only thing standing between yourself and a cardboard box is to find victories anywhere you can. Because it keeps you going one more day at the computer. One more thought to jot down. One more pant leg to slide into.
Why did you decide to work for yourself?
Was it to make money? Or to change something in your community? Or build awareness for a cause? Was it because you had no other choice? Was it something you had to do just so you could get by? Or was it a calling? Something your gut told you that you HAD to do?
Why, if you were so talented, so driven – or at least, talented and driven enough to start a company of your own – did you not find a suitable 9-5? Or a non-profit? Or a volunteer position?
I had a lot of reasons. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I realized that I could trade the burdens of a 2 hour commute and being required to wear pants during the day to make a living on my own. Without the comfort of health insurance. Or a steady paycheck. Or a 401K. I wanted to stop doing work that I hated for people that didn’t understand Gen-Y and wouldn’t hold co-workers accountable for behaving like bullies and thought I was just “acting out” when I made suggestions.
Fuckers. You know that I was actually written up for being overly direct with my boss? For making a suggestion? Ugh.
To be fair, they weren’t all bad. But most of ’em were. So I hung up my suit and tie (and, most importantly, pants) and went to work doing just the pieces of things I used to do that I really liked.
And life took on this new normal, right? Cereal for lunch and the more-than-occasional up-til-3AM-sleep-till-6AM-for-a-meeting-the-next-day became standard operating procedure at least once a week. And it was scary (and still is). There were more than a few slow months that I didn’t know where rent was coming from. But each time, I knuckled down. I worked my ass off. And then it was awesome. Caffeine-fueled, sleep-deprived awesomeness.
I went into doing my own thing because I was tired of being asked to do work that I hated.
I was tired of being bullied by a system that didn’t care about me. Or what I was capable of. Or what I knew. Or how full of shit I, you, and everybody else, knows they are.
If I was going to take that kind of abuse, I better damn well be the one inflicting it on myself. Oprah calls that empowerment.
(Header photo: Sports Trophies)