I’m writing this post because I find myself in a unique situation. I’m an extremely introverted person but not a very private one so . I also, for better or worse, think of you, my clients, as more than just customers. I think of you as stakeholders in the business. In essence, every purchase you make is a micro-investment not only in the business, but in me.
If you are familiar with “green beauty” or really small indie business in general, you might be familiar with this, well, familiarity. I know I’m not the only business owner who shares little hints about who she is and what her life contains, outside of the business.
So this is a post that is more about me than moss. If you just want to know what’s next with moss, read this post.
I feel a certain obligation to share with you what’s been going on over the last few months. I think it’s only fair and again, it has to do with the unique situation of being a small business owner. The larger and more automated a business grows, the better it can function with a loss of personnel here and there and can totally maintain it’s outward-facing composure without anyone noticing any issues behind the scenes.
But a small business owner does not enjoy this luxury of privacy. Even if I had not decided to give you some insight into what happened, you would know that something was happening. Products went out of stock, emails went unanswered. I am moss and moss is me. So if I suffer, so does moss. I know you are used to thinking of businesses as large faceless corporate entities, but sometimes a business is just like you – a single individual, who just happens to be working on a huge project.
If any of you have started a business, you may be somewhat familiar with what happened to me. It turns out the business is alive and wants to keep growing, outside the bounds of what you’re comfortable with. Just like a parent can’t decide to preserve their child indefinitely at age 10, certain businesses take on a life of their own and grow outside your comfort zone – and keep growing.
So then, instead of the cozy and peaceful existence you imagined as a craftsperson, you’re catapulted into this world of stress and unknowing. And different personalities and people handle that differently. For some it is exciting and motivating. For some (raises hand) it turns into a waking nightmare.
I wanted to write this post in part because it is a story about someone – me – who is not so great at life. It is vulnerable and humbling to write it, although I want to make the exact opposite point. It shouldn’t be. It should be totally ok to write it. You should be able to be you. I should be able to be me. Neither one of us should feel any shame at doing the best we can, even if we respond to life less gracefully than the cultural ideal.
I once reached out to a business partner of mine asking for an extension – I don’t remember but maybe it was the beginning of what I will tell you more about – I probably felt unwell. Her response was very triggering for me. I will paraphrase the email exchange for you:
Me: I am very sorry, but I can’t send you the thing until next week. I apologize for the delay but I am unwell and unable to work.
Her: It’s ok, I understand. I am also sick, I stay up every night until 11pm working, I just had a baby so I am nursing and not getting any sleep and my medical condition is acting up so I am constantly in pain.
Obviously, meaning can get lost in translation, but the way my heart decoded this message was like this: You are not trying as hard as me. I am comparing our situations and clearly, I am under more stress and pain, yet I seem to be getting my work done just fine. I am capable of great personal sacrifice, but you don’t seem to be. Laziness and weakness are qualities that entrepreneurs cannot indulge in.
At this point, I will tell you what was going on with me. Even though I wasn’t working as “hard” as this individual “on paper” it has been an enormously difficult year with the business. Not financially – but logistically. I was failing at creating an infrastructure to support the growth. I hope you might relate to this – even though it looks like your body is doing nothing but sitting still, there are times when the mental strain (invisible to others) might be enormous, and it is all the cogitating, worrying, problem solving, etc. that is wearing you out. And you can be having a huge battle with a problem in your mind even at the spa. Problems do not keep 9-5 hours.
Towards the end of the year, a series of events occurred that overwhelmed me even further, and it was too much and I became extremely depressed. During this period of depression, not only was I unable to function, but I also developed a deep aversion to my business moss – I couldn’t stand to think about it or even talk about it. I couldn’t go into any of the “moss rooms” (parts of my home have been converted/appropriated into offices/labs).
I had a PO with Anthropologie that I cancelled. Actually, I ignored it until Anthropologie reached out. Brilliant, right? My friend was appalled – she couldn’t believe this “self-sabotage” she was witnessing. She made a comment that also triggered me as much as the email exchange. She said, “Well, maybe you are too delicate to run a business.”
What further compounded the depression was that I had, almost on the exact day of my breakdown, discovered I was pregnant. Not only had my husband and I not been trying, we were in a very bad place, fighting all the time. So then there was the additional agony of my true feelings about this baby (fear, ambivalence) being smothered by my guilt and shame for not having all feelings society expects you to have (joy, gratitude). Also, more than the morning sickness, pregnancy immediately gave me incessant debilitating fatigue.
So imagine a lot of crying and sleeping and fighting. Good times.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, for one, so you can know what the hell was going on. But there’s another, much more important reason. Our culture venerates the strong and the positive. And in doing so implies that the opposite is less worthy and not commendable. I wanted to tell you – on purpose – another kind of story. The story of a not-brave, scared and grumpy person: me.
The story of my failure, and depression and my shitty start as a mom. The story of how I am too delicate and sensitive to run a business. I can’t tell you the number of times I compared myself to my peers and just thought I was the worst. I thought, “They are doing this with such grace and ease and I am failing miserably.” The number of times I chastised myself for “allowing” myself to become depressed.
And that was the biggest problem of all.
You see, we spend so much of our lives in despair, comparing ourselves to others or comparing our life NOW to some dream we had when we were younger OR to some as-yet-unattained future vision. When we fail or, god forbid, have a literal break down we are taught to be ashamed and to get through it asap.
We want shiny and happy all the time because we’ve been taught that the only acceptable way is shiny and happy. But that’s simply not true.
Life will do what it will and you are who you are. And a lot of times both you and life will feel ugly and weak and lost. There is nothing inherently wrong or right about you or life in ANY given moment, whether you feel shitty or wonderful. You and life just are. You are true. You are what is.
And the truth is, there are NO RULES and the Universe honestly does NOT CARE what you or your life look like. Zero expectations. You don’t have to do or be anything. Everything you think you should do or should be is…totally arbitrary. Made up. A societal norm perhaps, but not actually true in the grand scheme of things.
The problem is when you begin to allow the views of others (friends, family, society) to cloud your acceptance of who you are and what really is. When you start using the word “should” a little too much.
I should be able to power through this.
I should’ve delivered to Anthro!
I should want this baby more.
I should be able to run a business.
I should be able to get out of my depression.
I should feel more upset that I ruined my deal with Anthro.
I should want to shower.
I should be able to wash the dishes.
I shouldn’t be sleeping so much!
I should be more positive.
I shouldn’t take this so personally.
I should separate myself from the business more.
I should be excited about reading baby books.
I could go on for ages. We all have little rules or scripts inside our heads that we believe are the “right” and “wrong” way to do things and feel things. These scripts are reinforced by the actions and reactions of others around us.
To me, that was the most painful aspect of this period. Instead of simply allowing myself to be who and where I was without judgement or shame, and processing the ACTUAL events and feelings I was dealing with, I immediately and unconsciously created a tension and oppression around the truth and made myself believe I had derailed, lost my way, failed and basically come undone.
I created a narrative that described my situation as a horrible thing that needed healing. Why? Because it had all the signs that we collectively as a society associate as bad: depression, failure, negative emotions.
For some reason, we are taught that there is only ONE right way to move forward in life and it looks like easy. graceful. successful. happy. And when that stuff is not happening, it’s bad and we need to get back to that place as soon as possible.
What I’ve come to realize and what I hope to get across in this post is that ALL EXPERIENCES ARE EQUALLY VALID AND WORTHY.
That applies to entire life trajectories – the humble house-husband comparing himself to the mighty Steve Jobs. Neither man is greater, or better. Neither life is more outstanding.
And it applies to periods within a life. The boring times, the sad times, the stressful times, the happy times.
As I move forward and begin to reflect on these last few months, I see them as not only good, but necessary. It seems so obvious, but still bears saying: When things break, they need fixing.
My situation wasn’t something horrible that needed healing – it WAS THE HEALING. All the sleeping and crying and fighting resulted in rest and peace. I needed the sleep and crying and fighting. I wasn’t ever going to move forward without it. They were the HEALING – the breaking had happened earlier and wasn’t getting fixed because I was trying to power forward. Eventually, my body and mind reached a crisis point and DEMANDED the problem be attended to.
Thanks to this period of isolation and despair, I got some things straight. Instead of continuing to think of myself as this weird, broken person who accidentally got plopped on earth and actually belongs on another world, I realized I wasn’t broken – it was the scripts and rules in my head. They were bogus.
I had always had a reluctant awareness of the fact that I had tons of social anxiety, and had Asperger’s-like tendencies when it came to maintaining relationships, and that I was narcissistic and sociopathic, and that I was not good at being generous or grateful or positive. But finally, I stopped feeling guilty and ashamed about all that. It was simply who I was. Sorry, not sorry. And I just accepted it. And just let it all hang out. Let other people deal with it.
I used to hate the fact that I was sensitive and prone to quitting too fast/too soon. Why? Because we’re told that being the opposite is what to strive for. Grit, determination and perseverance are all lauded characteristics. And let’s face it – our culture hates sensitivity. We completely shut it down in men and we blame it on hormones in women. You know what? Life is too short. I will continue to take things too personally and have raging mood swings. Sorry, not sorry. This is who I am, and it is ok. It is more than ok. It is unique and beautiful and it is a profound and necessary addition to the human race.
Entrepreneurs can be sensitive and still successful. Entrepreneurs can quit and still be successful.
And speaking of success, it can look like a lot of different things – it can look like being the CEO of Apple or Facebook or like having a small, simple life. Some days, success can simply mean getting through the day. Success can look like turning down a huge PO. It can look like intentionally making your business smaller.
It doesn’t have to be working till 11 every night, even if that’s the entrepreneur script we’ve all been fed as the gospel.
YOU define success for you. You define LIFE for you. And there may come a time where defining success and defining life simply means surrendering to how things are, even if you’ve been resisting them for your entire life up till now.
Again, we have these impressions/ideas of so many things: how much we should be getting done in a day, where we should be financially at this point in our lives, or where we should be career-wise. All of that is simply some script that we collectively or individually have come to think of as right or good. But it is neither.
Maybe life is going great for you or maybe it is going pretty shitty. If it’s going shitty, it’s probably damn near impossible to try to find a greater meaning in all the shit. But for the love, whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to these bubble gum narratives and feel even shittier.
Things will change. And that is the truth. You will slowly move through one thing into the next.
And guess what? Despite what social media and advertising and life coaches would have you believe, life isn’t SUPPOSED to be all rainbows and success and affirmations and manifestations.
It isn’t. It truly isn’t. For a lot of people, for a lot of the time, it’s hard and sad and damn near impossible.
And the sooner you stop feeling ashamed and guilty and WRONG for suffering or failing or for your RESPONSE to suffering or failing or for your personality in general, the sooner you can slowly but surely move through all the shit into another place.
And, please, if you’re one of those people that CAN power through shit, and ALWAYS feels happy, stop judging the rest of us. We’re all doing the best we can and YES, that looks different for everyone. Different people have different tolerances for discomfort and are genetically more or less predisposed to depression and negativity.
And the rest of you, stop reading those stupid articles about how to rewire your brain and FIX yourself. Stop thinking that you have bad karma or that you’re a bad and broken person. Nothing is wrong with you. You can stop making gratitude lists. Just be you. If you feel like crying, put down the stupid gratitude list and cry. And don’t shame yourself for crying. Don’t try to force yourself to stop. Surrender to reality. Let the tears stream forth. There is always healing in truth and in the seeking and acceptance of truth.
I feel like I should add a caveat. Some of you may be recoiling at the idea of taking negative characteristics, habits or beliefs and simply accepting them. Like – if we’re ungrateful, negative people we should OBVIOUSLY try to change that right?
I mean, maybe. You can if you want. You do you.
What I personally have found is that it’s the Chinese finger trap effect.
The more you struggle with a perceived issue, the more you stay stuck. Oddly, it’s when you accept the issue that it naturally begins to resolve itself. In a very beautiful, organic way. It may take time and it may be confusing and roundabout, but I find the easiest and most foolproof thing is to just trust life and trust truth.
But see – we humans do not like that. We like resolutions, and goals and get rich quick and lose 10 pounds in a week. We like fast and obvious results.
At the risk of a massive digression, I will tell you how I healed my eating disorder. Towards the end of the ED, I was in a vicious binge/purge cycle that was powered by really restrictive thoughts and damaging ideas about what my body “should” look like and what foods I “should” be eating.
And then my therapist told me to stop purging. I looked at her like she was crazy and informed her that then my binging would be out of control. She told me it already was and that the only way my body would relearn the proper relationship with food would be to be left to its own devices.
So I stopped purging. And for a while that looked like massively overeating every single night to the point of comatose pain. And then it looked like ordering sweet potato fries and bread for dinner every single night for the better part of a year. And yes, these behaviors are both disordered in their own way. And yes, during that time I wasn’t sure what the f was going on. But I knew one thing – I knew that giving up control was the answer. I was done fighting and I just let my body do what it wanted. And even if that was crazy, it was better than the restricting and judging and rules that had used to exist.
And little by little, each behavior gave way to a slightly less insane one. Until eventually, a year and a half later, I was enjoying meals I hadn’t let myself enjoy for YEARS – but eating them mindfully and stopping when I was full. You know, things like burgers and pizza. But not judging myself. And then a few months after, I began to crave healthier foods. Vegetables. And one day, there was no judgement, and no pain and a beautiful balance of foods that brought nourishment and satisfaction and a variety of tastes.
Yes, the road was long and winding, and perhaps a bit too slow and organic and “free form” for many of us – but ultimately it brought total freedom and healing around food.
During that time of healing, there was a phrase I heard that really resonated with me:
“It’s not ok to go…until it’s ok to stay.”
Ironically, the first part of moving forward is surrendering completely to where you currently are. I’ve found this to be absolutely true.
So – embracing the negative, the ugly and the blah might seen counterproductive but the magic is that if we honor those things like we are ready to love and cherish them for the rest of our lives, that unlocks their transformation. Classic beauty and the beast scenario. The beast can’t become a prince until someone accepts him fully and forever as a beast.
Now is the transformation as Disney-esque and instantaneous as the movie? Hell no. It’s much more like my eating disorder story – long, confusing, organic, illogical and requiring faith and surrender at every step.
Like Rainer Maria Rilke said:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
So that’s where I’ve been. If you want to know what’s next for moss, read this post.
PS. Life is better now, I’m excited for the baby and excited to be working on moss again!