I owned a business. And it was the best and most difficult time in my life.
I’ve avoided writing about this for years due to the supremely overwhelming emotions tied to those memories. But as with all important things in life, it’s time to face it, put words to it, and move forward.
Starting a business was never intentional.
I am the definition of a dog person. My Facebook bio reads: Equal parts dog-human and human-dog. I tear up at rescue videos, spent most of my formative years volunteering in no-kill shelters, and have loved the ever living shit out of all the rescue pups that crossed my path.
As a sophomore in college, I was missing my family dog something fierce. Mom suggested I post an ad for professors. “I bet they need someone to let their dog out at noon. Why not try?”
“Yeah… no one is gonna want that, Mom.” The typical response of an early twenty-something thinking she knows EVERYTHING.
Six months later during the summer months, I found myself bored… so I posted an ad on Craigslist. And within a week… an entire client list fell into my lap. The rest was the most hectic, stressful, rewarding ride of my life.
What started with walking a yellow lab 6 days a week evolved into 5 part-time employees and a full-time business… all while attempting to finish my undergraduate degree, including 2 minors and a certificate, on top of juggling a few student organizations. I like to be overwhelmingly, sleep-deprivationally busy.
I tacked on an extra year of school to gain more knowledge about businessy things, and then committed to running the business full-time, discovering many wonderful and terrible things about the process.
I had never felt such a sense of self-pride. I’d also never felt such polarizing things about myself. While I felt self-important, I also felt crushing self-doubt. I never intended to run a business. I felt clueless and wrong all of the time. Now I know that’s how most feel, but I was in my early twenties, with very few people at my side to reassure me that it was very normal.
I experienced either ogling admiration resulting in a pedestal-dwelling existence I never felt deserving of or incredibly alone and misunderstood because all the advice and “reassurance” came from people who had no way to relate. Essentially, I was surrounded by friends and family and loving supporters, and I felt cripplingly alone.
At the same time, as if in spite of these feelings, I rejoiced in being able to set my own schedule. I could sleep in til 9, go to the gym, and start work around 11 on a light day. I was done around 3, which left room for fun or relaxing before heading home to work on the back-end of business: bookkeeping, scheduling, billing, advertising, agonizing over minute changes to the website in hopes of making it easier to navigate, thinking ahead to expansion, dreading expansion, wondering if expansion would be possible while maintaining my impossibly high standards of quality… and then I’d crash into bed with Netflix, simultaneously appreciating my single status during the busiest time of my life, while also feeling bottomlessly sad at my lack of a dating life.
At one point, during my undergrad working life, I was so overwhelmingly busy that I ended up staring at a wall crying. At this point, my best friend recommended I cut back. I did so grudgingly, and the tearful wall stares subsided. I still had to take “mental health days” from some of my classes, just to take a drive out of town, and eventually, this led to the wonderful discovery of nature and walking in the woods. I retreated there often to reset my soul, unplug, and bask in the sunshine and green everything. I was always excruciatingly honest with my professors in my emails.
“Dear So and So,
I’m not going to be in class today. I’m not sick, but I am taking a mental health day. I am not expecting this absence to be excused, but wanted to let you know that I will not be in attendance.
Happy (Whatever Day of the Week)”
Some variation of this, and it was usually met with encouragement or a simple “Thanks.” Hey, mental health is WAY more important than anyone gives it credit for. I’d venture that paying more attention to everyone’s mental health would solve a lot of the world’s shittiest problems, but that’s a post for another day.
Eventually, after a lot of ups and downs, sweet victories, and a few bad pieces of business advice that I felt pressured to take, I found myself at the end of the line. I frequently called my mom from various carpet floors, after having collapsed into a sobbing heap post-dog walk. I felt despair in the most searing way, and it kept bursting from my eyes on a regular basis.
“I just don’t know what to do, Mom. I don’t want to quit, but I’m at my limit. My mental health is taking a toll, and I find myself laying in my bed, staring out the window, just sad, all of the time, no matter what I do. Depression is crushing me, and I can’t seem to outrun it, or outlift it, or steal away from anxiety. The second I think I’ve snuck off… it comes crashing into the center of my chest with a vengeance. I have an anxiety attack every time my phone buzzes. Is this really worth it?”
She said all the right things. She visited a lot, sometimes staying for several days at length, full of Netflix binges, no talk of business, and lots of the greatest Mom hugs. I agonized for months, but when it finally came time, I knew that it was right. I was ready. I had mourned, grieved, celebrated, and accepted. Time for something different.
“Something different” has been an adventure all its own, but that’s also a post for another time.