There is no “bouncing” back

I used to love my story.

But I sit here now after waking up from another painful nightmare, one that has kept repeating for basically 365 days straight, no longer loving my story, trying to “bounce” back.

I had my whole identity tied up with being a boss entrepreneur, and it wasn’t always good. In 2013 I was at my lowest point. I’d failed at running businesses for 7 years and I’d gambled everything I had on a new startup which ultimately failed. With no money left I was desperate, and I launched a WordPress support service called WP Curve. The service took off and within a few years I had sold it to GoDaddy and had a dream multi-million dollar exit.

That was a cool story on its own. But it got even cooler.

I started a brewery with my mates and we turned it from a humble home brew, into one of Australia’s most loved craft beer brands and fastest growing companies. We brewed the world’s first Call of Duty beer, we closed Australia’s first equity crowdfunding campaign for a brewery, then a few years later we smashed the record for the biggest round ever for a brewery and we were voted the top craft brewery 2 years running.

You couldn’t make it up.

We got through so many impossible challenges during that time, I felt like we could conquer anything. Unfortunately the worst was still to come. In July 2022 things became very challenging and me and the other Directors agreed to go our separate ways. That meant me leaving Black Hops. I won’t go into detail here, but suffice to say it was extremely difficult.

Black Hops wasn’t just a job for me. It was my identity. I thought it would be my legacy. It’s what everyone knew me for. It’s what my kids knew me for.

It was my vision of how a business could be. I believed business could be transparent and we could share everything with our audience and build a business at the same time. That worked well for a long time but in mid 2022 we’d gotten to a point where the Directors no longer wanted to share everything. They opted for an experienced and more traditional CEO.

It was clear I had to leave, so I did.

But I completely underestimated how painful it would be. I had no plan, I figured I’d work it out like I always had. I figured I would “bounce back”.

I knew me from my great story with a heroic ending, but I’d forgotten how utterly fucked it was during those years of failure. A year is a long time, 365 days feeling sad and useless, questioning the past, scared about the future, losing more and more faith in yourself until there’s none left.

I’d lost everything. I’d lost my legacy, I used to think about my kids one day working at Black Hops.

I’d lost my identity – I was the guy who came back from massive failure and came back like a boss and built the coolest business ever. Now I was back being the loser with nothing to do.

I’d lost my purpose – I had nothing to do, and it felt like no one cared, I just did nothing all day, it was fucked.

And I lost out financially to an extent I never imagined. Lost my house, lost my car, basically lost the last 8 years of my life financially.

I forgot how fragile I was. I thought I was the guy who “bounces” back from failure. I was not bouncing, I was buried.

I spent the next 12 months doing basically nothing. And I hated it.

I tried to write about the journey during that time, but the stuff I wrote was so dark I couldn’t post it. I didn’t want to post anything until I was getting close to feeling ok.

This is that post.

A year on and I still have nightmares almost every night. I think about past difficult things I’ve had to deal with and I remember that trauma has a half life – it gets better slowly over time, but it never really goes away.

I learned that lesson when I went through divorce. After about a year of pain I thought I was doing ok and then one day it all came crashing back to me. I thought about my kids, wondered what the fuck I’d done, why I couldn’t make it work, I was instantly back to where I was a week after the divorce.

But that dissipated eventually too and given enough time you can make more sense of the hard things you go through.

As I write this, despite the words I’ve written so far, I’m actually quite excited about the future. It’s been really enjoyable running the coffee business for 2 weeks, and delving back into the online world as well. Some things have really surprised me. On Friday, I met a guy who just opened a coffee business and he was so passionate about bringing specialty coffee to the Gold Coast it reminded me of what it was like when we started the brewery. I left feeling excited and charged about future possibilities.

Some of the more mundane jobs I’ve done in the past are exciting now. Today I went on a delivery run to deliver coffee to our customers, it was really fun, I’m chipping in and doing some delivery runs, some accounting, some website fixing and becoming useful again. And it’s fun because it’s new and it represents something positive to work towards. Plus I have responsibilities again. 5 staff who’s jobs and livelihood depend on the business working. A lot less than 80 or so at Black Hops, but it’s been a surprise how just having that purpose again has been so uplifting.

When this all went down I started listening to ‘The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday. Like other books of his I’ve read I found it slow and boring and I didn’t finish it. But I knew that message was what I needed. I hoped somehow down the track I’d be able to see that some good would come from it all and it would push me in a new direction that was ultimately the right one. I definitely couldn’t see it at the time, no matter how hard I tried.

I’ve gotten to the point where the pain has dissipated enough to see that somehow some good can come from the whole thing. I figured if I left with nothing, at least I have the experience. And I can use that experience to try to run / build another business (this time in coffee, another beverage I love). And so far, a few weeks in, I’ve got a glimmer of hope. I enjoy work again, I’m excited about the future and when I go to sleep tonight I will probably have nightmares and wake up empty, but maybe not, we’ll see.

Coming back from challenging shit doesn’t happen instantly. There is no “bouncing” back. But I’m coming back….slowly.

My weekly email list is here, please join for more content like this. Also we talked about this topic on the Yarn Solo podcast this week, check it out here.

Photo by Zohre Nemati on Unsplash

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