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WTF is Success?

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This guy gets it.

In my younger years, I owned a 1973 VW van.  It was a sweet ride, slow as hell, but smooth, and the pull out bed in the back was perfect for lazy afternoons and hazy nights after hitting the bars.  Because I thought I was some kind of badass, I had written on the back of this shit-box, ‘don’t laugh, your daughter might be in here’.

As is the requirement when you own such a vehicle, there are times when society (and your well persuasive and most likely criminal friends) requires that it be used as a hotbox.  While it was foolish, I’m a slave to convention, weak willed, and like all stupid things it seemed like a great idea at the time. It’s also at that point that I learned how words lose their meaning once you’ve said them a few times.

Jumping into the startup scene is just like climbing into that van.  It looks like a party on the outside, and everyone inside is smiling, but mostly they’re just repeating the same words over, and over, and over.   Those words sound so cool when you say them the first time, and your mouth forms them slower, savouring the nuances and dissonant tonalities, and one smart asshat giggles to himself when he cracks ‘I just had a vowel movement’.   By the end of the night, everyone is convinced that they’ve achieved enlightenment, but the reality is they’re just high, and everything sounds cool when you’re high.

Success is one of those words that gets passed around the startup bus.  It’s not a word we were worried about in those days, clearly, but lately I’ve chewed on that word daily, draw it across my palate slowly, and spit it out to read the tea leaves.  I have read about, dissected, and listened to every successful person as they describe success in ways most people can’t even consider.  I have become a connoisseur, a success sommellier, my nose has become attuned to discover its signature where many can only taste bitter rejection, and I have experienced it in so many flavours that I have become a connoisseur.

I can’t help but feeling, however, that I had a better understanding of it back in that van.  Ignorant, carefree, reckless, and directionless.  Back then, I could reduce success to a moment.  A goal scored, a paycheck cashed, third base with a pretty girl, these were tangible successes that produced immediate results.

I wanted to change the world like any 20 year old does, but it was so distant a possibility, so grand an ambition, that despite talk being cheap it was the only thing I could afford.

Now however, I have had my taste, and I want more.  The genie is out of the bottle, I know we can change the world, the technology is in our hands, I have solved problems, built million dollar companies, and built a family.  My tastes have grown more complex, though, and while every day I tell myself to be happy with that sunset, my beautiful family, my relatively good health, I can’t help but start looking for my next fix.

Once you believe anything is possible, how can you sit by and wait for someone else to do it?

Building Nickler has been humbling.  I was prepared for the ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’ mentality, I was prepared for the crippling rejection from investors with little appetite for risk and even less vision for the future, I was even prepared for the mental stress of the debt I’ve racked up.  What I wasn’t prepared for was being cut off from the steady drips of success through my veins.

Every project gives you little goosebumps along the way, keeping you in the game, motivated, pushing for the next little rush.  Building the restaurant group, I rode those waves hard, 16 hour days of pure adrenaline, stress, and victory were easy to string together, and months went by like a blur.

Those are the times that you attract outstanding people to your cause, because awesome people look for other awesome people.

Nickler has been a grind.  We started sprinting at the beginning, thinking that what we were building was a little app that would be quick to develop.  Wireframes, workflows, logic, and integrations were dutifully planned out, three months turned to six, six turned to 9, and we soon realized we had created an entire platform.  The genie grants wishes, but will always play his tricks, and I found myself reaching too far, a victim to my own ambition.

We had patted ourselves on the back for solving the problem on paper.  We solved it elegantly, simply, and the market validation responses were rabid.  All we had to do was build it, and building it with one developer has been like washing the Empire State Building with a toothbrush.   There are no easy shortcuts to take, it either works completely or it’s useless.  So we trudge on, and very soon, we’ll be ready for launch.

Success, that fickle tart, has been playing hard to get.

Persistence is one thing, but lately it feels like it’s flirting with insanity.  I’ve had no choice but to diversify and get my fix elsewhere.  It feels like cheating, but when you’ve got mouths to feed, a mortgage, and an entrepreneurial addiction, the justifications come easily.

Six months ago I started http://www.andersenwoodwork.com with a genius in the trade, Neil Andersen.  We do cabinets, custom architectural millwork, and installations.  Despite a slow start, today we’ve got two crews running and are on pace to hit $1m in sales this year.  I’m damn proud of what Neil and I have built so early, and it speaks volumes about his reputation in that industry.

I filmed six episodes of a TV show called The Audience.  I met some outstanding people, and we spent five straight days each episode solving other people’s problems.

I worked as a chef at a local daycare, for giggles, cooking for 45 toddlers, and realized we could streamline their culinary system while improving the quality of ingredients with only a few tweaks.  I built a new business model for corporate that showed them how to increase quality and efficiency with only organic and local produce for less than they were currently spending.

I learned how to box, lost 25 lbs, and cracked a rib.  I probably would’ve broken my jaw as well if the rib hadn’t gone first.  The rush of battling pain, exhaustion, and big men who want to hurt me was the closest I’ve got so far to the fix I need.  I find myself looking for scary guys to fight, I convince myself they’re packing heat to avoid fighting them.

Sometimes I convince myself of little lies to keep the illusion that I’m in control.  I’m not.  The biggest lie I tell myself is that I can do anything, be anything, and achieve my dreams.  My dreams include private islands with submarine caverns, genetically engineering Unicorns, and becoming a martial arts expert.

For two years my plan was to build, launch, and grow Nickler into an outstanding success, and I’ve failed at that, so far.  I had charted a path to success, and that path has felt like a complete shit show, a gong show, a complete goat rodeo.  Lately I’ve been thinking I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Success isn’t a thing.  It’s not an achievement, a milestone, or an award.

Success is an idea, and the more you play with it, study it, and seek to understand it, the less it means.  Stop studying success and go chase failure, you’ll learn far more and have way more fun.

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