When Stuff Goes Wrong

hope

Stuff goes wrong. It does that all the time, and you allow for it when you make your plans. But sometimes things spiral out of proportion, beyond anything you imagined you may face. You come up against a challenge of a completely new and unexpected magnitude.

I wrote most of this blog post in Q4 2013 when I was faced with one of the biggest challenges in my career as an entrepreneur to date – not only on a professional but also on a personal level. I did not publish this post at the time, because I felt that I needed to gain some distance first.

The initial response to a threat of unexpected magnitude is, quite naturally, a moment of panic. You stare at the situation in disbelief: how on earth did this happen? And then comes the moment for your fight or flight decision. However in business(especially in a country like Germany) it’s rarely as simple as that. Neither option will be particularly quick to execute, leading to a long, slow and often painful process.

Let’s say you’ve chosen to fight. You may feel quite noble and courageous, and this will help you over the first few hurdles. However it won’t change the fact that the going will get extremely tough, and you feel that you may be in over your head. So you grind your teeth, and you struggle. It’s hard – much harder than anything you’ve done so far. And it doesn’t stop: new issues keep flying at you from unexpected directions, and you start having your doubts if fighting was such a great idea after all. Remember: this situation is bigger and more difficult than any challenge you ever thought yourself capable of facing.

But here comes the million dollar question: How do you know what you are capable of?

Since early spring 2013, I had eyed myself and my progress curiously, waiting to hit some sort of limit. I had made a decision to throw everything – and I mean EVERYTHING -  I have at Fast Forward Imaging. After a brief readjustment phase, during which I had to get used to a changed lifestyle (less time spent with friends, mostly – plus plainer food due to less time set aside for cooking), I was feeling pretty good, and I felt as if I could keep going for some time. I’d cut my exercise down to one long, slow run on Sundays, but managed to actually increase the distance to 10K, which I had set as my personal goal. It felt okay; maybe even a little bit better than okay. It certainly felt deeply satisfying, albeit tiring at the same time.

Then – in the autumn – the shit hit the fan. An issue came up that I had not made any plans for, and it was a biggie. Concerned that I had already pushed myself quite far beyond my assumed limits, my initial panic was even greater: would I be able to face not only the increased level of pressure that I had already committed to, but also this unexpected, unplanned-for weight?

Flight was not an option. I realised much later that the idea actually did not even occur to me during the first three weeks of my struggle. I had chosen a responsibility, and the idea of running from it simply didn’t even feature. I also have this thing about opportunities: in my thoroughly atheist reference system, letting potential go to waste is the only true cardinal sin. And there was no way I was going to walk away.

So I dug in my heels and set to work. However it also meant that I needed to grow far beyond what I’d ever imagined myself to be capable of. To learn new skills I never wanted to acquire. To toughen up considerably – and very few people had called me a softie in the past.

In hindsight, I made a lot of mistakes. I am still making them, and then some. You can’t learn without messing up every now and then. But you can try and avoid making the same mistake twice.

Of course I hoped that all would be well the minute the situation resolved itself, which was obviously nothing but a sweet, naive dream. Understanding the issue and even resolving it still left me with one hell of a mess that needed tidying up. And not all wounds can be healed. Understanding that there is only so much you can do, and accepting the long-term consequences of major fuck-ups is one of the learnings I took away from the situation. It was not a pretty lesson, but in the long run that only makes it even more useful.

Being forced to make a lot of hard choices, I was constantly tempted to choose the easy option (whichever that was at the time). In situations like that, it helps a lot to be surrounded by people who will not allow you to back down, and the best feedback is that which you receive from those people who will pay you the greatest respect for the decision that was the hardest to make. So often, you would prefer to choose the easier route, but you know deep down that it would be wrong, that it would be lazy, that it would make you a coward. There is nothing better than having people around you who will walk with you every step of the way, and who will not stop challenging you to be the best you can possibly be.

Of course there are other people who don’t fall into that very special category. With regards to them: don’t make assumptions. You may want to think you’ve understood what drives them, but you will never know everything there is to know about them. Other people’s motives and motivations will always remain their own.

In the end, we made it through. Along the way, I certainly discovered some limits, but in the end I found the strength to push at them – and I found them to be rather more flexible than I had thought.

A lot was broken beyond repair, and I have to learn to live with that. I have learnt to accept the fact, but it certainly wasn’t easy. But then again, maybe that’s a good thing. I like to think that feeling pain and fear is extremely valuable, as long as you manage to not be blinded or immobilised by them.