I decided not to tempt 2021 with any challenging remarks, and I’m glad I didn’t because it showed up in a big way anyways. Let’s call it 2020, part deux.
Those that know me well will know that I don’t speak about my personal life very often, but today will be an exception. As much as we’d like to segregate our professional and personal lives, starting (and running) a business is very personal as it affects every part of your life. The lines are blurred and the grey areas many, because you can’t just leave your business at the office and go home. The best you can do is embrace it and
make sure that you don’t try not to give your one baby (your family, friends, personal life) away for the sake of another (your business). It’s hard, and I’ll admit that I have not yet mastered that aspect completely.
To prove that fact, let’s get really personal…
My (abbreviated) story
When I landed at JFK airport for the first time in December 2008, my entire life in one suitcase, we knew that we were in for some tough challenges but could never imagine the magnitude. I say “we”, because my wife and I had been dating for about a year and a half at that time. Due to visa restrictions she was not allowed to come with me, and that started a journey of personal sacrifice that only immigrants can fully understand.
The day I left South Africa is still a vivid memory…some friends and family (about 20 people) made a big circle in front of the gate at the airport, and I said goodbye to each one of them individually. We couldn’t get all the words out that we wanted that day, but every interaction was a special moment and I spent much of my first flight trying to process the emotions.
The most difficult part of immigration isn’t the fact that you have to start over in a new place, although it’s certainly not easy. It’s the people you are leaving behind. The friends you will no longer get to hang out with. The family you can no longer visit on Christmas. Your parents whom will grow older, and you not being able to spend as much time with them as you’d like. And in my case also the girlfriend whom you care for deeply, but don’t know what the future will hold and if you’ll be able to navigate the challenges of a long-distance relationship on top of everything else.
The stories of everything we had to go through are too many for this blog post…but fast forward 13 years and we are happily married, citizens of this beautiful country and living a good life. “What a great success story” you might say, and you are right…we are truly thankful for our opportunities and successes. But what you don’t necessarily see are the ongoing sacrifices of our presumed success, and in 2021 that materialized in a profound way.
A primary reason for us immigrating to the US was to build a better life for ourselves and our family, and in 2018 after a very long road with many challenges and sacrifices, it looked like one of the goals associated with that was finally going to happen. My wife and I were both elated and nervous at the same time, but thankful that it was happening after 10 years of hard work.
Well, fast-forward to 2021 and it all unraveled in the most surprising fashion. My wife and I were devastated (and still are) and we had to try and pick up the pieces from the aftermath…a difficult prospect given the time and effort we put into it.
(I am deliberately vague here, because some things are just too personal to share in a public forum, and I am not trying to solicit any sympathy)
As if that wasn’t enough, my Dad passed away in August 2021 after a short battle with COVID. He was 66 years old and in relatively good health, and his death was sudden and unexpected. I knew the time would come when I’d have to make the trip back to SA because of the death of a loved one, but as much as you try to prepare it always seems too soon.
Traveling to South Africa mid-pandemic and on short notice was an ordeal to say the least and I felt overwhelmed as I tried to support my Mom, my wife and my siblings while dealing with all of the emotions myself. When it rains, it pours…and it was certainly pouring for the majority of the year.
What’s the point?
In difficult times our characters & relationships are tested, and I’m sharing the details because there is always something to learn and take away from these difficult times.
Here are my take-aways from a very challenging year:
- We’ll be ok. Even though it was an extremely difficult year, we’ve made it through and will continue our recovery process by focusing on what’s important. I am still filled with gratitude when I look back at our lives, and it’s important to keep reminding ourselves of the many blessings we have.
- I love my wife, and the life we have built for ourselves. She has supported me through the good and bad times, and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to do this thing called “life” with.
- Relationships matter! I’ve said it before, and it was confirmed as I had to put my work on hold for a few weeks while focusing on my family. All of our customers were extremely supportive and understanding, and one of our customers even sent flowers to my family in South Africa. This is a true reflection of how we do business and the relationships we build.
- Most of the time, it’s not all bad. I could easily focus on the negatives only, but we also had a good year in the business…amidst everything else. I know it seems like an anti-climax given all the personal challenges, and I probably buried myself in my work for the rest of the year, but you still have to acknowledge the positive outcomes. There were others too…see the first two bullet points 🙂
- Finding “balance” might be the wrong goal. I’ve had this as a goal every year and it seems like it’s unattainable. But my perspective on this has changed somewhat and I think it’s better to focus on doing something you love every day, instead of trying to achieve balance as the primary goal. Maybe balance is a by-product of being happy, and instead of being too hard on ourselves for not doing everything to achieve the perceived balance, I am rather going to focus on doing something that makes me happy every day…whatever that is.
Onwards and upwards, to 2022!
2 thoughts on “Owning my own business: Lessons learned from year four”
One of my biggest positives from travelling to international events was getting to meet you and become friends. Since then, I’ve always admired both you and your wife’s hard work ethic and generosity, and it has helped me reflect on where I might be going wrong in certain areas of my life. Keep on doing what you are doing and hoping the rest of your 2022 and beyond rewards you both as much as you deserve!
Thank you Mark, we appreciate these comments more than you know! The people we have met along the way have made our lives richer, and you are one of those I am fortunate to call my friend.