You Have Help

I have been on this movie watching binge for the last three weeks. Thanks to Youtube algorithms, movies kept showing up on my list and I kept leaning into my intuition to watch them. Some were forgettable. Most weren’t. And the one I just finished stood out. It’s called All in Time. It’s a 2015 release, and gets a 5.4/10 on IMDB. So I guess, you won’t take a second look. So in case you haven’t seen it, I have the spoilers.

Set in 1999, a banker at Lehmann Brothers quits his job to follow his passion of being a band manager for the band that he has been a fan of for years. Things don’t pan out as per his plans. The band is about to split, and he ends up with a mortgage, a beaten up car, and no girlfriend. All this is despite a ‘great’ idea to have a time traveller concert – you know in which people pretend to travel back in time to hear a band.

Twist? It turns out that actual time travellers turn out for the concert, which of course is a runaway success, with his new-find singer, as well as his old band uniting to thrill the audience.

And then he figures out the the key people trying to support him through his shitty time are well, time travellers too!

That explains the 5.4. Yeah?

Not for me. I think it’s a great message for me today. That when you are going through your dips, your shit, your tunnel, there’s always help around. Well, some guys get lucky and have time travelers come to help them out. Some people like me believe in God, angels and spirit guides helping us out. And don’t forget, we get help all the time from our families and friends and random strangers.

Yet, when you’re in the tunnel, you’ll feel alone and helpless. But it’s only because you’ve forgotten that you are always being supported. This is the second time today that I have been given the message that I am not alone. So I feel compelled to write this post.

Think back on your hardest times, times when you thought you would die, times you thought it’d never end. What happened then?

About the time you thought your heart was splintering to pieces because the love of your life moved on? Sooner or later you learnt that you could love again. As passionately, as deeply. More calmly.

Do you remember friends who helped you through that time? The books you read that gave you peace? The lyrics that were the tuning fork for your tears to flow as you resonated with the music?

That was help.

Think about the time you cared for the elderly people at home and extended family, and then thought this phase would just keep going on and on? It ended, didn’t it? Some passed away, some are healthy and fit now. And all through, you did a good job.

Sometimes a neighbour helped, sometimes a family member, most times your home help put in more hours without even expecting to be paid for it. Sometimes a doctor at the nursing home called you by name and offered you food, as you prepared to be the bystander for the patient hospitalized. That was help.

What about the time you felt abandoned by a business partner and had to run the business all by yourself when you didn’t know how?

You just went to events and fortuitously found a person who got you into an entrepreneurship program, or met another person who would become an investor in your company. And then you would meet more people through them who would change the course of your business and life. You would find clients who support you and who send you notes to say that you’re a source of inspiration for others. You would find people on your team who will send you messages to say, ‘You’re my hero’, even after they have left your company.

And if you stuck with it long enough you’d even start finding evidence that the way you want to run your business (which is not what most businesses do in real) is the way ahead. And that’s because some people on the other side of the globe also think like you do. You’ll find help, even from the other side of the planet. And maybe, even from other planets.

So, in short, you have help.

But you may not even recognize it sometimes. In the movie, the protagonist is hell bent on winning his lady love back, when he gets to learn, if he did, he would only end up overshadowing her gift, never letting her find her place under the sun, however unwittingly. So he decided not to pursue her: he was helping her, even though her heart was breaking too.

Did you know when you were looking after the sick, you were learning how to be patient and compassionate? Which would stand you in good stead at a later time? Patience and compassion are good qualities to have, trust me on that.

Did you know when some people were ganging up against you, though you were in the right, was a help too? It made you see who was for you, and who wasn’t. Help.

We always have help. We probably don’t recognize it. And often don’t even acknowledge it, when it shows up, refusing to believe what the mind cannot comprehend.

We have help. We just need to open up ourselves to it and ask for it.


It’s Lonely In Here

After I published the blog last week, I thought I knew what I was going to be writing about this week. But as with most things in life (and entrepreneurship), things turn out otherwise. They say, it’s all for the good. So, while the topic is a little sad, I hope I can show you that it’s worth your weight in gold.

I came out of the weekend all prepped to conquer the week. I had had an insightful discussion with my acupuncture doctor, and he had made me see something which I knew already but had sidelined in the course of life. So I came in all geared up with a Hell Yeah!

And I ran into my co-founder, Abhinav, worrying his head off about cash flows. He handles the finances, so there’s more pressure on him as he views his spreadsheets week after week. Expected payments had not come in. He was starting his week with a Hell No!

And boy, this was more hell than usual. Heartbreaking hell, close to ‘let’s close the business’ hell.

Bootstrapping is goddamn hard.

In frustration, he said, “Let’s go meet Sam*”. He had never met Sam, only exchanged a few emails. But he wanted to hear Sam talk about his business, strategy and challenges. Why Sam? Because he is in a similar business as ours, also bootstrapped. So I asked Sam, and he was happy to meet.

Meeting Sam is always a joy. He is an entrepreneur, is principled, thinks a lot like us, is as passionate about his work as we are, has a loftier vision and bigger dreams than we do. And is the best in the business.

And seeing Sam and Abhinav talk was joyful too. Like two kindred spirits meeting. Challenges, solutions, ideas, growth, people—all the usual shop talk of treps.

But the loneliness was unmistakable. You’ve heard this before: Being an entrepreneur is a lonely ride. Even your supportive spouse won’t get the whole and soul of it. It’s good to have business partners, as invested as you. Then it may not be that lonely. Even so, it still is.

While working on a lofty vision that goes beyond profits, of doing something for the nation, or creating an awesome authentic workplace, the daily challenges of cash flows, clients, team and whathaveyou are something to be solved. In whatever way you know best at that point in time. You can look inside, or ask for help, talk to others, sign up for courses, or get into mastermind groups, and then learn to play it differently. So you move to the next level. Or you do nothing of the sort, and continue dealing with stuff with what you know. Sometimes this is an easy decision, most times it’s not. Most times you just can’t see through the fog. You just hope that the milestone is right in front when the fog lifts. And through it all you tread a sliver of a path, precariously balancing yourself, brave face up, so no one knows your private hell.

No one can see how precarious it really is. Maybe it’s your ego. Maybe it’s failure staring at your face. Maybe it’s the fatigue of challenge after challenge. No one can see it exactly the way you do.

And then it’s just plain lonely. Someone asks, why is that you do what you do? Why do you have to do it? Why do you have to struggle so much?

And the trep might reply with a different set of questions. Why don’t you see it? Why are you happy with a job that gives you no joy? Why are you not the go-getter, learner, risk taker, I knew in college? How come you stopped reading? Why is all your time spent discussing politics or binge watching some web series or the other? Why are you not doing anything about what you crib so much about?

But many of us don’t even say that. We just know all of us are different, on different paths. And it’s okay, whichever path you take.

We just chose the hard one (but, isn’t that just a point of view?).

Because we are happy building workplaces where people find themselves. We are happy staying a small team of 10-15 people, proud that we support that many families. We would be happier if we could support more, and that’s our effort always. We are happy building communities of what we believe in, helping each other out without any hesitation. And so on.

Back to Sam. His success metric is not the revenue target he hits, or the profits he makes, or how many houses he owns. His personal metric is what a phenomenal child he has been able to raise because of his entrepreneurship journey. He is already successful by that standard. But not by his lofty goal of creating employment for hundreds and thousands of people in the country. So he strives.

As I sat there and watched the two talk, it made me think of a similar conversation at a cafe a few months ago. We were with another entrepreneur who runs a company that’s rapidly growing, 250+ employees, offices all over the world. And while it’s clear success on all fronts for him, the loneliness was palpable. “You know, I can’t have this kind of a conversation with many people on a daily basis. So, yeah it can get lonely. And difficult. I had to see a therapist, and that helped.”

I thought back to many years ago. I was on a flight back from Hyderabad after a startup event. I was with another entrepreneur, she had won an award for her dream project there, but no investor had shown any interest. Put it down to  lack of sleep, gruelling conversations, and then returning with little hope—she gave in to her tears. The courage, the  persistence of over four years—all given up. And probably that was the point that led her to quit her business in a few months. She went back to a job and is doing phenomenally well. A few weeks ago, her Facebook memory threw up photos from that time, and she admitted it’s still her dream project.

There’s a price being paid for the lofty ideas and goals people have as they start up and scale up a business. And it’s not talked about a lot. All we see are funded companies making it big, but not enough of bootstrapped companies slugging it out, every single day. Therefore people with stars in their eyes about starting up don’t fully realize what they are getting into. They should.

My advice to them: Talk to entrepreneurs you know, and get a feel of their journey. And look within if you have it in you. If you do, welcome aboard!

And to the ones feeling lonely through their mission, I have this to say: seek each other out. Talk a while, laugh a bit, shed a tear or two,  get inspired by someone’s little breakthrough. It becomes a tad easier. Knowing there are others exactly like you. That’s what meeting Sam did to Abhinav. He came back with renewed enthusiasm.

I saw this on Twitter today, and that captures it all for me.

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” — Tom Hanks

*Name changed