Friday, January 23, 2009

Getting Nowhere

For awhile, I was able to convince myself that this economic downturn would deal us only a glancing blow. I fantasized that I was properly placed in the market (cheap) and well enough established after almost three years, that people would still come. Enough people to keep us in business.

But the bank account continues to bleed… If it's not being pummeled by a meteoric rise in the minimum wage (from $7.95 to $8.40 as of January 1) it's exsanguinating into broken equipment or some other unforeseen damn thing. I'm starting to slide back into that chronically over-stressed, sleep-deprived place that I thought I had just finished climbing out of. But the ground beneath my feet has suddenly tilted to a crazy angle and become slippery as glass.

A few days ago, I had the kind of ah-ha moment that no small business owner ever wants to have. I realized that we are not getting anywhere. Realized that after a year of what looked like pretty decent forward progress, we have not only stopped progressing, but we are hanging on with fingers, toes and teeth to stay where we are. And I thought, what if this is as good as it gets? What if last year was the best year we'll ever have?

Certainly the community growth we expected—that was part of our business plan—has been put to a screeching halt by the economic downturn. Developers have stopped developing, the homes they built just before the crash are sitting there unoccupied, and the occupied ones may soon get over it, as the young families who inhabit them lose their incomes or their sub-prime mortgages.

Six months ago, I let myself believe that we had turned some kind of corner. I thought I was starting to get a peek..I squinted, I rubbed my eyes. Yes, there it was. It looked like someone holding a bic lighter at the far end of the Chunnel. But it was a light.

I emerged from my exhaustion-produced fog and thought, "Ah! Now I can run this business like a human being…rather than constantly flying by the seat of my pants, and being so tired I don't know my own name half the time." Quality of life hovered right there on the horizon. So close, I could almost touch it. I reached out…and it disappeared.

I'm back to the sixty-hour weeks and being lucky to get a day off. I would like to say that I did this before, and I can do it again. But I don't want to do it again. I don't want to be that tired. And there's a hopelessness about it, this time around. Until now, I could almost convince myself that it was worth it to be in that intense, foggy, overworked place. I thought it was finite. I thought that if I just do this for x more months, I could eventually crawl out of the fog and get a life.

But I don't know that now. In fact, it looks like I'll never get out of this place…never get anywhere. Never get to where I can feel a lasting sense of success or accomplishment with this thing…much less make any money at it. That is not how I want to live. I have to…HAVE TO at least feel like I'm getting somewhere, making some kind of progress. And since I've never been one for choosing my own reality, I am not capable of assuming progress where none exists. I don't lie well, not even to myself.

I have to figure out where to go from here. If there is indeed a "where" to go. And even, where "here" is. The time is fast approaching where I'll have to choose between two very clear, very black and white courses of action. Get somewhere…or get out.


  1. Don't they say small businesses won't turn a profit for the first 5 years?
    Sorry you are in such a bad place again. Sometimes one has to wonder if their dreams are really worth it. It's a very depressing thing to realize.

  2. Damn. I can't tell when things will turn around, I do believe they will. That doesn't help when you're trying to remember your name, what day it is, where the delivery guy put the wine.

    All I can do it offer an electronic shoulder to lean on to and promise not to move too fast if you fall asleep there.

    Hugs, lots of hugs.

  3. Having worked as an entrepreneurfor years, albeit in very different businesses than yours, all I can say is watch for the cycles. Keep an intense eye on all of your numbers. The exhaustion doesn't end. I wish I could say that it did, but I will tell you there are times when it is better than others. Next, don't jump into any decisions. Finally, know you're always in my thoughts and prayers, and I so wish I could be one of your regular diners.