Don’t avoid necessary confrontations.
Business is a story with unclear ending.
A necessary story.
[Excerpt from ‘XCulture: How Superheroes Are Born’ (now also a video course)]
My adult life has two chapters: being an entrepreneur and cleaning the mess after it.
The first section of my life began with the green me at the age of 22 and lasted for five struggling, but positive years. I never felt them that way at the time, though, I only realized it when the next chapter opened its pages. Through comparison.
In that era I was just exhausted. I can say now that everything was good because nothing was bad enough. I was happy because I was not unhappy. I was just too young to be aware of this nuance.
After these five years on this pathway, one day at the office, while drinking my morning third cup of coffee, I read the statistics and I found out I was on the list of exceptions. Over 90% new and small businesses failed their first year and less than 50% made it to the third year. I somehow managed to rise from chronic poverty to the top of the pyramid’s bottom and still standing. However, I needed high tech binoculars to see the line of the horizon.
My turning point unraveled in a beautiful field blushed with poppies, somewhere beyond the margins of Bucharest, our capital city.
The end of my life as I knew it was signed with a Montblanc pen on an ordinary piece of paper filled with numbers.
In that field I was building a two-floor office building for the biggest client in my personal history by that time. That deal was supposed to be my ticket out to better places. If the client paid until the end, of course. But he did not. He just smiled, lighted up a Cuban cigar and sent me home, but not without pushing me in the undergrounds by cutting my head and my limbs first.
I understood everything from his eyes. I could also see he was a devil for me, but a god for his own people. The question not yet answered was: how bad will this going to get? The entire sick series of Guinea Pig rolled in the back of my eyes.
During our ultimate meeting, he cut out the reality piece by piece. Just like in Quantum Physics where they say the reality exists only if you are looking at it. There is no roof. Cut. There are no walls. Cut. There is no fence. Cut. There are no lights. Cut. You were not here. Cut.
It was a dusty hot room at the ground floor filled with people who could say something, anything, as they were part of the entire story. They did not, because they would have lost their jobs and privileges.
The only thing left for me to do was to count the number of the worst years of my life that were just coming to existence. The first cut, 2 years. The second cut, 1 year. The rest of the cuts, 7 years.
I could hear the gates of hell opening to welcome me: Hello, dear! This is your reward. We wish you one hell of a journey.
There were about 40 Celsius degrees that day. I jumped in my car, windows closed, and drove blindly till the heart of the poppies field. Clouds of dust rose above, while scared crowds were flying out of my way, screaming. I was screaming, too, from the bottom of my being, but it was a deaf sound with a multidimensional echo that was just hitting me back.
My last words from that life were to God: “Hey man, I give up. Do what you want, but don’t count on me. I just died.” And I fainted. The last thing I saw was a crow’s wing covering the sun in its flight and the red of the poppies fading away.
“Have we just lost everything?”
“No. We didn’t lose. It was taken from us. Everything we had plus what we don’t have.”
One day, when we evacuated our home that was taken by creditors, my sister asked:
“Will ten years be enough to go back to zero?”
“Yes.” I lied.
The reality was that each year valued five years of doing things we never did and taking risks we never thought we could take. On the background of the world’s crisis and of the context in our country, five more were to be added for each, for the sake of an accurate estimation.
One hundred years, having nothing to fight with and no guarantee. Years we didn’t have.
We wrapped our home in silence and put it all in a pile at the entrance door: forks, spoons, boxes with our dead business, plates, beds, fridge, toilets, and an icon from 1944 painted by a soldier on the war featuring Jesus on the sea helping Peter who doubted and fell into the waters. The only thing my father gave me before moving in the afterlife. I remember nature blooming.
On the background, the voice of my sister told a story I was also fighting hard in my soul with:
‘’I count the days to meet in hell, bastards! I’ll smile and drink Champaign while I will walk over your heads.”
And so, a new era began.
I did everything. Not everything that I could, but everything that I could imagine.
My only shot to survive was to be the best from thousands smarter and better educated people than myself from all over the world in problem solving competitions; but also, the right person to get the job done in my immediate surroundings. No award, no way. One mistake, no way. I was just another version of Million Dollar Baby. You know, the movie.
Left with a sling under the roots of a tree in the heart of nothingness, the only thing that made sense was to shoot at the moon. I never made it that far, but I touched a few stars.
Watching how your life and everything you have worked for is taken away is frustrating beyond words. Dealing with nothingness is terrifying.
That day pushed my life over the board. All this time I lived outside the system, on its borderlines and sharp edges, and in the voids between its margins.
During that part of my existence I found out that ethics and integrity are luxury items that only the fallen ones can truly afford.
It was those rough years of living without my small business and not being understood, seen or heard when I discovered the meaning and the beauty of life. It was those years when I found puzzle pieces from the truth. About life and about myself. It is when I found out that my world is not the world, that my truth is not the truth, and that my justice is not the justice.
The depths I reached showed me the dimensions of my own measures, beliefs, values, strengths and weaknesses, my full potential on both side of the spectrum, positive and negative. They offered me a map about my own human nature and about the nature of the world and systems.
While sitting at the bottom of myself and of life, without being dead but neither truly alive, without being sane but neither insane, without being healthy but neither irreversible ill, it hit me:
‘If I could fall so deep, it means I could bounce back with the same intensity, speed, force, and measure. Maybe even more.’
‘So, why did I choose all the things that led me here?’
The intention. All I wanted was to make money and to have a better life. Meaning more. I was not happy with what I had. This led me to a very dangerous place and to my self-destruction.
‘How could this ordinary intention have such a dramatic effect?’
I wanted something with clarity without knowing the system and myself with the same clarity. It was a fundamental error and a powerful imbalance. Naturally, I lost.
That discovery showed me what I must do to reborn and how to do it. It taught me golden techniques. Things that Spartans like myself did not know. I stepped on this pathway before the open era, I started life with no resources and support. I had to learn while doing.
The only goal I set for myself from that point forward was to defeat the odds and stats. And I did. One by one.
Defeating statistics is success. Being able to reach from point A to point B is how success is defined in the dictionary. Anything else is interpretation.
In my context at the time, everything broke down to a fundamental challenge: How to defeat opponents much more powerful than me and how to escalate a complex and overwhelming system when I had nothing left?
The answer was obvious. I need to better learn the systems. I need to master the arena.
Strategy | Planning your competitive advantage
The world is the ocean. Your country is the sea. A business is the boat.
Your small business is a raft.
Knowing your competitors is the last thing you should worry about. What is the strategy and what are the mechanisms of the arena? Confront your opponents as soon as you feel prepared. If you survive fighting with dragons, including and especially your own, you will have the most valuable competitive advantage in all situations. It gives you invaluable knowledge, training and skills. Never avoid a necessary confrontation.
Coming back to ordinary circumstances and to the ideal world where we should all know our competitors, I will tell you this: if your competitors are more powerful and more experienced than you, the only way to really know them is to know the arena first. Otherwise, you will miss evaluate or totally miss a lot of things from your strategy. You will not know where to look at and what to do when you do not know what to do.
Knowing the system gives you a powerful tool kit to defeat your opponents without destroying them and without causing collateral victims and damage, without compromising your values and without crossing the lines. It also gives you the power to handle the unpredictable and the unknown, to manage crisis at your full potential. This means one vital thing: business and life continuity. Your survival.
Above everything, it teaches you clarity. Clarity sharps your precision. It gives you character strengths and the peace of mind you need to thrive in your personal life and to inspire your people. It teaches you to master yourself and it gives you a key to happiness.
I confronted all my opponents. One by one. In the court of law. Sometimes I won. But I never lost. In the worst case scenario it was even. Learning from mistakes never meant to just move forward. In my case it meant to go backwards and fix it.
I don’t know if that painful and struggling decade made me stronger. But I found out I am hard to kill.
P.S. The book on all Amazon websites.
(photo by me in El Sauzal, Tenerife, Canarias. view over Puerto de la Cruz. no filters. mobile photography)