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A two year long lesson in tears

I can't believe that it's been almost two years since I last wrote - how time flies and what a different two years makes.

The past two years have been a roller-coaster of emotion and experience - learning and growth - pain and change. Yet through it all - good and bad - I am glad for the experience and I wouldn't change it for the world.

When I started the journey in 2015 I knew I would experience the Tears of loss, Pain of growth, Fire of success and the calming Water of legacy building. What I didn't know was just h
ow long and just how hard the first part would be.

In my own academic way I had assumed that I could mourn the loss of my past in a year or less, but in truth it took me almost the entire two years to come to terms with the reality of my choices and the challenges of the path I chose.

Tears for lost friendships
Like everyone I have had a number of phases in my life - mostly defined by life stage. I was often sad that I could never keep friends between phases - pre-school friends where lost in primary, primary lost by university - university bonds strained during work.

Despite this trend I honestly felt that as I transitioned from early career into mid-career I was finally getting into my friendship groove. I was finally assembling my people, a group of friends who would share my work pain, share in my joys of life and watch me raise a family and grow old.

If you'd asked me in 2015 if my friends were my people I would've answered with a wholehearted YES. We shared values, experiences and goals - maybe not in all things but enough for me to assume that the friendships would endure a lifetime. I was wrong.

Through 2015 and into 2016 I found myself feeling like I was adrift - some friends I used to talk to daily became weekly, then monthly then seldom contacts. While many of those who were still in contact with me were becoming more and more foreign. Our understanding of the world drifting further apart with the months.

I blamed myself for a long while - cried in self loathing that I had changed. That perhaps I no longer spoke their language - no longer shared their experience - that I was no longer good enough. I was wrong.

In the second half of last year - through pure coincidence - I discovered a small microcosm of people online. They ranged in ages from teens to octogenarians - professions from housewives and janitors to investors and lawyers. They came from Melbourne, Taiwan, St Petersburg, Cork, Minneapolis, Washington DC, San Diego and everywhere else in between.

Despite their difference - and even arguments we had from time to time - to me there was one thing which stood out for me. I understood them and they seemed to understand me.

Suddenly all the conversations that I couldn't have with people who were ignoring me - or conversations I was wishing I didn't have with my friends who seemed to understand the world differently, I now had people who felt more like my people than those I would've listed at this time in 2015.

It broke my heart to realize the truth - I had grown. I was no longer the lowly rat racer who had left my job in 2015 with foolish hopes and dreams. I was (finally) a free thinker - or maybe something.more.

I shed many tears for lost friendship in the past two years - but no more...

Tears for reunited family
I loved my childhood but I hated my adolescence. I felt suffocated by conservatism and interference. Often times I felt like my family hated the person I was becoming - they wanted this extroverted traditionalist who was devoted to the status quo. Instead I was this withdrawn boy who just wanted to be left alone to play computer games.

University was liberty. I was far away with no one who cared to control me. It was clear to me that I didn't ever want to go back to the family environment. In fact it was a blessing that my homeland had imploded and created a diasporic culture - I wouldn't need to ever go home. I could be related...at a distance.

I hardly ever went home to see family as an adult - I didn't like feeling that veil of suffocation coming over me. I could only stomach them in small doses - and I often liked to skip doses.

In 2015 I found myself reevaluating life and in a moment of insight I imagined that I could make up for the time of ignoring family by spending 6 months - at most a year with them. Downloading a decade and more of missed experience so that I could leave again and never be bothered again.

However life is what happened when you're busy making other plans right?

In the past two years I have found myself drawn into not only caring more about family - but also understanding them (without judgment). While I will never agree with them I get them now - even though they'll probably never get me (more correctly - they have no reason to).

I have discovered so much of myself in my mother for example - I used to think we were so different but in fact what I loathed in her is what I loathe in myself and in loving those things in her...I accept myself more.

The tears I shed for family where born both from disappointment in myself for having shut myself off for so long. But also relief - relief that I got the time to do this. That I was blessed enough in my life to re-live the family experience before I grow a family of my own.

In rediscovering family I also discovered some fatal errors I'd been making in my romantic relationships - mistakes that had been developed to avoid certain perceived challenges in the family I'd grown up in - challenges which existed only in my head.

More than anything else in the past two years - I am thankful for the time I have spent (as a more open-minded adult) with family.

...ironic that I find myself closer to family and more distant to friends.

Tears for startups
I had a very clear plan when I left the corporate life - I intended to learn as much as I could about the startup culture in Africa so that I could eventually be someone important in the eco-system. I would consult to the culture for as long as I could and if I failed I would go back into corporate life and do the learning on the side.

I kicked off perfectly - partnering with the largest network of incubators across the continent. I had direct access to a continent of incubators and insight into many of the inner workings of the ecosystem. I was involved in things like the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and many other interesting projects.

I met and conversed with a number of young African entrepreneurs and was energized to build up my skills and influence so that one day I could build my own Ecole 42. I was wrong.

I might one day talk about this at length but my brief time in the (African) startup culture I discovered that it is no different to the continent's non-profit culture. A bunch of people at the bottom hoping for massive change and opportunity - educated people in the middle working on big projects for their CVs -  cronies at the top milking donations on wasteful things like conferences and travel.

Perhaps there will be a startup boom in Africa (one day) but for the most part what I saw was just window dressing. Fancy events, reports and pitch decks to keep donors happy - excuses and bureaucracy to keep entrepreneurs in the hamster wheel.

I shed a tear for African startups because I honestly thought that I could help them - perhaps one day I will - but in my current state I can't.

Tears for the hustle
Linked to the desire to help startups and spurred by the massive growth in the "hustle culture" I decided that I would become an entrepreneur myself. It seemed simple enough - the Internet is a massive business platform and there are so many opportunities.

Blogging, consulting, retailing - so many things are documented by so many people online as being great ways to hustle and be your own boss. The ultimate fantasy for the non-conformist Millennial.

I started about 11 projects in the past two years - 8 completely flopped, 2 stalled and only 1 did moderately ok. Now many people will say that this is great - fail forward, fail faster, develop your entrepreneurial muscle, hustle! Rubbish.

Now don't get me wrong - I'm not knocking the entrepreneurial wave of my generation and I'm certainly not giving up on the mission to be a (truly) successful entrepreneur - but I shed a tear at some point because I realized just how much misinformation is in the "hustle culture" and how even I had fallen for it.

You see it's like this - imagine if millions of people wanted to be Formula 1 drivers. If this was the big dream for a generation. The first wave would try but only one would succeed - her story would be echoed endlessly as proof that it was possible for us all. Those who had failed wouldn't try again, nor would they change their dream. No - these people would become "experts" and "teachers" - retelling the one outlier's story in countless ways and encouraging endless waves of people who would (foolishly) want to be F1 drivers.

The truth is this - being an entrepreneur (even a struggling one) is very hard. Many people tell stories of outliers who do not even show the reality. The "hustle culture" is saturated with millions who think they could live a nomad lifestyle out of a backpack or out in Thailand. Fine - many people do that - but it's not sustainable and it will come to bite them in the ass one day.

I shed a tear for the hustle because I was also seduced into thinking that outliers are mainstream. That the internet is big enough for us all to make a sustainable living on it (perhaps it's possible) but for the bulk of people it's not true.

Pain of the One King
And so now here I am - two years later. Two years down a path that I didn't fully understand (and probably still don't) when I started.

The tears were shed - they hurt - they were necessary. I have lost so much (money, friendships, time) but gained even more. It took me two years to learn everything that was wrong with me and my perception - now it is time to forge forward through the pain of growth.

The pain of creation and birth - the pain that shall give the world...The One King.

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