On January 5, 2011, I walked into my office and expected 2011 to be one of the better years in my career. Rejuvenated from a mini-vacation to Chicago, and optimistic about reaping the benefits of 4 previous years of hard work, I expected good things to happen. After building Mirepoix from the ground up, I was looking forward to a year where Mirepoix would turn the corner from start-up to small business.
I had not even sat down at my desk yet when my phone rang and when I answered it, I had no idea how right I was about 2011 being one of the best years of my career. The phone call didn't bring good news. Well, not obvious good news. The phone call was actually really frustrating and stressful. Within 90 seconds, I realized that 2011 was not going to be great because I was going to continue to lead Mirepoix. It became almost immediately apparent that I never should have come back from vacation.
Outraged and appalled, I decided that my days at the company I had built had finally come to an end. I had at long last reached my saturation point. There was finally absolutely NO reason for me to continue on as the director. I made up my mind that I would leave my position and start my own business. The next few months were spent trying to bring people up to speed on the ins and outs of the business so that when I left, there would be at least a somewhat easy transition.
There were days when I was emotional. There were days when I was downright sad. There were days when I would feel flashes of terror when I imagined life without the company I had come to love as my own. When I finally moved out of my office and left my keys on the desk, I felt a sense of relief. I went about the business of starting my own business, and this little bird left the nest in May, ready for the triumphs and challenges of entrepreneurship.
9 out of 10 days, I noticed that I've been happier than I've ever been in my entire life, and, in fact, 2011 was the best year of my career, as well as my personal life. If you've been reading the blog, you know that there have been fits of frustration and fear, but, at the end of it all, nothing was as scary as the thought of staying where I had been.
Taking the risk had been worth it.
There are people who think I have it all figured out. I don't.
There are some who think that I am a successful business person who doesn't struggle with money issues, cash-flow problems, or lost business. I do.
From the outside, it might appear that I'm completely fearless and never worry. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's scary in here sometimes!
I'm not saying that my contented state of mind and outwardly relaxed appearance is a facade. I'm just saying that I've come to the realization that allowing fear to run your life is, for lack of a better word, stupid.
This is the thing - In my life, I've had moments of monumental unhappiness and epic fear. Because of some extreme life experiences, I've come to see that there are just some things you shouldn't do to yourself because life is just too short to be so afraid. I figured out that the things I valued before didn't bring me real happiness or confidence. They didn't enhance relationships or quality of life.
I realized that I had trophies and accomplishments because I fought bitterly and doggedly for them. Whatever I had, I earned through sheer tenacity and a desperate need to prove a point. While persistence and commitment (read "stubbornness") were qualities I considered noble, I enjoyed the victories alone. Hollow. Totally Hollow.
When I made this realization, I started changing.
On Monday morning, I had an appointment with the Michigan Department of Agriculture as I entered the final phase of licensing of Three Little Birds Granola. My mom drove me and waited in the parking lot, hoping to lend moral support as I had a lot on my mind and needed a friendly traveling companion as I made the trip to Holt where the granola is now made.
Three Little Birds was a dream that eventually became a reality, after several long months, obstacles, and small victories and set-backs. The licensing of this product has been one of the most complicated, time-consuming and overwhelming projects that I've ever undertaken.
Obtaining the license was a huge accomplishment; not because it's intellectually or physically difficult. It was an accomplishment because it was a triumph of patience and perseverance. More than that, though, it was a victory because it represented how much my life could change in 12 short months because I made the decision to let go of my fear and take a risk.
When I settled into bed on Monday night, the sense of accomplishment was not as strong as the sense of thankfulness that I had the benefit of support of friends and family along the way. It was also incredibly obvious that nothing worth talking about matters if you don't have people you love to talk about it with.
Thanks to all of you who have been there along the way. Every gesture, big and small have been appreciated more than you could ever know.
I'm a realist. I like to study, research, investigate, and dig for information. When I decided to turn my granola recipe into a business, I knew that it was going to be a long road from the kitchen to the grocery store shelves, both figuratively and literally. I was counseled by the Michigan State Product Center about the several steps I would need to take, as well as the possible delays I would inevitably encounter as I went from production to retail. 10 months into it, there are still delays, and many months before everything will be "just so", according to the State of Michigan.
At times, this has been frustrating. At times, this has been irritating. At times, this has been a baffling set of time-wasting circumstances. At other times, it has been a laughable insight into the slow-moving cogs of bureaucracy. All of the frustration, irritation, and winding roads have led to the realization that the foundation of any business is patience and determination.
No matter what your business, no matter what your occupation, a key ingredient in the recipe for success is the ability to keep the long view in mind, even when you're met with a giant brick wall. A wall is just a wall; it isn't the end. Behind a wall is something else. Seldom are walls a permanent blockade.
It's important, when faced with a wall, to take some time to assess the situation, collect yourself, but then act. Don't let a temporary obstacle become a stand-still.
Inertia is an incredibly important element to the completion of any project. Losing momentum is a common mistake that many people make, simply because the fatigue of disappointment, frustration, and delayed success can ultimately sideline someone on the path towards reaching their goal.
When met with a set-back or delay, take the time to meet with a friend or mentor to blow off the steam and then move on. It's natural to feel like quitting, but it's essential that you don't. Surround yourself with people who support you and believe in your mission. Even the most positive person needs a cheering section.
Most importantly, be a cheerleader for someone else who is just starting out. Chances are, you know someone who is in need of a little boost. Helping a friend or colleague face the challenges in their career not only benefits them, it will help to keep things in perspective for you.
Keeping a fresh, optimistic and hopeful perspective will ensure that you will reach your goal. As Dale Carnegie wrote, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”
Making granola isn't glamorous. It's not rocket science. It doesn't change the world. It doesn't right societal wrongs. It isn't sophisticated or impressive. No one's parents say, "I hope my kid grows up to be a yuppified hippie who peddles granola at Farmer's Markets and listens to Bob Marley at work".
Making granola is pretty "un-special". It also apparently makes former journalists use non-words like "un-special". Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Three Little Birds Granola is not special - just the opposite! Three Little Birds Granola is the highest quality, best tasting, most nutritious granola you're going to find ANYWHERE. What I am saying, is that the process of being a granola-making entrepreneur does not rank up there with winning the Nobel Peace Prize or an Emmy or becoming an astronaut.
Some of you, close friends and supporters, know how Three Little Birds came into being. For those of you who don't, Three Little Birds started as a hobby while I was languishing in professional purgatory. I had a job that I loved, I found satisfaction in my work. I had an awesome boss, who I considered a friend, BUT, the corporate culture was toxic with absolutely NO hope for improvement where matters relating to HR were concerned.
Treading water and battling daily for any glimmer of normalcy enjoyed by my colleagues who were employed at companies where people acted like people,rather than animals (caged, starved and overly bred animals - was that mean?....), I was becoming increasingly aware that my time with this company was rapidly drawing to a close. But what....what was I going to do?
While I weighed my options and took a personal inventory, I decided I needed to do SOMETHING to inject a little excitement and creativity into my life. After some encouragement from a friend who left the company I was working for, and started his own business (Matt's Mix - check them out), paired with an impromptu wedding favor gig, I decided to start making granola and focus on something that brought some happiness to me while I waited for the right time to leave my job.
I've said it a million times, and I'll say it again- I loved my job, and I loved my boss. What I hated was working with people who didn't care about their work, who didn't take pride in what they did, and who felt an acute sense of resentment when someone suggested that making an effort isn't an inconvenience - making an effort is kind of your JOB. That's why it's called "work".
I couldn't take the apathy aimed at work ethic, coupled with the naked spirit of hostility which was aimed at people who went the extra mile. I couldn't take the unwillingness of management (my colleagues) to overlook poor performance and dropped balls. I could no longer put on my game face and tell my employees that if they just worked hard and concentrated on our goals, we'd get somewhere. I couldn't allow them to be abused by their coworkers from other departments and upper management (my boss excluded from, of course). I was their leader and they needed me to tell them that everything was going to be ok.
One day, after someone in management (again, NOT my boss) hired stripper to come in during work hours to celebrate an employee's birthday, I knew that the corporate culture, no matter how wonderful my boss, was, for lack of better words, "f*cked".
Get ready - this next part took the cake (pun intended, literally) - no workplace birthday celebration would be complete without an anatomically correct birthday cake, adorned, horrifyingly, with chocolate icing (no racial issues here). Classy. Really classy. Being the MENSA candidates they were, photographs were taken to preserve the celebration for purposes of posterity.
On this day, it became abundantly clear that I could no longer look my employees in the eye and act as if the insanity really wasn't insane, and that dangerously bad judgement wasn't daily on parade. You might be reading this, wondering why or how I could have spent nearly five years of my life, enduring this type of ridiculous, dangerously foolish and thoughtless obstacle course of doom. I would be lying if I didn't admit that I was wondering the same thing.
What kept me there was my belief in the arm of the business I was running, and loyalty to my boss, whom I respected tremendously.
The day came when I couldn't put it off any longer. I gave my notice and cried as I outlined why I was giving up. I wasn't quitting. To me, quitting implies an absence of maturity or persistence. I wasn't quitting, I was giving up. I've said that breaking up with my boss and my job was the hardest break-up of any relationship I've ever had - even the one that stretched over 10 years. More than a break-up, It felt like a divorce. After years of trying to make it work, exhausting every possibility, we were separating because of irreconcilable differences. It was pathetic.
I've been on my own now for several months, and since January, there has only been one day that I've been so frustrated that I wanted to cry. I realized just before I burst into tears that nothing that happened that day was as horrible, painful, scary, or intolerable than what I had felt every day since the day I took the job I had just given away. What a feeling! The tears dried up and a sense of thankfulness swept over me.
I was afraid to give my job back to the person who had given me a remarkable opportunity. I was afraid of what was next (I had no plan). I was afraid of how my "crying 'uncle'" would effect him and his business. I was afraid in every conceivable way, but I was more afraid of who and what I would become if I allowed myself to stay where I was.
Everyone says that life is short. I say, you're going to be dead a lot longer than you'll be alive. Life is difficult and the world is, in some ways, a very screwed up place, riddled with some very, very screwed up people.. In life, you're going to get hurt - it's a given. Some people will hurt you intentionally, and some will hurt you in innocent ways. The worst thing you can do to yourself is pile on.
So, like I said, granola isn't impressive or courageous or important, but, it's important to me because it represents my values. The awesome thing about America is that our country is built on the dreams and values of people who risked failure to improve their lives and the lives of other people, these people were and still remain my inspiration. Small businesses are the foundation of our economy and in some ways, the foundation of personal freedom.
Carving out a little freedom for yourself isn't rocket science either, but it's stupid to stay in a prison when the lock is on your side of the door.
Stacy Sloan; Chef & Founder of Three Little Birds