The following story is originally intended to be included in the first chapter of Getting Naked – The Bare Necessities of Entrepreneurship and Start Ups.
Ultimately, it didn’t make the final version; however, the story contains a powerful lesson on the importance of having life experience in entrepreneurship and art.
It was the perfect day for a backyard barbeque. Meat sizzled on the grill and beer chilled on ice while the usual chit chat ensued.
Scrawny, with shaggy hair, I’d just completed my first year of University and was convinced I’d write the next great American novel one day. A middle-aged man, clean-shaven, sporting a polo shirt, and with a somewhat sage-like demeanour, struck up a conversation with me. I told him about my aspirations to be a writer. “I’m a writer,” I proclaimed, then sipped my beer with a slight air of triumph. Somehow I’d mentally jumped over the “want” part; but I guess, for better or worse, my excessive-to-the-point-of-annoying self confidence was an obvious character trait.
“Oh,” said the man with a suspicious tone that suggested so much more than that one syllable. “And what have you experienced so far in your life?” he asked.
Mentally, I noted that he did not ask me what I had written or even intended write about—just what I’d experienced.
Experience, in this case, was not about how experienced (or competent) I was at a certain thing, but experience as in the circumstances I’d encountered throughout my life. What had I truly seen and done out there in the world? Had I known true hardship or heartbreak? What mouth-watering or strange flavors had I tasted? Had I shifted my perspectives after seeing how different cultures operate? What mistakes had I made; what risks had I taken? What true fear of imminent tragedy or great unknown had I endured—felt in my bones? What of life’s many treasures had I deeply connected with?
The answer was, truthfully,… not that much. Training and competing for track & field had taken up most of my time outside of school. When I wasn’t running, resting was my number two pastime. Sure, running had taken me on some cool trips, taught me about commitment, visualization, physical and mental anguish, and hard work; but other than that, there were no epic nights parting or spontaneous adventures. I’d only had one girlfriend, and my virginity was still very much in tact. My home life was fairly blue collar and on the verge of “broken” as my parents had just separated. But the emotional toil of that was something I had chosen to ignore at the time.
After my attempt to establish credibility as a connoisseur of many life experiences, the “sage” said, “Son, don’t take offence to this but, whatever you think you know, you don’t. You haven’t experienced life’s tragedies and joys…at least not as a man. So, go out and experience life. Find something to write about and then decide if you still want to be a writer.”
Hearing these soft-spoken words knocked the wind out of me. I’m not sure if all nineteen-year-olds felt like they had all the answers to life, but I was certainly guilty of that. How dare he! Was my first, admittedly, pathetic thought…
But the little voice deep inside knew that this stranger may have just landed the blow of divine intervention that would change the course of my life.
Up until that point, each moment of my life—from the plans for my running career, to becoming a writer to whatever came after I’d made my fortune with those two choices—was fairly planned out. All I needed was for it to happen like I’d planned and all would be well.
So, did it happen like that? Not one little bit.
Running was the first thing I was truly good at. When we realize we’re good at something, we tend to latch onto it as the thing we need to do for the rest of our lives. That’s exactly what I did with running.
The mental story I told myself seemed to go like this: “I’m good at ____________ (fill in the blank), therefore, I should like and do _______________ in order be have purpose, be successful and craft an identity.”
And just like that, our idea puts us on a path. A path that, once you’re on, can be hard to step away from unless “SNAP,” like in my case, your Achilles tears (literally for me, metaphorically you) in a million places and you can’t do the thing you were supposed to do for the rest of your life.
Lying awake at night, not knowing what do with myself once my running career ended, not sure what on Earth to write about, that man’s sage advice echoed in the depths of my soul: “What have you done?”
Up until that point, I’d had a clear idea of what I would, or should, do. Now, I didn’t have a damn clue. Desperate to get away from the despairing feeling, I heeded the man’s advice, possibly to the extreme, and decided to place my fate at the mercy of the unknown and see what might come of it. Oh yeah, and I also tried to get laid for the first time.
Thanks for reading,
If this little exert has peeked your interest you can checkout the full book here: https://joelprimus.com/book/