This month, I laid off six people who I care about—people I want to be friends with for the rest of my life. It was one of the most painful things I've ever done.
I’ve had a few hard Januaries in my life. This has certainly been one of them.
February will mark 7 years in business for &yet, a company I started entirely on accident and which has steadily persevered—entirely bootstrapped from $0.
Since that time, &yet’s turned into one of the most significant gifts of my whole life.
Yes, I’ve made amazing friends and been able to help them make things like Talky, RealtimeConf, and Ampersand.js, and got to speak at places I’d only dreamed of traveling to.
But I’m just as grateful for the difficult stuff. The unexpected stuff. The huge changes that I did not initiate, want or choose.
I’ve been through incredibly trying times financially, experienced employee embezzlement, brutal extortion by crooked lawyers, and abuse from shady clients and their even more shady investors. I’ve had people who don’t know me at all spontaneously respect me or loathe me, praise me or criticize me. And most painful of all, I’ve had to fire or lay off only people I deeply cared about—people I continue to care about. (If you’re reading this and you’re one of those people, I am sorry I hurt you—I think of you often.)
All of that’s a medicine cabinet’s worth of hard pills to swallow.
But I look back and feel grateful for those trials and what they’ve taught me. They’ve forced me to grow and made me a better person. Most importantly, they taught me one of the hardest and most important lessons I’ve learned in my life:
Seek to live with an open palm.
Never hold too tightly to the good—lest you crush it. Never close your hand or mind to the possibilities that loss may bring.
Nothing can be taken from you if you do not seek to possess it. Everything in the world is yours in some way unless you try to own it.
Loss and change are never an easy thing to embrace.
Years ago, I went through a stretch where I let go five members of our team over the course of the year. Having never let anyone go prior to that—and having vowed we never would—I was gutted and felt like a failure over it.
But on deeper reflection, I came to this:
I’m convinced that people need the right situation to grow and pursue their passions. Sometimes you’re a student and then a teacher, only to again be a student. Sometimes a company is the right fit for you to do the growing you need and the pursuing of dreams you can, and sometimes it just isn’t any longer.
As much as I’d love to always work with every single talented person I’ve ever gotten to, it’d be absolutely wrong and selfish of me to try to.
Such a difficult lesson. But I’ve realized that none of the things I’ve learned and memories I’ve shared with and among those people are going to go away. I’ll have those forever—especially the things I’ve learned.
Something I’ve been ruminating on lately is a concept I learned from my friend Jaime. Jaime is an amazing artist. In a talk he gave this summer, he said:
“I’ve been around enough talented artists to realize that I am not one of them. And I am very thankful for that. Forget talent. What you need is hard work.”
I also feel like I’m not ‘talented’ in that way. (I’m not beating myself up here. I also believe that what I feel I’m capable of is irrelevant.) But I have friends who are much more naturally savvy business people, some of whom have deeply criticized many decisions I’ve made or considered, usually for very good reason.
Like Jaime, I am thankful I’m not talented. Because I do know how to learn and how to work hard and how to try and I have chosen to be unafraid of those things.
In Positive Intelligence, Shirzad Chamine says:
“Focus on doing what needs to be done and don’t sweat the outcome… Whatever outcome you reach, you will be able to turn it into a gift and opportunity. You are more likely to achieve your desired outcome if you don’t feel that your ultimate happiness and success depend on it.”
I’ve come to realize some of the gifts in my life were never things I designed or planned—and even which would not have become possible were it not for change that only was birthed by some very real pain and loss.
It can be excruciating, but I have made embracing changes which I did not initiate, want, or choose one of the central disciples of my life.
Gar shared a quote recently from a book he read:
“There was a hell that I built long ago and it was a place where everything remained the same forever because I could imagine nothing more horrific.” (N.K. Jemisin, The Inheritance Trilogy)
Whatever difficult change you’re experiencing right now, I hope you can embrace it with gratitude and peace.