Friday, January 23, 2009

Getting Nowhere

For awhile, I was able to convince myself that this economic downturn would deal us only a glancing blow. I fantasized that I was properly placed in the market (cheap) and well enough established after almost three years, that people would still come. Enough people to keep us in business.

But the bank account continues to bleed… If it's not being pummeled by a meteoric rise in the minimum wage (from $7.95 to $8.40 as of January 1) it's exsanguinating into broken equipment or some other unforeseen damn thing. I'm starting to slide back into that chronically over-stressed, sleep-deprived place that I thought I had just finished climbing out of. But the ground beneath my feet has suddenly tilted to a crazy angle and become slippery as glass.

A few days ago, I had the kind of ah-ha moment that no small business owner ever wants to have. I realized that we are not getting anywhere. Realized that after a year of what looked like pretty decent forward progress, we have not only stopped progressing, but we are hanging on with fingers, toes and teeth to stay where we are. And I thought, what if this is as good as it gets? What if last year was the best year we'll ever have?

Certainly the community growth we expected—that was part of our business plan—has been put to a screeching halt by the economic downturn. Developers have stopped developing, the homes they built just before the crash are sitting there unoccupied, and the occupied ones may soon get over it, as the young families who inhabit them lose their incomes or their sub-prime mortgages.

Six months ago, I let myself believe that we had turned some kind of corner. I thought I was starting to get a peek..I squinted, I rubbed my eyes. Yes, there it was. It looked like someone holding a bic lighter at the far end of the Chunnel. But it was a light.
I emerged from my exhaustion-produced fog and thought, "Ah! Now I can run this business like a human being…rather than constantly flying by the seat of my pants, and being so tired I don't know my own name half the time." Quality of life hovered right there on the horizon. So close, I could almost touch it. I reached out…and it disappeared.

I'm back to the sixty-hour weeks and being lucky to get a day off. I would like to say that I did this before, and I can do it again. But I don't want to do it again. I don't want to be that tired. And there's a hopelessness about it, this time around. Until now, I could almost convince myself that it was worth it to be in that intense, foggy, overworked place. I thought it was finite. I thought that if I just do this for x more months, I could eventually crawl out of the fog and get a life.

But I don't know that now. In fact, it looks like I'll never get out of this place…never get anywhere. Never get to where I can feel a lasting sense of success or accomplishment with this thing…much less make any money at it. That is not how I want to live. I have to…HAVE TO at least feel like I'm getting somewhere, making some kind of progress. And since I've never been one for choosing my own reality, I am not capable of assuming progress where none exists. I don't lie well, not even to myself.

I have to figure out where to go from here. If there is indeed a "where" to go. And even, where "here" is. The time is fast approaching where I'll have to choose between two very clear, very black and white courses of action:

Get somewhere…or get out.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Hard decisions have been made RE labor and other costs at The Old Town CafĂ©. Toward that end, I cut staffing hours by 25% last week, and made up the difference with *TA DAAAA*… myself. Worked thirty-six hours in three days.

I remember being this tired. Vaguely. It was during the first eighteen months of owning the business.

I recall being so chronically exhausted that I felt as if I was functioning on about 60% power all the time.

I remember despising that feeling with all the passion I could muster at 60% power.

And with all the passion I can expend at the roughly 80% power to which I am presently reduced, I hate it all over again.

Hard. The last thirty days have been hard. Hideous weather. Disappointing (to put it mildly) sales. Coming to terms with the reality that, yes, indeed, the hard economic times are going to bite us in the ass after all. I so hoped that we were going to dodge that bullet. What was I thinking?

I told a customer today that we were going to have to hold on by our fingernails until things get better. We're not out of business (yet.) We're not even really in danger of going out of business (yet.) But we're not making the progress I was so hoping to see by now. In fact, I realize anew that entrepreneurship is so much a back and forth dance. If you are very lucky, you can take two steps forward before you have to take that backward step.

But take it you will.

Am I too old for this?