The Artist and The Neurotic

Shot by April Blum via the Hub

In Professional Bull Riding the objective is for a (human) rider to stay seated atop an angry, spinning, bull. Each “round” ends when the rider is either A) spectacularly bucked to the ground or B) the rider manages to stay on the bull for a full eight seconds. At the eight second mark, a loud buzzer rings alerting the rider and the delighted fans that the round is over and that the human has won.

Something that always amused me, though, is that the bull doesn’t know the rules. He doesn’t simply stop bucking and humbly admit defeat when the round is over. The bull is just as angry and just as large and just as eager to send the human flying. And so “winning” isn’t really “winning” – even after eight seconds, the rider has the challenge of getting off the 3,000 pound animal. The only semantic difference of course, being that after eight seconds, it’s on the rider’s terms not the bull’s.

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I have four months left of cash in the bank to continue running my start up. Most nights it’s hard to fall asleep. My team of nine look to me as their leader. The potential of what the company “could be” taunts me. And perhaps most to the point, being thrown from the bull on his terms (instead of mine) would be really, really painful.

I have two options to dismount the bull on my terms: I can raise capital from outside investors or I can sell my company.

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“We might say that both the artist and the neurotic bite off more than they can chew, but the artist spits it back out again in an objectified way, as an ex­ternal, active, work project. The neurotic can’t marshal this creative response, and so he chokes on his in­troversions. The artist has similar large-scale introversions, but he uses them as material.”

My biggest fear is that I won’t “marshal my creativity” into a respectable “work project”. That I will trip on the many strings of creativity that gather in piles around me. Simply, that I won’t be taken seriously by the many people in my life that work at Bain or Goldman Sachs.

My largest enemy in building my company hasn’t been personnel (though it’s hard to find great people), nor funds, nor time, it’s been self doubt. Running miles in my head only to execute yards of creative string.

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Much of my decision as to whether I sell, raise money, or worst of all, fail to do either, isn’t up to me. Just as more often than not, the bull bucks the rider before the eight seconds, the market will speak and I will listen.

As I listen though, I am working on controlling my response. I am working on silencing the screams of self doubt. Questions such as: What if I fail and my yards of string are never codified into something my Bain friends would understand? If I don’t raise millions of dollars or sell for tens of millions, will I ever be taken seriously? Instead, I’m focusing on questions of self acceptance. Questions like: How can I take what I learned at H and leverage it to pursue joy more directly in 2020? How can I free myself, to be myself, to finally welcome happiness.

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For me, the hardest part is walking the knifes edge between relentless pursuit of greatness and acceptance of self. So far, I’ve learned that happiness, at least for me, is a byproduct of intense effort – of having a challenge that suits you and chasing it with everything you can muster. To chase endlessly though, after challenges, is to never be content. The challenges evolve as you do, forever just out of reach; that’s the point. If you dangle happiness in front of someone who doesn’t fully love themself, they will keep running forever.

I tell myself that the next chapter in my life will be different. That the greatest lesson I learned running my own company is that the choice of how to walk the knifes edge actually is up to me. In 2020 I will weave ribbons of tireless pursuit with ribbons of self love tightly, like a may pole; whether H is in my life or not. I will accept myself as I am while pursuing something that excites me. Most, as I walk to my midtown meetings, with my worn boots and H-branded backpack, I will ignore the gaze from the buildings above.