It’s all about forks. In a split second, life can change. It’s a matter of shifting your shoulders a few degrees and choosing to walk the alternate root when you come to a decision– which isn’t so hard considering both directions happen to begin at the very origin where you are currently standing. All it takes is one step aimed towards a slightly different angle.
A single step is no big deal, except that it leads to a second step, then the next and the next, and before you know it you’ve put a great deal of distance between where you started and where you’re going to end up. Fact is, no mater how slight the degree of change is, an angle does not provide a parallel course. Walking a new path drives the gap between two courses wider as time goes on. So, when it comes to forks, it is wise to take care in making your choice.
It is with this in mind that Mark and I decided to reconsider which road we will take next.
Yesterday was one of those “harsh” days.
It began when I went to feed the horses. Got stung twice by a wasp. It hurt. Needless to say, these were only the beginning stings I had to look forward to this day.
I’d decided it was time to let my poultry run free again so the day before, I opened the pen. The marauding dogs haven’t been around and I need those guineas to be out and about eating fly larva to control the fly population currently festering and getting ready to break out. It’s nice to have my chickens roaming again, roosting on the hitching post and scooting and scratching about the pasture and woods. But sure enough, my male peacock was nowhere to be found. I guess he flew the coup – literally. The female was complacent and obviously she’s gripped the concept of “home”. Unfortunately, I’ll no longer have that wonderful spectacle of Prism’s fanned tail to brighten my days. Damn peacock. He may be out in the woods somewhere- Mark swears he’s heard him, but I’m not counting on the bird coming home. My peacock egg was due to hatch this week but it’s just sitting in the incubator like a pet rock. Apparently the ol’ boy didn’t do his job in the procreation department despite all his strutting and acting like a big shot. Needless to say, I’m Peacock pissy this week.
When I finished tending the animals, I went to retrieve the mail. Mistake. I got a letter from one of the agents that requested my book – the agent I was coveting most. She declined representing me, saying “This is not a commentary on your writing, but on the market. I only take on what I can sell and yours is not a story I feel confident I can move.”
I took the news well. I told Mark I was quitting writing forever because I suck so bad.
He sighed and said, “Sure you are.”
“I mean it.”
That conversation was interrupted by a call from our builder, Ronnie. Someone had cut the lines set for our coffee shop footers the day before. That meant several hours of work had to be redone. We guessed it was the barbeque man. Ah well. We called the police and they promised to watch the site carefully. The strings were reset, but cut again while the workers were out. So that is how it’s going to be . . .
Another call. Our house was being appraised for a refinance. The number came in just shy of what we needed to qualify for the spectacular rate Mark locked in. Damn. We offered to put in the cash to make up the difference, for it was really not that much, but don’t ya know they wouldn’t give us an extension to work this out. They preferred to decline the refinance (not surprising because the rates have gone way up since we locked in the agreement.) It wasn’t that important, because we are putting the house up for sale this week anyway – we just thought the refinance was a wise thing to do in case it took awhile to unload. Meanwhile, the appraiser apologized and told us the house was worth much more than the figure he could assign, but he was having trouble establishing this because there are no comparables within the last twelve months in this area. There just aren’t many log houses as unique or grand as this one here in Nowhere, GA. Now, if he was allowed to use comparables from 13 months ago, he could appraise the house for 30 % more, because several artistic log homes on Blue Ridge Lake sold last year for a fair price. The fact that we live in such a small place and the market has been so slow is complicating things. Buzz. Sting.
We got a call from the bank. Despite a verbal OK, theye reconsidered our coffee shop project and now did not want to back it. They’re worried bout the future of the specialty coffee industry because they have an article about how Starbucks is closing locations and restructuring their stores – all information we already knew – the article is in our files. Hell, we’ve done over 6 months of intensive research on the field, flown to Portland for professional training, hired a consultant, talked to roasters and vendors and well, you get it. Not like we didn’t study marketing trends first. They said they would back the project if we would just move the shop to Blue Ridge, where the train begins rather than the destination location. There is a great deal of thriving commerce in the bigger town which they view as “safer”. They just don’t trust our little town of McCaysville will evolve to support our ambitious plans. The fact that we already own the lot in the smaller town doesn’t seem to be a consideration.
For all that this is aggravating, their reservations are fair. We’ve been aware of the risk from the beginning – being the big fish in a really small pond makes it hard to find enough food to keep you swimming strong. We have another bank willing to back us so we can still proceed. The problem now was, our confidence had been shaken. We believe in listening to others with experience and paying heed to outside opinions. This doesn’t mean we always follow the advice we are given, but we sure contemplate it and pit it against our own judgement in a fair debate.
Mark said, “We better revaluate our concept and look at the numbers again.”
The fact is, people open businesses and lose their life savings all the time. Usually this kind of thing occurs because they are overconfident, underfinanced, or didn’t do enough careful planning to be ready for whatever trials are definitely going to come their way. (Murphy’s law). So, we sat down and crunched numbers (again) and talked about risk (again) and came to the conclusion that we’ve learned enough that we could definitely make this business work. But this brought the conversation back around to what it will take from us to get the required results. The fact is, if we wanted our lives to be consumed by work and stress, we would have kept the thriving and successful business we had. We loved our work. We just couldn’t withstand the personal costs indefinitely. And now we must ask ourselves if what we are planning is going to thrust us right back into the fray – like finally escaping an abusive spouse only to marry someone who hits just as hard and often (only it hurts worse because this time you’re married to someone you don’t love as much).
Which brings us back to the million dollar question – what kind of life do we want? We have to remember why we left our old world behind, define what makes us happy and be brave enough to go after it. We had a vision for the kind of life we couldlhave when we left dance. I wanted to have time in my life for reflection and discovery. I wanted to celebrate family and nature. And I wanted to write. (Even though today I quit because I suck so bad.)
Mark wanted to build houses and do woodworking and perhaps do a bit of speculating with land. He wanted to dabble in real estate and not have his life consumed with the foolish drama that was always prevalent in the dance school business. He wanted to be creative without compromise – which means he should take care before making his art his living.
What the heck does coffee have to do with any of that? Actually, it started out with us wanting an art gallery to display Mark’s work. Then we started doing research and decided we needed a more consumable product to support the business overhead, so we added a little coffee bar. I thought I’d do some cooking because I love feeding people. Then we started researching the food service department of the business and decided to get training. We hired consultants so we had a better understanding of the nuisances of this specialty business, and the next thing you know we were defining our concept and creating logos for what had somehow become a full scale restaurant, bakery, espresso bar and art gallery. The next thing you know, we are talking about franchising and opening future locations and . . . well, you get the picture. We were fueled with confidence that our personalities, small business experience and creative gifts would help us excel in this new business.
But the fact that we can do something doesn’t mean we should.
I have a theory about what is driving us. Selling a successful business and making a good deal of money is a dream come true in theory, but in reality, it puts you at a disadvantaged in regards to being free to follow your heart. You have the funds to do all kinds of things you always dreamed of doing, but suddenly you are the steward of this huge nest egg which represents a once in a lifetime shot at opportunity and future security. You want to be worthy of this egg, to respect it and not take it for granted. Afterall, you can’t forget the sacrifice and misery it took to get it. The idea that you may piddle it away or waste this profound gift by not making practical decisions (which translates to fiscally prosperous decisions) is a constant concern. Meanwhile, people are mad at you for leaving all the success you had behind, constantly predicting how sorry you will be when the money is gone because you can’t replace the empire you so frivolously threw away. You wonder if they’re right and start having dreams of being 85 and struggling to pay bills and not being able to afford a hearing aid, looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking, “I could have retired prosperous and secure, traveled the world and had a drawer full of hearing aids if only I hadn’t been so selfish and sold my dance school 40 years ago for peace of mind.”
Regret is a sad thing, so you fear it. And that means you can’t really celebrate your good fortune because you’re consumed with what you’re not doing with it, rather than appreciating what you are doing. The idea that you dare relax for the first time in your life and make indulgent choices for the soul seems fiscally frivolous and kind of stupid. You become too guilty to enjoy a life that isn’t about building equity and accumulating wealth because our society conditions us to think a certain way.
I think we have this weird idea buried deep within that because we sold an empire, we better damn well build another one so that in twenty years we’ll be in the same financial position we would have been had we stayed in dance. But that is stupid. Because our luck could have turned at any time with dance (we were getting too old to keep up physically and frankly, we sensed a shift in the business environment and social attitudes of our area, which would no doubt have changed the dynamics of our business. We were “on top” and the law of diminishing returns pointed to a period of struggle on the horizon and frankly, we were not up to weathering another FLEX decline on our watch. So the fact is, there’s no telling how we would have ended up if we stayed in dance forever – we might even have ended up with far less than we have now had we played the hand –and we might just as well have had regret for “what might have been” had we hung in there unhappy and sacrificing saniety because it was “safe” and practical for our future.
We left for good reason and we need to remember it. And we must drown out the voices of doubt (others and our own) that question whether or not we can be happy with a life that ceases to be some kind of monopoly game – calculating our future payoff for the misery we are willing to endure in the present.
So, having endured enough stings for one day – we pushed our business plan aside, looked at each other quietly and waited to see which one of us had the guts to voice what they were thinking first
“What would you say if I said, let’s skip this entire coffee shop thing. It won’t make us happy. ”
“I would second that motion.”
(It doesn’t matter who said what in this kind of conversation, because clearly we were experiencing a vulcan mind meld.)
After months of planning, traveling to get training, and investing in research etc…. we have halted the project. Our investment thus far will be written off to “life education.” Needless to say, the barbeque man will think cutting a few strings worked to drive Hitler away. Ah well, he lost his bushes so we are even.
I would be lying if I didn’t say we were disappointed with our decision on some levels. We were fueled with the promise of the project and now have to reboot our brain to focus elsewhere. It was raining out and we were depressed because we are again “ungrounded” and living in limbo does not suit us at all, so we went to bed and watched six episodes of the John Adams series that we had on tape. (We know how to handle a disappointment –crawl under the covers, watch a historical movie and wallow in your feelings of uncertainty.) Then, inspired by John Adam’s passion, we got up and took a hike on the opposite side of our land to choose a new house site. We decided to stop hemming and hawing and list our house with nine or twelve acres now to rid ourselves of living with a stressful mortgage ASAP. Between this house and the two FLEX buildings we carried long after FLEX was caput, we’ve had enough of living to pay the rent. We decided to build a new house right away – this time a nice,, practical farm house. Mark called the builder to redirect his efforts from the coffee shop to a new home, and they staked out the house and got the permit that very afternoon.
Mark and I made a pact. This time, we are going to stick with the original plan – to forge a semi-self sufficient life of semi-simplicity. Things did not plan out as expected regarding our business sale, so we have to make changes and that is a dissapointment, but we will still have 35 acres, a barn and a workshop fully outfitted with tools. We can afford a lovely house built to suit our lifestyle nestled in the woods (no pond, but hey, I’ll have trees and damn if I won’t get a hammock this time around) and a life set up without much overhead, so we are lucky, lucky, lucky. We certainly can continue to follow our heart and fill our lives with the things that count this way.
Our builder said, “I couldn’t understand why you wanted to bury yourself in a coffee shop anyway. Let’s build some houses together – starting with yours. “
And that is what they plan to do. Mark is going to complete the orders he has now for furniture and perhaps take on a few more – but since he doesn’t have to crank out a store full of merchandise or support the family by his art, he can follow the wave of inspiration and have some fun. He’s going to start up his real estate career with Century 21 tomorrow, something he’s always wanted to do – they’ve given him an office. And he and Ronnie are going to build houses together.
“I will support us by piecing together a career,” Mark announced. “You can stay home and write – which is what you were supposed to do when we sold FLEX. That will pan out in time, no denying. ”
I’ve always been a major contributor when it comes to supporting the family, so this is a lovely gift of confidence and freedom, but a bit surreal.
“I can’t be some slacker expecting you to take on the brunt of supporting us,” I said.
Mark lifted one eyebrow. “I’ve done my share of working for you. FLEX was your thing and I was along for the ride – slave labor. This time, I’m ready to take the wheel. Given a chance to do what I want, I might surprise you with what I’m capable of.”
Of course, nothing he does would surprise me at all.
Mark added, “And if you really feel guilty, you can come into the workshop and give me a hand once in a while.”
Hopefully, that won’t be literal. Does the man know I’ve never held a power tool in my life? Perhaps he means me to sweep.
It will be a curious experiment.
So, I am going to send my book out again, to the agent who requested it with an exclusive. . . (Even though I’ve quit writing because I suck so bad.) And I’m going to dig in and finish my “moving to the country” memoir to see if that is the kind of story an agent can move in this market –(even though I quit and I suck so bad.) I’m going to figure out how to do a bit of teaching (writing) because I long to immerse myself in my new art and I desperately need the interaction with others. I also plan to offer my services to the neighboring dance schools for a few classes. I have a studio in this house so I can dance all I want, but I’ve discovered that for me, dance is something meant to be shared. I miss the wonderful camaraderie and synergy that happens when I’m in a room working with young people with a passion for dance. I don’t ever want teaching dance to be my living again, but I do want dance to be a part of my world. (Funny thing is, Mark said the same thing – he wants to do a bit of choreography and coaching on the side just to feed the soul – but he never wants to be a slave to the art – or dance parents- again.) Guess our feelings are an example of holding onto something with an open hand. A bird is more likely to stay if free to fly away at will.
I’m also going to cook for my family, and get back to running, and enjoy my kids and contemplate the universe while shoveling horse shit and weeding my garden. I’m going keep working with Kathy (who is doing so well) and perhaps take on another literacy student someday, make wine and mess with bees and have interests for the sake of the simple joys attached – all things I would have had to put aside if I were diving into a new business. And who are we kidding? If contributing more will be in the best interest of my family, I will.
The best part of shifting direction at this fork in the road is the fact that we can beam ourselves back to the beginning at any time. Because we still own that lot and we have the variance and the permit and a rather marvelous business plan and we even have a bank in the wings who will work with us. Opening the new business can just simmer in a pot – we can proceed in a year if we feel we need to, or even in five years. Till then, we will sit tight and see what goes on with our economy, our proposed industry, and our town. We will live without the pressure of a high risk, all consuming venture for the first time in our life. Gee, that will be unchartered waters.
Anyway, that is the plan today. A dip on the rollercoaster of life that makes your stomach lurch, but doesn’t unseat you or make you want to scream. It’s a step.