Monday, October 10th was the 3 year anniversary of my wife signing the lease to open her new business, Monroe Eye Care LLC. In the midst of the financial crisis and chaos, on October 10, 2008, with no customers, no experience in running a business and no bank loan, she Embraced the Chaos by signing a three-year lease for a 1000 Sq. Ft. store in a strip mall for her piece of the American dream: a small business.
With a 6 month old baby in the car seat in her hand, she waited for inspectors and electricians to show, hired good contractors, fired crude ones, negotiated with vendors, put up shelves, bought carpet, installed equipment and spent 5 months to finish construction to open the doors of her business.
In the 3 years since signing the lease, she’s also had to hire people and fire people. She’s had to work with the uncertainty of revenues, unpredictability of difficult customers, complexity of a healthcare business and the chaos that surrounds having to be a mom to two young girls and spouse to a guy who can’t cook dinner. She would wake up at the crack of dawn and try to sleep at midnight exhausted with the clouds of anxiety, stress and fear hovering over her pillow.
But she did it! She survived for 3 years and has learned a lot. Trained as an Optometrist, not as a business person, my wife Shefali has firsthand experience with opening a new business in a tough economy. So when I took her out for dinner the other night, my intention was to celebrate the 3-year mark but also to interview her for this blog.
So what did she learn?
“The most important thing I learned is that the beginning is the toughest!”, Shefali said to me as we broke bread at an Italian restaurant nearby our home. “There is so much that was coming at me so fast that I was constantly feeling like I was behind. I was anxious, worried and stressed at not knowing what surprises could hit me as soon as I walked into the office every morning. It was really hard. Each day, I encountered problems that I hadn’t seen before. Around every turn there was an obstacle. I went to school to learn how to care for patients, not to run a business so I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.” “So how did you survive in all that chaos?”, I asked trying to leave my hubby hat behind.
Holding back three years of tears that only she could feel, she answered, “You just get used to it. All the daily obstacles, the shocks, the surprises, the problems. I learned to accept it all and as time flies, things do get better. Just embrace the chaos, as you say. Maybe the chaos slows down but mainly what happens is that you feel better over time because you learn to adapt to live in that environment. I didn’t realize that things do get better – especially when I was knee-deep in the beginning of the storm.”
As I reflected on her thoughts, I realized that my wife has changed a lot in the three years since opening the business. She seems more confident at handling difficult situations. Whether the computer system goes down or there’s a bad customer encounter or a problem with her employees. She’s more relaxed because she’s seen it before. She has learned to Expect and Accept Uncertainty and Chaos. She’s more comfortable in her skin and I think has found her purpose in the process.
What I also realize about uncertainty, unpredictability and chaos is that I can’t do anything to stop the craziness of life that may come at me. The only thing I can do is to prepare myself for it NOW by putting myself out there more by getting out of the house. By saying YES and Doing New Things. So that I get used to being knocked around a few times.
I also believe that My 8 Rules to embrace the chaos is a road map not a solution per se. It is a path. It is a way of life that I can teach myself to learn and follow. From listening to Shefali share her lessons learned, I realize that being able to manage uncertainty and disorder is not something you learn in school, it is something you learn by doing it. By embracing it – not running away from it.
At the end of our dinner, I may have learned valuable lessons about living in uncertainty and chaos from my wonderful, entrepreneur wife – but I still haven’t learned to cook dinner. Maybe I need to stay in the house and embrace the kitchen once in a while.