Before Throwing in the Towel — Read This?
Nov 27, 2016
Long dark nights in the office. A dwindling bank account. Failed relationships. Grinding at work to the point of utter exhaustion. Sleepless nights. Feeling, at times, like I’m running this race alone — nobody understands, nobody tries to see why this is so important to me, and nobody is able to see why, for me, giving up just isn’t an option. If you’ve started anything in your life — a business, dedication to a sport or instrument, or even a relationship, and you are driven with a certain resilient commitment, I encourage you to keep reading.
This is how everything felt to me for the longest time — for years. For nearly five I was in this deep dark place, so if you’re there in the trenches, in the midst of the uphill climb, you’re not alone, and you need to have faith in your ability to figure it out in large part, because this thing you’ve chosen to dedicate your life to means so damn much to you. If you haven’t developed that confidence or don’t think you can, then you might as well quit now — seriously, go cash in your chips, cut your losses and move forward with your life in a different direction. That will save you a lot of heartache and frustration.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll be emailing the proposal for my second book to my literary agent. I signed with her a few months back, and it’s opened the door of opportunity to things that most can only dream of. I’m here, at this point in my career, now, but up until this point, it’s been the combination of a steep, uphill climb mixed with the feeling of being trapped in a dark corner, unsure of whether or not my hard work would pay off, and if it was going to pay off, how exactly would I be able to make that happen?
That five year stretch of working, what seemed like around the clock, took a toll on me, especially because it felt like I wasn’t making any ground — even though I was. It felt like the needle we’re all looking to move wasn’t going anywhere and I was trying everything.
I was truly lost and in a dark place, feeling like I had no one to turn to, so for me, I’d just keep grinding, keep pushing — thinking that with enough energy exerted some sort of break through was bound to swing my way. I was really just hoping to make sense of where exactly it might be that I would fit into the bigger picture. Even if things weren’t okay at the time, I wanted so desperately to know that in the end, that they would be, and that the insane sacrifices I’ve made because of my belief in venturing down this path would pay off. Because, at the time, I wasn’t able to pay bills on time. Every three months my car would end up in the impound lot from my carelessness in not paying attention to the ever-growing stack of parking tickets I earned from the city. Instead of doing the responsible thing and taking care of them right away, I didn’t want to address it, because that, in my mind, would circle back around to the financial ruin that my life had become. I was so backed into this corner feeling utterly helpless, so instead of trying to fight my way out of this nightmare, I just tried to pretend like it didn’t exist — that only made things more painful. There are certain business trips I’d take, knowing they’d be great opportunities, and on one or more nights, I’d sleep in the airport, because I didn’t have the money for a hotel room — then when leaving the airport, on multiple occasions, I didn’t have money to pay the toll. I was making the trip from Atlanta to Virginia one time, a nine hour drive, and drove the whole way at a steady pace of 50 MPH, in order to save gas. In the home stretch, as gas was running very low, I was pulled over by a cop. He was concerned at far lower than normal speed — I explained to him the situation, and he wished me “good luck”.
I have dozens more of these stories — many of which I’ve never told anyone before, ever. It was a long, dark stretch that I thought would end, but I wasn’t ever really sure.
I was a part owner in a restaurant that wasn’t making any money. To offset this, at night on the weekends, I ran a nightclub into the deep hours of the night. I would then have to be back at the restaurant the next morning by eight o’clock for brunch. Damn that was a long three years. Parts of me wouldn’t wish going through those painful times on my worst enemy, while an entire different part of me knows that I was able to use those trying times to discover more about myself — more than I ever knew possible.
This was four years ago, and around the same time, I started doing TV cooking segments, whenever I could. At the same time, I got really serious about my writing. I knew I had something people could resonate with, but for some reason, I hadn’t been able to connect with an audience that would appreciate it. At the nightcub, we had a regular who always came in alone, and he always, without fail, he knew exactly what to say that would get under my skin. He’d laugh off my writing,
Who do you think you’re going to be, Anthony Bourdain? You have to be big, you have to have people caring about what you are writing about to get a book published.
Come on, Chris, hahaha….
Everyday, he uttered some variation of these words, and they cut through me like a knife, as adrenaline released into my brain. I would repeat over and over again in my head,
FUCK YOU, MAN. FUCK YOU.
The truth is, for any project, business, relationship, or goal worth it’s salt is going to have the haters, the ones who just “don’t get it”. They will never go away, and many will never understand the choices you’ve made for your life, in the very same way that you will most likely never understand the decisions they’ve made with theirs. And that’s okay, it really is. You aren’t making it for these people, you aren’t investing energy into this to make them happy — you’re doing it for yourself and for whatever part of the world you can have an impact on.
Every day for a whole goddamn year I swallowed my pride and poured his vodka cranberries (a debatable cocktail selection for a fifty year old man) at the bar, pretending to take his words to heart. I used his mockery as fuel to add to my fire, to my mission and damnit, I was going to prove him and a whole host of other people dead wrong.
Tomorrow, I’m turning in a proposal for my second book to my agent, who is among the best in the business — for some crazy reason, she decided to take a chance on me and I’m incredibly grateful for it. People measure success, as if it’s like stepping onto a scale — you’re either a complete fat ass OR you’re a scrawny nerd — as if there is no middle ground. The truth is, there is a massive amount of middle ground. The key, is to be able to keep fighting through the middle ground, knowing that something beautiful is awaiting you on the other side. And it’s a fight, but one that I think anyone will tell you is absolutely worth it.
I can tell you that on this road, to where I am right now, somewhere closer to success, than I was five years ago…. 3 years ago… or even a year ago, but when you’re going through it, personally, those painful trials from three years ago look devastatingly similar to the ones from a year ago — again, it feels like that godforsaken needle is stuck and not willing to budge.
I think to become “successful” in anything in life, takes a couple things (obviously more) that stand out to me — hard work, patience, and intentional, deliberate action. I don’t care if you’re starting a business, raising kids, or trying to pass the medical boards. Ask anyone in a successful relationship if they’ve worked hard on it, if they’ve been patient (realizing that not everything comes exactly when you want for them to), and if they’ve been intentional with their actions in the relationship. It’s the same, across the board, for anything worth giving a damn about in this world.
Ive tried to do all three of those, though I’ve failed miserably at time, and the road getting here has been harder than most would be willing to endure, but I can tell you, there is no part of me that isn’t glad that I have. Are there things I wish I would have done differently — you bet and some of those things I’ll have to live with forever, somehow make peace with them. I can also tell you though, through experiencing first hand, personally, some painfully dumb mistakes — those times and situations have only given me a greater perspective of life and for how to better manage certain situations next time around. Honestly, I think that’s just life. I’m here, because of my relentless commitment to making my goals and dreams come true, but I’m only at this place happy and alive, because of the love and support of the people close to me and from those looking on from the bleachers — cheering me on and reminding me that I’m fighting a good fight.
Like everyone else, when I started out, no one gave a shit about me — no one cared, but over time, I developed a level of trust amongst a tribe of people that were interested in coming along on the journey with me. They saw the impact I was starting to have in the world — way before the people in my life ever did. I had a Facebook page that took five times as long to grow from 1,000 to 10,000, as it did to grow from there to 100,000.
If it’s hard, it probably means you’re on to something. If you ever feel like throwing in the towel as tears surface on your eye lids, it probably means there’s a significant piece of you that’s truly invested — the only things that can hurt us are the things that really matter to us.
So, should you keep going? I can’t answer that question for you, but I can tell you that not often in life do we find a cause, a company, or a belief that we are so connected to, to the point where it pulls out those most human parts of us, the breadth of emotion, the highs and lows, the pain and the joy. I think that’s an idea worth thinking about, because I’m sure a large majority of the people who call it quits on their “baby” never find that next thing that drives them out of bed every morning. The problem is that, in many cases, it’s so damn hard to know when to quit, because quitting implies failure, the stigma that comes with that, and perhaps more difficult to cope with, is the questions we ask ourselves at the end of our lives,
What if I had kept going? Was I close?
Those are the questions I’m trying to avoid from having to answer in the latter years of my life, and I do that by literally trying to give every ounce of who I am into every single day. The road in getting to who we become can be gratifying and joyful, but at the same time, it can be painful, trying and relentless — but truly, those are the times that make us who we are. I think our job as humans is to acknowledge that we are here today with an opportunity to do some good in the world, to grow ourselves through experiences, and to be continually maturing into the frail, old people that will eventually die. Hopefully those old people are beautiful souls who have made this world a better place for their having been here.
Should you quit? I’m not sure, but here’s what I’d say — either don’t start, or don’t quit, until it’s really, really not working. If you’re in the thick of it, that’s when you realize down the road — that you’re on to something.
And nothing is quite as rewarding as making a dream come true through hard work, determination and pure grit. It won’t be easy, but damnit — it’ll be worth it. If I can make it happen, I know you can.
— THANKS FOR READING, CHRIS HILL