I always thought the term “mindfulness” applied to imaginary situations outside of real life; it was something that happened to an enlightened person next to babbling brook somewhere. Imagine my surprise when I found that starting a business and scaling it, which included receiving loads of negative feedback from disappointed customers, would become the most spiritually demanding activity of my life and the catalyst for my own mindfulness practice.
I’ve spent a lifetime being afraid. Some of my greatest fears have been a hodgepodge of being broke and homeless, being unfit to handle the requirements of success, and a little sprinkle of imposter syndrome just for good measure.
And while these fears have been ever-present, it was only when I took the steps to turn an idea into a business that these fears revealed themselves to be occupying a much larger place in my mind than I had ever thought possible; in fact, there have been times when I’ve felt negative thought patterns roaring through my mind like a freight train, shaking my body as I clung to positive affirmations.
We all know that it can be really difficult to follow our dreams, but it can feel like a downright battle when we have to contend with the constant stream of negative thoughts and inner critics that torment us with each step forward.
But here’s the thing: it’s in these high-stakes situations where our limiting beliefs and patterns come out into the light; where we can acknowledge them, learn from them, and ideally heal them. This is the definition of “leaving our comfort zone.” We know we’re in the right place for growth and evolution when our limiting beliefs creep out from the darkness to start challenging our attempts at positive action and thinking.
Leaving the safety of one’s comfort zone is exactly what it sounds like. It means being uncomfortable. It means, potentially, feeling anxious, or feeling sad, or trusting someone you can’t be 100% sure is trustworthy. It might mean giving away something you love, or moving somewhere you’re scared to move. It could mean a million different things for a million different people. But I know, positively, that if we can sit (or stand, your choice) with our discomfort, it will teach us. It will reveal what is inside of us: the parts of our self that have been hidden away, yet remain desperate to find acceptance and love.
We all have parts of ourselves that we locked away to survive our childhoods, but in order to thrive as mature adults, and to manifest our greatest dreams, it is essential that we unlock and reintegrate those parts; we need them to be whole.
I started a business. I stepped out of my comfort zone, and all of my unresolved issues from childhood came flooding to the surface.
We had successfully raised capital through a Kickstarter campaign, and now we were excited to ship our delicious product to way more customers than we ever had before – this meant doing a large production run with bulk ingredients. We were way outside of our comfortable home kitchen and perfected process. It felt like jumping out of a plane. I did my best to create a scaled recipe that our production manager could use to make thousands of bags. I had to breathe, pray, and ultimately hope for the best.
It was a lot of work, but we eventually mailed out all 600 packages.
And then, the comments started coming in: “bad taste; too hard; too dry; bad flavor; too soft; not the flavor I expected.” We heard it all. And of course, the people who liked it and/or were lucky enough to get “good batches” were either less vocal or didn’t post any comments.
Immediately, I felt the old negative patterns start to kick in. I could see myself starting to take these negative reactions personally – equating them with my own negative self-talk. I had spent a large portion of our kickstarter funds on this single production, and most of the product it seemed was inconsistent at best; at worst, it was unpalatable. Hundreds and hundreds of cases of handmade product that had been carefully placed into hand-stamped bags were thrown away.
In the past I would have crumpled. I would have sunk into a depression. But something was different this time. I knew that I had to take responsibility for my vision. The product simply wasn’t as good as I knew it could be, and only I could guide this product to that vision. So I begin experimenting and testing, once again, in my home kitchen. I made my product exactly how I wanted – the same I way I started this company two years ago. I realized that I had been more worried about the mechanics of scaling my product than I had in making sure the product stayed the product I loved and wanted to share with the world. I had been obsessed with selling the product but had neglected to take steps to make sure it tasted great and stayed true to itself in the process..
I brought my home-tests back to our production facility and asked for a do-over. I would come in at 5am and work on the production process with their kitchen staff until 7pm each day. And each day we found a new step of the process that we could tweak to resemble the process I used at home. I felt energy surging through my body again. I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew we were headed toward something good.
After a week and a half our product was completely different than the previous version. It was consistent, delicious, and aesthetically pleasing. It wasn’t perfect, but I was proud of it and it was getting very close.
In the meantime, I had to take responsibility for a bunch of disappointed Kickstarter customers. I emailed our backers and explained to them what had happened, and that I would be sending out new product to everyone as soon as we are able. Everyone responded positively, because I was honest. I felt on top of the world once again. And, in a rare moment, paused to reflect on the storm that had just passed and left me stronger and more confident than before. When had I become the man who was able to stay calm and focused while everything seemed to be crumbling around me? Who was this guy? How did he get through it?
And the answer came: Maybe mindfulness – a tool I had once assumed was used solely by cartoonishly enlightened people – is most practical tool there is.