How being in a failed startup made me an entrepreneur

My story starts with a new job and ends with myself crawling in the mud. The only thing I didn’t know when I was in my most desperate self-loathing phase, was that flowers grow in the mud – that the mud is the vital element which nourishes them and the stench and the dirt provide the soil for the flowers to blossom and become really beautiful. The thicker the mud, the healthier the flower.

I learned my lessons the harsh way, but in the end that brought me closer to who I am today and the person I want to be in the future. I still struggle with myself a lot, I still have a paralyzing low self-esteem and self-judgment but I am making progress in the right direction.

The story goes like this: I moved to another country to work in a startup. I was coming from a formerly well-paid position, a lot of responsibility and also a good level of self-confidence. This new startup job was not well paid but it had a lot of excitement around it was announcing to be the next big thing – the CEO was pitching it as the next million dollar business.
I was the first to join the team (as an employee) after the co-founders and I was relocating to a different country. I was promised a percentage if I proved myself worthy – nothing on paper, just words (the idea of signing something was very offensive to the CEO). When I got the courage to ask him about that, he was very offended, saying that his word is more important than any paper.

Right there I started a very painful journey where I tried to prove myself worthy – worthy of respect and admiration from my boss. And I tried doing that up until the point where I destroyed my health and my self-esteem and started downward a spiral of depression. I worked day & nights, weekends, I worked when I was sick in bed. I got a serious stomach condition because I was working too much, resting too little and skipping meals. I felt stressed all the time, I was afraid to ask for holiday – because in the opinion of my boss, if you had a holiday you were lazy and not enough dedicated to the company. Once I did have holiday, I worked every day during it as if I was back in the office. The strange thing is that not only me, but most of the other more highly-ranked employees were doing the same things, so it seemed like we were all robots, not questioning the system, ready to sacrifice everything for the company, our health, well-being and even mental sanity (being so deprived of sleep, I started hearing voices and talking to myself out loud when I was on the street).

It turns out after a while that my boss was a narcissist and like most of narcissists, he was well versed in the art of manipulation. The most painful part of the process was not having to deal with him, but having been fooled by the appearances – and especially having failed to see things as they were, even when I had a lot of signs that things are not healthy.

The company’s situation got progressively worse and at some point most of us (except for a few technical people) had to to be let go. No ceremoniously thank you for working like a slave for more than a year, no mention of the percentage. Nothing.

That left me in a state of panic and anger, as I found myself in a different country with rent to pay and no source of income from one month to the other, also not speaking the official language. A year later I realize that this experience was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I’ve discovered the power of saying “no” and the self-respect that comes with it. Today I know that I don’t want to put myself down for any kind of job, no matter how much the money is or how big the promises are. And that I don’t need to destroy myself to earn anyone’s appreciation or respect. The most important source of self-esteem is within us and we just have to find the strength to love and accept ourselves. Today I’m a starting entrepreneur myself – never thought I would become one, but here I am, ready to rock & roll, ready to do work with meaning and not for the money or power or prestige or admiration of others.

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