When I started my first company, I was too ignorant to be scared.
I quit a stable newspaper job to go into business for myself — with only $5,000 in capital. I started sending out sales letters and making sales calls, trying to get churches to let me handle their marketing. I got a little bit of business, but the market wasn’t as good as I had hoped. It was a struggle.
In that first year, my great aunt — Aunt Bessie — died and left me $10,000. I used that money to buy a typesetting company, thinking that the existing accounts would allow me to become stable while I figured out how to launch a newspaper.
I didn’t have a great plan at any point. I had what I considered plans, but they were nothing like what I’d call a business plan today. I was just operating on faith and shooting from the hip. I was still ignorant but I was learning — and I was having fun.
I launched a business newspaper to compete with Birmingham’s established business newspaper. Unfortunately for me, the two owners of the established paper had a falling out and split up. One of them left the company and started a competitor — the same month I launched. Birmingham went from having one business newspaper to having three. It was clear to me that mine wouldn’t survive.
I turned my attention to what I knew best — community newspapers. If I remember correctly, I was 27 when the first edition of The Southern Times launched. It was developed to serve the affluent Over-the-Mountain communities of Birmingham. I’ll never forget my exhaustion — and excitement — when I drove the finished first edition back to town.
I’ve talked before about the hidden struggles I went through with that newspaper and why it failed. Right up until the end, though, I still had complete confidence that I would find a way to make it work. Even right until the end, I still couldn’t imagine that I wouldn’t find a financial solution and keep publishing.
When I turned out to be wrong, it hit me really hard.
For nearly a year after I laid everybody off and closed the office, I did nothing. I couldn’t figure out what to do. I was paralyzed and depressed. I stayed at home and did a lot of “navel gazing.” I wasn’t self-aware enough at the time to realize that what I was going through was depression. I just knew that I had lost the self-control which I had always counted on to keep me focused and successful.
I felt like a failure. And it left me badly depressed.
I tell you all this for a simple reason. The changes I’ve been going through lately — integrating what I’ve been since then with what I was before — leave me feeling as though I’m right back in that ugly year of depression. It’s almost as though something in me hit a giant “pause” button back then — and now I still have to deal with what I couldn’t deal with then.
I’m happy to be back here, because I feel more like myself than I have in years. I feel more confident than I have in a long time. Even though I went through a long period of making good money in politics, I never really recovered the part of me which had felt he could conquer the world. That unbounded confidence has returned lately. It feels really good.
When I first started having this complicated realization six or eight weeks ago — or whatever it’s been now — I was very relieved and I didn’t perceive any downside. I was euphoric.
But then I realized that something else had changed. I now have expectations of myself that are considerably more stressful than any I’ve had for many years.
You see, during these years when I’ve wanted nothing more than to be an artist, I had a built-in excuse for not being successful. An artist is supposed to be struggling and hungry. An artist has a million good reasons not to be successful.
“Nobody wants to pay for my art.”
“The world doesn’t understand what I’m trying to make.”
“I can’t make a film because I have to raise too much money.”
Everybody expects an artist to have trouble getting rich. In fact, it’s very rare for an artist to become wealthy. Nobody expects that much from him, even if he wants to find a way to be successful.
Now that I realize I still want something more like the sort of success I wanted years ago, I’ve given up that excuse. I’m starting a difficult task — without a well-planned road map — much later in life than if I’d stayed on that path at 30.
One of the things I figured out many years ago is that faith and fear are opposites. If I have real faith — in myself and in God — I’m going to get over the fear. Faith drives out fear — and fear drives out faith.
The confidence I had in my 20s was close to arrogance. I believed in myself so strongly that it never occurred to me that anybody could say, “No,” to me.
For instance, when I sold the largest and most prestigious department store here on a series of full-page ads in my newspaper — before we had even printed a first edition — other people were shocked. Everybody told me that Parisian didn’t advertise in anything but established, quality publications. I was too ignorant — and too confident — to let a huge company turn me down.
I don’t have that level of confidence yet, but I’ll get back to that. The trick — this time — is to settle into strong confidence that’s tempered by the experience I’ve gained about myself and about how the world works. I have to be strong and confident — but self-aware enough to remain humble.
There are a lot of things I have to do in the coming months and years. Mostly, I need to find partners — for different roles in my life — who are willing to commit themselves to joining me on this journey. Then I need plans that make sense — more solid business plans than I had in my 20s — and I need investment capital. And then I have to start executing.
But right now — until I see some solid results — I’m feeling some fear. It’s not fear that’s going to stop me. It’s not fear that is going to defeat me. But there’s some fear that comes with telling everyone that I’m going to do something in business, because the expectations are a lot higher than when I told people that I hoped to support myself by making films.
The fear has to go. I need complete faith in myself and in my plans — and that won’t happen without confidence that borders on madness.
I’m finally ready to deal with the loss of my company years ago. I’m not ashamed of the failure anymore. I learned a lot from it. I’ve learned a lot from all the things I’ve done since then. I’m older and wiser and more mature.
But I’m finally ready — once again — to go hunting for Moby Dick in a rowboat, taking tartar sauce with me — because I know I’ll be successful, one way or another.