Today I had a lunch date with an old friend I’ll call M, whom I hadn’t seen in ages. When we met a dozen years ago, M was just starting up a new business. I remember seeing the sketches of the business card designs. I heard the progress reports and watched in admiration as M’s business grew.
I was at the tail end of my marriage at this point, though I didn’t know it yet. With no real earning power (at least none that I was aware of), I felt trapped and powerless, so I envied and admired M’s business success.
I went to M’s wedding, M’s 40th birthday party, and watched with a certain amount of wistfulness as M and spouse bought a house and had kids, while I licked my wounds after my divorce and struck out on my own.
All the while M’s business seemed to be going great gangbusters. M seemed to have figured out a trick that eluded me: how to create and run a business that makes real money.
Behind the curtain
Cut to a dozen years later. We’ve been in touch only sporadically during this time, so when I saw M at the farmer’s market the other day I was astonished at how big the kids had grown, and even more surprised to learn that M had sold the business to be a stay-at-home parent.
Things must be going swimmingly! Good for M! We made a date to catch up over lunch.
Over a bunless turkey burger and a chicken salad I shared my tale of woe and radical transformation over the past four months: money crisis, debt, abandoning boyfriend, but now on a truer path and feeling happier and more in love with my life than ever!
Then M shared a story that took me by surprise. Turns out things were not as hunky-dory as they seemed from the outside: debt, debt, more debt, and a nasty lawsuit by a vengeful former employee leading to yet more debt, and finally, only recently, bankruptcy.
M had sold the business not because it was so successful, but because it was drowning in debt.
I was only the second person that M had told about the bankruptcy, probably because my openness about my own debt created enough safety. The sense of relief to be done with the debt was palpable; indeed, I felt relieved for M!
I thought of the other people I know who’ve filed bankruptcy, and others who’ve come close. I thought about how cruel this economy has been to so many, and how my own situation is totally dependent on everything going well. One bit of bad luck, and wham, I could be next in line at the bankruptcy office.
But mostly I thought about how deceptive my perceptions had been. You never actually know what’s going on behind the curtain. That person who seems golden on the outside may have struggles you can’t even imagine on the inside.
I love love love my life, but it’s got its challenges. I’ve got deadlines up the wazoo but am still just climbing a mountain of debt; the fluffs of shed kitty fur are piling up on the floor while dishes pile up in the sink; I never get enough sleep… Honestly, there’s so much on my plate that sometimes it feels like I’m holding on by my fingernails. Today’s lunch was a good reminder that despite how it looks to me sometimes, I’m actually not the only one who struggles.
I certainly don’t wish bad luck on anyone, and I’m sad M had to go through such an awful experience. But I’m grateful, too, for the comforting reminder that I’m not alone.
Life is complicated and hard, and it’s so easy to assume that everyone else is doing it so much better. Some of my blog heroes (Dave Navarro? Naomi from Itty Biz? Johnny B. Truant?) had a conversation recently (on Twitter? damn my Swiss cheese memory!) about how your heroes are just as f-cked up as you are.
You know, it’s actually kind of a relief.