The Christmas holiday has always been special to me. In addition to being a Christmas Eve baby, my family celebrated Christmas each year with great fanfare. And though we lived in the dry, arid desert of Phoenix, the holiday tradition resonated very closely to the childhood anticipation and preparation so perfectly captured in the movie A Christmas Story.
Moreover, both my parents worked, so we made the most of the time we all had off from school and work. We decorated the house so that it resembled a Griswold Christmas, and for a few days, we would watch old Christmas movies, bake cookies, and enjoy our Christmas presents -- together as a family.
In other words, Christmas was a really big deal.
While I have had many holidays away from home, many spent overseas and alone, I was always able to enjoy the season and hold close to the emotions and feelings of that time. That is until I became an entrepreneur.
The Christmas tradition came crashing down the first holiday season with my first business. Our young company made a consumer product, and because we wanted to capitalize on the holiday shopping season, we opened kiosks in several malls across the southeast U.S.
We managed to find and hire people to work at the kiosks, but we soon learned the painful lessons of making bad hiring choices, as many employees would fail to show up for work. In the shopping center world, this meant not only losing valuable sales but also being penalized by mall management for not opening on time.
So it was that I found myself in Atlanta for the week of Christmas that year, to open and operate the mall kiosk that had been abandoned. I checked into a cheap hotel -- the type where it is advisable to wear socks and clothes to bed -- and spent the entire week of Christmas standing at a kiosk.
This was also 2007, and adding to my anxiety was the fact that the mall traffic was obviously slower than in years past, and the crowds lacked the typical holiday buzz of the season. Consumer enthusiasm was clearly waning with the market pressures that eventually led to the collapse of global financial systems the following year.
After closing the kiosk at around 10 in the evening on Christmas Eve, I found the only place in town open for dinner, a Japanese hibachi restaurant. The staff was kind enough to celebrate my birthday with me, and I ushered in Christmas with an eight-hour drive back home that night.
It was not how I wanted or expected to spend my birthday and Christmas as an entrepreneur.
When I try to explain the stress and disappointment of that holiday season to others, I am often met with a good deal of sympathy, but no empathy. It did not take long to realize that trying to tell others was fruitless, as without a similar experience, it is impossible to relate.
In reality, my story is not unique. Every entrepreneur experiences this anxiety. It is what I call the Entrepreneur's Curse -- when an entrepreneur can never truly step away from a business, and even when it seems possible, there is always the tingling sensation of the business in the back of the mind.
What I learned over the years is that balancing a business with your personal well-being really boils down to experience. Young entrepreneurs are inevitably consumed with starting and growing their businesses -- or just surviving -- which requires attention and focus. This focus, however, often comes at the cost of other comforts, routines, and, as was my case, traditions.
What I would tell young entrepreneurs during the holiday season is that grinding through a holiday, doing what needs to be done because nobody else will do it, is just part of the job description. Entrepreneurship is never as dreamy as it is made out to be, and it only takes one holiday season, when the business hangs in the balance, to put it all in perspective.
I also tell young entrepreneurs that when you can learn to deal with the holiday stress and keep the curse in check, being an entrepreneur during Christmas is truly an amazing and inspirational experience. Being responsible for a company and its stakeholders, you get to have a direct and profound impact on the lives and holiday traditions of others, creating for them the opportunities you had as a child.
And in the end, that is what the holiday season is about.