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How I almost quit being an entrepreneur, and what saved me

John Paul NarowskiJohn Paul Narowski

While being an entrepreneur has its ups and downs (a tad bit of an understatement?), it’s often not the massive failures or successes that wreck you, it’s the silent-but-deadly killers that sink your ship.

I learned this the hard way. I burned my hand, bad.

Over the last five years, I’ve been focusing most of my effort on a web-based CRM (customer relationship management) tool called karmaCRM. I’m also part-owner of an Amish Furniture company, which I manage with my parents. This company has been mostly on autopilot for years, but within the last year, it was mismanaged and got into some trouble.

So much for trust and delegate.

This SBD (silent but deadly) killer was … (wait for it) – not having a strong command of my time. I call it silent because it’s easy to stumble along in your career, feeling productive, without ever being forced to pay attention to your schedule. Without being pushed (aka choke slammed) by the peril of my furniture company, I might never have been exposed to these weaknesses.

Weaknesses that I now realize have been holding me back as an entrepreneur.

Not only did I have to run karma, but now I was CEO of Amish Tables, and had the full-time job of “boyfriend” as well. Things unraveled fast. I wasn’t fully committed to being the protector of my time, the honorable steward of my schedule.

I was overwhelmed, and in over my head.

To add insult to injury, my girlfriend quit my CRM for a competitor. She was having trouble with one of the core features. Because I was Nautilus-deep in my own stress, I wasn’t being a good product owner of karma, and things were slipping.

Shoot. Dang. Arg. GFwewfonweiofnweoginweg (keyboard slams). I felt like a failure.

Every day, I was thinking about quitting.

It seemed so tempting to let go, lie down in the snow, and drift off into the sweet dark night. With my prevailing perspective, I thought it was impossible. There was no way, feel sorry for me, I have so much going on, I’m so Important.

Woe is me.

Ever been there? I’m guessing so!

Then the answer hit me like a warm wave crashing on the white sand beaches of freedom – caffeine.

Ok so it wasn’t caffeine itself, but I waaaas at a coffeeshop at the time…

I realized, the only way that I could handle this situation was to do 3 things.

  1. Stop whining and get committed. I mean thick, unwavering William Wallace committed
    As an entrepreneur, you can always just … stop, quit, get a day job. This thought was a poison seeping into my “poor time management” snakebite. I needed to commit to doing my best, commit to bringing my A game, and simply get to work.
  2. Stop worrying about failure
    The thought that the company could fail kept me paralyzed. I wasn’t able to build an action plan, because in my head, THE WORLD WAS ON FIRE. I said, “I’m going to do my best and whatever happens, it will be ok.” This gave me the peace of mind to focus on the next action step, instead of the doom and gloom of this burning ship hallucination that kept me up at night.
  3. Become the almighty protector of my time (and focus)
    I always thought of myself as free flowing, not the type to schedule every minute of the day. I’d even tried it a few times … although I was always too overzealous…

6:05 a.m. – wake up
6:15 – 6:17 – laugh
6:20 – 6:24 – think interesting thoughts
…it goes on.

I tried again, and this time kept things a bit simpler.

It was awesome! I never realized how much this lack of schedule really affected my day-to-day. Since I’d never been really under the gun like this, I’d never felt the adverse effects of a sprawling schedule.

This insight and decision to change my attitude about time management was the single most important factor in keeping me an entrepreneur.

Without a strict schedule, I was stressing all the time. Afterwards, I allotted 1:00-1:15 to freak out. The rest of the time was for getting shit done.

The change was night and day. After that caffeine-induced epiphany, my world felt different. The sun came out, someone gave me a puppy, and I realized I could sing and dance like Justin Timberlake.

Ok. So not all of that happened, but one thing was for sure – things were different.

I called my brother and said, “I can do this. The company is not going down!”

With this newfound commitment, clarity about my day-to-day, and pushing back my fear of failure, I was ready to buckle down. I started using my own CRM much more heavily. Before, it was a nice-to-have; now I depended on it.

As a result, I got a ton of insight into some areas of our CRM that needed improvement and have since executed on a lot of these. Our customers are happy, and JP is more productive, whoop.

I started planning out every hour of my work day, every day at 8 a.m. Before, this felt suffocating to me, but now it was liberating. I slated time for management and review, time for each company, and time to breathe.

A Hodor-sized burden was lifted off of my shoulders. I could now get back to business.

Started from the bottom, now we’re here…

Over the course of the next few weeks, we sorted through a boatload of chaos and got both companies really cleaned up. We hired some sharp marketers for Amish Tables and kept pushing forward. We’re on our way back up, and I feel like a champion.

We still have a long way to go, but at least now I can see the forest for the trees.

Having command of my time is a skill I want with me for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t have been pushed to identify this bad habit without the massive challenge laid out in front of me.

Be committed
Stay organized
Get rid of fear

Have you had a similar experience?

I’ve been hacking at various business ideas since I was 16. I’m a full stack developer and love crafting user experiences. I’ve been nose deep in code since I put the legos down, and built several successful businesses in the process. I’ve lost some hair, gained some experience and throughly enjoyed the journey.

Comments 2
  • Steven Rowell
    Posted on

    Steven Rowell Steven Rowell

    Reply Author

    John Paul, thank you for sharing your experiences and insights here. I can definitely relate to all of this. I’ve done the pity parties and the beating-myself-up-over-failures stuff. And I too wholeheartedly agree that when I schedule my days I am far more productive and way less susceptible to letting the “negative voices” creep in during challenging times. My life as an entrepreneur has also shown me many times over that complacency breeds far more negative risks that can put everything–business, life, relationships–at risk for sure. There is a liberating energy that comes from focusing on the “One thing.” However, just as I know, “eating breakfast makes all the difference in the world for me” I know that scheduling my day and focusing on the one thing, along with saying No make a massive impact, it is the knowing-doing gap that gets me every time. Knowing what to do is one thing…doing it consistently is another. Reviewing my son’s 7th grade report card this morning with several comments from teachers about his opportunity for more consistency in effort and methods, along with reading your post, has heightened my awareness yet again to the importance of taking consistent action over time. Thanks for sharing and inspiring! P.S. I live in PA not too far from the Amish community of Lancaster, PA. Congratulations on keeping your Amish Tables business alive. We get to see the artistry, workmanship, quality and spirit of Amish wood working and construction all around us. Thank you for keeping it alive with your family’s business!


    • John Paul Narowski
      Posted on

      John Paul Narowski John Paul Narowski

      Reply Author

      Steven,

      Wow! Thank you for the kind words, and taking the time to read about my journey. It’s been quite exciting and challenging over the years but learning to mono-task and focus on the ONE THING has been the biggest way I’ve grown for sure. The one thing missing from my businesses over the years has been momentum, which is driven by consistency. That’s the name of the game for 2017. Cool to hear you have a context for the Amish. What a wonderful product that sells itself, we just had to dig ourselves out of the negligence hole.