steve duross - craftsman. artisan. entrepreneur. musings on running and growing a small business


a great deal has been said and written on the subject of hustling. usually with a #entrepreneur and some faux wisdom like "have a backup plan". much of life is the shit we learned in kindergarten but chose to ignore as we got older.

i think most people would describe themselves as hustlers. enterprising? dunno. go-getter? sure, as long as you can have the weekends off and don't have to be responsible when it all goes to hell. sort of like taking the title of entrepreneur when you've got nothing really riding on the line. in many ways, we are all similar, however i like that in the dictionary, just below the enterprising definition, the word prostitute appears. it's is actually a better definition for what happens. doing whatever it takes to get the job done. i do my job because it needs to be done. not for glamour, or hype, or pride. to sustain often means staying alive to dream another day. we do what we must. this is what it takes to run a business. completely unvarnished.

we set goals. we all set goals. the bank won't give us a loan unless we cobble together some bullshit business plan that often bears no resemblance to the reality we face. we talk about our goals, trying to convince either ourselves or the listener (probably both) of what lies ahead. little of life ever works out as planned. but that's what makes it so wonderful. all the joys we have yet to conceive. if i had a nickel for every time someone told me what they would do "if". how many people actually do what they dream, and if they do, how many still want it soon after?  i recently asked a friend who is considering starting a business, if at the end of the day, all you ever achieve is the day to day of your little business, can that be enough? the question no one ever wants to answer. defeatist propaganda. you have to believe in your goals 100%!!!  oh brother, isn't that a load of horse shit. you have to actively live within your dream every day and love what you are already doing. otherwise it's a lifetime of buying lottery tickets you'll never win.

80% of small business survive their first year. 66% the second year. 50% the third year. only 30% of all new businesses survive ten years. so the question i would ask: is it worth it? if you're not going to get everything you dream of, is it worth it? for me the answer has been yes.

this october marks the 13th year duross & langel has been in operation. an ever evolving scheme that lets me play out the fantasies within my mind's eye. don't misunderstand. it is hard work. long hours. weeks, months, years. take your eye off the ball for even a short time and you find yourself scrambling to stay in the game. i chose the right profession. i have a good nose for aroma. i can also smell a turd from a mile off. sometimes i foolishly make the mistake of sharing this observation. people usually love my brutal honesty. ever notice that people just love brutal honesty except when it is directed toward them? still, it serves us well. and we can usually catch ourselves when we need a fresh perspective. the part i find most wearing is staff. staff can be a source of joy and pain. they can also profoundly effect the outcome of any day based on their give (or take) of precious energy. keeping all parties enthused by what we do is my hardest job. focusing on what's in front of me from the moment i walk in to the moment i lock the door. then on to the book-keeping or blogging or whatever. is it still worth it? yes, it is.

i spend a good portion of my life dreaming. i dream i can grow the business to where it can become a mighty brand. i dream of the salon taking on a life of it's own, paying it's own way and finding a wonderful person who can run it for us. i dream of my staff finding success. of joe grooming's success as a brand, and what might be achieved with future lines based on today's work. i dream of falling in love, traveling the world and reveling in what life has to offer. but if i wasn't already doing all of these things on a cellular level, nothing would ever be possible. i live into my dreams and goals now, in each moment on a micro level. success, in the financial (or traditional) sense, is elusive. most people trade in their dreams for someone else's. when the going get's tough. the tough don't get going. they flee, or whine, or both. for example, take love.

how many people reading this have love goals? who want to be married or have babies or just don't want to go through life alone? whatever your goal for love, you can achieve it but it won't be sustainable without that undefinable something we know as chemistry. what makes anyone think that the rest of life doesn't work the same way? chemistry is why some brands make it while so very many fail. chemistry is what happens when product blends perfectly with marketing in a marketplace ripe for that product. chemistry is what holds people together. what binds the universe. it is the law of nature. however business majors have yet to experience this, MBAs hope to find it when not falling into somnambulant corporate culture, and self-styled entrepreneurs have yet to learn that rolling up their sleeves and doing the work will most likely connect them to this phenomenon. chemistry is everything. look at the 50% marriage failure rate, (which does not account for the people who are too scared or lazy to move on with their lives). along the way, every day, we must fight to sustain the dreamer who drives us toward our goals. in all the compartmentalized areas of our lives. personally, socially, politically. by it's very definition, chemistry is about identifying how various matter interacts, combines and changes. it's synonyms are: affinity, attraction, rapport and spark. our physical, mental, emotional and (i believe) spiritual approach to our life and our work defines any attempt at success. anything less is pure dumb luck.

not long ago, a colleague approached me about my life. the jist was something akin to 'don't you think your life is kind of sad and lonely?' the actual delivery was devoid of the brutal honesty i have just distilled. but my answer is no. i am not sad. i am not lonely. though i do experience moments of sadness and loneliness, it is not is binary state within which i live. having the guts to lay everything on the line for one's dream is a purely selfish act. jane austin wrote in mansfield park that "selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure". selfishly, i think it profound. why else would i have chosen to work on so many projects at the neglect of so many things others find important? if only with one's self, chemistry is a powerful thing to have set as your goal. the possibilities for outcomes are endless. 

so i work and i travel and write and play and yes, sometimes i fall in love. with an idea or a concept, an ingredient, or a vision or a plan. and when i am not very careful, i fall in love with the worst possible men. yet still i learn. and i grow. and i dream of the things i'll be doing tomorrow.

not everyone who wanders is lost.

joy comes in the morning

whenever i need a little inspiration, all i have to do is climb the stairs and slide into my apron, pick up my raw materials and create. the production studio is always good for my soul. on the days i am working behind the chair, detailing a cut, chatting with the guys, it knocks me out. the energy i feel in that moment.. my world becomes about the flow. though i utilize these two worlds as a form of creative expression (and perhaps a bit of escape), in those two places there is a profound connection to the me who exists when i am alone. the best parts of me that don't have to be censored. the me without limits. this creative self brought me to the projects people now refer to as my "businesses". that i still have access to simplicity at my core brings me an enormous amount of joy. a fine accomplishment. my personal best.

surprisingly, working on the floor again in the store has re-ignited the fire of my inner entrepreneur. i feel at one with my original intentions. pure possibility. not dissimilar to the feeling of coming home, the shop floor is a place where i know for sure i belong. as i now center myself again in the comfort of what i left behind, i am feeling a sense of satisfaction. the store is just where i left it, eagerly awaiting my return, completely unexpected. buoyed by the fact that the store is the domain of sarah, i feel emboldened to focus on little projects that have been neglected. think of the store as a garden and me a gardener who is back from holiday. it's all there. with enough love and nurturing attention, it will be dazzling to behold once more.

as we approach the eleventh anniversary of duross & langel on 13th street, i cannot help but look behind me to see how far we've come. remembering the eleven years i've shared with sarah by my side. my business partner. my work wife. in spite of the fact that we have loved, laugh with and ultimately lost everyone around us, we persist because we are committed to duross & langel as a key element of our lives. we are blessed to be committed to one another as friends. there exists no shade between us. as i sit pecking out this paragraph, she sits across from me silently on her lap top. the day ended thirty-five minutes ago but here we are, in the quiet of the store, doing the things we don't have the time to do when the doors are unlocked. blissfully alone. together. and tonight i promise myself that whatever the future holds, i will cherish all that has happened, all that we have shared, and honor the choices of a future that has yet to be written.

the development of my skills as a small business person continue. saying goodbye to valued staff. saying hello to new hires. often the beginning is filled with promise. the ending of woe. personally i have reached a point where i no longer feel the need to build a family from my work life. this is, after all, a workplace. that people can come for a time and do their best work while attempting to figure out what comes next should be enough. and for me, now, it is. it takes a fair bit of time to realize the things we need, the things we don't, and what gets left along the way. whatever remains is meant to be.

tonight i am feeling a great many things. the ground beneath me shifted. but when one considers that life on this planet formed and reformed many times over through the process of shifting, i think that in the grand scheme of things... we're good. change is life. psalm 30 (my favorite) has been rattling around in my brain all day. anger is but for a moment, favor is for a lifetime. weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning. and so i close this paragraph knowing that whatever stresses the day might bring, or worries the night may hold, i can always count on the joy that comes as surely as the dawn.

wiping the slate clean

relationships are hard.  romantic, business, familial, neighborhood, political... doesn't matter really. we have to work at keeping the mechanics of our relationships lubricated lest they cease up and breakdown. depending upon the type of relationship, the lubrication varies. let our city and our neighborhoods degrade and the end of your political career is nigh. throw late night parties and break the building rules, your neighbors will instigate a process that has you searching for a new home. you get the idea. small things begin at first to grow into much larger issues. when those issues infringe upon the group, then we have a problem. everyone in our lives comes with a certain amount of stuff. how to make everybody's stuff work together is the charm.  but when you find a staff member who pushes up against the norm once too often, you have yourself a scapegoat.

the original context of the term scapegoat was a jewish purification ritual described in the book of leviticus, wherein a goat was symbolically infused with the transgressions of the community and driven into the wilderness. in christian thought, jesus came to be seen as a scapegoat, whose sacrificial death led to the purification of the human community.

the ancient greeks practiced a "scapegoating" rite in which a cripple or beggar or criminal (the pharmakos) was cast out of the community, either in response to a natural disaster (such as a plague, famine or an invasion) or in response to a calendrical crisis (such as the end of the year). building upon these religious foundations, "scapegoat" has become a common term for an individual who is selected to bear blame for a calamity. "scapegoating" is the act of holding a person, group of people, or thing responsible for a multitude of problems.

mobbing is a form of sociological scapegoating which occurs in the workplace. scapegoating is an effective if temporary means of achieving group solidarity, when it cannot be achieved in a more constructive way. it is a turning inward, a diversion of energy away from serving nebulous external purposes toward the deliciously clear, specific goal of ruining a disliked co-worker's life.

psychoanalytic theory holds that unwanted thoughts and feelings can be unconsciously projected onto another, who then becomes a scapegoat for one's own problems. if the scapegoating pattern continues into early adulthood, development towards healthy personal identity is likely to be compromised, with a strong likelihood of developing histrionic, compensatory narcissistic, and/or obsessive-compulsive, as well as passive-aggressive traits. such misplaced feelings are also understood to potentially yield severe, ego-protecting "affect management behaviors" including substance and behavioral process disorders. how messed up is that? so if someone's parent's got their damage all over them, they in turn can project whatever damage was caused to them on the people in their lives, including the workplace? sometimes i just want my old life back.

forgiveness is an easy virtue, for the majority (we hope) recognize our basic humanity. our flaws. by offering redemption we offer another a chance of wiping the slate clean. it is also an opportunity for self forgiveness.

life is hard. recognizing that as a fact makes life easier to manage. when we step into any relationship with our eyes wide open, when our expectations are right-sized, it becomes easier to manage the diverse relationships our lives proffer. hiring and managing employees is the nexus of this idea, for more often than not, we won't see what's really going on for some time to come. by then the dysfunctional processes are well under way.

i am not a psychoanalyst, nor would i want that job. figuring people's motives is far above my ability or pay grade. but i am no saint either. my baggage is plentiful. a lifetime of sinning has taught me a great deal about forgiveness. fyi: for those who do not already know, the root of the word sin is taken from a term in archery. to sin or syn is to be in error. to miss the mark. for me, the whole of my life is the act of learning from all moments equally, whether spot on or missing the mark. to be blissfully and blessedly human. i firmly believe that my ability to be flawed is one of the traits that make me an effective leader.

as business owners we have to be mindful that we don't allow ourselves to scapegoat, and that we don't allow it to happen to our people. everyone is coming onboard with stuff. everyone has tendencies that drive us to distraction. i was reminded of this lesson quite recently. instead of loading the board further with a list of grievances, i chose to wipe the slate clean. the best and brightest often upset the status quo. it is our job to make it all work anyway.