4 min read

I think about selling all the time

Why should small business ownership come at a steep personal cost? Can we critique the system from the inside as we work to build something entirely new?
Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well. —Epictetus, Enchiridion (8)

it’s okay to say you can’t do it anymore

Selling is all I’ve been thinking about lately. There’s this pervasive, toxic feeling that I should shut up and enjoy the grind or hustle harder to get the results I want. It’s been said that owning a business is like running a marathon in that the finish line isn’t something you’re supposed to sprint towards, even though many do.

An actual email sent to my poor accountant in the first week of November 2022
An actual email sent to my poor accountant in the first week of November 2022

I’m more anxious than usual because summer in the Southern Hemisphere usually sees a slowdown in cafe trading as people flock to the beach. Great for seaside operators, less so for us inland. It’s a predictable trend that happens every year but that doesn’t make it any easier to come to terms with. It’ll be our second summer and I’m still waiting on our air conditioning unit to arrive for installation.

This anxiety is all-consuming, and the job isn’t something you shuck at the door along with your work boots. Over time I presume people build the strength required to shoulder the burden but in the early days it’s all one can think about. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, give or take: you wonder whether you’re doing enough, whether you’re doing it right, whether there might be an easier or more efficient way, and whether the payoff—whenever it's due—is worth grinding yourself to the bone.

It’s this constant fight to be seen, to be heard, to keep the guests happy, to keep the staff happy (and paid on time), to keep our suppliers happy (and paid on time), to keep our stakeholders happy (and paid on time), to keep my family happy by having meals with them if or when I can (and paid at some point because I definitely could not have pulled any of this off without borrowing their money).

it’s okay to feel bored and uninspired

The to-do list never gets any shorter as you realize it’s useless to try to reinvent the wheel: you simply have to show up, do the work you can, and then try again tomorrow. Something that’s helped me recently is, after working through the initial guilt of its counter-intuitiveness, making time for boredom.

The 'problem-solution' cycle presents itself regularly in the course of running a business, with the most recent being:

Do we scramble eggs to order and risk the inevitable water seeping out mere minutes after the dish is plated? Or do we prep at least two serves in the fridge, seasoned, allowing salt to work its magic on the water content? (To say nothing of soggy bread and cold plates.)

A few YouTube rabbit holes later and I came across Lucas Sin. Relatability aside—he’s a young, immigrant chef who cooks while being respectful of heritage but is modern in execution and references—he basically solved a lot of the technical challenges that inevitably arise when you’re trying to figure out how to produce dishes in a commercial setting. Bulk scrambled eggs for family brunch is one thing, but getting five people with different levels of kitchen experience to execute it consistently is another.

The added perk is that I binge-watched the rest of his videos and the idea of stepping back into the kitchen to cook no longer feels like a chore. (See above: growing to hate the things you once loved.)

it’s okay to give up

Here’s a bit of backstory: once upon a time I hustled (there’s that word again) hella hard (might as well commit) to get my journalism career off the ground. Shortly after graduating from college I moved countries, enrolled in a course I later left unfinished, and eventually lucked out on a golden ticket to the radio reporter’s equivalent of Wonka’s chocolate factory. And you know what I felt deeply but quietly kept to myself?

That I was profoundly unhappy.

That job, and the ordeal of building a career around it, was all-consuming. It too demanded 24/7 bandwidth and I was ashamed to admit that I wasn’t hungry enough compared to the people around me to make any kind of living out of it.

I agonized over it for a long time until I came across Joseph Liu and the sunk cost fallacy. Cloud cover parted and there I stood blinking in the sun. There was a way out after all.

foraging for joy

I was going over old photos and found this from when I was drafting a menu board with one of the regulars. (You know who you are.)

"A flat white to go? Do you take an existential crisis with that?"

Hi, I'll be your waiter today...
Hi, I'll be your waiter today...
... let me tell you about our specials.
... let me tell you about our specials.


Since recovering somewhat from burnout I’m pleased to report I’ve been reading more consistently. I started Christmas shopping early and found that my favorite local bookstore stocks tomes published by Fitzcarraldo Editions. I’d been curious since Annie Ernaux was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature and relate deeply to something its founder said in an interview:

“(Referring to the 1982 Werner Herzog movie in which a rubber baron tries to haul a 320-ton steamboat over a hill in the middle of the Amazon rainforest) was not a very subtle metaphor on the stupidity of setting up a publishing house,” Testard, 37, recalled recently. Publishing often “feels like you’re just digging a hole in the ground and chucking money into it,” he added.

Shoutout to Crow Books in Victoria Park and their sister shop, New Edition in Fremantle. And don’t forget to support your local library, kids!