If the Journey, and everything that we’ve sought to do in Mae Sot has taught me anything, it would be that starting something is hard. We’ve said it before, but really… what makes it so difficult?
1) It Challenges Everything You Believe About Yourself
Everyday this year I’ve wondered if I really have what it takes to do what I’m doing. Here I am, a good ole’ West Virginia hillbilly, Christian Ministry major, missionary, trying to open a bicycle business. Surely a business degree would have been helpful? Even a class or two would be nice. I’ve met strangers on the street that know more about bicycles than I do. Ultimately these are just leading questions that take me to deeper questions like, “Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?” Then, on the hardest days when nothing seems to be getting done or going in our favor, I start to wonder if I’m even passionate enough to finish it out. I wonder how many people have tried to start something, but ended up quitting because they doubted they were the person for the job? Ironically, it’s usually the job in question that starts to make you doubt yourself.
Sometimes you have to make decisions, pull the trigger, and you have no idea what the results are going to be. I’m a planner. I like organization. I like strategy. Still, you will eventually come to the point when you’re starting something new that you have to take the proverbial “leap of faith.” I remember with the restaurant, we did all the research possible, searched the city over and over, and prayed for all the direction possible, but we still weren’t clear about the location for our endeavor. You’re taught, “Location. Location. Location.” (I think you’re taught this in those business classes I never took anyway…) The risk is spending all your time, money, and efforts on a location that just won’t work, or not having a better location at all and delaying your endeavor indefinitely. It’s risky. It takes faith in something. For us, that’s obviously faith in the Lord’s leading and promises. I don’t honestly know how other people make these risky choices without the foundation we have as Christians.
That’s not to say trusting God is easy. We show up with expectations. We expect Him to speak the moment we need a word. We expect Him to pave the way ahead every time. But it’s just the opposite. He shows up, but not like we expect. He wants us to lean on him, to dig deeper into the Word and intimacy, to find him in our needs and desires. It’s just a matter of believing that somewhere, in places you never expected, He’ll be there. It’s tough.
3) There’s No Handbook
You know those “Dummies Guides” to everything you could ever imagine? I wish there was one for opening a bicycle shop in Thailand. Unfortunately they just aren’t that specific. I did find one on opening restaurants, but half of that book was useless considering it says nothing about the importance of having a picture of the King of Thailand in your establishment or how all those US business hoops aren’t required and can be skipped. The Health Department isn’t exactly checking up on places in Mae Sot.
All the plans, formulas, and guides aren’t going to give you 100% of what you need. There’s no cookie cutter format. Even the issues we ran into opening the restaurant are completely different from the problems facing us in the start of a bike shop. The first time, raising the capital to start the project was easy, almost natural. But round two has proven to be much more difficult. Every business, project, organization, and endeavor will inevitably come with unforeseen issues and red-tape. Despite the experience of opening two businesses, I feel less sure that I know what I’m doing. It’s just getting a little easier to trust that we can eventually figure it out.
4) It’s Demanding… Physically, Emotionally, Relationally, and Spiritually.
I’m tired. I’ll admit it. Going home for Christmas was relaxing, but in the back of mind I knew that there were so many bike shop related tasks that awaited us here in Thailand. Yesterday we got up early, went out on our motorbike to pick up some new bikes for the shop, got a flat tire, carried two new bikes back with us on the motorbike all the way across town, taught English at the children’s home for two hours, worked on the website, shopped for our grand opening, edited marketing photos, directed the staff on our repair tasks, picked up a 10 ft step ladder from a local church (on the motorbike again), and went to bed dirty and tired… while working on the website. Today looks the same.
Emotionally, I have high highs and low lows. “WE’RE ARE GOING TO DO IT!” and “HOW WILL THIS EVER WORK!” are sometimes expressed in the same hour. It all goes back to reasons #1 and #2.
You can imagine what this range of emotions in a physically drained state does to your relationships. I’ve never needed so much grace. Sometimes, the feelings overflow out of my emotional cup and attempt to drown those around me. (Thanks for wading through all of that friends!) Feedback, honest, clear and consistent communication, and an abundance of grace and love keep us moving forward.
Spiritually I’m urged further and further out of my comfort zone and further and further away from quiet time with Him. I love spending time in prayer and in the word, but honestly there are days where it feels like one more thing I need to squeeze into the to-do list. Still, I know that if I don’t put it on the list, I’ll go about my day focusing on everything else that I did intentionally plan to do. I constantly have to choose the right attitude and right perspective to make sure I’m fueled up.
5) There’s No Instant Gratification… Results… or Fruit…
I’ll be honest, I’ve fallen prey to the “instant gratification” of our consumer-driven, technological society. I want results yesterday. Let me tell you… you won’t find that in this process. Sure you get to see the “sign” go up outside. You get to see bikes on the racks in the storefront. There are the employees coming in everyday and collecting their paychecks from your business once a month. But the bigger gratification of “was this worth it?” and “did this work?” come much, much later. I think it happened this fall, around November sometime. The assistant manager of our restaurant had just branched out to start her own laundry service and customers were communicating their satisfaction with more frequent visits. We were able to step out from underneath the security of our investment capital, and pay the bills on profits. Funds started supporting our ministry projects. This was the moment, 11 months after our arrival to Mae Sot full of hopes and dreams, that I felt that I could honestly say it worked and it was worth it. Even then, I think we were blessed to have our gratifying moment come so soon.
People don’t do this because it’s hard.
Ultimately, it’s incredibly difficult to start something new, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the struggle. It’s proof of why more people don’t follow through with their dreams and ambitions, but the struggle is what makes it great. One of my favorite movies and quotes is from A League of Their Own. Tom Hanks’ character looks at Geena Davis’ and says:
“Of course it’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would be doing it. The hard is what makes it great.” – A League of Their Own
Stay tuned… I want to brighten the mood in the next blog: 5 Reasons It’s Worth the Struggle To Start Something New.