The walls of my makeshift room rattle to the bass of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” The floor under my back rumbles from the impact of heavy weights hitting a concrete floor. With my head pounding and my eardrums aching, I slowly stand. My bloodshot eyes open to the sunlight peeking through my cardboard-covered window. I peer through the crack and my nightmare is realized. It’s 5 a.m., I live in a gym and there’s a damn CrossFit class outside of my door. My day has begun.
I drop my head and begin the walk of shame. I can feel the eyes of these morning warriors tracking me as I disappear into the hallway. My self-esteem drops with each step. I’ve slept on couches in Harlem with nothing but a fan to fend off the July heat. I’ve crashed on beanbags in Wall Street offices with nothing but the echoes of free market capitalism to keep me company at night.
Hell, I even moved back in with my parents well after they turned my bedroom into an office. I thought I was finally immune to this never-ending state of anxiety. Nope. I can’t help but feel defrauded. This is not the life Hollywood promises. This is nothing like all those commencement speeches that told me to “follow my passion” and “all it takes is ambition.” Maybe it takes more than a black turtleneck, vegan diet and a gigantic ego to “Think Differently” and change the world.
As I place a thin strip of toothpaste onto a dying electric brush, I search for motivation. Jobs. Gates. Musk. They were the geniuses of their generation. I’m a former pro hockey player with more scars than accolades, a night school degree and a goal to change a game dominated by moguls with Monopoly money. Still practically in REM, I think back to the phrase in broken English that ended my hockey career and turned my world upside down.
“American[sic] drink this shit!?”
I wasn’t sitting in a Cambridge lab concocting formulas with MIT professors. All it took was a tiny locker room in northern Scandinavia, the overbearing scent of mint Snus and my captain staring down disgusted at a 5-Hour Energy bottle that changed my life forever. I honestly don’t know why this struck such a chord, but it did, and my pursuit of an energy shot fit for athletes began. TruEnergy was born.
Maybe, I received one too many blows to the head that caused me to live in my own alternative reality. How can I possibly impact the beverage industry while living in a gym, babysitting on the side and coaching tennis to 5-year-year olds for lunch money? If this were March Madness, I am the 16th ranked team with a handful of undersized guys and they are Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team. The odds don’t seem favorable.
I take a swig of Listerine, hoping to chase away the doubt, but it just keeps coming. My friends with their slick jobs, big paychecks and healthy relationships. My Facebook feed with its relentless optimism. The wedding invitations flowing through my mailbox (at my parents’ house). I feel lost. I’m the CEO of an energy shot company who spends more time flirting with an empty bank account than with pretty women at the bar.
I stare into the mirror, struck by the drooping eyes looking back at me. Apparently, I have aged faster in the 20 months since taking TruEnergy full-time than I thought biologically possible. The consistent stress, inconsistent food, and all-nighters are finally catching up to me. My waistline is shrinking and the full head of hair that once flowed beneath my helmet is disappearing. Maybe it’s time for a vacation. I think about taking up my brother’s offer to join him on a quick trip to Belize where I could take in some much needed sun. I contemplate jumping at my friend’s suggestion to take a break, head to Colorado and carve up the slopes. Except those things take money and I’m broke. But more than that, I need every second for the business. And while I’m devastated by the reality of my circumstances, I remember that this was no one’s fault but my own. I chose this.
Now fully drained of life, I splash a wave of freezing water onto my face with one last hope of jump-starting my day. The water succeeds where the Listerine failed. Everything becomes clear. Maybe, this is not the life that was architected by my formal education, my family or even God; however, I am addicted to the rush. Keeping my head above the quicksand of our burn rate is a constant struggle that I strangely enjoy. Wearing more hats than a mannequin exposes creativity within me that I never knew existed. Poking the giants of the beverage industry leaves me exhilarated as they ignore my jabs due to my small stature. I am not a Monster, a Rock Star or a Red Bull. I antagonize, disrupt and irritate. I am the little brother that you wish you never had. I am a tick that one day the industry will notice after it’s too late. The journey is my passion while my legacy will be the outcome. This is my chance.
After all, I know why I’m here. There is something inside me, inside everyone like me. It pushed me into that first incubator and then dragged me through the next two accelerators. It’s not dumb luck that people invested their hard earned money in the company and that friends and family backed the crowdfunding campaigns. There is a reason why so many people helped me to get to this point without asking for a damn thing in return.
The reason is simple. Those people believe because I believe. I towel off my aging but energetic face. Sure, I may never be the next Richard Branson, but that’s not the goal. I will never be a self-made man as it’s not really a battle of me against the world. Everyone around me has made sacrifices so I could get to this point. People have come out of the woodwork to help turn my dream into a reality. I owe my friends, family and investors everything. Self pity won’t pay the bills while quitting is treason. A spirit-crushing dose of reality from a locker room mirror will be profitable. I can’t give up now. This is where I belong.
I take one final stare into the man looking back, droopy eyes and all. He is not the smartest guy in the room, the most commanding leader in corporate America or the finest creative mind in the world. He is an ordinary guy willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish something extraordinary. This is just another day at the office, and he is going to crush it.