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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tapestry In Progress

Warning: Navel-gazing ahead.  This is not the norm for this blog, most of the time I'm writing articles about the business side of the comic and hobby game trade.  If you don't know me personally, this one is probably a "skip."  Scroll down and enjoy the much more relevant goodness! :)

I turn 42 years of age at the end of the week.  Rest assured that I am under no illusion that I am still a strapping young lad.  However, due to a combination of general healthy living, refraining from drinking alcohol or smoking with any frequency, avoiding physically deleterious activities, and dumb genetic luck, I look a decade younger, aside from the gray bits in my hair.  I usually feel pretty damned good.  Energized, optimistic, capable.

Three hours into Grand Prix Albuquerque 2016, I was ready to curl up and die.
I'm getting too old for this sh*t, as Lethal Weapon's Sergeant Roger Murtaugh so famously quipped. 

My original version of this article recapped the weekend and why I found it such a stark combination of enjoyment and misery.  A delightful time road-tripping with my friends was punctuated by a remarkably un-fun series of Magic tournaments.  Even in the events where I fared well in the wins column, having to deal with opponents' soft cheats and engaging in he-said-she-said with judges was about as fun as a canker sore.  Some of the ensuing recreation was spoiled for me by the lingering worry that my own customers could potentially be experiencing this kind of thing with any frequency in my store.  I cringed in shame at the notion that I offered fun and entertainment and then delivered such a false bill of goods.

I realized after about eight paragraphs that my recap was a bore to read and added nothing to my article message.  So you'll have to take my word for it that some things happened and they affected my outlook on all this.  Deal?  In the end, a substantial amount of my suffering was due to bariatric distress, and I'm just reaping what I've sown on that.  The reality is that a long day of game competition, even tabletop, can be punishing to the diminished stamina of an old geezer like me.

I thought more of it later and wondered why I let the business implications of my unpleasant player encounters bother me so much that they overshadowed some of the fun that came later.  I did enjoy things like running through the nearly-snow drizzle to a casino to discover free cake.  Or defying my diet to experience an authentic Laguna Burger on Route 66, enjoying that Adrian was getting to do the same thing as a visitor from abroad.  Or engaging in Matt's increasingly legendary Unified Life Theory discussions, which always find a way to incorporate money, work, kids, religion, mixed martial arts, and the adult content industry somehow.  But in the quiet chasms in between, I dwelled on whether I had picked the wrong horse by architecting a business predicated on being able to sell an experience.  I had just seen how easily that experience could be corrupted before delivery to an end customer, despite a staggering budget deployment from an excellent and reputable event organization.  What chance did I have?

Hearing about my travel companions' career successes (and they deserve every bit of them) reminded me that I've given up a lot in order to have control and investiture.  It was beneficial that when my state employment had run its course, I had a landing spot already waiting where my administrative skills were desperately needed.  A fleeting benefit, however.  I have a law degree that I paid (by means of indebtedness) a king's ransom to obtain, and yet the most I am doing with it right now is having a perpetual edge on my competition in terms of risk mitigation, HR, accounting, payroll, compliance, and so on.  To set aside a career in health care administration and facilities licensing enforcement for a career owning and developing specialty small retail is a sufficiently dubious move on its face that I, a paragon of confident arrogance, entertain real doubt.

I pondered this in the days after the road trip.  Despite my health conditions, I am usually a wellspring of hope and action, as I mentioned at the top of the article.  And yet I had picked open a sore that had me questioning everything that I was doing.  It made matters worse that I had a frustrating week at the store after that; my business partner was called out of town on a family emergency, and I was unable to do much to advance the business while covering both our watches and putting out fires for the duration.  By the weekend I was chewing bullets in exasperation, despite April 2016 being the store's best revenue month in history (and clinching that spot with over a week still to go).  However well we performed on the scoreboard, I fume knowing how much better we could have done if only I had been able to get X, Y, and Z implemented and on board for the staff to utilize.  Can I even do it?  Can I even keep up?

Ultimately, was this all just whistling in the dark against the inevitability of a better future if I packed it all in and took some position better monetizing my legal education and business experience?  For all I know, I'm the perfect purple squirrel to land an executive spot at some mass-market retail chain.   Logistics, development, whatever.  So why don't I?  I can always sell out, either my share of DSG or the business in its totality.  I can hit the reset button and restart the level, my post-J.D. career.  I don't even have to go back and pass Slippy Slidey Ice World or Lethal Lava Land again.
In "Tapestry," one of the high points of an already strong sixth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Jean-Luc Picard is faced with the classic choice of what he would do differently if he had the pivotal moments of his early years to live over again, with the benefit of the wisdom and restraint he learned later in life as a Starfleet captain.  Of course, it was not that simple, and his changed decisions still bore consequences, some pleasant, but most unwelcome.  Picard discovers, as he put it, "Pulling at the loose threads of my youth unraveled the tapestry of my life."

It's naive to think that the Butterfly Effect would so overwhelm rational preparation that I would fail to benefit in some measure from the effects of a reboot.  Even if you accepted that my Big Life Mistakes had to happen to shape me into the person I am today, I tend to think that avoiding some of the worst disasters would bend the graph so far back up from the negative that better navigation from there was assured regardless.  My hacker-wannabe escapades of my teenage years.  My botched multi-level-marketing endeavor.  My first marriage.

But mostly I think the thesis of "Tapestry" holds true.  I had to fail at Wizard's Tower Gaming Center to learn how not to run a business.  Not just a game store, but a business overall.  All along the way the failures led to future successes by teaching me what does not work.  By process of elimination it becomes possible to craft a Unified Life Theory of things that do work.  It's surprisingly compatible with the gloriously explicit version Matt has been developing all this time.  And let me tell you, knowing how failure looks, the telltale signs, the leading indicators, is a huge motivator for me to stay on the ball with my business efforts now.  We're safe enough to weather some rough seas now if we encounter them, but it only takes a little bit of inattention for fissures to appear in the foundation of this kind of enterprise.

So does this mean I'm content in my retail reality and cast aside all regrets of the legal career that still hasn't left the hangar bay?  Oh, goodness, no.  For the right amount of money I'll drop what I'm doing like it's hot, Snoop.  There are attorneys working well into their septuagenarian years, and they use my chips for coasters.   I'd have to pass the bar exam and the MPRE again, but it's like riding a bicycle, you never really forget how.  I've been a fairly upstanding citizen lately and should be able to pass muster for character and fitness this next go-round.  And beyond that there is still the professional writing that I wish more than anything I could do for the entirety of my livelihood.  But those things are goals to be attained, journeys to be traveled.  Right now I have a thriving business that demands a downright coarse amount of my time, attention, and effort, but is building resilient value and capital for later.  And in which, whatever else happens, I encounter an outstanding gallery of humans on a regular basis, many of whom I now call friends.

There needs to be some way I can buy Frontier Restaurant sweet rolls and just have them frozen and shipped to me or something.

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