I read Cathryn Horn’s moving tribute to her dear friend L’Wren Scott who committed suicide earlier this week and I literally found myself sobbing at my desk. It wasn’t so much because it was so well written (it was) or that L’Wren seemed truly likeable (she did) but it was that the feelings that she was grappling with- as a creative business owner AND as a WOMAN creative business owner- felt so terribly familiar that I felt as though I knew her. Or I felt as though at times I could have been her.
“And in those days, her business really ran on a shoestring, with L’Wren and maybe two other women doing all the work. She had an incredible work ethic; if there was one thing that bound all her friends, wherever they were born, it was that. And there was no job she wasn’t willing to do herself, which became a problem as her company got bigger.”
L’Wren was set to announce that she was going to close her business today, but on Monday (after a night with friends on Sunday) she instead took her life. Mayra’s husband said to her the other day “I don’t see how some money problems could push things that far.”, and of course, there is always more to the story than simply money.. but Mayra and I actually felt opposite. I think anyone who has ever been there- as a business owner who is passionate about creating for a living and had cash flow problems or tax problems or any other kind of business problem has felt that crushing sense of the world closing in on you. You can feel it all to be a trap, and it’s easy to get to a place where no option seems like a good way out. It can be shockingly hard to keep perspective.
Six or so years ago, when we had a floral business too and fuel charges skyrocketed and then the recession hit and all our clients lost their jobs when all the Investment Banks closed, we literally were in such a panicked state. We estimated jobs at one price, only for the cost of goods to have gone up unexpectedly, and there was NEVER enough cash. Simply never. We hadn’t learned a lot of the mistakes made of how to price things and how to sell ourselves properly and we were just in a cycle of constant treading. I was in the midst of getting my divorce and then got hit with a tax bill that was so high, it was a thing of nightmares. I did NOT know really what to do… We didn’t know what to do.
This was coupled by our desperate desire to make this work and see this through. First, because we loved being creative for a living. We love designing events and loved the spirit of creativity at our company. We especially loved that our clients were so drawn to that. AaB is was our baby and we had worked so hard to grow it… the solution could not possibly be to walk away. And then the answer was- and walk away to do what exactly? We felt we could simultaneously do everything and yet qualified to do nothing. What job would we want? What job would we be good for? Were we even employable?
I found it funny how Cathryn Horn, who had been a salaried employee with a steady check from the Times for ages and ages, warned L’Wren to not take it too seriously and to “give it a time table for succeeding” and how L’Wren bristled at the suggestion. If I had a dollar for every time someone in either of our families or friend circles said something similar… without possibly understanding the joy/agony of nurturing and growing a business where you do what you love and make beautiful, beautiful things that mean something to other people. It’s impossible to imagine, if you’ve never done it, what it would feel like to know that business simply wasn’t working or needed to close.
So, I’m sure there was more to the story than JUST business, but I see so clearly how that could make the world feel so much darker.
The moral of my post here, if there is one, is that the lesson from L’Wren is that none of us is the first to experience this for the first time. Suffering in silence is a surefire way to suffer longer and shame over ups and downs in business is like feeling some shame for running into a pothole on the BQE- it happens to everyone from time to time. It can always turn around. There is always a new way to look at things, do things and reinvent yourself.