Zach's PEN #4: A Stressful Year

202 Week 35

Science says that the period Allison and I are living through right now (starting a family, raising young children, building careers) is the unhappiest period of most people's lives (and that's in normal times). This is because all of these things are stressful.

Before I proceed to write a list of everything stressful going on, I want to be clear about my intent in doing so: I sometimes need to give myself permission to feel not okay. My usual orientation is to talk about how lucky I am (I am), not to complain about things (because I have no right to complain), and to focus on the positives (there are a lot). But while this is a part of my personality that I think has served me well overall, there's a point at which it becomes counterproductive, because it adds to the built-in guilt I already have about not being who I want to be or living the way I want to live.

Here's some of what's happened over the last little bit for Allison and me:

  • We began a renovation of our home, which would take 8 months, they said.
  • We moved into a 600-square-foot apartment with a toddler and pregnant.
  • My company hit some rough waters in terms of finances and personnel and needed a complete restructuring of management.
  • We spent way too much money: Continuing to send Louisa to daycare (she's a social kid) while needing a nanny to help with Wendell (too young for our daycare); An apartment on top of the mortgage; Everything associated with moving two, just kidding, THREE times. Thank God for serious family help here.
  • Our construction really disrupted the lives of two of our neighbors and we engaged in continual, often futile, damage control efforts.
  • Allison and I both suffered multiple injuries that made it difficult if not impossible to exercise for periods of time.
  • Oh yeah, one of those injuries was having another BABY. So now there were two babies and Allison and me in a 600 square foot apartment. Here's life in the big city back in the good old days before...
  • Our construction turned into a festival of code enforcement. Turns out when you open up walls in a hundred-year-old building, you find things. I'll tell you what though, no apartment has ever been so fireproofed as ours.
  • There was a worldwide pandemic while we were living in a 25-story building full of healthcare workers who talked about their COVID patients in the elevator. Philly shut down our street and set up the official COVID testing site for healthcare workers.
  • My company fell into big financial trouble.
  • We moved in with my inlaws in the Hudson Valley. My mother-in-law is high risk.
  • While shoring up the company and trying to protect as much of the staff as I could, I started a second company with some partners to try and diversify during the pandemic. That company immediately got customers, and it's a virtual events platform, which is fairly complex and comes with its own little basket of stresses: raising money, server infrastructure that must be correct, bugs and unforeseen user errors that are just as bad as bugs.
  • I decided to use this time to break through stuff that's been blocking me my whole life and press publish (this little PEN, for one).
  • I got plantar fasciitis and it's been very difficult to walk for a couple of months, and the house we're living in is four stories.
  • Did I mention we're living with my inlaws? For five months? With a 1-year-old and an almost threenager?
  • Our platform ran into really stressful bugs leading up to its first slew of big events, including a major big-$$$ event (pharma, users from all over the world), and oh yeah, it was for Allison's company, who organize events and meetings for oncology and needed a solution during COVID. The company was also founded by my aunt. And this is their biggest client. So no stress there.
  • Short Order has its biggest-profile opportunity it has ever had and probably ever will have. It could happen. It could not. We were supposed to get a decision three weeks ago. We still don't have it, but it's decidedly still not a "No." I'm not at liberty to speak about what the opportunity is.
  • We're going to move back to our home this coming Thursday.
  • PSYCH!!! Just got word our move is delayed another two weeks.
  • There's some election going on...
  • My foot still hurts.

So yeah, maybe I'm not meditating as much as I'd like to be. Maybe I just noticed some saltines in the cabinet and mowed down a sleeve of them with some of Wendell's grilled-cheese-cheese. Maybe I checked my email a hundred and sixty times a day the last few weeks and didn't get in as many deep focus sessions as I'd like. Maybe I haven't lifted weights four days a week and haven't been a super-conscientious or responsive friend/boss/employee/son/brother/husband/father.

Here's the thing: Despite all of this...

  • My wife and kids are okay.
  • I've never exercised as consistently as I have the past few months, even with a boot on my foot.
  • I've probably never eaten as consistently in line with my body's needs, tonight's sleeve of saltines notwithstanding.
  • I'm still meditating.
  • Five months with my inlaws has gone (stunningly) well.
  • Short Order is doing fine. It's under really great, steady leadership, and I am able to provide what I do best and not get in the way with what I don't do best. I don't think it's suffered from me needing to be in New York through COVID, and we've been able to preserve 90% of the staff.
  • I have a new company. Markee's first meetings were stressful but ultimately a great success, particularly Allison's big one. Our customers are very happy, and our platform is the only one like it in the world. It has zero competition for what we're trying to do, which people want and need, badly. And our growing team is perfect.
  • I'm about to move back to my dream home (beyond my dreams, really) with daycare and a park across the street and Whole Foods a block away, in the greatest city in the world and the spiritual center of America, land that I (still) love. Here's our kitchen. It's actually, legitimately embarrassing to me how nice it is:
  • I've written this PEN now four weeks in a row.

It's been a tough year, guys, and I know it's been a lot tougher for most people than it has been for me, even with this whole list. But it's still been a really tough year. There's been a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth. But I'm damned grateful for the opportunity to write about it and send it to you in this little email newsletter.

Much love, PENpals,


P.S. I generally refuse to link to Facebook on principle, but this post about what it's like to live through 2020 is the best post I've seen about what it's like to live through 2020.

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