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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: Failure / Mistakes / Regret
- Published: 01/23/2017
‘End of the Line’
My mother always said I was a bit of a dreamer. In a lot of ways she was right, ever since I can remember I’ve always had some project I was working on. Maybe it was to finish the model plane I got for my birthday or the essay I had to write for college, in most of my undertakings I approached each one with the same enthusiasm and single mind-set as all the others. But yes, during each one I always took the time to dream of the next. Let’s take for example some of the most successful people in the world, entrepreneurs who dared to follow their dreams, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs to name but a few. What a difference all these men made to the world, and what if they hadn’t been idealists, would the world have been any different without computers, streaming media and smart phones. Of course it would, the fact I’m writing this on a word processor and not on a piece of white paper with a pencil is only possible because these men and others who ventured to dream.
Messages are sent instantaneously across the world, face time and Skype allow us to talk to each other in real time. We can see friends and family, work colleagues, and analyze their expressions as we talk, grasp their emotions instead of talking into a bodiless malleable handset, all possible because someone had a vision. Yet behind each visionary there is a human being with feelings, wants, needs and aspirations. Aristotle once said ‘’No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness’’ no truer words spoken, I think.
I read an article a few days ago while I was on route from my hometown, New York, to Seattle, a five hour journey by plane, which I just happen to own. Forbes I think was the publisher, online of course - I don’t do papers anymore. Not because I’m a save the tree freak or anything, it’s just the thought of all the people who may have handled it before I got to read the broadsheet. All those germs. The editorial written as noted by ‘contributor’ Amy Morin (I read all her bio by the way) really hit home to me. It was if she was writing my profile it was so close to my own personality. Amy composed, and I quote: "the life of an entrepreneur sounds glamorous when you’re on the outside looking in. Setting your own schedule, creating your own rules, and building the type of company you want to work for can be incredibly alluring."
Those first few lines drew my attention like a pin to a magnet. On the outside to most my lifestyle was glamorous, and I was wealthy, owned the jet I was traveling in and a penthouse suite on Park Avenue, the most affluent part of New York. A self-made millionaire by the time I was twenty eight and a billionaire on my fortieth birthday. But as I read on it was if I’d sat down with Amy and allowed her to record my inner most secrets, she continued: "In fact, successful entrepreneurs tend to be idolized by the masses as they appear to be happier, more successful, and more driven than anyone else. There are a multitude of books, courses, and companies devoted entirely to selling the dream of business ownership. Yet, there’s a hidden dark side to being entrepreneur that’s rarely discussed - the lifestyle can be a setup for a variety of serious mental health issues."
I stared at the page and thought of the loneliness I endured even though I was surrounded by people. But they were not friends or family, only body guards and servants, Faceless individuals, with me only to do my bidding. I never married, my choice entirely, and not because there was ever anyone who I fell in love with, there was, but the thought of prenuptial agreements recommended by my attorneys made me feel there would always be an elephant in the room if I ever gave my heart to anyone. It was easier not to get involved. And so I read on: "The hidden secret among many entrepreneurs is the psychological price they pay for their choices. The demands of business ownership may place entrepreneurs at a higher risk of specific mental health problems. Here are just a few of the ways being an entrepreneur can take a toll on your psychological well-being:"
(At the top of her psychosomatic profile was an element I had years of experience with, as she noted.)
’’Depression comes in many forms and it doesn’t always present as sadness. Sleep difficulties, irritability and changes in weight are just a few symptoms that can also be associated with depression. Entrepreneurs may mask depressive symptoms by working longer hours, or they may mistake their depressive symptoms with stress, which can cause symptoms to get worse.
In extreme cases, entrepreneurs may also experience an increased risk of suicide. In fact, Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec recently revealed to people that he contemplated suicide last summer after the breakup of his marriage. His courageous revelation proves that extreme fame, fortune, and success doesn’t buffer anyone from mental health issues."
In all honesty, I had thought about conjuring up the dark lord of death by my own hand, truthfully I must answer yes to that contemplation, but only in those moments of alcohol infused delirium, an act thankfully I never had the courage to complete. So now I live alone in my ivory tower, albeit with a panic button safety net should I fall to the temptation of perversity?
Conveniently this leads me to her second analogy: ‘’Self-Worth Issues – Many entrepreneurs tie their self-worth to their net-worth. When the business is doing well, their self-esteem skyrockets. But when they lose a little money or fail to meet their goals, they find themselves struggling with their identity because their business isn’t what they do – it’s who they are.
Many entrepreneurs believe that if they just work hard enough, they should become successful. Despite this notion, the statistics are fairly grim. In a world where quotes like, “Failure isn’t an option” are thrown around like must-live-by mantras, setbacks can cause a psychological crisis’’.
My inner most fear is as Amy suggests, ‘self worth’. I know while I sleep my money makes even more money. Yet my distress is heightened each night before I go to bed in fear of something will happen while I dream to rob me of all I have worked for and once again I will be poor. Surprised? Why? As my Mother said I was a dreamer, but I was also pitiable. Deplorable, because I watched my Father toil all his life only to make ends meet. What kind of a life is it where you cannot fulfill your aspirations, meager as they may be? I could not go back to those years of my early youth in northeast Manhattan. Although in some ways I’m proud to say I came from the Bronx, and in all my interviews with the media over the years I feel a sense of fulfillment when I read how I’ve become an inspiration to young people and how I am the epitome of the American dream. Yet my nightmare is all that I have achieved is the dream and I will wake up in my bedroom overlooking the Harlem River my fortunes nothing more than an illusion. Only when I rouse in my suite do I feel a sense of relief to find nothing has changed with my prosperity and they remain intact. So the consequences of those uncertainties have left me an insomniac, which only adds fuel to my depression.
Maybe it was the comfort of the seat I was in when I began to read Amy’s article, along with the soothing hum of the aircrafts jet engines. Or the combination of two days without sleep and an early morning shot of bourbon that eased me into the realm of slumber. I can’t say, but an hour into my flight I found myself in a vivid alter-reality. The drone of the planes engine being replaced by the murmuring clatter of a train carriage, one I instantly recognised from my early years of traveling to school. My route to Monroe College was a short 30 minute hop on board a packed tram and I woke in my customary seat at the window heading south towards the city. Only this time the normally crowded car was vacant and the usual view of the Hudson over my right shoulder has been replaced by a thick white speeding fog. My reflection in the window when I look is not however of a young man I should have been then but more the man I now have become. A weary graying individual with sad eyes mirroring the miserable person I really had evolved into - a true likeness. I turned away quickly in horror.
On the seat next to me were my blue faded duffle bag I used to carry my books and the tablet with the still image of the page I had been reading. Amy’s editorial was paused on the same paragraph. but how could that be? I began to wonder if my transportation back in time, if this was what it was, should be authentic. This technology wasn’t invented then, but I soon surmised dreams are just a concoction of all our life experiences, never really making sense. I smiled to myself for being so rational and picked it up; it threw a glow of white light onto my face and lit up a small area around me in the dimly lit car. Scrolling down to her next section, it continued on: "Anxiety – Entrepreneurs aren’t just under stress, they're also under an enormous amount of pressure. The pressure of knowing your ability to pay this month’s mortgage depends on closing the next deal, or feeling as though you can’t spend time with family because you have to keep working, lends itself to incredible anxiety.
Many entrepreneurs struggle to function normally because they’re constantly worried about their business. Their strong desire to achieve can cause them to constantly second guess their actions and ruminate on worst case scenarios. Eventually, the constant anxiety can become immobilizing for many entrepreneurs and eventually, it can lead to burnout.’’
Was this what was happening, had I finally reached a breakdown like Amy had described?
A voice from behind me answered out loud that question I had silently thought in my head; it startled me from my concentration.
‘How are you Francis?’ it asked. ‘Do you remember me?’
‘I know who you are’ I replied without turning. ‘Mr. Hope, my college professor, but why do you travel on this train when your home is close to Monroe? you always walked.’
‘The mind is an extraordinary thing young Dickson, both fragile and resilient. When in health it can think, allowing us humans to make sense of the world. To represent and interpret in ways that are significant, or which accord with our needs, attachments, goals, commitments, plans, ends and desires. Memory is the ability to preserve, retain, and subsequently recall, knowledge, information or experience. Imagination is the activity of generating or evoking novel situations, images, ideas or other qualia. Things imagined are said to be seen in the ‘minds eye’. Among the many practical functions of imagination are the ability to project possible futures (or histories), to "see" things from another's perspective, and to change the way something is perceived, including to make decisions to respond to, or enact, what is imagined’.
‘Is that why you are here professor? Are you a figment of my imagination; is this my minds eye creating this illusion?’
‘You haven’t been sleeping well lately Francis, eating healthy, nor looking after yourself properly. If I’m here then there must be a reason for it. When you were in my class it was the beginning of your journey. It was when the seeds of realization were sown and germinated into the idea you had which made you wealthy. Don’t you remember the day you came to me with it, barely able to contain your excitement. A simple thing no one else in the world had thought of, but yet so obvious. You surpassed every other student with your project. I asked a simple question to all that afternoon, set everyone homework. ‘What is the biggest selling commodity? Discover this and you will find success. Some derived ideas so unrealistic it was clear they did not understand my question; others drew intricate plans of possible machines in the future, promising but with the limited technology of 1987 or the next ten years, impossible. Only you grasped the question correctly, the prevalent retailing item that has always been saving people time and effort. Making their lives a little less demanding is what people will pay for and you found it.’
‘Like the washing machine or vacuum cleaner’
‘Exactly Francis, perfect examples’
‘This is all very well professor, our little moment of reminiscing about my epiphany, but something tells me this isn’t why you are really here’.
‘Then explain why I have conjured you and for what reason should I be here on this train.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Cast your mind back to the first two years on your road to success, try and remember how it all began.’
‘Too much time has passed since then Professor, and what would be the point?’
‘Do you remember how many stops the train made between when you got on near your home until you got off for Monroe, Francis?’
‘Three if memory serves me right’
‘Very good, now think of myself as the first stop on this route, then reflect on your past, only then will you reach the next station’
I closed my eyes and soon pictures began to form. ‘It was the week before thanksgiving, New York was coming out of a cold spell and America was two years into a recession,’ I began. ‘My Father had lost his job with the PACCAR truck company. We were surviving on welfare and what little money Mother made on tips as a waitress at the local Diner. I wanted to leave, quit school, and get a job, but both of them wouldn’t hear tell of it. They scrimped and saved, went without food sometimes just so I would get a better education. So it was around that time I swore if I ever did well in my life I would look after them. And I did, I kept my promise. less than ten years later I bought them a big apartment in UES near 96th street. I remember when I came up with my idea it happened while I lay awake and listened to my Mother crying with worry as to where the next dollar would come from. To shut out her pitiful moans I tried hard to think of something else. And then it came to me, it was so simple; it would be easy and cheap to make. But then I was instantly overcome with doubt. someone was bound to have already thought of it, some rich designer was constructing it as I lay there. Never the less, excited I drew my proposal on a scrap of paper and then on the Monday I showed it to you. I was naïve and clueless what to do next but you were just as enthusiastic as I and together over the next two years we managed to get a company interested in developing my idea. And the rest as they say is history.’
When I opened my eyes and looked up; sitting across in his fashion hurricane of tweed jacket, brown corduroy pants and scuffed black brogues was the professor. Much as I remembered him from back then, his glasses still hung round his neck on his imitation gold chain and his gray hair was just as wild as it had been. His legs were crossed and his head was tilted to one side as if deep in thought. For a short while we sat in a pregnant silence listening only to the clatter of steel wheels on iron tracks.
‘I am near the age you were then when I came to you but now much older and wiser’ I finally said, for I knew by his look he was waiting to hear about a portion of time I had blocked out, a slice of both of our past just as important as all the rest. ‘When my Father was ill with cancer, the week he was dying I went to see him in his hospice. Mother was at his bedside, as usual she looked tired and drawn. For a year and a half we had tried the best doctors money could buy, once the tumor had been discovered, but no amount of cash can hold back death. I would have gladly given away everything I had amassed to make him better. It was while we talked that afternoon, as mother napped in the chair, he asked me about you and what had I done to take care of you. I lied and told him you were fine, but of course I knew you weren’t. My father was a good man and I looked up to him in every respect, but if he had known I’d let you down he would have died unhappy. You supported me, helped me get to where I am now, yet when you reached out for help I wasn’t there, and I regret it, deeply. But I was young and greedy for success, and believe me you were not the only one I wronged to get what I wanted. Money and power has a way of clouding your thinking of what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m sorry you passed away alone, poor and heartbroken. I’m sorry I didn’t keep my promises, not only to you but to all the others. Please forgive me’
I put my head into my palms and began to cry, tears flowed easily and with each one I wept I began to feel lighter, like a man who had been carrying a weight on his shoulders all his life for it suddenly to dissolve and fade like a morning mist. A comforting arm slid across me and I looked up through salted eyes to see not only the professor but my Mother and Father and some of the people I’d cheated and tricked on my way to success smiling back at me dressed solely in white. ‘We forgive you Francis’ each said in turn. The train came to a stop and outside the speeding cloud had dissipated into a clear blue sky. Slowly a station sign emerged from within haze. I watched transfixed as it materialized, yet waiting to wake from my dream.
‘Where are we?’ I asked. ‘Why can’t I come around?’
My father stepped forward and took my hand. I sensed it warm and consoling, and I felt like a boy again, safe in his protection.
‘Your plane crashed son, shortly after take off a flock of birds tore into the engine,’ he began, ‘no one survived and I’m sorry you had to go through this, but God won't let troubled souls enter heaven. So until you repented and asked for forgiveness you would have rode this train for all eternity. This is the end of the line my boy.’
Father led me out with the others into the morning sun. I watched down the stations platform as hundreds more like me got off the train. Each one dressed in white and holding a loved ones hand. A crowd had gathered, cheering and clapping outside what looked like a large entrance to a city, beautiful music played from somewhere I couldn’t see. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of contentment. It was then my eyes drifted down to the sign sitting amidst all the acclamation. it read:
‘Last Stop Heavens Gate’
Will Neill 2016
Credit Amy Morin Forbes magazine