The application of this knife, the division of the world into parts and the building of this structure, is something everybody does. All the time we are aware of millions of things around us – these changing shapes, these burning hills, the sound of the engine, the feel of the throttle, each rock and weed and fence post and piece of debris beside the road – aware of these things but not really conscious of them unless there is something unusual or unless they reflect something we are predisposed to see. We could not possibly be conscious of these things and remember all of them because our mind would be so full of useless details we would be unable to think. From all this awareness we must select, and what we select and call consciousness is never the same as the awareness because the process of selection mutates it. We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.
Once we have the handful of sand, the world of which we are conscious, a process of discrimination goes to work on it. This is the knife. We divide the sand into parts. This and that. Here and there. Black and white. Now and then. The discrimination is the division of the conscious universe into parts.
The handful of sand looks uniform at first, but the longer we look at it the more diverse we find it to be. Each grain of sand is different. No two are alike. Some are similar in one way, some are similar in another way, and we can form the sand into separate piles on the basis of this similarity and dissimilarity. Shades of color in different piles – sizes in different piles – grain shapes in different piles – subtypes of grain shapes in different piles – grades of opacity in different piles – and so on, and on, and on. You’d think the process of subdivision and classification would come to an end somewhere, but it doesn’t. It just goes on and on.
As I have mentioned to you in the past, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Luckily, most of these mistakes were small and didn’t cause much harm to my business or me personally. But on one occasion, my mistake not only brought my business down, but it also almost bankrupted me.
Here is the story of my million-dollar mistake.
The early days
Towards the end of my high school career, I started my first real Internet business. The business was called Advantage Consulting Services (ACS), which consulted small- to medium-sized businesses on their Internet marketing strategies.
At first, like most businesses, ACS struggled. But through blogging, speaking at industry events, and cold calling, my business partner and I were able to grow ACS into a cash cow.
During our peak, we were pulling in millions of dollars with high profit margins. Once ACS started to do well, my business partner and I decided to expand, but we didn’t expand in a good way.
Most entrepreneurs would expand their core business and try to accelerate its growth. But my business partner and I aren’t like most entrepreneurs. We decided we would be different and expand into new ventures that weren’t related to our core business.
The somewhat greedy life
I adopted Motorboat when my family emigrated from Hawaii to California to start over. It was fitting then, I suppose, that my cat waited to die until I returned from college a graduate. I had a few days with her when I arrived at home before she stopped eating, became inert, and remained in a closet in my bedroom until she passed. I say fitting because, as impressively sad as watching her die was, she was well over fourteen, and as much as I felt like my pre-graduate life was inexplicably and unsentimentally linked with hers, so then did her dying remind me that it was time to abnegate the convenience and comfort provided by an attachment to the things I was leaving behind.
Part of that process of voluntary loss involved making peace with the future I had chosen for myself. Writing, in all of the expansive and imprecise meaning associated with the term, had appeared before me as little more than a miraculous accident. I had always written things, but it wasn’t until a cascade of words spilled out of me in a happy constellation and a few important people gave me a phone call that I was forced to consider if this was the identity I wanted to define myself by. To my great dissatisfaction and discomfort, otherwise fair and probative questions asked of me regarding process, craft and upcoming projects became inextricably tangled with the greater looming consideration of exactly what it was that I was doing with myself.