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  • Writer's pictureNishant Mittal

#52booksin2021: When things fall apart

What do you do when your worst fears come true? What does it feel like?

If you've read my stories of 2018, 2019, & 2020, you'll notice that I've somehow been escaping failures by a whisker. I've somehow been finding a way to get back in the game and win. The going has been rough since mid 2017, but I've stood the ground, always ready to stage a comeback. My stories end with a cliffhanger that has me exploring a new pathway to success. "Failure is just a stepping stone", that's what I've always believed in.

But 2021 was different. This year brought over four years of extraordinary struggle to a grinding halt. My worst fears came true. It was the year when I finally had to accept failure. There was no tricking the situation to forge an eventual win. It was plain and simple; things had fallen apart. Covid had ruined the company I had been building with everything I had, and I was now out of money, and out of luck. My co-founders had had to leave the ship & take up jobs, and I was left to chafe beneath the clouds of 'what was everything'. These were my worst fears, and they had come true. I never thought anything could have made me quit on my dream of building a great company, ever. But it happened anyway. This brings me back to the question:

What do you do when your worst fears come true? What does it feel like?

To answer the question, it feels...okay. It doesn't feel good, but you learn to live with it. Not only did my startup fail this year, I also had to deal with a strange (and debilitating) side-effect of the Covid vaccine; I got Tinnitus (ringing in ears) and Hyperacusis (extreme sensitivity to the sounds of regular environment). Suddenly, my ears were hurting all the time, and my future as a growing musician became extremely difficult to imagine (I'm a pro with over 100,000 streams on my original songs on Spotify alone). This was beyond my worst fears, to be honest. But I learnt to live with it.

What I've realised is that fear of disaster hurts more than the actual disaster itself.

I thought my life will end if these things happened, but I'm still alive. At this moment, I'm seeing my company (SpotHealth) wither, and I have no golden parachutes, so to speak. But my imagination of this moment hurt more than the reality of it.

To cut the long story short, I think nothing is as bad as it seems. Not even your worst fears coming true.

Relax. Let go of your fears, and you're suddenly Superman. You've nothing to lose. :)

With this, let me come to my campaign called #52booksinayear which I've been running since many years now. Every year, I read books and post their reviews with a picture on all social networks (now on my website). By the end of the year, I post an article collecting a filtered list of book recommendations, and a little something about how my days went. It's a nice exercise which helps me gain perspective, and leave you with a (hopefully valuable) list of books to check out. Here are my top 4 recommendations from the books I read in 2021:

Scott Adams is a terrific guy! He's the creator of Dilbert which is perhaps the most successful comic strip of all time. Before turning into a famous cartoonist, Scott worked in the corporate world and spectacularly failed his way to the top.

"How to fail at almost anything.." is the story of his life and the way to "make it" in his eyes. The levels of awareness, humility and hilarity in this book are off the charts, and the work is filled to the brim with funny experiences and a profound overarching philosophy. This might as well be the best self help book I've ever read, because it's only born out of Scott's personal experiences. No fake science, no shit. Just life and how it went. Beautiful!

What happens to most "great" ideas? They don't work for a long, long time.

That's the essential truth upon which Malcolm Gladwell's The Bomber Mafia is written. The book is set in the years leading to the Second World War, when American Air Force (then a part of the Army) was in embryotic stages. The force was slowly developing itself into an independent way of thinking. Airplanes were new, and so were the pilots; and the entire scene was mushrooming with great hope, beauty and freshness (much like the internet in the mid 90s). These pilots were brimming with ideas on how the Air Force would soon change the way nations fought wars. Much like startup guys, their ideas were noble. Intentions clean. What happened then? Read the book to know. It's an incredible read!

The first half of this book seemed heavily inspired by Malcolm Gladwell, while the latter sounded like Nassim Taleb. Since both of them are my heroes, I was mostly chuckling and nodding in agreement throughout the book. But did the writer have anything original to say?

Yes. This book is focused on money and how regular folks could better manage it. It's plush with really nice anecdotes and uncommon 'common sense'. But where it truly shines is towards the end when it explains the herd mentality driven consumption of modern society, and why it's not such a great idea anymore.

"The highest form of wealth is the ability to wake up every morning and say, ‘I can do whatever I want today." says the author. Really nice book, overall. Low effort, high reward.

The book beautifully captures a very emotional journey of starting up with a crazy idea, having fun while building things, finding successes, and dealing with all sorts of mess that happens while you're at it. What mesmerizes is the insurmountably tragic end where Mr. Vaitheeswaran deals with agonizing forces far and beyond his control. I sincerely believe this book should be handed over to every entrepreneur, and while one might not agree with everything Mr. K says, it shouldn't matter. Because this story is far greater than a selection of investment theses or startup advice. It's about something way deeper and relevant. It's about personal elegance and integrity. Must read!

That pretty much winds up my 2021. If you like reading my reviews, subscribe to the mailing list and also consider making donations. Amounts don't matter, gestures do. Thank you! Wish you a happy 2022. :)

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