The Truth Behind Ambition (Part Two): Drowning


This is the second part of Vasily Koledov’s The Truth Behind Ambition – a no holds barred, in-depth three-part autobiographical series sharing guidance, lessons and tales from the other side of entrepreneurial success. To read the first part, click here. 

I never thought that I could get to the point of nervous breakdown. In fact, I even laughed at people who said they were going through one. To me it was simply an element of personality that was totally under control of the person in question and, since I have always been a firm believer in one controlling one’s own destiny, I assumed depression was a choice. This post is a reflection on one of my most testing times of starting my businesses and a meditation on the lessons I learned in holding myself together during my most challenging moments. I have not discussed this with others before so I presume a lot of things in here will come as a surprise to many who are close to me.

I think it was one of the last weeks of September when yet another deal collapsed and I realised I pretty much burned through my entire savings pile. At the same time, a major portfolio of assets I was about to sell to a Middle Eastern investor (asking price for asset – £2bn; my commission if sale was successful – €2m) collapsed at the last minute because some assets in the portfolio were in Poland and the investor got nervous of potential spill over of the Ukrainian conflict onto neighbouring countries and resulting fall in their asset values (so I guess I can say that the Ukrainian crisis directly cost me £2m personally…).

On the same day I broke up with my long term girlfriend, 2 weeks before our 10 year anniversary due to mistakes that were completely of my own making.

So after 2 years of struggling and pushing to set up my business I found myself in the following situation: no money, no prospects of making it in the near future as all options had already been exhausted, no obvious way out of situation and no one who I felt I could talk to.The last point is perhaps the most important to understand as the sense of alienation was very strong (it might be lonely at the top but its far lonelier at the bottom…)

  • I could not talk to any of my business associates or investors. I was a 20-something guy from a council estate in Bristol who managed to convince investors I was able to manage their capital better than others and telling them you have reached personal breaking point due to a crazy market and factors outside your control seemed like it would fall on deaf ears (in hindsight this may not have been the case). My business associates were also feeling the pain and I had to make sure morale remained high at work so I did not want to burden them with this either
  • I could not talk to my friends. Most of them were still employed and I felt it was difficult to explain the situation I was in to them since their usual reply was “Why don’t you just go back to employment?” To me this would have been definition of defeat and failure for the risk that I took
  • I could not talk to my family. My parents were always supportive but came from an academic background; they considered start-ups a crazy idea and could not really help with finances or practical advice.
  • I could not talk to my girlfriend. She changed her number.

So with that in mind I found myself on one particularly rainy Thursday afternoon standing in Green Park underground station waiting for the train, contemplating the hopelessness of my situation and the relative futility of my existence when a thought crossed my mind – “Why not just jump under the train – it’s the easiest way out, man!”.

Now the impulsivity and the relative acceptance with which this thought hit me shocked me tremendously. Usually it was me who was dishing out advise to all budding wannabe entrepreneurs around me, like some bastard son of Ayn Rand and Gordon Gekko: “Keep grinding man – it will all work out!” “Keep pushing your business – just one more quarter, mate!” “Never give up!” and here I was – actually contemplating jumping under the fucking train. The easiness doing it also scared me “Just. One. Step. And. Its. Over. Do it! Its easy! Why Not!? Do it! Don’t you have the balls to even do that?”

Another observation about this state of mind is just how addictive it gets. For the next week or two, every time I was in the underground and I would see a train and start to think – “Hmmm and why not?”

Not for a single moment during this period did I stand back and think “Chill out, its only a minor thing. You are smart, healthy and energetic. You have experience. There are other businesses you can start, there are other girlfriends. In the worst case you can move out of your flat and live with family for a bit  – you won’t be homeless! There are lots of people on your contacts you can reach out for help!” This would all have been my standard way of dealing with it if I was advising a friend. Yet I did not. I got myself to the point where I falsely convinced myself my situation was unfixable and that no one could help me. Suddenly the quick way out started to look appealing. I did not think how selfish or how totally irrational this was. After over two years of struggling I just wanted a quick fix. I was spent, tired and emotionally drained.

What needs to be emphasised here is that it was not just one thing that set me off. The fact that business was taking long was tough but manageable. I knew it was a marathon and adjusted to it over time. Breaking ups happen. Being out of money sucks, but again, perfectly manageable, especially given the amount of employment opportunities in London (I mean if it’s so fucking bad, I swear that Nando’s down the road needs a waiter…). But nothing can prepare you for the negative mood multiplier effect of all these things going wrong together and over an extended period of time. And once the negativity starts, it flows through your mind and body and starts clouding your judgement and reasoning until it begins to self-realise in the most spectacular fashion.

Too much amibition can turn into failures.

This is how it happened to me: after about two weeks of soaking in this “funk” I decided to go to a party at Tramps – a relatively well know London nightspot. I should have known not to go as something in my stomach was really telling me to stay at home.

Having drunk almost a bottle of vodka, I decided best thing to do was not to take a cab home but to “walk” for about 40 minutes home from Mayfair to South Kensington. About half way through, by Hyde Park Corner, I got run over by a car going about 40 mph and landed straight on my head. After coming back to consciousness (and ignoring pleas of bystanders to call the ambulance in a typical macho Russian fashion “Itz ok I hate gospials zis waz just a skratch…” I continued to stumble home, as by this point all taxi drivers thought I was a drunk and would not take me whereas in actual fact the collision nearly broke my leg and I could barely walk. About 10 minutes away from home, near South Kensington station – one of the safest and calmest parts of London – two guys came up to me and asked the time. As I looked at my watch they grabbed it pulled it off my wrist (to date I am amazed at the mastery of this motion) and proceeded to run off over a nearby fence. With my semi broken leg I could not follow. The watch was an £8,000 Jaeger LeCoultre Grande Reverso I bought for my 25th birthday and which I wanted to give to my first son. And no – not insured. I thought the insurance payment was ongoing but in fact had to be renewed every year…. [to date I feel, in some Karmic way, that watch a kind of payment for surviving the car hit with just a few scratches]. The next morning as I walked out of my house, in a daze, I locked myself out and had to climb in through my neighbours window (not easy with busted leg)…. Fun. Times. Indeed.

Several days after this misadventure, on a Friday evening, when I was once again standing at my favourite “suicide spot”, deleting Friday party invites from friends on my WhatsApp as I just had no will to go to them and thinking “maybe now is the time!?” I suddenly saw a message from a friend in Switzerland, whom I haven’t seen in 2 years. He was asking if he could sleep over at my place since he was arriving to London and something went wrong with his hotel reservation. On a whim I replied “yes!” and within 2 hours we were out together in some dingy club in London, downing shots in what was the beginning of one of the best nights out I have had in London.
Waking up the next day I laughed at myself and the stupidity of the arguments I allowed myself take over my mind. I sat down and did the following:

  • I wrote a list of all the business situations I had going at the time, what was wrong with them and for each one what could be done to revive it (and what a long fucking list that was…)
  • I called a large number of my close friends to talk these solutions through in detail (partially to get their input but partially also to reconnect with people and capture some of their energy)
  • I let go of one or two people in my life that I felt were exerting negative energy towards me. Literally deleted numbers and blocked all communications as if they never existed
  • On Monday I went to the office and I discussed at length how each situation could be pushed to a beneficial conclusion with my team
  • I made arrangements to get access to some immediate cash to fund my living (surprisingly easy when you actually really need it and are willing to look)

Without going into much detail, I was in 2 weeks able to close the purchase of two office buildings. The construction on both should be finished next month with 17 flats that will be put to the market. More will follow and I am in the process of opening more business lines and expanding the holding. I am back with my girlfriend and below is the boat we are going sailing on next week around Croatia with many of my other friends. Besides other financial related achievements, my circle of friends and connections has grown enormously in that time. I am happier, stronger and more determined than I ever was. There is an enormous amount of truth in the saying “you only get as high as you fall”. Although nothing ever goes 100% smoothly, whenever a difficulty presents itself now I look back at this time and remember that all it really takes is 2 hours and the will to change your perception.

On the other side, Ambition can also lead to success.

Important lesson: through all this you realise having money and things might have been your initial goal and is a very cute, if rather basic desire. But nothing beats running to your office and loving what you do and then spending the day with smart ambitious people that drive you onto exciting projects, before coming home to the person who really loves you and makes your world a better place.



About Author

Vasily Koledov

Vasily is the Science and Innovation Editor at BRIC, and will also be blogging about business and entrepreneurship "Born in Russia, I grew up in Britain and started my first business at 16. I spent some time in investment banking before leaving to start an online business. Now, I'm one of the Founding Partners at a venture capital fund in London in addition to my work for BRIC. I'm interested in pretty much everything apart from sport – in particular, I enjoy both creative arts and numerical sciences. Keen painter and musician and interested in advancement of humanity through scientific progress.“

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