April 28, 2023

What My Bad Ex-Boyfriend Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

There are a ton of stories I can tell you about times I’ve been let down by people.   Humans I know and love, acquaintances – hell, I probably have stories in there about people I haven’t even met yet.  And until a few years ago, there was a 1000% chance that I worked myself into misery to make those exact people happy, all with the futile goal of making them like me. 

Let’s talk about one let down specifically. I’m guessing most of you know him.  I’ll call him Brad – but you’ve probably called him “the bad boyfriend.” 

Take a walk with me down memory lane, where 18-year old Erika, a college sophomore, out in the big old world by herself, is infatuated with her first (and only) college boyfriend…Brad. 

Brad was cute, smart and popular.  He could dance like Justin Timberlake and was always the life of the party.  Honestly, he was fun.  But a quick review of our history reveals some embarrassingly obvious red flags that I didn’t see until decades later. 

Red flags like these… 

I love fireflies.  Brad knew this, so he caught me one.  Then he squished it.  Red flag. 

He kept a photo of his ex-girlfriend next to the bed for three of the five years we dated.  Red flag. 

His parents kept a picture of him and the ex on their living room wall until who knows when.  It’s probably still there.  Red flag. 

He didn’t like my family, and my family is DELIGHTFUL.  Red flag. 

I had a car, Brad didn’t, and I allowed him to use my car.  Good chance he loved the Honda Civic more than he loved me.  Red flag. 

Speaking of love…we’d hypothetically bantered around marriage.  But four years into our relationship, and he refused to tell me he loved me.  And not just refused, but actually said, “I’m not going to tell you I love you.” Red flag.  

I think you get the point.  But I was young, in love, and blinded by what I saw as the sure future ahead – marriage, babies, the whole shebang.  So with rose-colored glasses, I finished college and spent a year long distance in a California-based job.  Eventually, I was offered the opportunity to move with my job, so OF COURSE, I chose Brad’s town of St. Louis.   

We went apartment shopping together, and he was frustrated that I picked one on the opposite side of town as his.  But, I was thrilled to finally be in the same city as we unpacked my belongings in the 48 hours I was in the city before hitting the road for a work trip. 

The day I was headed to my new home in St. Louis, I got in a pretty terrible car accident, bad enough that I was unable to move for a few hours due to the impact.  But in my pain-induced haze, I convinced the hospital to release me to fly home. 

I hopped on a plane (actually someone walked me onto the plane and strapped my seatbelt for me), and had a stop over in my hometown of Dallas.  My mom raced to the airport to lay eyes on me, took one look, and told me I was coming home with her. 

The next day I had to decide – get on a plane back to my “new” home (and Brad), or stay in my Mom’s bed with her taking care of me.  I’ll just let you guess which flight I immediately got on in a haze of medication.  (No surprise, I went to the boy.  Red flag, on me this time.) 

Brad picked me up, and I just knew that was the beginning of my forever.  He drove me home because I couldn’t drive yet.  He got me in my apartment, because I couldn’t open the door.  He opened my meds for me, because I couldn’t open them.  He helped me get settled on the couch, because I couldn’t lower myself onto it. 

And then he dumped me.  Told me he was sorry, walked out the door and left me in a city where I knew no one and had just left my own mother for

With the hindsight of time, I have been able to draw the parallels between my relationship with Brad, every job I’ve ever held, and this crazy ride called entrepreneurship.

Let’s step forward a few years, and take a look at mid-20’s Erika, as an employee. 

I’m a newlywed, my husband is working on his PhD, and I’m working 60 hours a week for $27,000 a year. 

It doesn’t take long for a pattern to emerge. 

If I do a good job, my clients like me. 

If I do a better job, my boss likes me. 

If I work myself to the bone and exceed any and all reasonable expectations – my company owner likes me. 

And sometimes, they’d even tell me I was doing a good job. 

So I work as hard as I know how.   

I had promotions dangled in front of me, ones that are “not ready just yet”, but of course, if I continue this quality of work then maybe, just maybe, there’s room for advancement in the FAR future, and I just keep working all hours of the day to prove my worth.  (Quick callback that I was planning a hypothetical wedding to a man who wouldn’t tell me he loved me.  Real tendency to make current plans on a future that doesn’t yet exist, regardless of costs now.  Red flag Erika). 

My family is telling me I’m working too hard.  Their feelings are hurt that I’m ignoring them. 

“But they need me” I say. I’m working hard and I’m being SEEN for it, I say.  (This is where my Mom pops in and likes to remind us all that the same thing happened with Brad.  I was ignoring external feedback in favor of immediate validation.  My friends and family ALL saw what I didn’t.  That I was pinning my hopes, and heart, on a young man who was still finding himself and was WAY too immature to make any long term decisions around.) 

In short, I worked myself to the point of complete and utter success with a real strong dose of hatred for my industry, my job, my employers and my own inability to function without validation. 

My entrepreneurship journey is a story in and of itself.  But I’ll give those years with Brad credit for showing me that: 

–       You don’t get a return when you pour all of yourself into the wrong person, the wrong project or the wrong job. 

–       Working towards your own purpose is infinitely more life-giving than working for someone else’s. 

–       Boundaries don’t exist if you don’t set them – and those who you’re NOT setting them for are the most likely to take advantage of you. 

–       Just because you’re making everyone around you happy does not immediately equate to you being happy or valued. 

–       Disruption can be a powerful force for change.  Quick wrap up – three months after Brad bid me goodbye, I met and fell in love with a man I’ve shared 19 years of marriage and three amazing kiddos with.  And they are a HUGE part of my entrepreneurship story – but I’ll leave that for another day.

Erika Biddix is the founder of Aught, mom to three kiddos and believes that women can truly do anything at all.  You can follow her on Instagram.


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