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  • Chad Kanyer

Dying in the Wilderness: A Taste

I've wanted to be an author since I was in high school, but I never felt that I had anything to write about. Two years in the wilderness of entrepreneurship changed that, and as I simply journaled some of my greatest lessons from ultimately failing at building my own business from scratch, it became a book.

Putting a book out the old fashioned way is hard these days. I don't have a huge brand and honestly haven't invested in building one. I can't really live on social media because it's not good for me, for multiple reasons, and that is a mandatory component to build a following.

When you think about getting published for the first time, you could easily go to Amazon (like countless want-to-be authors do), but you want some guidance, direction, and (honestly) encouragement throughout the process. I had one of my best friends, Trevor, in my corner (he had published books before), but wanted to understand the publishing process from cradle to grave, even if some of it was superfluous.

In the end, about 80% of what WestBow Press did with and for me was superfluous, and that is only because I shot down every single one of their follow-on cash-grab offers for irrelevant and overpriced flair (example: $1,500 to "advise" me on categories to classify my book under on Amazon and run a vaguely defined "smart ad campaign). The process wound up being very frustrating, enough to say that I may never do it again (despite having the bones of three other books sitting on my Google Drive).

Despite the bumps, I am very proud of the achievement. When people ask my how many books I've sold, I laugh. Like my entrepreneurial journey, I was paid in currencies of the heart, not of this money-obsessed world. The book isn't perfect -- creative people are always their worst critics -- but I love that I wrote it and am proud of the words that makes it up. That is enough for me.

The beauty of what I learned in the wilderness, and what I pack into 12 lessons of this book, is that it didn't come from me. The knowledge of this book isn't mine -- it came from on high. It was finally heard when all of my talking, trying, and struggling proved fruitless.

I know that the lessons aren't mine because I am still learning them in new shades and shapes. They are still showing new dimensions of themselves to me despite being in completely new seasons now. It's beautiful. I truly realized this not when I wrote the book, but when I sat down and chatted through each chapter.

My friend Trevor and I recently did so via my podcast, The Saddled Stallion. We spent 20 minutes on each chapter of this book. He prepared great questions (and kept them from me until we were live). I gave the answers that hit me in the heart. We both tapped into even deeper layers of these lessons. I sat there, unpacking and enjoying my book. I've never been able to enjoy, let alone stand looking at, anything I've created, which proves that it wasn't my creation. Here are links to those episodes:

  1. Preface & Book Background

  2. Ch. 1 - Bleeding & Grinning

  3. Ch. 2 - Agony Enjoyed

  4. Ch. 3 - A Hollowing Following

  5. Ch. 4 - Primal Survival

  6. Ch. 5 - Nature's Mirror

  7. Ch. 6 - Beauty of the Beast

  8. Ch. 7 - Suffocated Statues

  9. Ch. 8 - Beauty of the Beast

  10. Ch. 9 - A Foggy Summit

  11. Ch. 10 - Thirsting for Poison

  12. Ch. 11 - The Two Conquerors

  13. Ch. 12 - Muddy Diamonds

  14. Epilogue & Conclusion - The Well

Below is the Preface of the book. Call it a teaser, a brief look into the nakedness that only two years of passion, ideas, trials, and struggle can gift, or whatever you want (maybe just "something he wrote"). Regardless of what you call it, enjoy.


Dying in the Wilderness: Finding Purpose in Failure

Preface | "Rings"

Most people know that when you cut into the trunk of a tree and count the number of rings between the exterior and the center, that number denotes how many years the tree has lived.

The width of each ring differs based on the conditions of that year. Cold, dry years produce thinner rings and lush, moist, “easy” years produce thicker ones. The tree grows in every season, but the growth manifests differently according to the nature of that season.

We all have rings, don’t we?

We have seasons of well-nourished growth. Wide, soft spaces. The good years.

And we have dry seasons of pain and contraction. Tight, uncomfortable spaces. The rough years.

Our true rings can only be seen from the inside – from our core – but most people keep them hidden from external view. That way, they will be less vulnerable and less judged.

Less known, too.

If we let the external elements access the stories and scars beneath our exterior, there is a chance we invite in the heartwarming water we need. On the other hand, we could also feel the bitter chill of judgement and misunderstanding.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go through life being judged by my exterior – not only because it’s rarely pretty, but because it’s not the full story. That perspective doesn’t encapsulate me. I encapsulate me, and a huge chunk of me is on the interior.

The forests of our lives are filled with other trees – other people. Many tell their stories and we listen to some of them, but it’s rare for other trees to show us their rings: the real stuff on the inside – the raw, ugly, beautiful reality underneath their exterior.

Before you retrace my steps in the wilderness of entrepreneurship, I want to show you my most interior rings.

With this, I’m vulnerable, but the wilderness taught me how immensely valuable it is to humbly, openly share our scars, even if they represent our driest, most painful seasons.

Perhaps my tight, uncomfortable spaces will help you measure and appreciate your wider, softer ones.

Perhaps the softer, wider gaps between some of my lines will remind you where their nourishment can come from during your next drought.

I believe that by showing you – without refrain – some of my ugliest rings, you’ll be better equipped to grasp some of the timeless lessons that I learned by my difficult season in the wilderness.

Here we go.

I’m a 33 year-old white, Christian male. I’m from Sammamish, Washington (a suburb of Seattle, 10 minutes from Microsoft headquarters) and was raised in a hyper-conservative, faith-oriented home along with two older sisters and a new dog every few years (seriously; we’ve had like seven dogs somehow).

My parents are smart, loving, successful, direct, vocal, and passionate people. Growing up, I had a swimming pool and a hot tub in the backyard, a PGA-Tour-quality golf course two blocks away, and a white 1994 Chevy Cheyenne truck with a stick-shift as my first ride. I earned mostly As, excelled in sports (primarily football and baseball), wrote poetry about girls and baseball and friends and loneliness, and enjoyed both a depth and breadth of friendships.

I attended Carnegie Mellon University for college, where I quit football after two years because I wasn’t a starter (maybe reading the playbook would’ve helped), drank myself silly, pledged a fraternity that only intensified my loneliness, and studied business because it maximized my chances of landing a high-paying job after graduation.

During college and for roughly five years afterwards, I medicated my unrealized unfulfillment with weed, cocaine, binge drinking (leading to a DWI, a revoked license, and a weekend in jail), reckless sexual exploits, come-and-go friendships, ego-padding career achievements, and a plethora of harmful distractions and addictions.

Do you see while I value the interior – the real story (even if ugly)?

Underneath the pretty bark of my tree (solid job, great physical health, a packed social schedule, etc.) my roots were infected, my trunk was cracked, and my branches brazenly stretched towards anything that promised to immediately satisfy. When I did accomplish things, they did not satisfy longer than the next celebratory shot and “atta-boy,” as the next rung quickly showed its face and began to taunt me. With a life filled to the brim, I was empty. No amount of “more” was never enough. I was a mess.

Still, I kept my rings hidden, and I kept stretching towards the promises of the sun – always warm, only sometimes visible through clouds of distraction, and never reachable.

Five years later, even after getting married, becoming a father, continuing to grow in my career, and finally facing some of my destructive habits, I wasn’t content. Again, on paper, I had everything, but inside, there was a deep craving for something more. I needed to feel a sense of purpose in life, in work, in everything. Without this feeling, life would be meaningless.

Calling mindlessness “faith,” I quit my consulting gig at Microsoft, moved our young, budding family from Seattle to Dallas, and thrust myself into the world of entrepreneurship. I had no map, a flawed compass, and only rudimentary tools in my bag, but I would succeed, and my newly formed family better support me. After all, this was my destiny, my calling, and my purpose.

Over the next two years, I earned ~$30,000, total. I dumped buckets of money and energy into plans, pitches, and projects that all ultimately failed. We survived, but only by selling assets, adjusting our lifestyles aggressively, and burning through every penny of our savings (the majority of which I did not bring into our marriage). While I mention the financial costs of this two-year stretch, trust me when I say that its mental, emotional, and relational toll on us was much greater. Two years later, despite being so grateful for the lessons that the wilderness taught us, we’re still licking the wounds it gave us.

Phew. I’m glad that is over! I’ve shared some of my ugliest rings with you. And yes, from them, you can safely conclude that I am privileged, naïve, arrogant, immature, selfish, hasty, reckless, and many other things that you might find deplorable (feel free to add to the list).

But hey, at least you see my true interior. Of that, I am proud.

I set out to write a book about the two most difficult years of my life, partly to warn aspiring entrepreneurs of what they could lose by taking a similar path, and partly to mourn the loss of “my shot.” But as I began to write it – as I relived some of the most gut-wrenching moments and painful lessons along my journey – I encountered completely different emotions: warmth, peace, pride, and gratitude.

For the first time, I saw the beauty of my struggle. I saw how everything, even the tiniest of things, came together in perfect harmony to teach me a timeless lesson that I simply couldn’t have learned otherwise.

You see, I originally wanted my leap into entrepreneurship to mark the commencement of a liberating quest for impact and purpose – something to heal my inner turmoil. During the two years, it felt like the opposite, but as I reflected and wrote, I saw that the journey did heal that inner turmoil, but just not in a way I suspected.

I saw that I had not needed just another version of success, now entrepreneurial, to find the answers I sought. Conversely, I needed to undergo hardship – to be cut to my core – to finally evaluate my rings and to see what fed that inner turmoil.

After years of external growth and internal agony, I needed to experience the painful opposite, and this was the gift of the wilderness.

By the time I finished unpacking the 12 lessons you’re about to read, I saw the last two years – two undeniable narrow rings – much differently than I had before writing. I took stock of the rest of my tree – my life – and saw only a stronger trunk, deeper roots, and more sturdy branches. These two “narrow” years will always play a pivotal, unforgettable role in my life’s story. They were necessary for me to mature beyond the wider rings of my gluttonous past and for me to appreciate the seasons on my horizon.

In this story, the narrow rings are not hidden, but celebrated. I share my rings (old and new, wide and narrow) throughout this book so that you can more humbly evaluate, overcome, and appreciate yours.

Now that I’ve shown you my rings, would you mind laying down your axe?

It’s okay that we are carrying one. In this day and age, we constantly have to “cut to the real” – but clearly, you’re getting the real, full story from me without any work; you just picked up the book. You don’t have to weigh each of my points against the potential undertow of my privilege, personal issues, and tainted perspective because I’ve already shared those cracks and blemishes.

Will you ridicule the narrowness of my rings in your heart, or will you recognize that you’ll someday face (or maybe are currently facing) cold, dry seasons, and try to learn from my failures?

Will you get hung up on my skin color, religion, and style, or will you put all that aside and hear my soul? You’ll find that, just like you, I am flesh, blood, bone, and a scary mix of love, worry, passion, and fear.

The wilderness’ lessons are as useful as they are unfiltered and unframed. Measuring rings simply distracts us.

Here are a few additional urges before you crack into my story:

  1. Accept its purpose. The purpose of this book is not to preach, promise, or prescribe anything, including the way to succeed in life or approach entrepreneurship perfectly. Plenty of other books tout those “secrets.” The purpose of this book is not to bash entrepreneurship or to bash myself (though I do some of that); it is to share lessons I learned about life, business, faith, relationships, our culture, and myself through my eager pursuit of entrepreneurial fulfillment.

  2. Understand its format. There are connections and commonalities amongst the chapters, but they are built to stand alone, each messaging a unique lesson that I learned during my journey. Some chapters will resonate with you and others won’t based on where you are, and that it okay. By all means, connect the dots across themes and chapters, but try not to let that activity restrict a deep immersion into any one chapter, one that might be exactly what you need right now.

  3. Invite its depth. Do not read this with distractions, competing priorities, and rings in your way. The chapters are brief, but like our fickle souls, they possess multiple layers, the deepest of which will remain uncovered if you fly through it like an instruction manual. You can always spit my points and perspectives back out, but really chew on them first. Evaluate their texture and taste. I shared my rings, and I wrote this book, to enrich your efforts and feed your soul.

That is all. Thank you for letting me share my rings, and the purpose of this book, with you.

These are the lessons I learned in the wilderness of entrepreneurship.


When I post, you'll know.

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