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Starting A Website Has Taught Me Too Much About Myself

Too much self-awareness, I don't like it!

A man in a suit jacket sits in front of a laptop, holding his face in his hands
Yan Krukau

Going from basically no concept of what a business is to owning one myself alongside other people has taught me a lot. In the early stages of forming Aftermath, Luke and I would often joke that we should write a business book about all these terrible life lessons, which could be a good backup plan if things at Aftermath didn’t work out.

An entire business book by me would just be 100 pages of extended screaming punctuated by spreadsheets, so here’s a more concise version in blog form. If you want some actual business advice, our pals have an article in The Nation that’s pretty great.

I can’t control the future

I always thought I was pretty good with the unknown; I’ve got a Master’s degree in theology, which you’d think would make me professionally capable of dealing with mystery. But I’m not–like, at all. Starting a business, especially a media business in this day and age, means taking flying leaps into the unknown on an hourly basis. I find it terrifying not to know what’s going to happen, and thus not be able to plan for it. In my real life, I love big challenges like running marathons or biking across Pennsylvania because I know I’ll succeed or fail based on my own efforts. That’s not the case with Aftermath, and that’s really hard to make peace with. 

I have to learn to trust people

I have some, let’s say, trust issues from stuff that happened in my past that are not the topic of this blog. Despite knowing this about myself, I’m also an inveterate team player: if you put me in a group of people and tell me “This is your team,” I will be on that team for life, even if I’ve moved on or the team’s disbanded. These two impulses don’t work very well together–I put myself in situations guaranteed to stir up all my shit, like some kind of perverse exposure therapy.

Owning a business together is really different from working together at a job someone else owns. You all sink or swim together; there’s no one to hand a problem off to, or the ability to know I'll still collect a paycheck if I just do my part. This makes it a real team in my favorite way, but also means I’m constantly being asked to trust others with my well-being in a hugely intimate and, for me, terrifying way. 

I like to work really hard (but maybe I shouldn't)

One of the maladaptive ways I cope with the above life lessons is by working really hard–if I’m in charge of a task, I feel like I can exert some control over its outcome (spoilers: I cannot), and I don’t have to rely on others and all the terrors that entails. This is obviously not great, especially when combined with the reality that five people running an entire business means we already have way too much to do. As the primary editor of a site stretched across global timezones, this translates to some really long workdays.

But I also really like working hard; at a restaurant job I had in my teen years, the owners once joked that I would tackle any task if they prefaced it with, “Hey, do you want to be useful?..” I feel at my best when I have a big to-do list full of helpful, necessary tasks, and I’d much rather function in a support role than be the face of something. But I find it challenging not to take on too much, especially when there’s no boss or manager above me to help me pump the brakes. 

I don’t have to be an expert in everything

Relative to the above, a huge portion of my daily tasks is stuff I’ve never done before: running payroll, paying business taxes, answering customer service emails, filling out baffling forms from the state and the IRS full of words I’ve never heard before. (What is my NAICS code, New York State Department of Taxation and Finance? Fuck if I know!) These things all feel very serious, but also incredibly confusing; I constantly remind myself that everyone who owns a business has to do them, so surely I am not the worst at it, even when it feels that way. I’m glad I work from home, given how often I whisper “It’s OK not to know this” unconvincingly to myself.

Luckily, there is a universe of people out there who know how to do this stuff, from pals who’ve done it before to professionals you can pay to help you. The number of panics I’ve driven myself into that were solved simply by sitting down with a lawyer or accountant, or having a phone call with another business owner to ask “How do you handle this?”, has been a valuable reminder that if I don’t know something, perseverating about how much I suck for not knowing it will not solve it. It’s also a good reminder that I can let people help me, and use what I learn to help others in turn. 

I can learn new things

One of the least sexy things I did when we started Aftermath, but to me one of the coolest, was take a month-long class in “Financial Foundations” from a radical bookkeeping cooperative (appropriately named A Bookkeeping Cooperative). We learned how to read financial reports, what a budget is, and how to think and talk about finances in a way that stays true to our values. It was hugely helpful and really inspiring–even though I’m sure the class’ facilitators would be horrified by my versions of the spreadsheets they showed us, I wouldn’t know how to do it at all without them. 

Something the facilitators said in the class, which I often repeat, is that the opaqueness of business and finance are in part a tool for the ruling class to stay in power. They don’t want regular people to be able to understand them, because the mystery preserves their narrative as essential business geniuses. By learning it for ourselves, we can take some of their power away. The CFO of a major media company might be dealing in bigger numbers than I am, but there’s nothing they’re doing that I can’t learn to do my own version of, and that feels really good, even when it’s really stressful. 

I don't suck at math

Look: all of us at Aftermath are writers for a reason, and one of those reasons is that none of us are math geniuses. I still remember the day in third grade when long division was placed in front of me, heralding a falling out with math that dogged the rest of my education. I’ve never even owned a joint bank account; being responsible for the entire company’s money is a lot.

But I can do it! Every month, I sit down with all the company’s expenses and sales data and put it all in spreadsheets, and then I analyze that data and try to draw conclusions and strategies from it. Am I good at it? Probably not! But it works (mostly), and more importantly, I learned to do it. It’s not as scary as I thought, and even if I’m not doing it perfectly, at least my spreadsheets look nice. 

I can just do the thing

Admittedly, this is a lesson I’ve known since I came out as trans, when my undergraduate thesis advisor told me “no one wants to see that pervert shit” when I brought him a play I’d written starring trans characters. (This was 2003; how much things have changed since then is also not the topic of this blog.) What followed was years of simply making trans art with other trans people: fundraising for theater space or to publish books, doing all the promotion, and even winning some awards. It taught me that you don’t have to beg for permission to do the kind of work you want; you can just do it. You might not have the resources behind you that the establishment has, but that doesn’t make it impossible.

Is Aftermath going to skyrocket us all to wealth and fame? With your help, maybe–but really, that’s not the point. We don’t have to just be victims to the whims of whatever moron holds the purse strings. If there’s something you want to do, from writing a novel to starting your own media company, just do it! The worst that happens is you end up writing a post like this.

(OK, the worst that happens is you accidentally commit business crimes and, I don’t know, go bankrupt or go to jail or make everyone hate you or whatever terrible outcome I worry about late at night. But don’t listen to me and my anxiety! Find out for yourself!)

Inside Baseball is a week of stories about the lesser-known parts of game development, the ins and outs of games journalism, and a peek behind the curtain at Aftermath. It's part of our first subscription drive, which you can learn more about here. If you like what you see, please consider subscribing!

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