Not long ago, I wrote a piece on my addiction to marijuana. It wasn’t that I couldn’t stop when I wanted to – because I had several times before – it was that I didn’t want to.
I spent the last 4 years of my life managing portfolios for high net-worth individuals at one of the world’s most recognized banks. I’m no stranger to long hours and high pressure environments – that’s my comfort zone. This was different though and it took me a while to figure out why. In a nutshell, the industry is marketed as advice but it’s structured entirely as sales. Your only performance criteria is bringing in new money, but if you were honest about that with your clients, you wouldn’t have any clients. Trying to do right by my clients while appeasing management was a daily battle and one which I was losing because I wouldn’t compromise my commitment to my clients. This was my own personal hell – being completely invested in something that required me to compromise my integrity and my character to achieve success.
By most people’s standards, I don’t really stress out about things. I’m usually Mr. Cool Calm and Collected but I think part of that is how I manage myself. The gym is a great outlet – so was smoking a ton of weed. I never smoked before or at work because of my professional standards, but I smoked just about every night before bed. I did take a few breaks, including a 6 month break to prove to myself that I could stop when I wanted to – but had decided that I’d rather smoke weed. It made life more enjoyable.. or maybe more tolerable.
In the last stage of my career at the bank, I moved to join a senior team to insulate me from management and remove my sales targets. To ensure that I could respond with my best effort, I took another hiatus from weed. Management wasn’t having any of it and fired me in the first week of January. The first thing I did after leaving the office was sign up at the local dispensary and I spent most of the next month stoned. The following month, I broke my arm. Rather than take the opiates they prescribed to me, I spent the next couple months stoned *all* of the time. At my peak, I was smoking an ounce per week.
I smoked so much that it seemed like I had disassociated from everyone else’s reality and only existed within my own. With a logical mind, a knack for research, and a priority of having the most accurate view of my world – I was able to understand why I had failed so spectacularly. Global banks are massive corporate entities which operate in heavily regulated environments. They’re structured for the purpose of stability – maintaining the status quo. At the very core of my being, it’s in my nature to challenge the status quo. That was a very important insight that helped me understand that if I was going to achieve the levels of success that I wanted for myself – my maximum utility – I needed to seek out a different environment.
I moved back home and started looking into tech, venture capital, and cannabis. Tech looked like it would take some time to find the right opportunity but there were opportunities. Venture capital gave me some very interesting advice. They said that all the qualities that made me a pain in the ass for the big banks were the same qualities that made me a great leader and an effective CEO for a much smaller company – then they said go be a CEO. When I looked into cannabis, I went to my favourite dispensary and spoke with the owners about making some introductions. They said they’d be happy to but then we started getting into their expansion plans.
Last year, they were awarded top dispensary in the city and top dispensary in the country. It wasn’t hard to understand why, they had the finest herb, a brilliantly designed shop, and a caliber of staff which made the experience far more like a casual wine tasting than buying a drink at a bar. Their reputation had plenty of people approaching them offering to invest to help them expand and this was all foreign territory for them. I offered to help in any way I could and they appreciated it. A couple weeks later, I built a business plan for their expansion. A week after that, they asked me to lead their capital raise. A week after that, I introduced them to the top cannabis VC in town and a week after that, we were competing for a slot at the Arcview Investor Forum (think sharktank for week).
When we first discussed the game plan, we were going to start the raise towards the end of the summer. It was going to give us time to clean up the books, do a legal restructure, roll out some strategic marketing, and refine our vision for what came next. Unfortunately for us, our deadline for qualifying for the Arcview forum was 45 days. I told them no problem – long hours and high pressure was my jam and I’d be happy to lead the charge. They accepted and we were off to the races.
For the few weeks leading up to this, I had a few moments where I told myself that it was time to take another break but smoking weed was way too effective at alleviating my boredom and far too useful in helping me sleep. When I took this project on however, it was no longer about me. I had committed myself to something that deserved my best effort, to people who deserved my best effort, and to something which I was legitimately passionate about doing. I told the founders that they were going to get the best out of me if I was sober and so I was making a commitment that I wouldn’t blaze until we raise. The founders were a mix of amused, confused, and happy that I was so committed.
Just about every day started at 6am and ended at midnight. Weekends were irrelevant. Any time I spent not working on this project was time I spent maintaining the level of balance necessary to get the most out of the hours I was putting in. My commutes were filled with calls. My meals out were with key contacts. My meals in were spent watching material relevant to this project. I was consumed – and couldn’t be happier.
I’ve never been this engaged. I’ve never been this excited to be a part of something either. This is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to apply my mind like this and I feel like I’m in my element. This is my jam. The harder I work, the more I want to work at it. The more we push forward, the more obstacles and barriers seem to dissolve in front of us. The best part? The core values behind the business have very little to do with cannabis – it has everything to do with social freedoms. To borrow a line from Starbucks, ‘we’re in the business of social freedom, we just happen to sell cannabis’. That’s something I can get behind all day long and I seem to have a bottomless pit of energy and passion for it.
The craziest part? I kinda forgot about weed and I think there’s a super important lesson there. If I look throughout my life at the times when I was smoking most, there’s a pattern. They were also the times where I was the least satisfied with my life. It’s easy to say that I was using it to unwind, or de-stress, but I can’t help but think that those are euphemisms for an escape. When I was stoned, I was no longer concerned with my daily struggles. It put my mind elsewhere – sometimes nowhere. Now that I get to spend my waking hours pouring everything I have and everything I know into a totally worthy cause, being stoned isn’t nearly as appealing.
Before we made our submission, I had some of the city’s top VCs and CEOs review the pitch materials before our submission. The response was unanimous and tremendously positive. One of the top investors at Arcview was local and was beyond impressed. The ‘chief mentor’ at Arcview said that this was so well done that he expected Arcview investors to reach out to us directly in such a high volume that we’d complete the raise before we even reached the forum. We were pumped.
Last week, we submitted our pitch package to the Arcview Group and while we scored the highest score of any submission that round – we scored just below their cut-off for the investor forum next month. This was a remarkably frustrating experience. Those who were supposed to qualify us were supposed to read through our executive summary and team bio, go through our pitch deck, and then watch the pitch video for which we were available for a live Q&A after. The video was played through GoToMeeting – meaning that it was too choppy to watch. The questions being asked in the live Q&A made it evident that they hadn’t even looked at the rest of our materials. It was remarkably frustrating.
That night, I had a friend and his wife over for dinner. He brought a joint. I said no at first, but then I rationalized it. I poured myself into this process and put forward something that I was incredibly proud of. While it didn’t receive the result I wanted, I still qualified it as a success. The joint was part stress-relief and part reward for an effort I was genuinely proud of – and I’m happy that I did.
I went from a state of frustration to a state of relaxation. Without the preoccupation of the day’s failure, I was able to be more present and enjoy the company of my friends. Colours were brighter, the food was better, and the music was especially good – I felt elevated.
I had been such a heavy user of cannabis for so long that I had burnt out my cannabinoid receptors to the point where no matter how much weed I smoked, it simply brought be back to a baseline of haziness. I had abused the drug rather than used it. I can’t stress enough, how important of a lesson that was for me. For me, this wasn’t a lesson in yes you should or no you shouldn’t, it was a lesson in balance. I doubt this journey is over, but these last few months have been a remarkable learning experience… and I’m just getting started.