An essay on building foundations in the dark

By Dana Shierstone


It turns out 2020 is the worst year in a long time to have started a business, but I did not know that back in December of 2019… And if I had, I still would have done it anyway. After years of working at tiny little start-up companies, I was stressed out, burned out, and reading the 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss got me thinking that there could be a better way. One day in frustration, the owner of the company I worked for asked, “Do you think you could do a better job of running this company?” It was meant to be rhetorical, but as I reflected on it, the simple solid answer “Yes!” resonated through me. Working for other people I had done the finances, the budgets, the planning, the regulatory compliance, technical sales and business development. I had a good idea and several well-established clients already. On December 31, 2019 I left that job and embarked on my own adventure. January and February were pretty good— all things considered, and then everything stopped. No orders for 2 months; speaking with my clients and my friends, and reading the news, no one knew what would happen. Going to the grocery store became a scary surreal experience.

I have always been a dynamo of action and when the world stopped, I considered what I could do. The options were very limited, not much money, but a lot of time. This was the perfect time for something, but what? I came to think of it as like climbing a mountain in the fog, trusting the summit is above you and knowing the weather will clear and the sun will return at some point. What could I do now to set myself up for success later, what foundations could I build in the darkness that would serve me well when the world opened up? I made a list:

USDA organic certification


Insurance and Compliance Documentation

Basic Marketing and Sales Education

Finance and Business Planning

It has taken so long to get through some of those items, somedays fighting the lethargy of despair is like wading through mud, but I keep going, I keep building. Over the course of the year the initial shock and near paralyzing anxiety have given way to periods of loss of direction and inspiration and slowly to acceptance. This is happening. The world has changed, the economy will be different, I need to stay agile and flexible as the new world that none of us anticipated or wanted forms. The sun will come back, and I will be ready to meet it, having spent this time of darkness productively building my business and my future. The structure and inspiration of what I can build give me hope and strength to walk through the fog. This time of calm can be an inflection point, a re-imagining of our lives. This is the fire that guides me through the uncertainty. The knowledge that I can be better, stronger, and more accepting. I hope not for what the world will or won’t be, but what I can be in it.


Dana Shierstone is a new small business owner and mother living in Colorado. She has a Masters degree in Engineering and makes custom-designed cannabis and dietary supplement products. Reach her and check out her traditional Chinese medicine inspired products at

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