Paper Leaf turns 10 years old today. I’m bad at stopping to recognize a moment, never mind celebrating, so I’m making an effort to do that here.

When we started PL, we were as green as they come. We had no real idea or plan for where the shop would go, what it would become, or all that would change in a decade. We went from 2 people running a business with annual revenues of $40k in year one to 17 people with annual revenues nearing $2M. We went from designing business cards for $50 to building six-figure software applications. We went from working out of a bedroom to, at present, our third office. We went from no benefits to benefits. We went from unheard-of to recognized both regionally and nationally. It’s been fulfilling, and it will continue to be.

But, real talk: it has also been the most challenging and consistently stressful endeavour I’ve personally ever endured. Even now – I’m writing this in the early morning because I woke up at 4am due to stress for the second day in a row. Frequently, I’ve been unable to find energy to due much outside of work, and register off the charts on the Maslach Burnout Inventory. I’m aware enough to understand that I’m privileged in myriad ways, but that doesn’t discount the fact that – from clients to cash to employees and everything else – the past 10 years have been relentless.

Which brings me to this: we all want rewarding, meaningful things in life. But if there’s one thing I’ve come to learn, it’s that real rewards require real challenges. The joy of completing a half-marathon comes because it was hard to do; the reward of summiting a mountain on your bike is because, at times, you weren’t sure you could. And, in the vein of this post, the fulfilment of running a business is inextricably tied to the challenge, effort, and hard times that go into it.

The truth is, you can’t have one without the other: if it was easy, it wouldn’t be rewarding. For me, Paper Leaf and everyone involved with it has been the proof of that correlation, and I’m thankful for that.