The Very First Thing To Do When Opening Your Eyes Each Morning

Close them for another 10 minutes.

The deeper I go in this industry the more I realize success is determined by the quality of my mental fitness.  It was with that realization I recently started the practice of mediation. This new direction might come to some as a surprise, as it does with me. I’m not a very “spiritual” person and have up until recently thought of mediation and other methods of silence with a “not my kind of tea” nonchalance.

What we view as different we tend to be afraid of and to be very honest I was afraid of meditating. It was just foreign to me. Yet that might be why I found myself in a situation where I was desperately needing it!

I realized in my first month of meditation it’s not as weird, shamanic, spiritual, or cult-like as I thought.  In fact, I realize now that it quite possibly could be the secret to a happy and successful life no matter what country you live in or what religion you claim to believe.

Why?

With so much stimulation, media distraction and impulsive opportunities today, clarity of thought is our most scarce resource. By not taking the time to center oneself in their purpose before they start their day, one may find each day harder and harder to complete. I felt this overcoming me during the last year or two – the subtle feeling of losing my compass and lacking the fulfilling energy of pursuing a direction that aligns with a purposeful life.

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So with a suggestion from my girlfriend – who has been meditating for more than 10 years and glows with its benefits – I jumped in.  Boy do I have a long way to go.  I haven’t established a strongly held habit yet but here’s what I learned in the first month.

1. Calmness.  I found I was becoming more tense as the years went on, and given my laid back nature this was starting to really bug me.  It probably has to do with the nature of our industry and the difficulties of being a founder or working for an early stage company.  As I started the practice of meditation I began to feel the tension ease off a bit.  It’s still there to some extent, but I am now learning how to deal with it and shift the excess energy to a more positive area of my life.

The main reason I feel better is with the consistent nature of meditation you are able to think, ponder, and review; this leading to an adequate evaluation of the difficult things happening over the course of your daily life.  Stress overcomes us not because of something that happens to us, but because we haven’t adequately perceived the reality of the situation and are uncertain of what we are going to do about it.  We lack clarity. My calmness has resulted from taking time each day to let my mind wrap itself around the challenging things developing in my life, and allowing my mind time to determine the next step.

2. Centeredness.  I never really knew what this term meant before starting to meditate, but now I understand the power of allowing your mind to focus on certain aspects of your life, steering away from harmful and negative things while steering towards ones more beneficial. It actually takes effort to think about what you are doing here on earth, what you want to accomplish, how you want to live each day, how you want to treat people each day and the trajectory you want your life to take.  All this becomes clearer when one consistently starts their day in deep thought.  Although just a month in, I am feeling more centered and aligned and I can’t wait to see where the next 6 months or year directs me.

3.  Slowness.  It seems like things are going faster and faster each day.  Computing power speeds up each year, and computers just keep getting smaller and more ingrained into our existence.  Emailing went to text messaging.  Taking pictures with a digital camera and uploading to a website went to snapping a pic and sending a quick Snapchat to a friend. We expect to grab our phone and instantly find a restaurant whenever we are hungry. We also expect a response from someone we communicated with – immediately.  Each day seems to be speeding up and taking our whole society with it. It’s no wonder people are so stressed out.

Meditation has shown me the power of slowness and what it can do in a world where people and ideas are flying by at the speed of light.  Slowness allows for thoughtful consideration of the world around you. It allows for deeper comprehension of all the things happening to you and around you.  There are many things in our world that are simply too complex to fully grasp only after a few seconds or immediately after a meeting.  Not taking the time to allow your mind and body to fully comprehend the world around you is a grave mistake.  Through slowing down and practicing mental clarity each morning I set the tone for a stronger, more agile, more flexible mind which now has a better understanding of when to make quick hasty decisions or to slow down and contemplate all angles of a situation.

Take it from someone who used to shrug off the concept of meditation, you are making a huge mistake by not starting your day with your eyes closed in deep thought about the day you are about to experience.

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You Are Never “Too Good To Step Aside” As CEO

Sometimes your ego will write checks your body can’t cash.

This is so true for the startup founder who chooses the role of CEO in his own company.

I thought of it recently as I read a great post by Jonathan Strauss, former CEO and founder of awe.sm, about stepping down from the founder/CEO role after 4 years.  In it, he very honestly describes his feelings on the decision and what ultimately brought him to remove himself from the leadership role.

Jonathan aptly describes entrepreneurship:

To be an entrepreneur I believe one must have a somewhat irrational belief in your own capabilities, otherwise you’d never be dumb enough to start a company. Regardless of any perceived glamor, most entrepreneurs I know will tell you that starting and running a company is fucking hard and there’s often more misery than joy.

He. Nails. It. On. The. Head.

If you are a frequent reader you will know this description of entrepreneurship can be found here on this blog as well.  No doubt, founding a company is one of the most difficult and emotionally taxing things in the world.  It’s a wonder company creation is actually on the rise when you read statements like these.

Jonathan goes further on why it was so hard to remove himself:

I put hiring a CEO in the same category as taking an acqui-hire or just closing up shop and moving on — things I would think about at 4am in the office on those darkest nights when I’d have a bout of sobriety about the insanity I’d turned my life into. And ultimately, things that represented the one unacceptable option motivating me to push even further beyond my limits I’d long surpassed: failure. In the early days, the only way for me to keep awe.sm from failing was to tie my fate with the company’s. If awe.sm failed, I failed. But as we switched from lean startup to growth company, I didn’t fully realize how making my ego a shareholder went from being necessary for survival to being a limitation on what we could achieve.

One of the toughest “checks” to cash as a founder is to think you are the sole reason for company success or failure.  Notice how Jonathan admits he attached himself and his fate with the fate of the company.  It is indeed one of the inherent flaws of us founders.

I commend Jonathan for his decision but I am also not letting the lesson pass me by, and you shouldn’t either.  The ego issue is very dangerous for both of you and your company.

Founders need to have a healthy balance of ego.  On one side you need to have an almost superhuman confidence about yourself and your vision because that is the only way you can get thorough the really tough times of starting the journey.  But – and THIS IS A BIG BUT – you also need to understand you are not Superman and the company can actually succeed with someone else at the helm.  You aren’t the only person on earth who can identify a market, describe a vision, build a team, sell customers and increase monthly revenue.  Other people can do that too.  And even with you still on the team.

More importantly, others might be able to do it all better than you.

So, take Jonathan’s example and learn from it.  Sometimes removing yourself from the most scrutinized and stressful position in the company is the best decision for everyone involved.

Even you.

Living With Doubt And Uncertainty As An Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurial doubt can creep up on you like little critters in the night. One day you are on top of the world, thinking there’s nothing between you and 1 billion people touching your product. The next day you don’t know if you are still leading an actual company. Life can be pretty tough sometimes.

I have had my share of creeping doubt as of late, some worthy of mindshare and some not. But the biggest thing I have realized lately is that no matter what, shit hit fans. So it’s not a matter of when or how much hits the fan but more about how you deal with it. And you HAVE to figure out how to deal with it so you can continue on living and working towards your goals.

I have found 3 things really help me when times get rough:

Get Back to the Drawing Board

For a while there I was feeling very exhausted, lacking creativity and innovation at all points of the day. Seconds, as a company, has come to the point where we are growing (we’ve grown each and every month) but has obviously not found proper product/market fit necessary to take things to the next level. Not surprisingly, this was a very difficult feeling to experience. Results were not clear enough to shut down the business but it was also too foggy to continue the current plan. We had to make adjustments or risk losing the war.

So I finally had to force myself to break out of the rut, grab the marker and get back on the whiteboard. For those unaware, magical things happen at a whiteboard. Most products you are using today were wire framed on a board. Most of the successful companies you read about on Techcrunch and Mashable were conceived on one of those boards. It’s truly amazing what can be created when you place pen to board and allow it to lead you. Now, As a team or even just a few of us, we now regularly jump into sessions of brainstorm and idea generation. I will even lock myself in a room alone and just allow the entire board to engulf my thoughts… I will tell you some great new stuff is set to be released at the end of September and it’s all due to our energetic whiteboard sessions of this summer.

Get Back to Friends and Family

I recently have had the opportunity to spend more time with my family and it’s been a great. Long story short, as an interim roof I am staying with my sister and her 3 kids as I look for my next place. There was simply too much going on… I couldn’t deal with looking for another apartment and she kindly suggested I grab the spare room for a while. I though it was going to be a burden but it’s been a blessing. It’s amazing what is presented to you once you are in need of a miracle.

Also, looking back over the last few months I have been able to break away and spend some quality time with my friends. As a founder and dedicated entrepreneur, it’s quite easy to become so engulfed in pursuits I forget about the special people in my life. I am also blessed to have a solid group of friends from my youth and college years. These moments of getaway and relaxation are very re-energizing. I believe we will be lifelong friends so I feel the time with them is more of an investment rather than a expense on my life.

Get Back in Shape

My previous career was oriented around health and wellness, so health is a biggie for me. To be quite honest, I have really never been out of shape so my thoughts are more about the commitment and consistency of exercise over being overweight or out of shape. Though recently I noticed myself slacking on training and exercise. One day a week here… two days a week there. No patterns or schedule to depend on was really taking its toll on my physically as well as psychologically. And I started seeing and feeling the result.

So I determined to make a change. More importantly, i found a closer focus on running and working out more often and earlier (relatively) in the morning is keeping me aligned as my life is becoming more random and out of whack by the week. Even more interesting, the harder I push myself physically the more I push myself psychologically and mentally. Physical exercise is definitely the healthiest weapon against stress and I hope it stays that way throughout the rest of my life.

Creativity, Exercise and Friends and Family. These are all you need to stay aligned and deal with the uncertainty of entrepreneurship.