Give Yourself Permission To Fail

Giving myself permission to fail has been a reoccurring thought as of late, and reading a recent post from Keen.io CEO Michelle Wetzler really solidified it for me.

After a few years in the back seat helping others in the building process I am back in the founding position. As I get back into the drivers seat I am reminded that my mental approach to this next journey determines so much of my trajectory and overall success.

If I am scared to fail, I most likely will fail. If I am worried we’ll go broke, we most likely will go broke. If I think I am not good enough to be CEO and not fit to lead a successful company, I most definitely will be those things.

BUT if I reverse that thinking I can reverse the psychology as well.  If I believe I’ll be successful, I most likely will. If I am confident in our finances, we most likely will stay afloat. If I think I am good enough to be CEO and fit to lead a successful company, I most definitely will be those things. And if I open myself up to possibility of failure I see that it is not that bad.

Michelle sums it up perfectly.

Giving myself permission to fail has been one of the most liberating, stress-relieving, and rewarding things I’ve done in last year.

The only way we can become a truly great company is if we open ourselves to the possibility that we might not be.

And you know what? It’s okay if we’re not. If Keen busts, we’ll all find new grand adventures. Some us could start a new company together, or get boring jobs at big co’s, or sail around the world, who knows, the world is full of lots of amazing opportunities.

…To give yourself permission to fail, you have to untangle your ego from your work. Having your ego tied up in your work is a handicap. You can’t think strategically or take risks when you and your personal well-being are on the line.

Basically, embracing reality frees you up to be everything you were meant to be. By not being paralyzed by what could happen, you are free to create what should happen.

This is an important lesson for founders, especially first timers who fall victim to impostor syndrome. Wikipedia defines it as “a term coined in the 1970s by psychologists and researchers to informally describe people who are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved.”

Another way to think of impostor syndrome is to be so frightened by your future (be it positive or negative) that you simply don’t believe you are doing the right things or are the right person for the job. You question every little decision you should make, you aren’t sure if you should go left or right. You think your peers see a different version of you, a lesser qualified person sitting in the front seat pretending they know what they are doing.  You start believing you are an impostor and thus end up failing in the end.

This is all wrong and can be mitigated by giving yourself permission to fail before you even start. That way you are free to make the correct decisions, knowing failure is just part of the process. It sounds crazy but a simple change in perspective makes all the difference. I have found the best perspective is that the world is full of lots of amazing opportunities, and if you fail at this one there’s always the next one.

That, my friends, is why I am back in the drivers seat.

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Coasting To Perfection

Am I doing all I can each day to reach my own pinnacle in life? Have I done everything possible to become the person I was created to be or am I just coasting along the highway…?

A post today piqued my interest and spurred this intense inner monologue. MG Siegler writes about a recent SI article on Michael Phelps which details his comeback and rehabilitation from alcohol related incidents.  The article touches on a variety of events in his career but what jumped out to me was a very interesting and possibly troubling assessment by Phelps himself, where he simply admits he has never given it his all. Ever. Even after numerous Olympics and all the medal records he feels he under-performed and still has his best inside him. Siegler ties that thought back to all of us:

“we don’t often hear about someone at the pinnacle of what they’re doing also failing to give their all — and yet, that’s clearly the case with Phelps….. And so in a way, I think that’s a more interesting point from which to look inward. If you’re really fucking up and squandering your talents, it’s pretty obvious for everyone to see. But what if you’re only not “giving it your all” and coasting on doing the minimum to still be successful — even very successful? Or maybe not even the minimum, but something less than all you’ve got. I think a lot of people are guilty of this. Maybe even most people. Certainly I am, in some regard.”

So I ask you, are you just coasting through your life?

It’s a troubling thought if you really consider the question when its asked another way: will you ever reach your full potential with your current output of energy, focus and determination?

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I ponder this question quite a bit and maybe it’s the reason I have a number of current projects/companies ongoing in my life. It’s almost as if I can’t not do them. I don’t want to ever look back and realize I could have done more, that I should have applied myself more fully to the things and people in my life, and that I coasted lazily while others looked upon me with slight disappointment knowing I was fully talented and capable of greatness but in the end never doing anything worthwhile.

Wasted talent they’d say.

This is why I push myself to write even on days when I don’t want to or don’t feel like it. I want to follow my writing talent as far as it will possibly take me.

This is why I get in front of the camera and shoot more Founders RAW conversations.  Setting aside the enjoyment I get from doing them it’s not easy being comfortable in front of a camera and I believe people need to hear the messages we are putting out. I also want to follow my talent in media creation as far as it will possibly take me.

This is why I get on stage in front of hundreds of people each month and host Feature Friday events in Seattle – a monthly event which highlights 5 new up-and-coming area startups. This pushes me to become very comfortable on stage in front of crowds and calms the public speaking nerves, a wise move given public speaking is the #1 fear in the world.

This is why I push myself to build new apps and create whole new companies. I don’t ever want to find myself out of the loop on the latest trends, as well as sometimes it just takes a few cycles before the big idea takes hold.

This is not rocket science but I do these things so that I get better at them until a time comes where they are second nature to me. This is the 10,000 hours stuff Malcolm Gladwell talks about. It is said by the time the Beattles led the “British Invasion” with Beattlemania and brought their music into America they had already played together as a band live so many times they had eclipsed their 10,000 hours threshold and were very very tight as a band. That’s why they were so damn good so early on.

But it didn’t come overnight.

The Beattles believed – as I am starting to now – you are only as good as you choose to be. And “to choose” means you determine to do whatever it takes, however long it takes, with whatever means you have at your disposal to achieve you potential. Anything less is just cheating yourself and the greater world in the process.

Some have it easy you might say. They are naturally talented and without doing EVERYTHING THEY CAN they turn out to be Olympic champions and record setters. LeBron James, Michael Phelps, ect.. Simply more talented than anyone else. I say good for them.

But I am more impressed with the one who wasn’t God gifted with the most talent in the world yet works so diligently at their craft they become one with it, they become the legends we read about. The Wright Brothers. Steve Jobs, etc. The ones who came from nowhere, with no money and no connections, no Ivy League schooling, no Silver Spoon or lucky sperm club card to show off.

These people will it into existence. They are the ones we love to read about and crave to hear speak in public.

My guess is you fit that bill just as I do. So do yourself a favor each day and ask yourself if you are giving it your all – and be honest with your answer. My guess is you’ll be surprised at how much farther within yourself you can dig.

THE NEWS POISONS YOUR BRAIN, SO STOP WATCHING!!

I am in the middle of a massive mental overhaul and it feels great.

Not that I really felt I needed it or was in danger going off the cliff, but I understand continual refinement is one of the secrets to life so recently I pushed into hitting a greater mental/emotional/professional learning curve.  With that I will say I think it’s time we start taking back our minds and not walking around the world like brainless mummies.

You are in charge of what goes into your mind and what you think about. It starts with what you choose to pay attention to and let into your conscious – subconscious even. If the brainless mummy comment was a bit harsh… well that is exactly what the media thinks of you.

I am talking about the news (industry in general) and how much of a bullshit clickbait crockshow it has become. Just look at a quick screenshot of cnn.com today.

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It’s as if CNN just reported on the end of the world.

Evacuated.

Terror.

Explosions.

Scared.

Clicks.

Dollars.

Cha-Ching!

That’s what’s going on and I am done with it. So should you.

News and media outlets have long left you in the dust and pretty much focus only on what will bring the most revenue in the bank. They show shock, terror and scare over anything else. It’s all about money and you are being poisoned in the process.

No wonder there are so many shootings and terrorist attacks around the world now. If media stopped reporting it maybe they would stop bombing buildings and killing innocent people since their names wouldn’t be plastered everywhere.

Maybe confused teenage kids who want their 15 minutes of fame on TV and social media would choose another path other than to walk into school and start shooting. But how did they get that idea in the first place??

Oh wait… right.

It’s a challenging topic especially now due to weekly terrorist threats and the latest Paris bombings leading to an unfortunate death toll numbered in the hundreds. My heart goes out to any affected. But it pains me to see this happening and only frustrates me when I see and hear about it.

It actually makes me mad. To the point where I might act on that anger. And that’s why I don’t do it anymore and for the sake of society I hope others do the same.

For an even worse stroll down scaryville-our-society-is-going-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket lane just turn on your local news. Murders. Rapes. Kidnappings. Robberies. Fires. OMG. We have a responsibility to take control of our thoughts and emotions, and never-ending scare tactics meant to keep us glued to the TV or computer screen do not help us achieve peace of mind.

You know what does achieve peace of mind?

Reading positive things.

Meditating each day on the good you will do in the world.

Spending quality time with loved ones and friends.

Putting the newspaper down, shutting the TV off, clicking off the website and then going out to do good in the world.

Go to work and do your part to move the world forward, no matter how big or small your impact may be. Don’t worry about missing out on events in the world – the important stuff happening around the world and in your own city will find you. Until it does, protect your own mind and spirit with all you have since that is all you have.

This I know for sure: Making your own world as positive and generous as possible starts with shutting out the negative messages of the media, which starts in your mind and that is 100% under your control.

 

The Tales We Tell Ourself About Failure

One thing we humans do really well is self doubt.

In the last week I have had two separate conversations with fellow founders about the grave situations their companies are in, how they are staring “defeat” right in the face and don’t really see any other option than to move on.

Both people are down and out right now.  And rightfully so… They have put years of blood, sweat, tears and money in pursuit of their dreams. They feel troubled with the fact that they didn’t succeed in the way they felt they could, didn’t build a meaningful and growing company. I know what they are going through, I have was there a few years ago and had a hard time knowing when it was time to pull the plug.

My advice to them is this:

It’s okay. You think the company (and you) are a failure because you have to move on and go do something else. You may have put your self worth into the company so much so that as the company faces a failure in operation you are feeling like a failure in life. You might be feeling a bit embarrassed because of all the things you said to your friends, family, coworkers, and industry partners now make you look at best untrustworthy, and at worst fraudulent.

These are all normal fears and feelings. They are all accurate and a normal part of the grieving process of a failed attempt at a startup company. But these are all fairy tales we repeat internally.

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The reality is the very fact you set out and tried something unique and different is the success in this story. The very fact that you had the courage to attempt something most people would be afraid to do is the success. The fact that you were looking to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem is the success. Most likely your entrepreneurial decisions inspired at least one other person to jump up and start their own entrepreneurial journey. And further, maybe that person and their project turns out to be a massive success, impacting millions of people around the world, lots of that due to you. You may never know… but it’s a possibility isn’t it?

Many people lean on the stat that something like 75-90% of all startups fail, they don’t reach a point of self sustaining profits. I feel this stat is misleading since it only measures financial outcomes of each entity. Is the company alive, or dead? Red or black? Running or shuttered? Successful or not?

A better measure – albeit much more difficult – is to evaluate the impact each person and their endeavors have on the people around them. I guarantee if we were to measure the impact and success of each founder who ventures out on their own by looking at how they affected, influenced and inspired others we’d be talking about a whole different number. I bet it would possibly be the inverse, which would be quite inspirational. We’d be saying something like “Only 10-15% of startups really fail to impact the world so you must go and do it!”

To all those who are currently struggling with what to do and which decision to make for your company right now, heed this advice. The only failure in your situation would have been not choosing to attempt the impossible, since that is the only reason you are able to sit in the chair you are sitting in right now, reading this on your device you are holding in your hand, sipping the drink you are tasting right now, and driving in the car you just drove in.

Success is simply choosing to attempt the impossible and inspiring others to do the same.

Chop Wood; Carry Water

I recently sat down for a great lunch conversation with Nick Soman, a founder friend of mine here in Seattle.  Nick is the founder and CEO of LikeBright and a TechStars graduate.

As we were reminiscing about the founder life he said something quite profound.

Chop Wood; Carry Water.

It’s obviously a nod to early times in society where life depended on staying warm and keeping hydrated.  People couldn’t just hide in their cave if something went wrong, they would eventually die.  Or if successful, they couldn’t just rest on their laurels when something went right.  Simply put, life goes on. They needed to keep chopping wood and carrying water no matter what.

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I believe that thinking applies today.  Actually, the principle applies even more today than ever since we have so many distractions in the palm of our hands and right in front of our faces.

If you have experienced something exhilarating, exciting and greatly advantageous for you or your business, the question is what do you do next?

You need to chop wood; carry water.

If you are down and out, struggling with life and fighting the feelings of disappointment the question is what are you going to do tomorrow?

You need to chop wood; carry water.

The point is you need to stay alive.  You need to keep working.  You need to keep doing what got you that advantageous opportunity in the first place.  And if you have hit a negative streak you need to just keep going, things will come back if you get back into the game and work on the basics.

Successful people make it a habit to be steadfast in their ways – they don’t get too high when things go well and they don’t get too low when things get challenging.  They stay even keel.

They keep chopping their wood and carrying their water no matter what happens to them.

I like that.  And it’s what I have been telling myself lately as I have been enduring some exciting times.

I hope you do as well.

Pedigree Is BS, You Must Work Harder And Smarter

I read an interesting article about Silicon Valley and its everlasting issue with founder bloodline/pedigree and their increased likelihood of success.

Indeed, the notion that anyone with smarts, drive and a great idea can raise money and start a company is a central tenet of the Valley’s ethos.

Yet on close inspection, the evidence suggests that the keys to success in the start-up world are not much different than those of many other elite professions. A prestigious degree, a proven track record and personal connections to power-brokers are at least as important as a great idea. Scrappy unknowns with a suitcase and a dream are the exceptions, not the rule.

Do I disagree with the general theme of the article?  NOPE.  Actually, it’s pretty much what I have been saying for quite some time now.  In fact, one could point to my clear lack of “pedigree” as a reason why I wasn’t able to secure seed capital for my startup Seconds, leading to Startup Death Valley.

But that is not what want to cover here.  There’s no reason to complain about the pedigree issue at hand – it makes logical sense just as breeders/gamblers look for strong bloodlines in horse racing.   Venture Capitalists are basically gamblers, and they will indeed bet on the person who has a leg up on the competition.  “He comes from money so he can support himself during the early times while they are working on the product.”  “He’s more connected so he’ll have an easier time attracting talent.”   He worked at Google!”

It all just makes sense.

Today I want to talk about what the other 95% of us out there need to do in the face of these realities.

Pedigree is BS.  If you are sitting here today with a less-than-steller history,  you cannot do anything about it now.  What’s done is done and you drew the short end of the lucky sperm club stick (whatever that may be…)

So forget about it.  Life is not fair and we all need to get used to it.

Yes, the pretty girls get asked out more often.  The good looking guy with nice hair and muscles gets the girls.  AND the Stanford grad that happened to get hired at Google has a better chance at raising money and attracting talented developers than you or me.

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So what to do?

You need to get to work.  You need to work harder than others.  You need to work smarter than others.  You need to GO AND DO SOMETHING so that you IMPROVE your pedigree.

The thing about “pedigree” is it’s fluid.  It can change based on your performance in life.  You are not a predetermined soul in this world, destined to one outcome or another.  Existential and uber-religious arguments notwithstanding, you are free to make your own decisions and completely change your “pedigree” in life.  You can climb up into other classes/pedigrees.

I am sure you think pretty highly of someone like  JK Rowling, who is responsible for the Harry Potter series and now worth almost a $1 billion.  But, you may or may not know she came from modest means and actually struggled mightily in adulthood.  From wikipedia:

Seven years after graduating from university, Rowling saw herself as “the biggest failure I knew”.  Her marriage had failed, she was jobless with a dependent child, but she described her failure as liberating:
Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

During this period Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression, and contemplated suicide.  It was the feeling of her illness which brought her the idea of Dementors, soul-sucking creatures introduced in the third book.  Rowling signed up for welfare benefits, describing her economic status as being “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless”

Surely you know the rest of her story.

Pedigree is BS.  You simply must work harder and smarter than others if you want respect and the attention from important people.  You need to be willing to do what others aren’t will to do or haven’t even thought of yet.

1) If you don’t know anyone, make it a habit to get out and meet people.  Go to events, shake hands, book meetings often, and generally do good things for people.  They will start to know you better.

2) If you aren’t known for anything, START SOMETHING.  Also, start writing or creating media of some sort and start pushing it out on social platforms.  Trust me, if it’s unique and good in any way people will pay attention and start recognizing you.

3) If you aren’t from family money, BE GLAD.  The bulls-eye is not on your back.  Use this to your advantage and be stealthy in what you do.  And when YOU DO SOMETHING, you will come out of nowhere and surprise people.  Then they will start looking you up on LinkedIn and want to connect with you.  You will be the next “up and comer”.

4) Embrace a work ethic.  Since you don’t have a solid “pedigree” behind you, you will need to instill a strong work ethic into your life which will pay dividends later in life.   A strong work ethic is one of the best attributes you can have in life, and not being born into silver spoons allows you to develop it and take ownership of it as you mature into adulthood.

I recently read where Naval Ravikant, founder of AngelList, said something to the extent of “build for the longterm, no one really understands what the compounding effects of 10-20-30 years will do to a business and a career.”  Well said. I believe NOT coming from means plays into ones advantage because they are not part of the  “rich and lazy” bunch and thus will continue to work hard once they summit the first big mountain of success in their life.

Now put your boots back on, grab your ice pick and keep working.

Image courtesy of Flick chriscom.

The Value of Youth Sports In Startup Founder Success

A few recent conversations have turned towards youth sports participation and the valuable life lessons they provide.  One in particular stood out to me – youth sports participation is one of the best training grounds for a startup founder.

How would I know?  I was a competitive athlete pretty much since the time I could run, competed up until college and still remain athletic and competitive today.

soccer1Although I didn’t necessarily know it at the time, as I was playing youth soccer, basketball and baseball I was adequately preparing myself for a life long battle in the business world.  Learning to cope with immense challenge and competition is paramount to a person’s ability to achieve success.

I am so grateful for the experience and for my parents not forcing me into any specific activity, but rather allowing me to participate in a number of sports so that I could further develop my athletic ability, maximize my leadership skills and mature enough to determine which sport I more fully wanted to pursue.

It turned out it was Soccer, and it’s crazy to think back and imagine me as an 8 year old running around in a grassy field on an early Saturday morning thinking I’m just having fun when in actuality I was taking in and absorbing lessons which would help me in my life 20, 30 and 40 years down the line.

Below are just a few ways youth sports help develop a young energetic child into a strong willed startup founder.  I thank John Cook of GeekWire for the conversation that sparked these thoughts.

Teamwork

One of the first things you learn as a young athlete is how to play as a team and how to become the best teammate possible.  No soccer team can win with one person trying to play alone – teams must be able to depend on their offensive players, their defensive players and ultimately their goalie to perform to their best ability.  Players must be willing to step up and take the shot, yet at the same time be able to support and assist their other teammates if the organization is going to function properly.  This requires youth to understand which is which, and the appropriate timing of each decision.

Companies are the same way, they aren’t built by one person. Startup teams must be well rounded, supportive and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve success – for all members of the team.  That, or the team won’t exist.

Leadership

Even at the earliest of ages sports teams will vote on a player to become captain, basically naming the leader of the team.  I believe this is the single best thing we (should continue to) do for our youth.  Captains are usually the more talented of players, have wide ranging experience and are outgoing and not shy in their ways with others.  But most importantly they are willing to take on responsibility.  They must lead the team, delegate when appropriate and stand up for a teammate if something goes wrong.

I believe giving responsibility as early as possible is one of the best ways to develop great leaders.

Imagine the lessons a 10 year old is learning as they lead their team during youth competition.  He/she is learning the basic tenants of team leadership, things they can apply to almost any endeavor.  In short, they are the on-field CEO and the success or failure of the team will rest (at least somewhat) on their young shoulders.

I cover startup leadership quite a bit so if you are a regular reader you will know my basic thoughts on the subject.  Simply put, startup CEO’s need to take full responsibility for their organization from day one.  They must wear the captain’s band on their sleeve in plain view so everyone knows where the buck stops.  This is not for their ego; it’s for efficient and effective organizational structure.  Why should an employee ask 3 people a question when really they should go directly to the decision maker to get the best and quickest response?  If employees in a startup don’t know who the decision maker actually is, whatever startup they are a part of ain’t gonna be around very long.

Failing

I get it, losing is not why we play the game.   Go visit a sports park on a weekend and watch how kids react to losing nowadays.  Yet losing in sports – just as in life – happens.  It actually happens a lot.  Learning to fail gracefully is a huge lesson any person, especially for someone thinking about starting their own company.

Why am I telling you failing is good for children?  Failing, maybe even getting injured  in the process, and then getting back up and trying again shows young athletes that if you do not quit then each new day is a new opportunity to win.  Losing teaches children not everything in life is guaranteed.  In fact, it teaches us more often than not things will not go as originally planned.  Sometimes shit hits the fan and you need to retreat and regroup to determine your next move.  There’s your basic “strategic thinking” lesson in action, a skill founders must employ A LOT.  Losing teaches youth hard work is required to experience success against your competitors.

This is essentially the experience of any early stage founder.  Startups fail most of the time.  Using lessons from our youth we can realize we just need to get back up and try it again, and hopefully we learn something in the process.

Enduring Hard Work

Finally, part of learning from failing is gaining the endurance to last long enough so we can experience success.  I distinctly remember our training sessions during soccer season.  They sucked.  Even if we weren’t going to be the best in the state of Washington (which we were 3 out of 4 years) we were definitely going to be the most in shape.  Coach made it very clear we would be the team with the best endurance around.

So we ran.  A lot.  We ran until we dropped, and then we ran some more.  We learned to embrace hard work and earn our success.  We learned anything worth winning was worth enduring tough challenges and the hardest of practices.  It was our standard and we embraced it wholeheartedly.  We spoke it.  We lived it.  We practiced it and we played it.  No wonder we won the state championship 3 out of 4 years I was on the team.  It was in our our DNA and our blood.

Startup founders need to take ownership of their future.  They simply need to determine where they are going, commit to a standard and uphold it no matter the cost.  They need to bleed confidence to the point where their success is inevitable.  They need to work harder than their competition.  This doesn’t mean work the most hours as humanly possible, that would be as dumb as our soccer coach running us until we all pulled hamstrings, eliminating us from competition completely.  Startups must figure out how to work harder but also work smarter.   Determining and following quality performance standards will do wonders to founders and their startup teams.

Youth sports are fun but they are also incredibly valuable to our society.  If you are a parent I would encourage you to place your children in a positive environment where they can develop leadership and success skills as early as possible.

Just like you.