Posts like the one you are about to read are typically written by a man or woman who was one of the lucky few to make it into that elite group of entrepreneurs who have raised a significant amount of money and has built a company with a blindly bright future. It’s important to me that I write this from the perspective of someone who is still in the middle of entrepreneurial hell and has by no means started a “unicorn” or achieved any significant level of entrepreneurial success, yet. So if you are reading this article for some sort of actionable advice on how to turn your company into a billion dollar business I suggest you stop here. This post is about WHY you should start your own business and take the plunge even though your new company and most likely your savings account will inevitably crash and burn. The (non-monetary) benefits of taking enormous risk and putting yourself out there often go overlooked yet have a profound effect on your personal growth and well-being.
“We are at our very best, and we are happiest, when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off and comfort to our sleep. It makes everything else in life so wonderful, so worthwhile.”- Unknown
I recently read an article that separated topics and lessons with pertinent quotes and thought it was an excellent and enjoyable way to convey different messages, hence the format of this post. The quotes have come from various books, movies, articles, and documentaries I have consumed this past year. I am no writer, so my hope is these quotes can add some eloquent summary to my otherwise brash anecdotes.
“It’s ok lose to opponent! Must not lose to fear” - Mr. Miyagi
I’ve been struggling with with anxiety issues since I can remember. My anxiety disorder wasn’t officially diagnosed until my early twenties, but it has surely been effecting my life for the better part of 15 years. I’m not entirely sure what to attribute these issues to, but I’m confident it’s some combination of unrealistic standards for personal success, an apprehension to change and a complete fear of failure. From the surface it seems like quitting my high-paying, stable job to jump into the entrepreneurial abyss would be a recipe for a complete mental breakdown. However, quitting my job, moving to a new city, depleting my savings, and getting dumped by the girl I thought I would marry turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to my mental health. And I’m not talking about some incremental improvement of my anxiety, I’m talking about an exponential improvement, fringing on complete eradication of my anxiety. Taking a personal and professional leap that allows for no safety nets forced me to face my fears head on. I had to endure change, failure, rejection and judgement from family and friends on a daily basis. After months of facing my fears everyday my mind had no option but to realize these “fears” were really just self-fabricated bullshit that society and my imagination somehow grew into a tangible opponent. Year to date I have yet to suffer any of the panic attacks and severe anxiety that once riddled my existence. Sure I still have worries and anxiety but they are more or less rooted in actual issues like “O shit I left the stove on!” instead of imaginary apocalyptic scenarios like, “What if this email to my boss isn’t perfect? Will I get fired and be forced to live in a van down by the river?!?”
“You become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” -Jim Rohn
If I can provide any actionable advice, here it is — read the quote above, now read it again. Ask yourself, who are the 5 people you give your most valuable asset (time) to. Now think about each of those individuals and determine whether or not they are helping you achieve the goals you have set for yourself both personally and professionally. If the answer is no to any of these people start identifying replacements and reallocate your time. I know it sounds incredibly harsh, but the truth of the matter is the people you surround yourself with are the greatest indicator of your happiness and future success. If this year has taught me anything it has taught me the value of surrounding myself with the right people. I have altered “my 5” to align with my goals and it has made an enormous difference. To provide an example of this shift, the person I spent the most time with this year, my business partner, is probably the most dedicated, driven and intellectually curious person I have ever met. We spend all day together discussing business related topics which has driven me to become a more creative and analytical entrepreneur, but more importantly we spend vast amounts of time discussing books, podcasts, world politics, and movies. This year I have worked significantly more than any year prior, but have managed to read more books/articles/blogs and watch more movies/documentaries than the past 5 years combined. I can almost entirely attribute this shift to the presence of my business partner in my daily life. We drive each other to keep up and get better and it’s made all the difference.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” - John Adams
Starting my own company has without a doubt made me a better leader. Period. Day in day out I have been tasked with guiding my team through completely unchartered (at least for me) and often treacherous waters. This journey has taught me to admit fault readily and provide praise freely. It has forced me to rely on the expertise of others and to accept their failures as learnings. But what I am most proud of is how I have grown as a leader in the way John Quincy Adams describes above. Not so much in the sense of tactical leadership, but through unknowingly inspiring people around me. I receive phone calls and meeting requests from friends and acquaintances on a weekly basis. These discussions tend to have one common theme — each person wants to be told yes. Essentially I have become the person that the people around me come to when they need a little nudge to follow their dreams. These talks range from wanting to quit a “great” job to pursue a field of passion to wanting to take year off to teach english in Thailand, but one abstract discussion really hit home for me.
One day a good female friend of mine called me out of the blue. We probably hadn’t spoken in 4–6 months, but I still consider her a good friend. When I picked up the phone she was clearly choked up and proceeded to tell me about how she found out that her boyfriend drunkenly made out with another girl at a bar. At some point during the conversation she informed me that I was the first person she had told about the incident and wanted to get my opinion before she talked to her friends and family. This shit blew me away, why on earth was I the first person this girl decided to call about her cheating boyfriend? I am certainly not her closest confidant and have shown no signs of being a relationship savant. Eventually I had to ask her why she called me first, and she replied with “I don’t know I just thought you’d understand.” Then it hit me, this girl was in love with a guy who made a mistake and she wanted someone to tell her it was okay to forgive him instead of succumbing to the dogmatic “break up with him, he’s a piece of shit” advice she was sure to hear from friends and family. My advice to her is irrelevant to this post, but the fact that she chose me as the person who could look beyond societal norms and give her the okay to follow her heart was this weird, fucked up sign that I had grown as a leader.
“I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker.” ― Stanley Kubrick
Forcing yourself to learn in an attempt to receive a stamp of approval or check off a box is fucking stupid not to mention futile. Look, I’m as guilty as anyone of this stupidity. I spent 5 years at one of California’s best engineering schools just trying to pass my classes so I could get the degree. The majority of my learning was done strictly out of fear and resulted in a very surface level understanding of some otherwise really interesting and complex topics. It wasn’t until after college I really embraced the concept of interest-driven learning and starting my own company took this learning to a different stratosphere. This past year, personal interest and passion were the only two possible sources of motivation. No “stamps of approval” or degrees were attained over this past year, but I can assure you that I have never learned more in any 12-month span of my life. During this time I became proficient in several new programming languages, built my first 3 websites, took courses on design, learned the fundamentals of small business accounting, and stepped up my understanding of startup financing. Some of these new learnings were inspired by necessity and others by interest, but none by fear.
“Lost wealth may be replaced by industry, lost knowledge by study, lost health by temperance or medicine, but lost time is gone forever.” - Samuel Smiles
Look, I’m not writing this post to make entrepreneurship sound like it’s all roses, because it’s not. My hope is for this post to shed light on benefits other than potential monetary gains to starting your own business and that if you take the leap and don’t make millions, not all is lost... To wrap things up I’ve left a few closing words of wisdom from people far more credible than me.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”- Steve Jobs
For those of you still on the fence — Listen to my boy Jobs.
“Failure is not durable” - Francis Ford Coppola
For those of you who have already taken the plunge — Listen to FFC.