I am picking all the battles

…..I tried and failed miserably (more about this later).

A good friend of mine who is now in the US asked me when my next blog post was due. I noticed that I write irregularly. Probably due to the personal nature of my posts. It takes effort to share raw thoughts and feelings. Whenever I write, the articles tend to revolve around, for me, life-changing moments. The past 9 months have been life-changing, but I noticed it was hard to put these feelings under words.

Photo credit: Mark Haersh, Amsterdam 2014

The lines between being right and letting your ego take the overhand can become very thin

As weird as it sounds, working on Broken Chains, a documentary about the racial wealth gap, was unexpectedly crucial for my personal development. Flashback to 5–6 years ago. I have never been too vocal about injustice or racism. It didn’t matter if it was personal or in a business setting. I was always conscious of keeping the peace. Let’s not rock the boat because I feel the need to share my opinion. That changed in mid-2020. I was fed up and needed to speak up. 12 months later, we finished a documentary about institutional racism and mending the racial wealth gap (I took the speaking up part a bit too far maybe). It wasn’t just racism I didn’t speak up about. Whenever I felt strongly about anything, felt misunderstood, or even misrepresented, I never spoke my mind. I would instead bottle it up and make sure no one felt uncomfortable. Not speaking my mind made me feel miserable. I didn’t want to continue this way. Of course, all kinds of fears went through my mind. If I speak up, people might dislike me. If I speak my mind, people might disagree. In trying to become a better person, I decided it was time to speak up.

Imagine life being a pendulum, swinging from one end to the other. Mine swung from one extreme to another. I went from not speaking up to speaking up about everything. I went from not picking any battles to picking all the battles…and I mean every single one of them. For all I know, I got up each morning thinking, “who am I going to piss off today.” This reaction wasn’t intentional. It was a response to not speaking up for all these years. Being on the other end of the spectrum didn’t help me either. Trying to speak my mind all the time. Going hard into every discussion and purely being focused on leaving a mark helps no one. The lines between being right and letting your ego take the overhand can become very thin.

Going through these extremes has been helpful for me and I truly hope it will be helpful for others. It eventually got me in a much better place. Getting to that better place took work and sacrifice. It didn’t happen on its own. The most important lessons I learned going through these extremes were:

(1) Take a step back.

I noticed my mood would change based on the energy around me. I was very inconsistent in the way I handled myself. The moment a meeting went well, I would feed off that energy and be decisive. On the other hand, I also found myself in unexpected situations, and my first response was to be silent; keeping all my emotions and thoughts to myself. Over time I taught myself to take a mental step back in any situation (good or bad). Literally, breathe, concentrate or write for a few minutes. Anything that helps me take my mind off things. Doing so helped me create awareness of the situation I am in and how it makes me feel. For example, it is easy to add more fuel when I am in the midst of a toxic conversation. Eventually, it only becomes more toxic. Taking a mental step back helps me understand why the conversation is toxic. It helps me realize that I am always left with a choice. Do I stay in this conversation, leave quietly, or speak up and change the direction? Having options is much better than blindly doing what comes up first. Not every battle is worth fighting.

(2) Only consider the right outcome

After taking a mental step back, I try to consider the best outcome for the situation I am in. Often times this means having conversations about everyone’s expectations. Yes, it takes more effort, and for me, it meant I had to take my ego out of the equation. Talking through what the outcome is for all parties involved was a revelation for me. You will be surprised how much feedback you get when you start sharing. In any situation, my first concern now is to understand how to move forward. Sometimes coming to the conclusion you want to move in a different direction is also progress. You might think it doesn’t benefit others if you make a tough decision, but being unhappy doesn't help anyone neither. Not discussing expectations leaves room for interpretation. Out of experience, I can say that usually doesn’t end well.

Taking time to grief from failures

A significant part of my learnings came from failures. I never learned how to deal with failures properly and didn’t feel I was doing enough to help my progress. As a venture capitalist, we also chant the mantra to fail hard and fast so you can move on. But if you put your heart and soul into something and it still fails, it will be tough to just flick a switch and move on. I understand why it is vital to move forward, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. We tend to spend time and attention on moving ahead and hardly any time on grieving. Through writing, I learned I never took time to grief from my failures. Moving on is essential. Spending time on understanding the deeper roots of your failures is equally important. You can learn so many vital lessons from failures and you should never glance over them. I would almost say embrace them as a stepping stone.

Being fine not knowing what is going to happen.

In conclusion, being fine with uncertainty is doable. It doesn’t matter if it is failure, learning which battles to fight, or admitting you were wrong. Being truly honest about how you feel is liberating.

Partner at Golden Gate Ventures, husband, proud father of 2 and fanatic cyclist and runner. More about me @ www.michaellints.com