To Get Where You’re Going, Don’t Forget Where You Came From

Image Credit: Unsplash — Brendan Church

Some of the greatest entrepreneurs and business people in the world came from humble beginnings, or faced some sort of adversity on their way to incredible success:

  1. Jim Carrey used to be homeless (before becoming one of the top comedians in movie and television history).
  2. Richard Branson was diagnosed with dislexia (before becoming the 4th richest person in the world).
  3. Franklin Roosevelt became partially paralyzed at 39 (before becoming the 32nd President of the United States).
  4. Marilyn Monroe was in and out of foster homes (before becoming one of the most iconic actresses of the 20th century).
  5. Colonol Sanders was lost everything and lived out of his car (before creating success with KFC late in his life).

Is it a coincidence that each of these, and several other, highly successful people had life altering events which they overcame?

Likely not.

Image Credit: ‘The Startup J Curve’ by Howard Love

In his book ‘The Startup J Curve’ author Howard Love explains in detail the pit of despair many entrepreneurs go through known as the Valley of Death. In essence it’s the time between ideation and product/market fit where entrepreneurs often face some sort of major adversity.

I believe this idea can also be applied to the growth of successful people individually as well.

For startups, the Valley of Death can be a lack of momentum, product market fit, or funding. It’s a place to cut your teeth, to see if you have what it takes to deal with the hardship that every new business goes through, and the reason it’s a valley and not a cliff is there is a way out for those who persevere. The Valley of Death assumes those in it can and will persevere; if they don’t then it isn’t a Valley, it’s failure.

For individuals, the Valley of Death can be anything from being fired from your job, growing up in foster homes, being diagnosed with a crippling illness, or being homeless. It’s a ruinous mix of depression, anxiety, and doubt that’s designed to get someone to quit.

Failure defines us as much as success.

Think back through your life at the moments that impacted you the most. Chances are your most incredible achievements can’t be blocked out by your thoughts of the most embarrassing or regrettable moments.

In our minds, no matter how bright the light is, the dark is always lingering.

Every entrepreneur and busy professional goes through hardships at some point to some degree. Things don’t go our way for a period of time and we feel like the chips are stacked against us. It’s easy to lose sight of the good things that are happening.

Negative thoughts become self-perpetuating, blocking out the good in favor of the bad.

My slumps often revolve around feelings of not being good enough, that I’m an imposter, that I don’t deserve the life I’ve built and it’s all a house of cards ready to topple on top of me.

These thoughts were increasingly prevalent during the ‘Valley of Death’ at the early stages of running my business. These were the times when it was easy for me to think about going back to the amazing six figure job I left behind for entrepreneurship.

If I hadn’t gone through intense hardship earlier in my life, being homeless and poor, I would have jumped out of the startup life and back into comfort.

But the past defined me.

It made me strong.

It made me resilient.

It gave me the skills I needed to survive the hard times. Skills like knowing how to hustle, how to be opportunistic, and how to take risks.

Above all, the past taught me about perspective.

Perspective is one of the most underrated qualities for entrepreneurs.

That’s because during the bad times perspective reminds us things can always get worse, and during the good times perspective reminds us to be grateful for what we have and those around us.

So do I wish I was never homeless as a kid? Sure, sometimes. I’m sure Jim Carrey, Richard Branson, Franklin Roosevelt, Marilyn Monroe, and Colonol Sanders all felt the same way sometimes. The real question though is without their past experiences would they ever have been successful enough for us to care?

Jake is the Founder & CEO of Launchpeer, an app development & growth hacking studio for startups. He writes about his Lean Marketing System at He’s consulted Fortune 500 companies, is a former homeless teen, and proud Army veteran.

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