Today, I woke up. Thirty minutes before my alarm would have gone off at 5:20, I sat straight up in bed. I had instant clarity. I've been living scared, and it's cost me. Some of you may be surprised at that statement. I can fake it pretty well. Since I was 21, I've called myself an entrepreneur. I've started and owned over a dozen businesses. Some quite successful, some so-so, and several flops. And now I know exactly why: fear.
Earlier this year, I decided to read books differently. Instead of just plowing through them, I would pause and recap what I learned from each and how I could apply the lessons to my own life. Simply put, that's tougher than it sounds. I thought I could do a book a week, but I think half of that is a more realistic goal. (And I'm already a few behind of that pace, but I think I can catch up with some books already in progress.) In January, I read Ikigai by Sebastian Marshall. Last month, I finished Start With Why by Simon Sinek.
Back in October, I circled today's date on the calendar. Knowing that the next few months would be incredibly intense, I decided to opt-out of the traditional New Year's planning process, deferring it until I reached a natural pause in my schedule. In fact, I had no idea how true that would be. From Halloween through to February, the rest days were few and far between. I justified my growing addiction to Monster Rehab and the spaced-out hours of television that creeped back into my schedule. And then my body simply gave out.
Falling down sucks, particularly if you've climbed a little higher since the last time you fell down. It hurts more. The bruises and scrapes are little deeper. Then the mental games begin. And they're far worse than the physical ones. It feels like being stuck in mud as far as you can see. It takes all your strength to simply stand up, and then there's no clear path out. It's frustrating and exhausting. What to do?
Sometimes the greatest obstacle to moving forward is looking backwards. We cling to the memories of our good 'ol days, linking our identity to a past success. Maybe it was winning an athletic championship in high school or college, or maybe even a single incredible play. Maybe it was a position with inside access to movers and shakers. Maybe it was a work project that mirrored the case studies you read in college. Maybe it was earning more than you'd ever dreamed of for a period of time. We often talk of learning from our failures and putting them behind us. The same is true of our successes. Here are three ways success can be a trap, and how to escape them.
For most of my twenties, I had horrible pain in my hands and forearms. Sometimes it was a steady ache, sometimes a shooting pain, and sometimes it just felt like I was on fire from the elbows down. I've had all the tests and lived on Celebrex for a while. (Whoever invented the test for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome deserves a special episode of Alias just for them.) It really was never diagnosed as anything specific, and I eventually quit seeking traditional medical care for it. Once I started working out regularly and eating better, it mostly went away. Until the last ten days or so.
If we were running a 5K or marathon, we wouldn't dream of stopping just inches before the finish line. We know that the rewards come with finishing, and there's not much else that tops that surge of confidence and pride in ourselves. So why don't we carry that philosophy into our work? I'm guilty of it too. When the finish line approaches on a consulting contract, we start to brainstorm ways to extend it, often sabotaging ourself or our colleagues. Or, if we're an employee, we cling to projects for the job security they seemingly provide. We're not willing to automate them, cutting the needed hours in half. Or to create a checklist and train a more junior person to complete them. Why?
Count me as a member of Team Tebow. I'm a fan, and I've certainly enjoyed the last few weeks of improbable victories. He's certainly made football more exciting and provided an excellent role model for living out the Christian faith. But there's more we can learn from his example. And I think the lessons translate to more than the football field. Here's what Tim Tebow can teach us about business.
I used to think that there was an "it" to figure out, that one day everything would snap into place and make sense. I'd know my purpose and exactly how to fulfill it. In search of that, I'd dip a toe, or maybe a calf, into something new, and then move on when it wasn't perfect. I was committed, but there was always a part of me that held back. At the time, I wasn't even aware that I was shielding myself, but it's clear as day looking back. I wanted the certainty first. Somewhere in the last couple of months, I've realized that it's not likely to happen that way. But I'm not the least bit disappointed.
Maybe it's the time of year or our recent discussions about raises and pay equity. I've really been paying attention to this topic lately. In general, I think it's healthy to always ask for feedback and let folks know that you're always looking to grow. There is one way to fail before you even get started, and I'm still surprised at the number of people that use this approach. Let's talk about pie. We all want more pie, and we have some choices about how to get it.