Yesterday, my friend Jeffrey KALMIKOFF (I learned if you fuck that up, he will cut you) wrote a post entitled Seven Sins of Success. In it, he talked about all the things he felt contributed to his success in life and helping grow skinnyCorp. The concept of success is always intriguing to me, because I am a firm believer that one doesnt understand success without failure.
I often recount my experience as ServiceMagic where two things were constant: Value and Failure.
Every day, when you left for home, you asked yourself a simple question: “Did I add value today?” If the answer was anything other than yes, there was a decent likelihood that your job would not exist the next day.
Bring Value Daily.
Every day, we failed. We failed and we failed. But, each failure brought learning and brought us closer to success, and when we succeeded, our successes were exponentially larger.
Fail Intelligently Daily.
Bring Value. Fail Intelligently.
I try to live that ideal consistently. I believe that failing daily does two things, it teaches me what I need to do better; and it reminds me of what failure feels like. Both are awesome outcomes.
Failure is virtuous.
“The downside to this level of ambition is that it’s not complicated to overload yourself. I’ve learned that ambition minus realism often equals failure.”
The truth is that ambition always has a lack of realism. Its impossible to believe you will one day be the best without believing first that you are capable of being the best. You have to be unrealistic in your expectations to truly become successful. Its the lack of realism that creates the potential for failure.
The best failures are measured and tempered with self control. Understand the downside of any potential failure. Keep the failure contained through careful understanding.
“Sacrificing your core business by spending too much time on non-core ideas…It’s important to realize that not all ideas are worth pursuing”
Yet many people eventually fail through anlysis paralysis. I have a standard equation, out of 10 ideas, 8 suck. 1 is decent, and one is fantastic. To understand success through failure, one must be willing to become creative and think uniquely about the problem. By ideating, over time, several solutions are born. Being generous with yourself and allowing the ideation to occur, develops the potential for mass, measured failure.
And, failure always leads to success.
“Where it can become mostly problematic is when it keeps you from seeing a project through to the end.”
I get what Jeffrey is saying here. Starting projects is easy. The middle is not that hard, but to finish? Often its a Herculean effort. Why? Because the completion of a project allows you to determine if it was a success or failure. The completion of a project allows OTHERS to say if its a success or failure.
Its often easier to live in the grey area of undone, than it is to live in the world of definition.
With failures its the same way. My favorite saying is “failure is not what you do, but what you do after.”
Persevere. Fail a lot. Fail early. But be amazing once the failures teach you how to succeed.
“Getting lured away from what you need to do by what you want to do”
Lust is an interesting sin. By definition, Lust involves a lack of thought with a focus on immediate gratification. So how does the virtue, Chasity or Purity work with failure? Failure is pure. There is nothing about failure that can be soiled. Each failure creates the same emotions, usually regret and disappointment, and each failure creates the same reality. Yet, each failure, when learning occurs, also creates the very real case of being one step closer to success.
It is impossible to do nothing but succeed if each failure is coupled with learning. You dont have to lust after success to achieve it.
“Success has this extra-special way of super gluing on the ‘I’m so awesome’ blinders and fooling you into thinking that you’re the smartest person alive.”
The greatest thing about consistent failure, is that it reminds you that you cant solve every problem. That you arent the greatest. That at the end of the day only the outcome matters in the measurement of success, not the process.
Failure teaches us that the real talent is the recovering and learning from failure. Turning that failure (perhaps matching it to a previous failure) into a road map for success is what separates the great from the good.
Allow the emotion of humility to provide you the open-mindedness to review your failures in such a way as to improve incrementally and move towards success.
“Wrath is energy, and like all energy it can be used to good or evil. I like to think about the ratio of windshield to rear-view mirror and use that idea to focus my energy on what’s next.”
If wrath is energy, then patience is focused energy. Its hard to fail, fail and then fail again. You want to push, you want to accelerate the process. You move into a world of immediate gratification and would rather skip to the success part of the adventure.
Patience is not just a function of waiting, or sitting idly by. Patience is actually a function of perseverance.
If you read Jeffrey’s post, and remove the “Seven Sins” metaphor, every point he makes actually is interwoven. Words like energy, focus, hard work are repeated themes.
Failure becomes a part of the process, removing the need for a perceived failure end point.
“Just stay true to your original plans; see them through; and understand that more-often-than-not, these new and exciting concepts are rarely vetted for use beyond their original purpose, thus having the extreme ability to only add layers of complexity to what you already do.”
Envy kills success. Focusing on competitors is a horrible action that causes most companies to lose focus. If you are doing what you need to do, focusing and understanding the market, your competitors dont matter.
Envy creates failure. Simple enough.
But, the key to all of this, is if you understand the importance of failure to the creation of success; you will also experience true satisfaction.
You have succeeded and failed completely.
And, becoming a success at the end of the day is the greatest satisfaction.
By the way, my favorite quote on failure:
Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.
– Anais Nin
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Over the past week or so, I have had two friends burn out.
Like most professions people choose, entrepreneurship isnt all play time and money. Startups arent filled with foosball and Mac Pros.
We read about layoffs and think to ourselves “Well, its a startup. They arent making any money. I have no idea why they employed so many people. Whiles its horrible, its probably for the best.”
Or we read about the latest funding and think to ourselves “What? They got $5million dollars? Its just a <insert something here>. They will never make any money.”
What most people dont understand if they havent been in a startup (even those that cover startups really dont get it), is that a startup’s culture always has a few key components (not success components necessarily, just that they exist).
- A general belief that what the startup is focused on is unique, interesting or better than current offerings in the market place (the old better, faster, cheaper argument).
- That startups have an end.
- And at that end, there will be some sort of reward.
- That working at a startup gives you a greater ability to have a bigger influence on the product, brand, business direction, whatever.
- That you, the employee, can do whatever is placed in front of you, better than anyone else.
And while its easy to intellectualize the long hours and hard work to get to the end of the rainbow, most people dont understand how the startup lifestyle truly effects them emotionally and mentally.
You can get fired/laid off at any time.
Often decisions are made based on the money in the bank, or the expected out of case position, rather than on the true needs of the organization. Often, there is little determination of the effect less people have on overall workload.
A mistake can be magnified.
Because each person has a large affect on the outcome of the business, mistakes are magnified. Code something wrong? It could push back the next release. Push back the next release, and lose a big deal. Lose a big deal, and miss the numbers you expected. Miss the numbers and the world turns on you. Because most startups run extremely lean, it is imperative that each person is competent. Extremely competent.
All the best work can be for naught.
Do everything right, get the product out the door on time and under budget, make the greatest thing since sliced bread, and watch it wither on the vine. Sometimes, for no reason, a great idea/product just dies. Its a sad reality of the risk/reward game of startups.
All of this leads to high level of expectation and stress.
Which leads to burnout.
Successful entrepreneurs and long-time startup employees understand that burnout is part of the lifestyle they have chosen. Everyone burns out at some point.
So what do you do when you feel a burnout coming?
Most people dont. They work and work and work until they fizzle. Their production decreases and mistakes increase. Soon, they have been let go, and dont understand why.
Here are some early warning signs of burnout:
- You are tired all the time. No matter how much you sleep, you cant seem to “catch up.”
- You complain more than usual. Everyone is a moron. You are the only person that can get the job done.
- You snap at friends and colleagues. Since they cant understand the workload you are under, or how unfair that workload is, you snap. You withdraw.
- You start thinking about quitting. It has to be the company. There is a better job with less stress out there. I just made a bad choice of jobs.
- You take little “breaks.” Today, I am going to nothing that pertains to my job. I know its Tuesday, and we have a release coming up, but I can catch up tomorrow.
- When do you get home, you dont take care of personal business. Dude, I just worked for 12 hours straight. Why should I pay bills?
- You wish you can, or you start, working from home more. There are less distractions (and people). I can work at my pace and I do a better job!
Often the signs of burnout are subtle, and the important thing to realize is that working at a startup is a continual ebb and flow of “completely burned out,” to “almost burned out” and back.
What do you do to make sure you dont completely burn out?
- Pick a project that is just for you. Work it at your pace. Work it in your space. Dont “re-grout the tile” or “pull the storm windows.” Remember your passion. What got you going in the first place. Do that, but do it for you.
- Take some time every day away from the office. I make sure it always take a lunch. 30-60min where the focus is on anything except work. My first boss told me, “The concept of a job is that there is work. When there is no work, there is no job.” 30-60min a day will not put you so far behind that it causes issue.
- Laugh. A lot. There is nothing wrong about finding humor in your day. If its a quick trip to ICanHasCheezburger or a joke with a co-worker, make sure to laugh everyday.
- Learn. A lot. Often, we get so caught up in our jobs, we forget that there is always a lot to learn. It doesnt have to be big. It just has to be something. Ask a co-worker a question. Look something up on Wikipedia. Try some different code.
- Engage. The great thing about startups, is that the team is small enough that you can engage with most anyone. There is no reason to go at it alone. Ask a co-worker to review your work. Get involved in something outside your job. Find a team that you can add value to, and get on it. You can also engage outside the company via a blog, Twitter or some other social media outlet.
How do you deal with burnout?
I love writing titles. Almost more than I like writing the post. I wish there was a way to track how many people read the title and click through to the post. I dont really care who read the post, but I do think my titles are effective. Ah, we all have our vanities…
I hate end of the year posts. They always fall into one of three categories:
1) Top posts of 2008 – (read: Hey look at how many people think I am cool!)
2) Predictions for 2009 – (read: Hey look at how many people think I am cool!)
3) Holiday Wishes – (read: Hey look at how many people think I am cool!)
So given my high level need for loving feedback from my blog, I am going to put all three in one post so that it has triple the goodness, and y’all think I am three times as cool. Right?
Lets start with top posts of 2008:
- Microsoft, Yahoo and Google: A Parable
- Douchebag Quest – I Want to be The #1 Douchebag on Google
- SEO is Dead
- Three Rules For Startup Success
- 5 Lessons Learned From Gordon Ramsay
- About Me(ha!) – People must really wonder who the hell I am…
- When Being Me is About Being You
- I am Boulder, Hear Me Roar
- April 1 Reminds Me I Ain’t No Fool
- Confessions of a Failed CEO
Whew… thats a lot of work!
Ok, now on to my predictions post.
And finally, my happy holidays post.