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Life Lessons

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Going after What You Want

I recently listened to a guy tell the story of how he landed a difficult-to-obtain job. He wielded unconventional tactics that included cold emailing his soon-to-be boss. Now he has a coveted job he’d been trying to get for years. When I asked why he took such bold steps, he said he had nothing to lose. Hearing “no” was the worst that could happen.

I love his perspective and perseverance. He knew what he wanted and went after it. He didn’t let rejection stop him.

Talking to him was a good reminder that if I want something in life, I should go after it. I may not get it on the first try, but if I keep at it, my chances of success will go up.

Wayne Gretzky said it best: “You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.”

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Tuning Out the Noise

I’ve been told by friends and family that I’m good at staying focused on an objective. I wouldn’t have said that about myself, but after hearing it from a few people I spent some time reflecting. It’s true that historically I’ve been able to tune out distractions more easily than other people can. Sometimes I barely notice something that’s driving others crazy.

I’m a goal-oriented person, which has a big influence on how I navigate any situation. I think about it in terms of my goal. Will it affect my achieving the goal? If not, I don’t worry about it—I don’t put much weight into it and let it play out. If it will, I determine if it will help or hurt my chances of achieving my goal. I lean into things that support my goal and look to mitigate things that could hinder me from reaching my goal.

Time and energy are finite resources. This approach helps me focus them where they matter most: my goal.

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You Have to Lose to Win

I listened to an early-stage founder, John, describe how he wanted to emulate a successful founder, Bob. John excitedly recapped Bob’s journey. John was planning to follow a similar path to success with his young company. But I noticed that John’s recap began where things had begun to go well for Bob. I know Bob’s story well. He endured years of painful failure. As I listened to John, I realized he didn’t know the full story. He’d only heard the happy parts.

I told John about Bob’s failures. He was surprised. He’d thought that an entrepreneurial journey that was only up and to the right—a string of successes—was conceivable.

Most successful people have failed miserably, but they kept at it. Failure is usually an important part of accomplishing anything great. What you learn from failure often creates the foundation needed for success. Put another way, you often must lose to win.

If you’re looking to do something great, prepare yourself for failure. Instead of letting it get you down, look at it as an education that took you one step closer to success.

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No One Bats a Thousand

I was catching up with someone who had recently received unexpected bad news. He had all the reason in the world to be angry, but he wasn’t. He was focusing on everything else that was going well and what awaits him once he makes it through a tough time. I’m happy he has such a positive outlook.

Two people can look at the same situation and see completely different things. The difference is often one of perspective. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we think about it. Our thoughts control our actions. In turn, our actions can affect the situation we’re in or at least what happens to us next.

No one bats a thousand. We all strike out at some point. It’s just how the game of life works. When I strike out, I try to keep a positive outlook. So one strikeout doesn’t lead to a lifetime of strikeouts, I move on. I don’t want to lose the game of life.

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It’s OK to Expect Great Things If You Work Hard

I had a conversation with a friend not long ago. It was a reflective one—we talked about where he’d been and where he is now. He was surprised that he’d significantly improved his life after a tough beginning. As I listened, I thought to myself Surprised? Why? The reason things improved is that you put in the hard work.

I realized that he wasn’t giving himself enough credit. For years, he’s consistently worked hard, hoping to improve his situation. There wasn’t a lot of visible progress for much of that time, but he was laying a foundation. Eventually things began to align and click for him. He was able to see significant progress and recently reached a big milestone. It wasn’t dumb luck that these things happened. His consistent, intentional hard work is paying off.

If you want to accomplish anything great, there are no shortcuts. You have to work toward it regularly over a period of time. If you do, you’ll greatly increase the chance that you’ll end up where you want to be. When you get there, remember to celebrate. Give yourself a pat on the back. Your hard work and dedication paid off!

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Founders Don’t Take Their Entrepreneurial Journey Alone

Had a great chat with a founder friend today. We’ve known each other a long time and were catching up. We agreed that personal things have affected how we’ve approached entrepreneurship. We both love entrepreneurship, but at times we’ve had to scale back what we give to it when people in our personal lives have needed our support.

Founders live, eat, and breathe their company. They often have little to give in other parts of their life. When I started CCAW, I was fine with giving my all to it, and my family was too. They were supportive. They cheered me on as I worked crazy hours. But there came a time when they needed more from me. I adjusted and directed a lot of my energy away from CCAW and toward them. When their time of need passed, I refocused on CCAW.

The entrepreneurial journey isn’t traveled just by founders—their loved ones are along for the ride. If you’re considering entrepreneurship, be sure to think about the people you care about. Will they be OK with your giving so much of yourself to your new thing? And will you be there for them when they need you more than your business does?

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No . . . It’s a Matter of Perspective

This week, I was told no and I had to tell others no. Not just at work, but also in my personal life. “No” is difficult, whether you’re on the giving or receiving end. But it’s part of life—something we all must accept. A friend observed that “no” doesn’t bother me. But that’s not totally accurate. I get disappointed like everyone else, but I tend to move past the answer quickly and focus on the why behind it.

I don’t tend to ask why when someone tells me yes. But understanding why people have told me no has taught me a lot. When I don’t get the outcome I’d hoped for, I’m still focusing on how I can achieve it. Understanding why someone told me no shows me perspectives I might not have had—or understood—before. I can use them to adjust my plan and increase the odds of hearing “yes” next time.

Hearing no is tough, and it can be frustrating. But it isn’t the end of the world. If you believe in what you’re doing, try to understand the why. It will help you move past the rejection and position yourself for a yes in the future.

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Align Your Actions with Your Goals

When I was working in corporate America, I knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur full-time. And I knew I needed flexibility and capital to make that dream a reality. I avoided long-term obligations and saved as much of my salary as possible. Then all my friends started buying houses, and I began suffering a bit from FOMO. So, I went out and bought a home too. It required me to put down a large sum of capital and locked me into a long-term financial obligation.

I didn’t know anything about raising money from investors, so I funded my company with customer revenue and my savings. My entrepreneurial journey was full of ups and downs, and often I regretted not having the capital I’d put into a home to invest in the company. I enjoyed having a place I could call my own, but I owed the bank a lot of money. And it made sure to remind me of that every month. Seeing that loan balance on my monthly statement definitely affected how I made decisions.

In the end it all worked out, and I was able to grow the company to over eight figures in revenue. Looking back, though, I realize that I didn’t act in alignment with my goal. The decision to buy a home didn’t better position me for entrepreneurship. It did the opposite. I had less capital to put toward my company and a long-term obligation that reduced my risk tolerance.

My goal was different than my friends’ goals. So, my actions should have been different too. I’m very thankful for the journey I had and wouldn’t change a thing. But I did learn from it and begin thinking about my actions and goals differently. I now look at any major action I’m contemplating and ask myself if it will get me closer to or further away from my goal. If it doesn’t move me closer, I don’t proceed.

If you’re a founder considering a material action, ask yourself: Does this align with my goals? That question can prevent you from doing things you’ll regret and give you the confidence to take high-risk actions.

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What I Learned as a Teenage Homebuilder

Growing up, my first summer job was with a homebuilder. This was in south Louisiana, so it was often in the mid 90s with 100 percent humidity. The days were long and the work was hard. I’d leave around 6 a.m. and get home around 7 p.m., exhausted. I was in middle school and got paid $125 a week. Doesn’t seem like much now, but I was ecstatic. (Opportunities were limited—I was too young to work legally.)

That experience was pivotal, and I learned a lot. Some cool woodworking skills. That I’m deathly afraid of heights (and that looking down when I’m on a scaffold will make me freeze up). The power of teamwork and the value of a dollar. To not cut corners and to do things the right way the first time. For the first time, I noticed that entrepreneurs are different. Spending most of my time alongside the owner of the company, I took note of how he saw the world differently and made decisions differently than everyone else.

Today I connected with that owner. He’s at the tail end of a successful career but still works (albeit at a slower pace) because he enjoys what he does. He’s passionate about his work, and it shows. That job shaped me, and I’m not sure where I’d be without it. Proximity to success matters; it can have a big impact. I’m thankful that he took a chance on me and gave me my first opportunity to observe entrepreneurship up close.

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According to Plan

An elder once told me that if your plan requires perfection, you’re more likely to fail. I was in high school or early college, so I didn’t grasp the weight of this comment at the time. Over the years, I learned exactly what he meant.

As a founder, I was super bullish and optimistic about many things I was doing. In my mind, if I did X and Y, Z should happen. Eventually, I learned two things. First, I hadn’t fully understood a lot of things about X and Y, so I couldn’t accurately predict how long they would take to execute and what resources were required. Put another way, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and hadn’t factored in that knowledge gap. Second, I realized that this is an imperfect world. Things beyond my control could happen that would dramatically affect my plans. (Think pandemic.)

Over time, I learned to do a few things that were helpful. I sought out people who had done something similar to what I was attempting and asked about their experiences so I could fill my knowledge gap and adjust my plans accordingly. Next, I started adding a buffer to my plans. If I thought something would take three months, I had a plan in case it took four or five. If something was projected to cost $10, I budgeted for $12. It was my way of accounting for the inevitable curveballs the universe would throw at me.

Early-stage founders should remember that nothing in life is perfect. Especially not in startups! The entrepreneurial journey is a long one, and everything won’t go according to plan. Consider incorporating some wiggle room for yourself and your team.

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