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Life Lessons

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Thankful to Have Thanksgiving Again

I enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s a nice time when most people are focused on family, friends, and fellowship. The past eighteen months have been unprecedented in several ways. One example of that, on a personal level, is that last year was the first time I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving as I always had. That had a big impact on me—it was a stark reminder of how fortunate I’d been in all the years before.

Yesterday felt like a normal Thanksgiving, and I really enjoyed it. After the day was over, I reflected on how fortunate I am and all the things I’m thankful for. Everything isn’t exactly how I want it, but life is good and I’m appreciative of that.

What are you thankful for?

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Knowledge Is Like Compound Interest

As an early founder, I had huge knowledge gaps. I didn’t know a lot about start-ups, and that resulted in slow execution and decision-making. Filling those gaps helped accelerate my execution and thus the success of my company.

Since then, I’ve been passionate about continual learning. I’ve developed my own system, but I recently started researching how others approach it. I came across this quote from Warren Buffett:

Read 500 pages every day. That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.

This really stuck with me. I agree that knowledge is like compound interest. It builds upon itself. New knowledge isn’t acquired in isolation. It combines with what you’ve already learned to improve your understanding and decision-making. When you look back to a long time ago, you realize that your understanding and decision-making are light years ahead of where you were then because of the compounding effect.

Warren’s 500 pages every day isn’t doable by most people, but frequency is more important than quantity. Reading daily essentially increases the compounding rate of your learning. The more often you add to your knowledge, the better your understanding and decisions become. If you read every day, that’s 365 chances to compound your learning.

The last part of the quote explains what separates the good from great. Most people could take advantage of this life hack—but won’t. So, if you commit to this one habit, you’ll set yourself apart from almost everyone over time.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Warren Buffett and other successful people read daily. They recognize it’s something they have total control over that has an outsize impact on their chances of being successful.

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Identity vs. Identification

I’ve been thinking about some of the concepts I read about in Atomic Habits. I enjoyed the author’s thoughts on changing your beliefs to change your outcomes. Of central importance is identity. If you don’t believe you’re the sort of person who would take the steps (i.e., form the habits) necessary to get the outcome you want, you’re less likely to do so. I’ve been discussing this with friends. Today, one of them shared a passage from a book he’s reading:

Identity is very deeply who you are—not who someone else thinks you are or wants you to be. Your identity is how you define yourself, while your identification is how others define you. How you identify yourself does not necessarily need to match how other people identify you. While it is true that our families and communities play an important role in shaping how we see ourselves, ultimately, how others attempt to define you is no substitute for how you answer the question “Who am I” for yourself.

This resonated with me. I love how the author describes identity as who you believe you are and makes a distinction between identity and identification. Subtle, but powerful.

As I reflect on my founder friends and myself, I think this is true. We all believed we were entrepreneurs before we started companies—even when others believed we were something else. That strong sense of identity guided us to take the actions that led to starting companies and ultimately to entrepreneurial success.

Who do you believe you are?

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Looking at Imperfect Outcomes Differently

Today I toured a real estate project a buddy just completed. He’s easing his way into entrepreneurship and the industry. This project was the largest (and most complicated) he’s taken on to date. As usual with construction, it didn’t go as planned, but it’s a financial success. Not as much profit as he’d initially hoped, but a success nonetheless. As we chatted, he kept mentioning how he should have spent less but didn’t know any better when decisions were being made. I realized that his perspective was preventing him from realizing how this project was a win in other ways, too.

The project wasn’t easy. The price of lumbar surged in the middle of it. Labor rates increased, while the reliability of crews decreased. These and other factors led to higher costs and a longer timeline. As each obstacle presented itself, my buddy figured out how to overcome it. It was stressful, but he found a way to get it all done. Tough circumstances, I thought, but awesome learning experience.

We talked about his future projects and what he plans to do differently. I pointed out how much he’d learned and how valuable that knowledge will be. Lots of people pay tuition to go to school to learn what he got paid to learn. In the end, he reflected on where he was before and after this project and agreed. It was a huge success and is likely to be the turning point in his real estate career.

Knowledge acquired through experience (yours or others’) can be a big factor in entrepreneurial success. If a situation doesn’t end quite how you’d hoped, reflect on what you’ve learned from it. The knowledge you’ve gained will be invaluable next time and every time—it’s the gift that keeps on giving!

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Change Your Beliefs to Change Your Outcomes

I recently read Atomic Habits at the suggestion of friends. The author has a different perspective on how to reach your desired destination. James Clear provides a framework for using small daily habits and systems, instead of setting goals, to increase the likelihood that you will arrive at your destination.

One thing that jumped out at me was his levels of change: the outcome layer (what you get), process layer (what you do), and identity layer (what you believe). Most people start with the outcome layer by setting a goal. This leads to outcome-based habits. James, however, suggests starting with the identity layer: belief-based habits that focus on the kind of person you want to be. Once you know who you want to be, it’s easier to back into what you need to do (process layer) to get the result you want (outcome layer).

He gives a great example. Two people are offered a cigarette. One says, “No thanks. I’m trying to quit.” The other says, “No thanks. I’m not a smoker.” The first person believes they’re still a smoker trying to be something else. Smoking is something they can still see themselves doing, but they’re trying not to. The second person believes they aren’t a smoker. Smoking was part of their former life but not their current life. These two have similar former lives, but what they believe about themselves is different. The second person doesn’t identify as someone who smokes. Actions are backed by beliefs. If you don’t believe something, you’re less likely to consistently take the actions necessary to support that belief.

I really like James’s approach of starting with the identity layer. It makes total sense to me. I can’t wait to spend some time digging into this and putting it into action.

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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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