Reality Needs Joy: Lessons learned from failure and starting over
Posted in conjunction with A2 Entrepreneurs Fund
Last year I wrote about some good advice I got when my last startup failed. For the past year, my life has been more or less “cleaned up,” and I’ve essentially started over.
Today, my team and I are diving deep into this new era of work. It is an exciting time of change in the workplace, with many new challenges and benefits. Work impacts our whole life — from the means to survive, to self worth, and even to our core identity. It should be no wonder work is directly connected to health. That’s why we are building a health app for work.
It’s great to be on the upswing and to have found an exciting purpose to focus on again. Even still, I continue to apply a few lessons I learned the hard way through starting over. I thought I’d share them. Happily, I don’t think you need to fail big and start over to try applying any of these lessons for yourself.
First lesson learned — Start with people.
Anything worth doing is worth doing with support. It’s not always easy to open up to others, sometimes especially so to the people closest to us. I had a habit of trying to solve all the problems myself and I ended up carrying a lot more weight around than I could handle. I now see this as a character flaw and a harmful mistake. Whenever you are facing a challenge, I encourage you to bring your people in on it. Whether it’s to be an active participant in solving the problem, serve as an accountability partner for you, or just listen — inviting people who care in on your aims is a force multiplier for success.
Second lesson learned — Find your mantra.
Previously, I think I just tried to do everything, all at once, all the time. I didn’t think much about what was healthy, sustainable, and a building block for success. Today, I have found it useful to have a consistent mental foundation, like a mantra, to reference as decisions race by day after day. Mine is Reality Needs Joy. It may not be as eloquent as what you’d find in a Sanskrit rooted phrase, but it works for me. As often as possible, I try to pass my progress so far and the decisions ahead through this framework…
- Reality — Do I understand and accept the reality of a situation and am I being honest about my ability to influence it?
- Needs — Have I clearly articulated my set of requirements and communicated them directly to the people involved?
- Joy — Will what I have done, or I am about to do, make it likely I can spend more time enjoying life now or in the future?
It may be very different than mine, but I encourage you to adopt your own mantra to help filter decisions. That way all of the small decisions and actions along the way are building up to create substantial progress on whatever is most important to you over time.
Third lesson learned — Expect to fall.
I suffered from pursuing a never ending series of best case scenarios that all had to go just right “or else?” When a few things started to go haywire, everything was so over-leveraged that a major collapse was inevitable. I still go after the big wins and daring plans. I am an entrepreneur. However, I expect things will occasionally go sideways now and build buffers for it into my plans and expectations. You aren’t able to get good at snowboarding without falling, building a business is no different.
So does all this mean I’ve embraced a perpetually reasonable workload and I’m just kicking back to enjoy life? Nope. There wasn’t some elite startup failure intervention team deployed to rewrite my basic personality. I still want to take on more than I can handle. And at times, I do. The difference now is I know it, I see it coming, and I do something about it. I also talk about it openly with the people in my life and I ask for their support so I don’t get too far in over my head again. Now, when I do stumble, I’m ready for it because I have prepared by anticipating it happening from time to time.
People often ask each other “what’s the one thing you’d tell your younger self if you could?” For me, it would have to be these lessons I learned the hard way. Happy hunting to you!