Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: 30 days of blogging

What’s your story?

Everyone has a story to tell.

And everyone should get good at telling stories, whether it’s their own, their product’s, or their company’s.

Stories are what allow you to engage people and form a connection. The underlying theme of your story tells others who you are, what you’re all about, and why they should trust and believe you.

Even if you don’t have a cohesive story, there is a story behind that.

I was recently a guest on another podcaster’s show and I realized that my career story, primarily over the last 3.5 years that I’ve been an entrepreneur, is a bit jumbled.

I’ve worked on two startups that never made substantial progress. I was an independent consultant while working on those startups. I’ve volunteered for Startup Weekend while working on my startups and consulting. I blogged during all that. I launched a podcast. I stopped consulting and am now working full-time with my startup co-founder’s software development firm.

What the hell?

My story is hard to follow. It probably seems chaotic and messy; that’s because it is. I don’t have a cohesive story.

But that’s OK, because that’s part of my story.

The underlying theme of my story is focused around startups, and my story is that I’m on a continuing journey to figure all of this stuff out.

Startups and entrepreneurship don’t take you on straight paths, and my recent career is living proof.

I certainly have doubts about how my story will end, but I chose this path, and this story become part of who I am.

So what’s your story? Is it cohesive? If not, what’s the story behind that?

This is day 30 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days. I did it! 🙂

What’s your superpower?

What’s that one skill or characteristic that makes you different and/or better?

What thing do you do so well that makes you stand out from the crowd?

If you can identify it, awesome.

If not, you’re not alone.

My guess is that most people don’t even think about what their superpower is. And for those who do, many can’t come up with one, or just haven’t figured it out yet.

Some people may discover what they’re good at when they’re very young.

There are stories where 8-year olds learn how to code and become badass software developers for life. Or a 10-year old opens up a lemonade stand and learns how to sell at a young age, then she leverages that skill to achieve a successful career and life. Or a cute kid gets casted for a commercial and becomes a movie star when he grows up (if he can avoid the drugs and mental issues along the way).

I’m not one of those people. I have a couple of hypotheses on what my superpower is, but I can’t quite pinpoint it just yet. And that’s OK.

I believe most people need to subject themselves to a wide array of experiences to truly discover what their superpower is. They need the proper motivation and mentorship to push themselves to find this unique skill or characteristic, and they need to find the right situation and circumstances to flourish.

A better way might be to ask other people what they think your superpower is.

You may think that you’re good at something, and that might be true. But others will have a more objective point of view of your skills and personality and may be able to better identify your superpower.

However you go about it, I think it’s very important to eventually discover your superpower so you can leverage it to the best of your ability in everything you do. If that one skill or trait is truly your superpower, it can take you a long way in your career and life.

So I ask you, have you discovered your superpower yet? If so, what is it, and how did you identify it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

This is day 29 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days. I’m almost there!

The duality of stress and fear

Stress and fear are typically considered bad, negative things.

A stressful job can lead to burnout, a stressful relationship can lead to a break up, and a stressful, traumatic event like a mugging or theft of your home can lead to emotional problems.

Fear is similar. A fear of failure might keep you from taking chances, a fear of bugs may keep you up at night, and a fear of death might keep you locked up in your house all the time.

Stress and fear can be extremely powerful motivators as well.

The stress of a looming deadline can get you going and force you to do your best work. Sometimes you need that pressure to step up your game.

Fear and paranoia that your competition is catching up to you can motivate you to work that much harder. Even if you’re #1 in your market, fear that the little guy might out-innovate you is a healthy thing that will help you continually improve.

But if the healthy stress and fear are taken too far, they’ll turn into the unhealthy stress and fear.

If you often leave too little time before project deadlines, the repetitive and constant stress won’t be good for your health or career.

If you fear your competition too much, you might take too many unnecessary risks to stay ahead.

Finding that balance where stress and fear leads to optimal performance is the key.

This is day 28 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Blogging isn’t quite a habit yet

Whoa, that was close.

It’s 7:20PM right now and I just remembered to write today’s blog post.

I almost blew it on day 27 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Obviously, blogging isn’t a habit for me just yet.

The sad thing is that I set aside time on my calendar everyday and put it on my to-do list for each day of the week.

Weekends are tougher to find time to blog, but that shouldn’t be an excuse.

Brain Pickings has a great article about how long it takes to form a new habit. The article cited a study that determined that subjects took an average of 66 days to form a new habit, and the length of time depended on the habit the people tried to form.

The researchers also discovered that the earlier repetitions were most beneficial for establishing a habit, and gains gradually dwindled over time.

I think I’m feeling that right now. While I’m excited that I’m getting closer and closer to achieving my objective of blogging for 30 days straight, I feel like I’m running out of steam a little bit, and each blog post is harder to write.

I’m having a tough time writing this one, and it probably shows.

Anyway, I’m happy that I remembered to blog today and keep the streak alive. Only three more days to go.

This is day 27 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Should you follow your passion?

A lot of people say that if you follow your passion, you’ll never work a day in your life.

Successful actors claim they followed their passion, and their love for acting helped them get through the hard times until they found success.

Entrepreneurs are ALWAYS saying to follow your passion, work hard, buck the trends, and you’ll achieve your goals.

I’m not so sure I completely agree.

I certainly think following your passion is a good thing to do for your career. But it’s only one part of the equation.

A job or career is made up of many factors to consider. You have to consider the subject matter and function of your job, the skills that you have, the people you work with, whether you can live on the wages you make, and so many other aspects.

Let’s go back to the acting example.

You might love acting. You crushed your role in that local play. But if you move out to Hollywood and find out you’re only good enough to act in GoGurt commercials, you’re probably going to start to hate acting after a while.

If you’re passionate about baking brownies, should you immediately open up a bakery? Sure, you might love and be good at baking, but running a bakery is much more than just baking.

A personal example is when I followed my passion for sports into a short but solid career in that industry.

The subject matter was sports, which I was very passionate about. But I wasn’t going to take any job function in the sports industry; I was looking specifically for a marketing or strategy position. I didn’t want to do sales, finance, or HR, because I had no interest in those functions and I probably would have sucked at them.

I wound up landing an awesome marketing job with the Washington Capitals.

Even then, after a few years, the job just ran its course and my passion for it dwindled. I wanted to build a business from the ground up and take something from zero to one.

Bottom line is that there are so many factors that make up a job or career that following your passion isn’t going to solve every career issue you may have.

It’s a sobering thought and not very positive, but it’s realistic.

When considering a career move, you should certainly think about what you’re passionate about. But you should also think about what you’re good at, where you can add the most value, how this career will impact other parts of your life, and many other factors.

That’s why I think “follow your passion” isn’t the best career advice to give.

Thoughts?

This is day 26 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Your value is what the market will bear

A few days ago I penned a piece titled “What’s the right way to assess value?

After yesterday, I now know that value is determined by supply and demand, and how much the market will bear.

Yesterday was the first day of free agency for the NFL, and money was thrown around like there’s no tomorrow.

Brock Osweiler, the former backup quarterback of the Denver Broncos, signed a 4-year, $72 million dollar contract ($37 million guaranteed) with the Houston Texans.

Osweiler has started only 7 games in his career, all last season. 7 games! How can you assess a QB’s value after only 7 games?

He was able to land this contract because all of the QBs available in free agency aren’t very good, and the prospects coming out of college aren’t great, either. And every team needs a good QB.

The Texans determined that his value is that high, even though they had very little data to work with.

Low supply, high demand.

The same is happening with “normal” careers like yours and mine.

In the tech world, software developers are commanding huge salaries because good ones are hard to find and hold on to.

Low supply, high demand.

In my past career in the sports business industry, it’s quite the opposite.

Because so many people want to work for a sports team or league, these entities can pay much lower salaries. And there aren’t that many of these jobs available.

After graduating with my MBA, I landed a marketing job with a professional sports team and my salary was about half of what I made as a management consultant prior to business school.

High supply, low demand.

It may be tough to deal with the fact that your body of work, while somewhat important, is overshadowed by things out of your control, like market conditions.

All you can do is work hard, be nice, get things done, and control what you can control.

This is day 25 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Keep it simple, silly

I think it’s best to always keep things simple, no matter what the situation is.

Are you building a product? Keep it as simple as possible while making sure your user can do what he or she has to get done.

Are you writing a blog post? If it’s about a simple topic, it’s easy to keep it simple. If the article is about a complex topic, simplify it as much as possible. Your audience will thank you for it.

Having a conversation? No need to try to impress people with big words.

No one needs more complexity in their lives.

There are certainly times when things just aren’t simple.

For instance, my life is crazy right now. Between my day job, my podcast, moving to our new home, setting up our condo to be rented, caring for a baby, and anything else that comes my way, life just isn’t simple right now.

But I can simplify it as much as possible using tools and processes.

I use Trello to manage my work tasks, and my wife and I share a personal board to keep track of everything we have to buy, do, and think about in our lives.

I use Streak to manage my email and keep track of my podcast guests.

I use a Moleskine notebook and Evernote to take notes.

I have a ton of other tools that I use to increase my productivity (I’m even writing an eBook about all of these tools, coming soon!).

You can find ways to simplify things, even if they’re not simple.

This is day 24 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Out of sight, out of mind

“Out of sight, out of mind” is a big problem for me.

Many times if something isn’t in my sight, I’ll forget about it and won’t acknowledge its existence.

Back in the day when I took notes primarily on pen and paper, I would review what I wrote a few times to see if there was anything that I didn’t address. I did this because these notes are staring me in the face every time I wanted to take more notes.

In sight, in my mind.

Now, because I more often take notes electronically using tools like Evernote, I forget that I even took those notes and only refer to them if I have to. Even though those notes are accessible to me at any time, I’m just not in the habit of referring to them often because they aren’t in front of me.

Out of sight, out of mind.

If someone asks me to perform a task at a later date, I have to either email it to myself or input it on the project management tool that use, Trello. Otherwise, it’ll be like that person never even asked me.

The same goes with apps on my phone. If an app isn’t on my home screen or if I’m not getting notifications from it, it basically doesn’t exist.

Do you have the same issue with “out of sight, out of mind” as I do? If so, how have you dealt with it?

This is day 23 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Everything in balance

“Everything in moderation” is popular advice to throw around.

You can eat red meat, as long as it’s in moderation. Go ahead and have some drinks, as long as it’s in moderation.

While this makes sense, I think there is a corollary to it, and it’s “Everything in balance.”

If you eat red meat, make sure you’re getting your vegetables. If you’re having a few drinks, eat a good meal and chug some water too.

To me, balance is the key to productivity, happiness, satisfaction, and pretty much everything.

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post titled “Quality vs. Quantity: which should you focus on?” Many of the comments on that post alluded to finding a balance between quality and quantity.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s difficult, but if you can strike that balance between quality and quantity, you’ll find success. If you focus too much on quality, you may not be able to achieve many tasks. If you focus too much on quantity, your quality will suffer.

In the gym, you need to balance between your upper and lower body, strength and cardio, and mass building and slimming down.

Finding that perfect balance between work and life is tough as well.

In the past, there were times when there was so much on my plate at work that I skipped out on the gym and ate fast food like it’s going out of style.

I felt and looked like crap, and it hurt my productivity at work.

Now I’m much more focused on finding balance.

While there is still plenty to do for work, I have many other life responsibilities that can’t be ignored, which forces me to balance everything out.

I’m much more cognizant of how my body and brain reacts when I don’t get enough exercise or don’t eat well.

I use the Pomodoro Technique to include more breaks into my day.

And I’m more often intentionally disconnecting from work and technology in general. I’m incorporating time in my day to think, I’m writing more often with pen and paper, and I’m thinking about doing some kind of meditation to help me clear my mind and zone out.

How are you achieving balance?

This is day 22 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

 

Does the end justify the means, or does the means justify the end?

If you’re successful in the end and achieved your goals, does it matter that how the process went? Does the end justify the means of getting there?

Or is the process more important than the result? Does the means justify the end?

Depending on your data source, 75-95% of startups fail. Being aware of this stat, why would anyone launch a startup knowing the odds are stacked up against them? And why would anyone endure the heartburn that running a startup gives you?

Partially because entrepreneurs will value the process and everything they’ll learn doing things on their own and building something from nothing, regardless of how things end up.

The means will justify the end.

On the other hand, let’s take the battle between Lyft and Uber. Uber is the dominant ride-hailing platform and has a valuation more than 10 times that of Lyft. In the end, they’ll likely destroy their “little” competitor.

But the way they are winning hasn’t always been kosher. They’ve been really aggressive and at times unethical in pursuing growth, while Lyft has grown with good intentions, albeit much more slowly.

Uber believes that the end will justify the means, while Lyft likely believes the means will justify the end (maybe).

So what do you think? Do you think the process is more important than the result, or is the result more important than how you get there?

This is day 21 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.