Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Business

What’s your thesis of the best path to success?

There’s a great Twitter thread that I took part in that was started by Josh Felser, investor at Freestyle Capital. Here is Josh’s initial tweet:

Of course, with Twitter being Twitter, there was some vitriol spewed at Josh.

I jumped in, asking about my situation in particular:

 

Everyone is going to have a different opinion on how to best get things done.

Some founders – those with families, lots of debt, and other factors – will have more constraints than others and can’t fully take the leap to work on their venture. Others may choose to be more risk-averse and work on their startups on the side until the time is right to make that jump. And some may go balls-to-the-wall, leave their gigs, and just run as fast as they can to get their startup off the ground. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. We all have our theses. 

Josh has his thesis about those founders who won’t quit their job until they get funding. If you don’t agree, that’s fine. Just find another investor who is more aligned with your approach. I’m sure they’re out there. 

Josh may miss out on some successful investments. And he’ll have to be OK with that.

My wife has been extremely supportive of my startup endeavors, is the breadwinner of the family, and carries the brunt of paying for our expenses. I couldn’t do this without her. 

As much as I would love to work full-time on my startup, I have to contribute to my family’s well-being by bringing in income. The time to go full-time on my startup will come, but now’s not the right time. Josh won’t fund me, and that’s OK.  

There are different paths to success, and everyone will have a different opinion about what that path is. Do what’s best for you. 

The plight of the non-technical startup founder

Tech startups are hard.

You need all kinds of people to make a startup successful.

Depending on the type of product you’re building. who your customer is (consumer vs. enterprise), what stage you’re in, and other factors, you’ll need product leaders, software developers, sales reps, marketers, designers, operators, recruiters, administrators, and many other roles.

But in the very early days of your startup, if you’re a non-technical founder, by far the most important member of your team is the software developer. If you can find one.

No matter how much you know about the industry, the user, the product features, and everything else, the software developer will be the one who can actually ship a product.

You can do all the research in the world. You can talk to scores of potential customers to learn their pain points. You can create mockups and wireframes.

But all of that doesn’t mean much if you can’t ship a product.

That’s why software developers are the rock stars in the tech startup world. They can bring ideas to fruition.

As a non-technical founder, I know that I’m at a disadvantage. My coding skills, while improving little by little, are not even close to the point where I can build an app.

I need to be able to recruit software developers to help me build my product, and I’m competing against every other non-technical founder to do so. Not easy.

Once I successfully recruit them, I need to be able to communicate my vision of the app so they can build it. And a lot can get lost in translation.

Such is the plight of the non-technical founder.

Startups are hard. And if you’re a non-technical founder, they can be damn near impossible.

Rant over.

What I Learned from Indra Nooyi on Freakonomics Radio

Indra Nooyi

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I recently listened to an episode of Freakonomics Radio with Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo. It was an amazing listen, I highly recommend it.

While Indra talked about so many interesting things she has experienced during her tenure at PepsiCo and her life in general, I took away three main points from the interview:

  1. How getting close to the customer is all that matters
  2. The importance of a STEM education, even for someone in the food business
  3. Developing “adaptation strategies”

Let’s dig deeper.

How getting close to the customer is all that matters

Around 13:50 of the interview, Indra talks about how men and women eat snacks differently. Men will loudly crunch on their chips, lick their fingers, and tip the bag to pour the remaining crumbs into their mouths. Women won’t crunch out loud, won’t lick their fingers, won’t pour crumbs into their mouths, and like to store snacks in their purses.

Indra has institutionalized the importance of deeply understanding customers into PepsiCo and uses that knowledge to design all aspects of their products – from packaging, shelving, storage, all the way to consumption. She frequently scans supermarket shelves to see how products are displayed, and sometimes visits customers’ homes to see how they’re storing and consuming the product.

All of this research and knowledge goes into a bag of Doritos. Seriously.

No matter what industry you work in – food, construction, technology, or any other – if you truly understand everything about your customer, you’ll be successful. You need to figure out how they select products or services, how they consume them in different scenarios, what their pain points are, and much more to add as much value as possible.

Importance of a STEM education

Around 16:40, Indra stresses the importance of having a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

How does the CEO of a global food and beverage company benefit from having a background in science?

Her education helps her better understand the science behind the research, development, and marketing of new, healthier snacks and foods.

Because nutritious foods are more highly scrutinized, PepsiCo has to back up these products with scientific facts. And the CEO needs to fully understand and communicate these facts to customers.

Additionally, knowledge of science helps her better grasp and communicate to her staff and Board of Directors why she is funding these scientific R&D initiatives and how they will get the company to a better place.

Indra mentioned that science is much harder to learn when you’re older, and if you have that foundation in STEM, you can easily learn anything else along your career journey. So true.

Development of adaptation strategies

Finally, around 31:30, Indra talks about developing “adaptation strategies” to deal with the things that life throws at you.

Indra talked about how her mother told her to “leave the crown in the garage”, meaning that even though she’s the CEO in her career, she shouldn’t act that way when she gets home. If she did, she wouldn’t be a good mother, wife, or daughter.

I think development of these adaptation strategies is really powerful. If you don’t adapt to your surroundings, you’re going hate life. If you act the same way in every situation, you’re going to alienate a lot of people, or be alienated by a lot of people. If you don’t adjust to the environment around you, you might have difficulty moving forward.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be yourself. But there’s a lot of value in recognizing the situation you’re in and adapting to the environment.

Conclusion

Being the CEO of a massive international organization is a tough job. And Indra Nooyi basically laid out a blueprint on how to excel at it.

Regardless of what industry or function you’re in, I would highly recommend giving the episode a listen. Let me know what you think of it.

I saw a therapist today for the first time

Yup, I went to a therapist today. First time ever.

Psychotherapy

No, I did not lie down on a couch. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been having very odd dreams where certain scenes and scenarios repeat themselves.

There are certain buildings that I’ve never seen in real life popping up in dreams over and over again. I sometimes find myself in a vehicle on a car lift about 50 feet above the ground, scared shitless. I’m often running away from or toward something. Weird, right?

So I decided to see a therapist to discuss my dreams.

Years ago, the alpha-male version of myself would have looked at someone who went to therapy as weak and fragile, and the thought of going to therapy would have never crossed my mind.

I’m a different person now, and I think it’s because I’m an entrepreneur. For better or for worse.

My therapist said that dreams are the mind’s way of processing everything around you. Your environment, everything that you do and deal with on a daily basis, and all your fears and anxieties can be manifested in your dreams.

And that’s probably what’s happening with my dreams. The stress and uncertainty of being a startup founder is the likely cause of my weird dreams. What these dreams mean is TBD.

Whenever I speak with people interested in startups and entrepreneurship, I say that managing your psychology is the hardest part.

Many of these budding entrepreneurs and founders are really smart people who have seen nothing but success in their careers. They’ve climbed the corporate ladder, obtained raises and promotions, and haven’t failed at all.

I’ve been in their shoes before. So I warn them about how it feels when things aren’t working. And things will not work a lot. Things haven’t worked for me for five years.

I also tell them how good things feel when things do work, and how you have to celebrate little wins, as insignificant as they may be. This keeps you sane.

There’s a great post titled “The case against entrepreneurship“, where the Co-founder and former CEO of the mobile game Dots, Paul Murphy, describes how difficult entrepreneurship is. Paul describes a lonely and expensive existence full of problems, fear, and greed.

One of my favorite startup writers is Nate Kontny, CEO of CRM software Highrise. He wrote a recent piece titled “Making it personal” where he describes why he puts so much of his personal life into his content and talks about the lows as well as the highs.

This kind of content – real, raw pieces that highlight the tough parts of entrepreneurship – really resonates with me and my journey. Sure, the “how I grew my business 100% in 30 minutes” or “25 things you need to do before 5AM to be successful” articles are inspiring, but that shit gets old quickly. To the writers of these articles – I’m happy for your success, I really am. Maybe even a little envious. And you are inspiring. But I don’t just want to hear about your success, I want to learn about everything you went through, even the tough times, to achieve it.

Anyway, back to therapy.

Entrepreneurship is hard. Tech startups are even harder. I knew that going into it.

Managing your psychology is one of the most important and difficult parts of being an entrepreneur. It’s not helpful to keep everything inside and having it build up until you explode.

I’m not at any risk of hurting myself or anyone around me. Many might say that I don’t truly need therapy. Maybe they’re right. But I think talking to an objective, professionally-trained third party can help get my mind right, and I’ve chosen to do that.

Let’s see how this goes.

Building a movement is the best kind of marketing

One of the things I like best about marketing is how it can motivate people to take action and think differently about the status quo.

Online marketing has become so effective because you can measure nearly everything that someone does on the internet and spring upon them the perfect offer at the perfect time. And with all the behavioral data being collected by Google and Facebook, these transactions are getting easier to execute.

But they are just hard, cold transactions. Yes, they bring in revenue and profit, but most are lifeless and disconnected. There’s no real interaction with customers. Buyers find a product, enter their credit card info, click “Buy” and go bye-bye.

That’s why I admire brands that are built upon deeper relationships with its users. And the best brands create movements that develop these relationships not only between the company and customer, but also between customers to form communities of like-minded people. And these movements can be extremely powerful.

Here are some of my favorite examples of brand movements.

Dove Real Beauty

I am not at all the target customer of Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, but I love the movement that they have built.

Societal pressures have led us to believe that beautiful women can only be tall, skinny, and have perfect facial features and skin. Dove’s Real Beauty campaign looks to broaden the definition of beauty and give women of all ages, shapes, and ethnic backgrounds confidence in their appearance.

They’ve built an entire ecosystem around this idea by launching initiatives such as the Self-Esteem Project and giving women the ability to tell their own stories about beauty. This has allowed women to connect with one another, lean on each other, and build confidence together.

Movements can change how people perceive and define what’s around them, and act accordingly. And I think the Dove Real Beauty campaign does a great job of this.

Dove Real Beauty

Salesforce

Salesforce was the first Software-as-a-Service (where software is delivered via the internet instead of installed on your computer or in business’ data centers) customer relationship management (CRM) platform and they really built an amazing movement around “No Software.”

nosoftwarelogoAt the time of launch, which was around 1999, Salesforce’s competitors were companies like Siebel Systems and SAP, who sold client-server CRM and ERP software that had to be installed on-premises, which could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take years to implement.

That’s why Salesforce’s SaaS approach was so revolutionary back then.

The SaaS model would replace huge upfront costs with monthly payments over time, minimizing commitment fears. Software would be upgraded much more frequently at the same time for all users, alleviating the need for companies to bring in consultants to manually upgrade on-premise software every couple of years.

But because it was so different, the company had to really market the idea of “No Software” to convince prospective customers that moving to the SaaS model was the right thing to do. Salesforce’s CEO, Marc Benioff, was the head cheerleader of this campaign, and it helped build Salesforce into the $80+ billion software behemoth that it is today.

T-Mobile

I’m a T-Mobile customer and I love what the company and its CEO, John Legere, has done to truly change the entire cell phone industry for the better.

T-Mobile’s “Un-carrier” movement has put its competition on notice and forced them to replicate many of their tactics.

Legere helped the company deeply understand mobile subscribers, how they used their phones, what services they accessed most frequently, and the pain points they faced. These are things that the other carriers neglected.

T-Mobile understands that:

  1. Taxes and fees can add a lot to your cell phone bill, and no one has any idea how much they will amount to. So they built these fees into the cost of their plans so you know exactly what you’ll pay each month. Transparency is powerful.
  2. Due to huge termination fees, customers were basically stuck in these two-year service contracts until they expired. T-Mobile was the first to do away with annual contracts and covered termination fees when a new customer switched from a competitor.
  3. They’re giving Netflix subscriptions for free! They actually want you to stream more content on their network.

All of these tactics truly put the customer front and center, and the “Un-carrier” movement has allowed T-Mobile to be one of the fastest growing major cell networks in the US.

The Past Two Presidents’ Campaigns

A presidential campaign is quintessential marketing. While awareness isn’t much of an issue, getting people to understand your “product”, compare it favorably to the competition, and take appropriate action is front and center.

And our current and past presidents launched movements that changed the course of our nation.

It pains me to say this, but our current President, Donald Trump, ran a very differentiated campaign that caused a huge movement among his constituents.

His mantra of “America First” led to a level of nationalism rarely seen before. “Drain the Swamp” conjured thoughts of all the corruption and incompetence in the Government and how he would clean it all up.

His campaign movement was based on hatred and lies, but it was a movement nonetheless that got him elected. Yes, he did not win the popular vote, but apparently he won the votes that counted. Ugh.

On to more positive topics…such as the campaign of our 44th President, Barack Obama.

Being the first African-American candidate to be nominated on a major party ticket is tough. Convincing the public to elect you as President would be even tougher.Barack_Obama_Hope_poster

Obama’s campaign represented “Change we can believe in” and a “Yes, We Can” attitude. It called for progress and hope for an improved United States. He needed the American public to think differently because he was so racially different than any other president in history.

And his team leveraged social media and other new technologies so effectively to spread the word and recruit evangelists.

The movement was certainly effective. Obama’s campaign convinced 63% of eligible voters to run for the voting booths, the highest in 50 years. And he became the first African-American President in US history.

Conclusion

Movements are powerful. They can galvanize communities and enact real change.

So whether you’re an entrepreneur, marketer, politician, or just someone trying to do good in some small way, try to find that angle where you can position yourself against the status quo.

Consumers want to be moved, and not marketed to.

What are other examples of movements that you’ve seen? I’d love to hear about them.

A look back to 2017 and forward to 2018

At the beginning of this year, I didn’t make any resolutions like “lose 5 pounds” or “work out 3 times a week.” Rather, I just vowed to be more focused, disciplined, and consistent in work and life.

Let’s see how I did, and what’s in store for 2018.

Looking back to 2017

Focus

For 2017, I pledged to be more focused on a macro level (doing fewer things better) and a micro level (focusing more on the task at hand).

I’d call this a minor win.

In 2016, I spent a lot of time working on my podcast, the Go and Grow Podcast. While I really enjoyed it and it helped build an audience, it wasn’t getting me closer to my goal of launching my startup. So I put it on hold, which gave me more time and mindshare to work on WinOptix. That was a win.

But I did and continue to spend a lot of time learning how to program in Python. Python is great for data science (which will help with WinOptix) as well as back-end and web development. While learning Python took away some time and focus away from WinOptix, I think it will help me become a better technical leader, which will certainly help the company and my career in the long run.

On a micro level, there were certainly times where I got distracted from the tasks I was working on. But overall, I was very consistent in using the Pomodoro Technique and turning off notifications on my phone to stay focused. (Just as I write this, my phone buzzed. Ugh.)

Discipline

I vowed to be more disciplined with my schedule and diet and exercise regimen.

I’d also call this a minor win.

I made it a point to schedule my tasks in my Google Calendar the night before or morning of a work day. Specifically assigning a time to execute the task and setting its duration forces you to focus on that task and not allow it to expand. Super helpful.

Overall, I was relatively disciplined with my diet and exercise, if you leave out the last two weeks of holidays. :)  I worked out about 2-3 times a week, with a mixture of basketball, lifting, and push-ups and sit-ups at home. And overall, I think I ate pretty healthily over the year. Vicky and I did do the keto diet for a while, but my cholesterol spiked, so I had to stop. So I just went back to a balanced diet.

Consistency

I’d call this a draw.

I was pretty consistent in working on WinOptix. I worked an additional 10-20 hours per week on nights and weekends to make as much progress as possible.

I mostly kept up with posting to this blog weekly, only missing weeks where I was traveling or on holidays.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I was as consistent with blogging for Thorn Technologies. Writing about very technical topics like cloud computing can be tough.

And I was just OK in staying consistent on social media and keeping up with personal and home improvements.

A draw sounds about right.

Looking forward to 2018

2018 is going to be a big year. Yeah, I know, I say that every year. But for real.

First of all, I’m turning 40! So I better figure out my life soon. :)

Next, there are a few things that I’d like to accomplish this coming year.

While I’ll continue to be more focused, disciplined, and consistent, there are a few specific goals that I’d like to achieve.

The first is to acquire at least 5 paying customers for WinOptix. We’re launching the product by the end of January, and hopefully we’ll get a ton of feedback from our initial users to make the product better to the point where they’d be willing to pay for it. Then we can really go out to the market and sell it.

Second, I’d like to complete at least 3 Python projects. I’m currently working on a Pomodoro timer and a program that takes data from CSV files, concatenates them, and runs reports on the data. So my goal is to complete those and add one more project to the mix.

Finally, I want to be a better dad and husband. While this isn’t as concrete as the other two goals, it’s still something to strive for. I think I’m doing a good job, but I can always get better.

What are your goals or resolutions for 2018?

I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I feel like I’m starting over everyday…is that a good or bad thing?

Starting line

Ever since I became an entrepreneur over five years ago, there have been many starts and stops and ups and downs. Two steps forward, one step back (or sometimes three). The roller coaster ride is to be expected.

But what I didn’t really expect was how it feels like I’m completely starting over…every…single…day.

Not knowing anything. Researching all the time. Feeling lost. But learning a lot.

Is the feeling of starting over everyday a good or bad thing?

The good parts

Let’s start with the good.

First of all, I’m constantly learning.

There’s always a new marketing channel or tactic that needs exploration and experimentation. And even with the tactics that I’m knowledgable about, there are so many different ways to execute them to address different target customers, points in the buying cycle, and many other scenarios.

And running my startup WinOptix involves so many skills where I’m admittedly weak.

I’ve had experience recruiting in the past, but mostly for marketing roles. How do I properly assess the quality of a software developer or a UX designer? Sure, I can take a look at their GitHub or Dribbble pages. But that’s only scratching the surface. It’s tougher to discern how the person will work with you and integrate into your team, how hard he or she works, and many other factors.

I have plenty of marketing, sales, and business development experience, which has definitely helped in building software for these folks. But I’m attacking an space, government contracting, where I have little experience. So learning about the industry is a task that continuously needs to be addressed, and there’s always something new happening that I need to absorb.

I’m learning Python, and holy shit, that’s literally learning a whole new language. Some days I get it, other days it feels like I’ve never seen a line of code in my life. But learning to code forces me to concentrate and think deeply to solve problems. And when those problems are solved, boy does it feel good.

Secondly, things are fresh and I’m never bored.

Unless you count my five years of entrepreneurial experience as one job (I wouldn’t), I’ve never held a job down for more than 4.5 years. And before that gig, my longest tenure at a company was 1.5 years.

This is so millennial of me, even though I’m not one.

I’m not sure if I just get bored, if I’m not challenged enough, or both. I just need to constantly learn and do new things. That’s why entrepreneurship seems to be the right fit for me, at least for now.

Learning new things keeps my days fresh and exciting for me.

The bad parts

The first bad thing is that I often feel lost and helpless.

If you’re a newbie at anything, there are many times where you just don’t know what to do. Sure, you can research some blog posts, read that answer on Stack Overflow, or ask a colleague or friend what you should do in specific situations. But not knowing so many things can wear on you and make you feel like you’ll never be able to learn or accomplish anything.

Next, I’m becoming more unemployable by the minute.

Who the hell is looking for a marketer who has also been doing a little bit of sales, product, and strategy, while also knowing a little bit of Python, data science, and design?

While that description doesn’t sound too bad, it’s really broad. While I can go relatively deep on some subjects, I’m a generalist. And many companies want specialists with focus and depth of knowledge.

Finally, I feel that I’ve wasted a lot of time and money.

I’m a pretty educated guy – undergrad degree in Materials Science, Masters in Industrial Engineering, and MBA. But unfortunately I don’t use a lot of that education I’ve obtained.

I’m not saying I regret getting those degrees and that they haven’t helped my career at all. My engineering degrees certainly have taught me how to think logically and analytically, and my MBA gave be a broad business perspective and a strong network.

Yet I just feel that despite all my education, I’m still researching everything and feeling lost more often that I should be. Sure, I got those degrees a long time ago, and things have changed. But damn, I just think they should have more impact on my everyday work.

And shit, I’m almost 40 years old. Maybe I’m writing this blog post due to a mid-life crisis, maybe I’m just really introspective, or both. Regardless, it’s hard to see 20-somethings crushing it and making it on award lists like Forbes’ 30-under-30, as meaningless as those lists are. It’s difficult to not think back and say “Man, I wish I had known 15 years ago…”

Conclusion

There’s not much to conclude here. I’m really not sure whether feeling like I’m starting over everyday is a good or bad thing.

I love learning, and acquiring new skills will certainly help my career. But being a beginner at a lot of things doesn’t add that much value in the end.

Maybe I need more focus. But then boredom might eventually creep in. Then what?

What do you think? Do you ever feel like you’re constantly starting over? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Three reasons why taking good notes is so important

writing-notes-idea-conference

I believe that note-taking is a very important skill, one that is often overlooked and under-appreciated.

Note-taking is often an afterthought, a mere formality. But I believe that taking good notes is even more important in today’s technology-oriented world.

First of all, meeting attendees are easily distracted by their phones and rarely pay full attention to what’s happening. I admit that I’m guilty of this sometimes. And I’d bet you’ve done this once or twice, right?

For some, checking Twitter is more important than understanding their team’s product strategy, and looking at pictures of their friend’s vacation on Facebook takes precedence over reviewing their budget. That’s why taking detailed meeting minutes is so important.

It sucks to be the scribe in a meeting, and many times this job is left to the lowest ranking employee of all the attendees. But it’s a very important task that can keep the team organized and on track, especially for those who weren’t fully present. Tasks can be assigned after the meeting, and minutes can be distributed so everyone remembers the important discussion points.

Second, in the same vein, we are constantly and continuously bombarded by information every minute. Instagram notifications, text messages, emails, and more come at us incessantly. We can’t possibly absorb all the words, images, videos, and other content that we read, watch, and listen to everyday.

By taking good notes, you won’t be forced to remember details of a phone call or meeting, and you’ll have a document with details that you can refer to later. Thus, you can dedicate that brain power to more creative or difficult tasks.

Finally, note-taking tools are better than they’ve ever been before. Whether notes are taken on a Google Doc, Evernote, or within project management tools like Trello or Asana, they can be easily distributed, organized, and tracked. Taking good notes can really help with keeping your team on track outside of meetings.

I remember when I was much better at note taking. During every meeting or phone call, I would take copious notes in a notebook or on a laptop. Then after the call or meeting, I would review the notes and file them away in a place where I can easily find them for future reference. I should go back to that process.

Maybe we should all put more thought and effort into taking good notes, instead of relegating it to a formality. It might have a big positive impact on our productivity.

In poker, business, and life, there’s only one real way to learn – by doing

poker-390064_1280

I took the last two weeks off from blogging because I was traveling for Thanksgiving to NY/NJ and the Amazon Web Services re:Invent conference in Vegas. I hope you didn’t miss me too much.

Anyway, while in Vegas, I of course had to hit up the poker table. Many times.

During one late night/early morning session, a pretty young guy (let’s call him Chad, I don’t remember his real name) who was also there for the conference sat down next to me. Nice guy, pretty chatty, and probably had a few drinks in him, like everyone else at the table.

He sat down with $100 and lost it within 20 minutes.

He whipped out another $100 and lost that within another 15 minutes, most of it to me on one hand.

He took out another $100. At this point, the guy sitting on the other side of him and I started helping Chad out a little. We told him how it was OK to fold once in a while (he essentially played every hand), the importance of position, and other poker fundamentals.

Regardless, he lost that last $100 pretty quickly.

When he left the table, I looked around and said “I guess there’s only one way to learn,” and everyone had a good laugh.

You can read all the poker books in the world and watch the World Poker Tour on TV, but once you step into that casino and sit down at the poker table, everything changes. And the only way to learn is to play a lot of real hands and probably lose some money.

You can read all the books and blog posts about how to build a company, recruit a team, develop a product, and more, but until you actually start putting in real work, you won’t learn how to do all that.

You can prepare yourself for raising that baby, but childcare books won’t ever prepare you enough for changing that first shitty diaper or dealing with a 2-year old’s temper tantrum.

The only real way to learn anything is to do it.

I’m not sure if Chad will learn from his experience in Vegas. After all, it was late, he was probably drunk, and it’s Vegas, so who really cares about losing a little money, right?

Regardless, the lesson is that there’s no better way to learn than by actually doing.

You’ll never be able to replicate situations at the poker table, in business, or life. The only way to learn is having the direct experience of doing.

So what will you do today to learn?

The Two Sides of Ambition

Trudy Campbell Mad Men quote

Image courtesy of Hark.com

The above quote is one of my favorite, because it is so true.

Ambition is one of the most powerful motivators. The determination to succeed and win can drive you to great heights.

Some of the most successful people in the world did not crush it right out of the gate.

Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting while he was alive, author J.K. Rowling was a broke single mother before her Harry Potter books hit it big, and the Beatles had to play thousands of shows at tiny clubs before getting noticed.

It was ambition and determination that helped these people work through the hard times and eventually achieve success.

On the other hand, there are plenty of ambitious people in this world who don’t see this level of success. What happens then?

Maybe your work isn’t being appreciated. In Mad Men, Peter Campbell is frustrated with not getting the recognition he deserves for winning clients for his firm. Hence, Trudy’s quote.

In this case, having ambition when you’re being held back can lead to dissatisfaction and frustration.

Maybe you have ambitions of being an entrepreneur but you’re burdened by financial responsibilities, such as student loans, a mortgage, and a family to feed. On top of that, if you hate your job, your ambition may lead to anger and resentment.

As you can see, ambition can cut both ways.

I think I’m a very ambitious person and have high expectations of myself. So at times when things aren’t going well with my career, I can get frustrated and envious of those around me who have achieved a high level of success.

How you react to your situation and harness your ambition will determine whether it’s a good or bad thing.

You have a few options here.

One option is that you can complain how you’re being held back and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can stay frustrated and let it continue to eat away at you. This will likely lead to strained relationships, poor performance, and an overall miserable existence.

The next option is just accepting your situation. You can weigh the pros and cons of the scenario – maybe your salary and job security is worth the lack of recognition or inability to become an entrepreneur – and just roll with it. While this isn’t ideal and you may have to temper your ambitions, you’ll likely live a relatively comfortable, satisfying life with good relationships.

Or, you can do something about it.

Speak up and ask for what you believe you deserve. Find another job. Strike out on your own, where you fully control your destiny. Or simply keep working and hustling hard.

Ambition can be an amazing trait to have, but it can also become a burden if you don’t harness it the right way. So make sure you do.