Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Life

Doing things you don’t have to do

Some of the biggest breakthroughs have come from people doing things that they didn’t have to do.

Though it’s largely gone now, Google didn’t have to implement their famous 20% time program, where their employees could spend 20% of their hours working on side projects that might help the company. And their engineers didn’t have to work on these side projects if they didn’t want to. But Google and its employees did things they didn’t have to do, which led to amazing products such as Gmail, Google News, AdSense, and more.

Famed investor Marc Andreessen asks himself, “What do the nerds do on nights and weekends?” when searching for new investment opportunities. The side projects of these nerds may eventually lead to something that changes the world.

Gary Vaynerchuk doesn’t have to create that 500th Instagram post or that 1000th video. But he wants to buy the New York Jets, so he continues to crank out content.

Everyone needs to work to make money, put food on the table, and live life. But when you do things you don’t have to do, whether it’s within your company or on the side, that’s when special things can happen.

Maybe you have some ideas of how to improve how your company hires, but you work in Manufacturing and have little to no contact with HR. So what? Ask your boss and a HR rep to see if you can take on a side project that helps your company improve its hiring processes. That could lead to your company getting better at recruiting and retaining the best employees, and becoming an industry leader.

Or maybe you’re in Accounting and do a lot of repetitive things at your job. You can learn some programming on the side to automate some of your tedious tasks and become more efficient. This can lead to promotions and even a career change.

Start a blog or podcast about something you’re interested in. That could eventually turn into a money maker down the road.

If you have an interest, just explore it. Start learning. Do things that you don’t have to do, do them consistently, and don’t be afraid to learn and fail. Amazing things can happen.

Don’t be enamored with the vehicle, but what makes it run – knowledge from Questlove

I recently listened to an interview with Questlove of The Roots on Alec Baldwin’s podcast, Here’s the Thing.

Questlove is an extremely thoughtful, introspective, and smart person who had a ton to say about history, dieting, and much more.

But one of the quotes he said that stood out to me was that he “wasn’t enamored with the vehicle, but what makes it run.” I’m kind of paraphrasing the quote because I’m too lazy to go through the interview again to find exactly what he said. Sorry about that.

Anyway, I think that quote is very powerful.

Don’t pay all of your attention to that big end goal. Rather, focus on each specific, smaller task that you’ll have to accomplish to reach that goal, and you’ll achieve it.

Let’s take entrepreneurship, for instance. If you’re a startup founder looking for that big exit but can’t stand the day-to-day grind, you’ll never make it. But if you work hard every day and continue to learn every way to best serve your customers, you’ll have a better chance to build a successful business.

If you’re raising a child, are you longing for the day your kid turns 18 so he or she can go off to college? Or are you enjoying as many moments together as you can?

Are you working toward that one day when you can retire, or trying to make the most of each day of work and enjoy the ride?

Many times the journey is more important than the destination. So don’t be so enamored with the vehicle, but what makes it run.

Use the hate as fuel to get better

fire-orange-emergency-burning

Last Friday I posted a blog post titled “The life of a startup founder – when little things are big deals” on LinkedIn. 

The very first comment on that post was written by one of my connections who interviewed me for his podcast a while ago. This is what he wrote:

Mr. Chan – Given my 20+ years of experience working with the poorest of the poor and families on the Forbes 50 you are so self absorbed that you think every small detail is the end of the world. I experienced this directly with you in trying to work together. I learned just because I am loyal doesn’t mean everyone will be. Stop only thinking of Mr. Chan. However, my business experience did teach me one thing never put all your eggs in one basket. My money is on your competition !

The situation that led to this comment was a misunderstanding that happened a long time ago. I thought we came to an agreement and squashed it, but I guess not.

While I don’t agree with his comment (obviously) nor do I agree with him using a social network to air his grievances before speaking with me in private, he’s entitled to his opinion about me.

I’m not writing this blog post to disparage him. I have nothing against him. We had a really great interview and hope his podcast is doing well.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about that comment and it’s been motivating me ever since it was written.

You’re going to have some haters out there, whether you deserve to or not.

Maybe your personality doesn’t jive with others.

Maybe your work style is different than others.

Maybe you have to break some eggs to make an omelet, and it’s others’ eggs you have to break.

And when that hate comes at you, you can either crawl into a hole and feel sorry for yourself, or you can use it as fuel to get better and prove them wrong.

I don’t like it when someone comes at me like that. It doesn’t feel good. I’m an overall nice guy and I think most people like me, and I’d like it to stay that way. I know I didn’t do anything wrong in that situation, so I’m not going to let it bother me.

Rather, I’m going to use that animosity to motivate me to work harder, build faster, and get better.

If he wants to put his money on my competition, I’m going to work hard to make sure that he loses that bet.

So don’t let the haters get to you. Use their hate as fuel for your fire.

When the Guilt Creeps In

I’ve recently realized that I feel guilty more often now than I probably ever have.

It’s not that I feel guilty for doing things in the past that I regret, because I have very few regrets. It’s more like I feel guilty when I don’t do things that I know I should be doing.

For instance, I just was not motivated to work the other day. I was tired, hadn’t exercised in a while (which makes me feel like crap), and just couldn’t get myself to attack important tasks. I completed a few little tasks that took minimal brainpower, but just couldn’t get myself to get the bigger, more important things done.

And I felt completely guilty about it.

I have a ton of projects for work. I have a laundry list of tasks to do around the house (which many times includes laundry), there are everyday things to do to take care of Maya, and a bunch of other general life events going on. And I feel guilty when I’m not taking care of these tasks.

I feel guilty when I check social media instead of working on mockups for my startup. I feel guilty when I sit down to watch TV, which doesn’t happen all that often anymore, instead of searching for ceiling fans to buy for the house. I feel guilty when I read and respond to email when I should be writing that blog post or eBook. And I feel guilty when I read all of these blog posts from entrepreneurs about how productive they are EVERY…SINGLE…SECOND.

I didn’t feel this way in the past, at least not to this extent. Maya didn’t exist 22 months ago, so that was never an issue in the past. But I didn’t feel guilty checking my personal email during my prior jobs. I didn’t mind taking a long break to socialize with my coworkers. I didn’t feel sorry for going to the gym in the middle of the day.

Maybe becoming an entrepreneur changed all that. And getting married. And having a kid. Maybe I care more about these things that are part of my life now, than what was part of my life back then. I’m not sure.

A possible solution would be to not do the things I shouldn’t be doing, and do all of those things that I should be doing, all the time. Then I won’t feel guilty, right?

Yeah, I suppose. But eventually that will lead to burnout.

I think the problem for me is accepting that not all of my time needs to spent on getting things done. Taking some time to do something brainless every once in a while is OK. Actually, it’s probably a good thing.

It’s tough to disconnect from work when you’re trying to get a startup off the ground. But doing so every so often is much better in the long run, for your physical and mental health.  Still, it’s a difficult thing to do.

Do you feel guilty when you’re not being as productive as you can be? If so, how do you deal with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

When patience and perseverance can be bad traits to have

Patience and perseverance are excellent traits to have. But in certain situations, you don’t want to wait too long, or endure for too much time.

I wrote a post a while ago about how raising a kid is like running a startup, and I find that patience and perseverance can apply to both as well.

Being patient with your child is a virtue.

There will be times where your kid throws tantrums and just does things that she shouldn’t be doing. Over and over and over again. Or if you’re sleep training your kid and she just cries and cries and cries and sounds like she may never go to sleep.

And you might lose your cool.

Being patient, persevering, and teaching your child the right thing to do – over and over and over again – will make her better understand right from wrong. And letting her cry herself to sleep, even though it might be painful to hear, will be better for everyone in the long run.

Patience can help your startup and business succeed as well. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) investor and expert Jason Lemkin says it typically takes 7+ years to truly build a SaaS company. And many founders give up too soon.

It takes some time to learn what you need to learn and do the things you need to do in order to be successful. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

But when might too much patience and perseverance be a bad thing?

In the sleep training example, maybe your kid is crying for a different reason other than just not being soothed to sleep. She may have poo’d or pee’d, maybe you forgot to give her favorite sleeping toy to her, or it might be too cold in the room. If too much time has passed and she still isn’t sleeping, you should probably go in and check on her.

In the startup world, you have to realize when it’s time to jump ship. You might recognize that the founding team isn’t right for you, and it makes sense to split up. Maybe you see that no one really needs or wants your product, and it’s time to pivot to another idea.

In these cases, you might be wasting your time pursuing things that just aren’t going to work, and the best solution is to not persevere and just move on.

Overall, patience and perseverance are great characteristics to have. But the tough part is recognizing when they are detrimental to your particular situation.

How My Cognizance and Awareness Has Improved Over Time

I think one of the “skills” that has markedly improved over time is my cognizance.

I’m much more cognizant and aware of what I’m doing and saying, how I’m doing and saying these things, how what I do and say might affect others, and how those things, in turn, will affect me.

Maybe it’s a function of being older and more mature (my maturity is debatable, though). It might also be my exposure to different types of work, people, and experiences over time.

I believe that being an entrepreneur has truly humbled me and made me much more aware of my strengths and weaknesses.

When you work for a larger company, you can more easily cover up your shortcomings. When you work for yourself, a startup, or a small business, your weaknesses can become much more exposed if you fail to deliver, because your impact is much greater, for better or for worse.

I think producing my podcast really taught me to be concise, speak clearly, ask good questions, and be aware of how these questions might be interpreted. I’ve learned how to manage different personalities under specific constraints and get the most out of every minute of a short conversation.

And in my personal life, I believe having a child really puts things into perspective and forces me to think things through before making any major moves. It also compels me to be more productive and maximize the use of my free time, since there’s much less of it now.

I believe that the people I’ve met, the work that I’ve done, and the experiences that I’ve accrued have helped me better understand and be more aware of my surroundings and actions.

How about you? Do you believe that you’ve become more cognizant? If so, why?

Focus, Discipline, and Consistency – my three goals for 2017

Happy New Year!

I didn’t make any resolutions for 2016, and I still won’t make any for 2017.

What I’m going to do is be as focused, disciplined, and consistent as I possibly can in everything that I do.

Let’s see what I mean.

Focus

I want to be more focused on both a macro and micro level.

On a macro level, I want to do fewer things, better.

That’s why I stopped producing my podcast. As much as I loved interviewing entrepreneurs every week, the podcast wasn’t getting me closer to my goal of launching and growing a successful startup.

So the time and mindshare that was spent on producing the podcast are now dedicated to working on my startup (more about my startup at a later time).

I’m still going to be involved with Startup Weekend, but I’ll limit my time on that as well.

On a micro level, I want to increase my focus on the task at hand, whether said task is for work or personal life.

When I’m working, I will minimize distractions from email, social media, and any other interruptions that come my way. I’ll dedicate specific times to check my email and limit my time on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

On the personal side, I just want to be more present in everything I do. For example, if I’m hanging out with my daughter, I’ll truly focus my attention on her instead of checking my phone every 10 minutes. I’ll concentrate on the people I’m with and the task at hand. It sounds simple, but in today’s world of technology all around us, I need to make that conscious effort to stay focused.

Focus is so crucial, and I aim to be more intentional about it in everything that I do.

Discipline

I’m going to work hard at being disciplined with my time and energy.

To do so, I’m going to schedule everything. All of my work tasks will be inputted into my calendar and assigned a specific time allotment. This will help me avoid Parkinson’s Law – where work will expand to fill the time available for its completion.

I’m also going to be more disciplined in my diet and exercise regimen. Vicky and I are starting our ketosis diet again, and I aim to exercise at least a little bit every day, whether that’s an hour at the gym or 15 minutes of push-ups and sit-ups.

Consistency

Finally, I’ll work hard to create a consistent cadence in everything I do.

On the work front, I’ll do a little bit every day to achieve my long term goals.

This might mean writing every day to consistently create blog posts for my role at Thorn Technologies, working on small tasks each night on my startup, or perform targeted engagement every day on social media sites.

In my personal life, this might mean working on a home project each week or being consistent in cleaning up the house.

Consistency is critical if you want to constantly get better and improve.

Conclusion

Focus, discipline, and consistency are my three goals for 2017 and beyond.

They’re not mutually exclusive, either.

It takes lots of focus to be disciplined, and lots of discipline to be focused and consistent.

If I can increase my focus, discipline, and consistency, 2017 is going to be my most productive year yet. And I believe I’ll improve my skills and relationships as well.

Let’s see how this goes!

What are your resolutions for 2017? Do you have enough focus, discipline, and consistency in all you do?

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

Ever feel like you’re an impostor? That can be a good thing.

impostor girl in glasses

I had a conversation with my co-worker Rob yesterday and he was worried that he was an impostor. I said that in some scenarios, that’s actually a good thing.

Here’s the backstory.

Rob is a huge Pokemon Go fan and awesome iOS developer, and built an iPhone and Apple Watch companion app for the game called GoTypeChart.

The app helps you quickly figure out what type of Pokemon to use for Gym battles in Pokemon Go.

I don’t play the game, so I don’t know much, but apparently there isn’t always a right answer for which Pokemon to use in each scenario. And some other “experts” said that some of the recommendations in Rob’s app were wrong.

Due to the negative reactions to his app’s suggestions, he felt that he was just an amateur Pokemon Go player and didn’t deserve to have an app like this in the App Store.

Rob felt like an impostor.

I said that’s OK.

The word “impostor” has negative connotations that typically include fraud and trickery. It doesn’t always have to be viewed that way.

Everyone is an impostor at some point.

Any time you learn something new and try to apply what you learned to a problem you’ve never faced before, you’re an impostor. You don’t really know what you’re doing, but you’re giving it a shot.

If you pre-sell a product that doesn’t even exist yet, you’re an impostor. Kickstarter? Full of impostors. But that’s a damn good thing that you were able to do that.

If you build an app but aren’t really sure what you’re doing, you’re an impostor. But you’re building something and putting your skills out on display, and that’s brave.

Impostors may lie and say that they know what they are doing, when they really don’t. But if you give it a shot and learn along the way, being an impostor can be a good thing. It means that you’re trying new things and growing.

So go ahead and be an impostor (the good kind).

Have you ever felt like an impostor, and what did you do about it? Talk to me in the comments!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left! That’d be awesome of you.

Image courtesy of Jason Eppink on Flickr

How many people would listen to what you have to say?

say something

More than you think. Way more.

When I first started my blog, I really didn’t have much of a reason for doing so. I just wanted to get my thoughts out of my head and into the world.

And I didn’t think anyone would read it.

Who was I to start a blog? What knowledge could I impart on the world that people would actually be interested in? Who was going to read what I write?

In the beginning, very few people read my blog. My family, a few friends, and some co-workers read my articles every once in a while.

Same deal with my podcast. Who the hell would want to listen to me? What value would my interviews add over the thousands of other entrepreneurship podcasts already in existence?

Turns out, there are a bunch of people who read my blog posts and listen to my podcast interviews. It’s not a huge number but it’s way more than I expected.

I realized that there is always someone out there who is willing to read what you have to write or listen to what you have to say.

Even if the topic has been covered through and through, you have a unique point of view that will resonate with more people than you think.

And even if you’re not a true expert on anything specific, there will be people out there who will connect with your experience and story.

There will always be someone in the world who might be going through a similar situation as you are and is seeking advice.

So if you think you have a story to tell, you should tell it. You might think that no one will consume what you produce, but I think you’re wrong.

I think way more people are interested in what you have to say. So say it.

Do you have something to say, but have been scared to say it because you think no one will listen? Tell me about it in the comments!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left! That’d be awesome of you.

How do you deal with things out of your control?

I did not have a good day yesterday.

In the morning, I took our car in for an oil change and found out that two of the tires had nails in them and needed to be replaced. This cost a few hundred bucks and an extra two hours of time.

Then I got to work and it was all meetings, so I didn’t get any real work done.

I was pretty happy to get home and hang with my kid and wifey. But soon after I arrived, I got a text message from the tenants renting our condo that there was a puddle of water in the hallway and a sections of the carpet were wet.

Unbelievable. This is the second time in under six months that the unit above us caused a water issue. You can read about the first time here.

So I headed down to the condo, and on the way into the building, a resident’s dog bit me in the upper thigh. WTF? Maybe I should consider myself lucky it didn’t bite me in my twig and berries.

I went to the condo to check out the damage. It didn’t look too bad, but the water damage company had to do their analysis of the situation. And they didn’t show up until 11:30PM, over five hours later!

And their assessment was much worse than I expected. Basically, there is moisture in every wall in the affected section of the condo.

Ugh.

What to do?

There is nothing different that we could have done to avoid any of this, so we’ll just have to go through the process again, get our placed fix, and move on.

Nails in tires, flooded condos – there’s not much you can do about things that are out of your control, so it’s probably wasted energy to stress about this stuff.

Yeah, we can avoid driving through construction sites (not that we do that often) or other places where there may nails lying around, and maybe we can sell our condo to avoid any problems in the future.

But again, stressing about stuff we have no control over, like traffic and the weather, is just not helpful. It’s better to prepare for the things you can control.

How do you deal with things that are out of your control?

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

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