Recently I found myself going through a bit of a ‘thing’ – in a good way. Certain forces within the confines of the CitySquares fortress have forced me to think about some exciting opportunities on the road ahead, as well as some challenges that I’ve never had to face before. And just as I’ve had to think about these good and exciting things, I’ve also had to think about worst-case-scenarios, as the market and economy put a damper on things and forced us to have backup plans. These things, coupled with a few family emergencies and close-calls, have caused me to shift my focus a little bit. You know how if you look at something bright for a little too long it can stain your vision for a short while? Well, think of entrepreneurship as the source of bright light, and the rest of reality as the backdrop to the stain. Let me explain…
As this company grows and gets closer to cash flow positivity, and as we continue to rack up traffic numbers, questions come to mind, like, “what next?” and “what does this really mean?” On the flip side, when the economy nosedives, and our primary markets stop cooperating so well, I’ve also been forced to ask those same questions but in a very different context. What a conflict! Furthermore, there was a very close-call with a member of my immediate family. These personal/family moments have a way of acting like gravity and pulling you down to earth very fast and hard sometimes.
So, these things have forced me to pause for a bit and think about who I really am. Because in either scenario, entrepreneurial success or failure, I am left with one single common denominator – me, myself, and I.
When you a third of your life dedicated to entrepreneurship, you inevitably become party defined by it. Things change. Your perceptions change, as well how others perceive you, including friends and family. Suddenly you’re no longer defined by the things that always defined you, but now you’re defined by what you spend 24/7/365 on – your business, your entrepreneurial drive. You are truly and without a doubt, true and through, an entrepreneur.
This changes you, and I’m not so sure it changes you for the better. Why? Because you lose a part of yourself. It’s unavoidable. When you put so much of yourself into one thing, for so long, you inevitably have to sacrifice other parts of yourself. It’s simply impossible to be an entrepreneur without sacrificing other parts of your Self. And when the business you create starts to take on it’s own life, its own characteristics, its own heartbeat and blood flow, suddenly you realize that it’s not a part of you anymore, it’s an entire entity unto itself. This entity is a being, if you will, that is the very personification of your entrepreneurial passions – its the result of it. It’s your entrepreneurial spawn, and it embodies everything that defined you.
I experienced this event, if you will, over the past several months, or rather, this epiphany. I had to ask myself, what if this thing actually, really, seriously takes off!? What if it really, actually, seriously becomes something!? What if it actually meets or exceeds my most realistic expectations? Or contrarily, what if it flops? What if the economy strangles it? What if outside influences and forces suffocate us? In either event – what happens to me? What do I do? Who am I, then?
So, here I am now, writing this post post-entrepreneurial-identity-crisis, I think. And I also think I’ve figured it out so some extent. I’m working hard now at trying to gather some of the missing pieces back together because I am not defined by my business, by my profession, by my entrepreneurial passions. I am defined by other things, who I am, how I treat people, how my family and friends view me, how my community views me. That is who I am, for better or for worse. I’m getting back to more balance in my life, and so far, I’m loving it.
The moral of the story is probably obvious – but just for the sake of clarity: As an entrepreneur, do not lose yourself. Do not lose sight of who you are and of the big picture, and of what’s really important in life. Maintain a balance in life. Many many years from now, when you are on your death bed, breathing your last few breaths, you will not utter words about how you wish you made more money, or how you wish you accepted that VCs terms, or shouldn’t have sold your company to Big Corp. You will think about family, about friends, about places you’ve been in the world, about those most simplest of things. So enjoy what your doing right now, and if you’re not, make a change.
I’m still trying to figure all this out, I definitely don’t have the answers. I may never have the answers! This is probably one of the big questions in life, ya know? I just know that I found a new perspective, and it’s working in the most meaningful ways.
Right now is the most important moment in your business.
Right now is the only chance you’ll have to have right now again.
Right now is the moment you’ll wish you had in a few minutes, a few days, or a few years.
Go thank a staff member for something they deserve a thanks for, right now.
Call that investor you’ve been nervous to talk to, right now.
Ask that board member to hear you out, right now.
Thank your better half for putting up with you, right now.
Call a customer to say hello and offer your help with something, right now.
That thing you’ve been putting off? Yeah, do that, right now.
If you’re an entrepreneur, and you’re not doing something important for your business, for your company, right now, than piss off – because you’re wasting your time, and your wasting everyone else’s time.
I’ve been seeing a lot of tweets, emails, and so forth, lately from “entrepreneurs” who are moaning and groaning, and carrying on. They’re quite vocal about how shitty things are for them, how tough it is out there for them. YOU POOR THING! How can the rest of us help you?
Bullshit. Get off your ass and deal with it, like everyone else. Help yourself, like you need to. Earn it, like everyone should.
Sometimes being an entrepreneur sucks. It’s not a dream job, you’re not an astronaut – even astronauts don’t want to spacewalk sometimes! Sometimes it can be thankless. Sometimes your sacrifices go unnoticed, sometimes your just not happy. But that’s part of being an entrepreneur! You made the decision you sicko! You’re the one who’s been calling yourself an entrepreneur, networking, grooving and moving, shakin’ shit up, makin’ things happen. But now, what? Times are tough, and you’re kickin’ pebbles around like someone just stole your lunch? Bullshit! Get off your ass and get to work! Maybe you need some time off… WRONG. Get to work.
It’s not how you handle the good times, how much fun you had when things were great, how great you looked in that picture for that article, how awesome the feedback was at that demo, or what Arrington said about your business model at a party, it’s what you do when things are hard, when leadership is needed the most, when those around you judge you the harshest, when your product is screwed up, when people aren’t around, when even the local paper forgot who you are.
Right now is the most important moment in your life. If you’re really an entrepreneur, you’ll close your browser right now – or close your email client – and you’ll do something you’ve been putting off right now, you’ll snap out of it and get with the program – right now!
P.S. – That’s Eddie Van Halen – a reference to his song Right Now
I believe that if you can see it, you can get there. I was reminded of that notion this morning. I was on my porch early this Sunday morning enjoying the crisp silence of this last day of summer. I looked up and saw a beautiful half moon staring down at me against a sharp blue sky. I stared at it for a moment and remembered how close the moon really is to us, no matter how far away it might seem. But it’s all relative isn’t it? I imagine that during the Apollo missions NASA said the same thing to itself – “We see it. It’s right there. We have the ability, we have the technology. We understand the laws of physics. All we have to do is get there.” And sure enough, one step at a time, they not only got to the moon, they not only orbited the moon, they not only landed on it, they walked on it. Then they drove vehicles on it. Not once, but several times! All it took was some technology, some ability, imagination, innovation, teamwork, and belief in success.
(Wow I just made the Apollo missions sound really simple didn’t I?)
I was raised to believe that anything was possible. Both of my parents are good like that. No matter what crazy idea I had, they supported me, as long as it wasn’t harmful, but they didn’t indulge me too much either. When I wanted to be a fighter pilot, they supported me. I’d study the G force and read about Chuck Yeager. When I wanted to be a major league pitcher, my father taught me proper form and challenged me during little league practice. I could go on. The point is, I tried, and I worked at it very hard. No matter how far off the destination seemed, I believed in myself and I had the support of my parents. I may not have been capable of being a fighter pilot, because of my poor eyesight, but that didn’t matter – anything was possible. My fastball was pretty nasty, but that was all I had. Yet I had the potential.
Entrepreneurship is very much the same way. Continue reading If You Can See It, You Can Get There
2007 was a pivotal year for me in so many ways, mostly professionally. But as is the case for an American entrepreneur, my personal life hinges on my professional life. It’s now 7:30 on New Years Eve and Ali and I are settling nicely into our new home. Carmina Burana appropriately just came on the speakers. I’m working on a tasty Belgian beer, but it’s not quite cutting the edge. What edge? The front edge of 2008.
I’ve been a little edgy today (not unusual for me – I’ve been called “edgy” before, among other things), but unusually edgy. I feel slightly less in control than I’ve felt for the past few months. 2008 is supposed to be a big year for local search, and if Citysquares can innovate properly, can achieve some measurable success with sales, and expand aggressively (yet cautiously) we’ll be in excellent shape. But those are three big tasks for a maturing startup company. Make no mistake about it – I’m confident. I’m confident, first and foremost, in my own abilities to kick some effing ass. That’s not blind confidence (a.k.a. cockiness), that’s self-assured confidence – it’s just a matter of fact – I will get this done.
I suppose what’s got me most anxious is the changes. The foliage is changing, for the better. When the foliage changes, I get a little fucked up. It’s the unpredictability of it all, the change from comfort to the unknown that gets me a little uptight. It reminds me a lot of Michael Gerber’s E-Myth – the Technician vs the Manager vs the Entrepreneur. When I first read Michael’s book, back when I was running Atomic, I was struggling with the different ways an “entrepreneur” can run a business. The book was recommended to me and I read it front to back, listened to the audio book on the subway, and soaked it in with an open mind – then I did it again. I learned so much! It wasn’t long after that I started Citysquares – with an entrepreneurial mindset. And it happened naturally.
So here I am today, a little over 2 years since starting the company. We’ll be at 13 employees in January. We’re starting our expansion. The strategy is really being set into motion. And now, I’m like a visiting team’s starting pitcher facing some tough batters in the top of the 3rd with a tie score. It’s a pivotal time in the game and I’ve got to perform, got to give my team a chance to get up to the plate – but I’ve also got to keep plenty of fuel in the tank to finish the game.
I’m ready. I’m anxious. I’m motivated. I’m eager. I’m fuckin pissed off. See you in ’08.