“So how is your new, um…. thing going?” That’s a question I get a lot since quitting my CEO position at my high-profile company and launching a blog from scratch. I usually respond by saying; “Great, I’m really excited about the direction its going in and how much fun I am having.”
That’s technically true, but what I often omit to say is something along the lines of; “Well, I have no real idea what I’m doing. I’m sort of flailing around in the dark here – trying to get to grips with new technologies, struggling to articulate concepts that I haven’t fully understood myself yet and wondering if there is an actual business model for this whole, um….. thing.”
For any of you who have decided, or are still deciding, to leave behind the familiar to try something new – know this – while doing so may seem romantic, the reality is that it’s anything but.
Being pulled out of your comfort zone where you had experience, knowledge and security, into an environment where you are unsure and probably alone, will test all your passion and resolve.
Fortunately, this is not the first time I have done this sort of thing. Here are some tips that help me to get through the dark times – I hope they work for you too.
Check your ego at the door……
Going from a position where you are proficient, knowledgable and respected, to one where you know nothing and are no-one is a massive blow to the ego. The temptation is therefore to put up a show of bravado and fake confidence and knowledge. This will only hurt you in the long run. Don’t be afraid to admit to yourself and others that you don’t have all the answers yet. Only then can you truly open yourself up to learning.
You also need to be okay with the fact that you will make mistakes, fail and probably make a complete fool of yourself from time to time. As Denzel Washington says; “If you don’t fail, you’re not even trying”.
Finally, starting anything new usually requires you to get your hands dirty, something you may not have done for a while. In a new business venture, for example, expect to be the receptionist, janitor, accountant, sales rep and marketer. There is no shame in doing these tasks. It’s also important to know how to do all these things yourself so that you understand what is needed and expected from someone in that role down the line.
….but bring your competitive spirit with you
In my experience, when starting something new, it helps to find the person that is already doing it the best… and try to do it better. I’m not saying you should copy what they are doing, but you can certainly learn from their successes and save yourself a lot of wasted time and effort in the process.
It also doesn’t have to be adversarial. I have been good friends many of my competitors over the years. I am genuinely happy for them when they succeed, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to beat them like a dusty carpet at a bazaar. Competition provides some of the fuel we need to get on that plane at 5am to pitch to a client or spend the extra time and money to develop that complex new product that will disrupt the market.
Know your “why”
When things get hard, and they will, it’s really important to know your “why” for doing what you are doing. Not the bullshit you might spin to others, but the real truth. Your “why” is what will keep you going when every part of your being is screaming for you to go back to what you know and are comfortable with.
Knowing your “why” also helps to keep you from losing your way. It is inevitable that you will face many temptations on your journey, which if you succumb to, will compromise the very essence of what you set out to achieve. Write it on a note and stick it on your mirror, repeat it to yourself before going to bed every night, it doesn’t matter, just remind yourself daily of “why” you chose to take this road less travelled.
When you’re going through hell, keep going….hard
There really is no substitute for hard work, especially at the beginning. The more time you spend on educating yourself and honing your new skills, the less time you have to spend in that uncomfortable zone where you don’t really know what you are doing.
It’s tempting to mentally check out or distract yourself when things get tough, but those are the moments when you really need to knuckle down and focus.
As my favourite tennis player, Novak Djokovic, likes to say, the key to his success lies in the fact that he is comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Release yourself from attachment to outcomes
Another lesson I have taken from tennis is to focus on the process, rather than the outcome. I know that as soon as I start thinking about winning the match, rather than on each moment, it’s a sure sign I am about to lose.
By placing too much emphasis on the result, you develop an attachment to it. This leads to anger and resentment when things don’t go your way. This results in muddled thinking and further poor performance.
Rather, try to focus completely on each moment and doing every task to the best of your ability. The results will usually take care of themselves.