Why are you scared?

Media_httpfarm2static_wboif

(See, she’s harmless)

As the proud new owner of a puppy (she’s about a year, so technically still a puppy, but almost full grown) in New York City, I’ve become quite good at reading people and instantly identifying dog people and non-dog people. Dog people generally look down at her as we approach them with a smile or at least a happy expression. Some of them can’t help themselves from bending over and petting her as she jumps up and down with excitement. I am pleasantly surprised at just how many dog people there are and love running into them as I walk her. But as much as I’m surprised by the dog people, I’m even more surprised at how many non-dog people there are. The non-dog people are easy to spot. They notice her from a good distance, and usually fold their arms close to their chest, stare at her with a glaze of fear in their eyes, and make their way quickly to the very edge of the sidewalk as if they are skimming by a werewolf on a leash. Most of them just seem absolutely terrified to even be on the same block much less same chunk of sidewalk as her. I really have to wonder: Why? Why are they so afraid of her (and dogs in general)? Were they bitten in the past? Did their friend have a mean dog that would chase them as a kid? Were their parents afraid of dogs, and they learned from watching them? Why were they so afraid of this sweet, loving, absolutely harmless and friendly animal (referring to my dog)?

I’m fascinated with the human mind/body at work here. Obviously this fear is an individual thing because not everyone is afraid of dogs, and not everyone loves them, but what separates the two? What happened in the past to create a fearful non-dog person? Ok, perhaps they were bitten by one in their distant past, and there I could understand why they were afraid of THAT dog, but why all dogs? It makes me wonder about how our mind works. Perhaps in the process of analyzing and storing so much information, our brain takes an awful lot of shortcuts. It knows that at some point in the past being around a dog brought pain, and avoiding pain is generally a necessity for survival, so it quickly calculates that dogs = pain, and to stay away from them. But we all know that not ALL dogs are evil and mean, and therefore assuming they all will bring pain is false, so why then do some still avoid them at all costs? I think because it’s a wired pattern in the brain…dogs=pain, avoid at all costs. I am not afraid of dogs, but I am sure afraid of other things. Do I act the same towards those?

I have to wonder: What are some things I learned in the past that could bring pain, and now have almost an instinctual reaction to avoid? I believe one of my “dogs,” has to do with acceptance of others. I learned sometime ago that sticking out too much, going against the grain of others too much publicly could bring a lot of ridicule, and ridicule was painful. Looking back on my early years, I can recall quite a few instances in school where I stuck my neck out and was quickly brought down by those around me. That was my “dog bite,” incident and now I have a reaction whenever I feel I’m in a similar situation I pull my arms to my chest and rush to the edge of the sidewalk. Deep down I feel that most circumstances I expose my strongest thoughts and beliefs in are dangerous. I never really thought about it before because I didn’t have to. My body reacted for me, working quickly to secure me from the potentially dangerous situation. But that doesn’t serve me anymore. I’m not a 3rd grader trying to fit in with my peers, I’m just trying to be all me in this world…and I don’t care what everyone thinks. After all, I KNOW 97% of “dogs” won’t bite. It’s time to stop avoiding them.

Project to lifestyle

Media_httpfarm1static_ktbno

(“Learning to Swim,” on flickr by sposta via CC – You can’t learn to swim until you jump in)

I feel like everyone I speak to these days has at least a “project or two,” they are working on. By project I mean they have something they are at least thinking about that hopefully could someday become a real working business that they would own and operate. At the moment, I certainly consider myself part of this group, and sometimes it’s really sort of depressing. I know so many of these “projects,” will never even see the light of day, and of those that do even fewer will ever get far enough to be considered a business. This seemingly harsh reality begs the internal question “Why am I any different?”

I think that more and more people from my generation are at least thinking about heading down the entrepreneurial path. The so called millenials have grown up with access to unlimited information across an unlimited spectrum of niches. We’ve been empowered to go out and learn about anything and everything we’re interested in with ease. We’ve also had front row seats to rise of the “young entrepreneur.” We’ve heard so much about people out of high school and college creating companies that are phenomenal successes. We idolize these people yet we also can’t help but ask “why not me?” This question is precisely why we are so fascinated with them. I’ve asked myself that question for at least 10 years now, going way back to my high school days where I became obsessed with the business world via the stock market (dotcom days, ah what a time to start investing!). Why couldn’t I potentially take my part in the American dream? It’s cheaper than ever to start a business. All the information, contacts, and products you may need are seconds away in a Google search. From the outside perspective the only thing that stands between you and your dream life/job is a smart programming partner and a few months (NOTE: most of the people I talk to are trying to create some sort of web focused business, so they need someone with programming skills). And that is why I think there are so many of us out there with projects.

But if projects are so easy to start, why aren’t more projects becoming working, real life businesses? Because I think very few project starters have the capability to start a business. Most of us want to learn to swim by merely dipping our toes in the water. We think we can expose ourself to gain without risking any of the potential failure, but the truth is the lessons from failure are what create opportunity for success. If you don’t attempt to swim by getting in the pool, you’ll never feel the struggle that is growth, the struggle that is learning. And very few people are prepared for a struggle.

I find comfort in that. Don’t get me wrong, I love the explosion in entrepreneurial mindset in this city and this country. I love that at least in our heads more and more us believe we are capable of doing something big on our own. We all benefit from this because the tinkering of potential entrepreneurs and current entrepreneurs is what pushes growth and innovation throughout. This constant push to create is what created the great environment we are in today. But now I’m seeing what separates someone building a project and someone building a company, and I have to really respect and admire the courage in the creators. Great things happen to those of us who are willing to put ourselves out there. I mean to really put yourself out there for something you believe in. “Putting yourself out there,” obviously has different meanings for different people, and you know ultimately what that means for you, but this is the only place where your “project” becomes a potential business.

For me I believe this means to stop hiding in confusion (I’m not quite sure what to work on),pick a path, and declare it to the world. For me putting myself out there isn’t about money because I’ve never been afraid to put money on the line (thanks to my days dotcom investing and bootstrapping a business in college by the nifty credit card balance transfer trick). My “putting myself out there,” is more about exposing myself completely to the criticism of others. I get out there by speaking up with my ideas, sharing them with as many people as I can, reaching to any and all who may be able to help, and learning from the feedback. Only by challenging myself to expose ideas to others, with a firm voice behind it, can I learn to swim (that’s part of the reason I’ve been blogging more lately..it’s amazing how much more you can write when you write what you’re truly thinking / feeling) and move my project on to a company.

How do you put yourself out there?

2 year ago…

Media_httpfarm1static_jcypa

(this pic was taken at the lake erie house mentioned below…taken in Jan of 06)

It came and I didn’t even catch it. I really can’t believe it’s been almost 2 years since my mom passed away. Roughly 2 years ago today, I entered the most difficult period of my life. The point where my mom’s battle with breast cancer went from something I knew that would work itself out to something that consumed my life for the next month.

I remember it so clearly. Julie and I had been fighting and we were driving up to her parent’s house at Lake Erie. Then the silence in the car was shattered by the ring of my cell phone. It was Tom, my mom’s fiance, calling, which I immediately knew wasn’t good. My heart sunk into my shoes. I answered with a fake “I”m ok voice,” and he told me he was in Houston with my mom, he had Andrea (my sister) on the line as well, and that my mom had a seizure yesterday. He went on..”they did some test, and the cancer has spread to your mother’s brain.” Wow, did it hurt. You can never really imagine how you’ll feel when you hear words like that about someone you love so much. I think I went into shock because I remained somewhat calm. Tom got off the phone and I talked with Andrea for awhile. We both were somewhat calm, and actually did our best to remain positive. I felt my spirits lift a bit, my mom was one tough cookie and I knew that some people made it through seemingly impossible odds, so why not her? Julie pulled off the highway into a Burger King parking lot and I got off the phone. Then I lost it. Never cried so hard in my life, my arms were shaking, my legs were shaking, and I couldn’t catch my breath. It was truly one of those surreal moments you could never imagine, where you are filled with such deep, intense emotions. It was something I’ll certainly remember for the rest of my life.

It’s a story that highlights the power of perspective, and how quickly things can turn on a dime. Literally moments before the call, Julie and I were at arm’s length arguing about who knows what, I was stressed and overwhelmed with how things were going with my business, and I was fighting off those anxious voices in my head saying “you’ve got to do this, and got to do that….” They all went away the moment I saw my caller-id. Sometimes life sends you a wake up call…”hey step out of the muck, and look at the big picture for a moment…what really matters most to you?”

My post from that weekend 2 years ago

My post from last year (which just reading now I realized is very similar to what I’ve written above)

Who’s your harshest critic?

Media_httpfarm1static_nrkfx

CC via Jan Tik on Flickr

I’ve been paying a lot closer attention recently to how I feel at certain moments, and what triggers those feelings. This past weekend, Julie’s awesome sister and brother-in-law came to visit Julie and I here in New York. They are both really great people and I enjoy spending time with them, so I knew I would have fun. But lurking in my excitement was my good old friend, insecurity.

I chose a different path, I chose not to take a job or do anything I am “supposed” to be doing, yet I struggle to proudly claim this, especially around good friends, family, or Julie’s family. I feel that question with such weight: “What do you do?” I hate that question, and whenever I anticipate being asked that or challenged in it, I feel the back of my hairs stand up like a dog gearing up for a fight. I feel unsure about my path at the moment sometimes because I haven’t reached my destination. I feel like people from the outside looking in will see someone not doing anything, and I decided awhile ago that someone not doing anything is not someone I want to be. Yet, that’s how I label myself when people ask me that question. But their’s power in here for me in recognizing these feelings of insecurity. It begs for a change of perspective.

Easing into my time with them, my guard went down and the list of prepared defenses faded to the back of my mind. I can see now the truth: they respect me and believe in me more than I have myself sometimes. They don’t question what I’m doing with skepticism, they question it with interest and admiration. I was prepared for a fight, they were just prepared to hang out and learn more about me. It turns out the harshest judge of my progress, the harshest critic of my life I’ve ever met, is me.

The good news is that I’m also the easiest judge to sway. The answers all lie in a tweak of perspective. I can see really that I’m making fantastic progress, that when I go beyond looking for changes each day, I’ve come a really long way in a short time. I’ve come so far without patting myself on the back for progress, and I forgot that personal victories should always be rewarded. It took some friends to hand some pats on the back to remind me I should pat myself on the back every once in awhile. I’m moving forward each day…that’s what I “do.”

Distraction to focus

Have you ever been in a place where you are in a really great mood, so full of energy, but really unsure of what exactly to do? This for me can come after a cup of coffee, a great phone call, a great meeting, or the solving of a problem.  This place is very good yet hard at the same time.  With so much energy, I bounce all over the place from emails to half written documents to IM, and back again.  This is really where I seek distraction.

As I talked about yesterday a bit, I seek distraction in information overload.  I read books, blogs, newspapers, check my stocks, check the market etc.  Somewhere along the way I learned that answers come from information gathering.  So it almost becomes an addiction.  I would bet that many people experience this phenomenon, especially if you work on a place like wall street where you have in the past been able to find profitable answers in the morning’s wsj.   With that kind of positive reinforcement, your body gets hooked and seeks for the next bit “hit” that is just around the corner in the next blog, tomorrow’s paper, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, reading and keeping up to date is a great way to learn, grow, and spur new ideas.  But it’s important to not turn this into a crutch, as I often do, when you’re uncomfortable about what to do next.

The question is then, how do  you move through the distraction, especially when you have so much energy?  You cultivate it.  Get up, break your old habits, move around.  For me I’ve recently found that putting on music, getting up and moving around with a pen and paper to reevaluate my situation works very well.  Instead of trying to hush up the energy with distraction, I let the excitement out through movement and wide open brainstorming. Instead of fighting it back, allowing it to overcome, or trying to drown it out, I use it.  I welcome it.

If you often feel distracted while at work or at home, time to try something new.  The same reaction will continue to yield the same results. Are you truly happy with those results?

Today’s a game

Media_httpfarm1static_zcoce

(via mecredis on flickr under cc)

As I was sitting eating lunch and thinking about my last post I had somewhat of a revelation. I really don’t like work.

Looking back on my first business, Enviar, I didn’t start that as a business. I really started that with the approach of “this puzzle looks fun.” It was more like I see this piece and I see this piece, and I see that no one else is putting them together but if I do I win (and get paid). So I tried it, and it worked, so I tried it again and worked…and off it went. I gained momentum, I gained contacts in the industry, and I made some money, all while solving these puzzles. But something happened along the way…Some sort of pressure started coming in. I guess it was the “shoulds.”

Somewhere along the way I started saying “well you should do this,” and you “should be doing that.” And suddenly it didn’t feel like a puzzle anymore, it started to feel like work. I guess I define work as stuff you HAVE to do that isn’t fun, and that is how this started to feel. But coupled with the shoulds (I should keep working on this), I stuck with it. I told myself I have to work to make this work, and I should not stop. This is when I started hitting coffee shops for “work.” After all, you can’t do work at home and you’re supposed to be doing work at least from 8am to 5pm. Somewhere along the way this rule became ingrained in me. I’m supposed to be working from 8am to 5pm, no exceptions. So ever since then I’ve made it a habit to do work at that time, and usually most of it at a coffee shop (because again, work needs a “formal” place).

But the interesting thing for me looking back is I can now see where things went awry. I started treating everything like work (which I hate) instead of like a game/puzzle (which I love), and you can get a lot further in life when each day is another exciting puzzle instead of just another day at work.

How can you make today a game?

Looking for the flow…

While doing some random blog reading a few days ago, I stumbled across NYC based entrepreneur Jonathan Fields’ blog.  Among his must reads section he has a great post about finding “effortless success.”  It’s that seemingly impossible intersection of career and personal passion.

“What would it take, I wonder, to have a job where you worked harder than ever before, earned more than ever before, and succeeded bigger and faster than ever before, but felt like the whole experience was natural, so engaging, so intrinsically-rewarding, you’d have paid to do it as a hobby, had it not have been your job?”

I’ve heard his before (also referred to as “Flow”) and I agree that this is truly possible for everyone.  But after many years of “thinking” about this, researching, planning, seeking I still can’t seem to reach it.  The truth is my brain gets in the way.

I have gotten very good at keeping myself in a perpetual state of research.  That is a place where I can safely read, think, plan, and plot the next steps of my life.  But like tomorrow, flow never comes because action is never taken.  Instead I find myself propelled far enough by excitement to start the wheels in motion, only to be pulled back by fear masked as “research.”  It’s really amazing for me how well I know something, how much I know about the web, business, investing, networking, and how well I am able to put it all together in my head to a point of a powerful vision.   I know even more about my potential and my abilities, my opportunity that lies in just simply getting myself out there. Yet, I sit in this perpetual state of waiting.  It’s pretty hard to find flow, when you’re sitting still. Or as my mom used to say it’s much easier to steer a boat that’s already in motion…just MOVE.  My head knows it, and my head stops it.  Let’s make a change, shall we?

I’m going to put myself out there, starting here.  I’m going to tell everyone what I’m working on, I’m going to tell everyone my vision, and I’m going to ask anyone who reads this for their help.  I’m building a real company without following any of the rules.  I’ve never entered corporate America, and I’m certainly not going to build a company in one.  I believe in empowering the people, working with them instead of them working for you, and focusing on creating value for all sides of the equation: shareholders +employees/partners—customers.

Flow is an attainable state, but you have to actually move to get there.  For me, moving can be hard…but I’m going to make it fun.