When I started my companies five years ago, I had zero business experience. I was 22 years old and was full of bravado and naivety and like most young men, felt I was bulletproof. The thought of starting a company was thrilling and the learning curve ahead of me was not only in the dark but the thought was ‘how hard could it be?’.
During those five years of business before my eventual exits, I grew a lot. I learned a lot about other people, myself, money management, contract law, taxation, human resources, execution versus ideals and perhaps most of all, work/life balance.
At first, the friends I made only knew what they saw. My businesses, my outward personality and results that I wanted to show them. I felt at the time it earned me certain amount of street cred and the right to be given the benefit of the doubt. I’d cut my teeth in my own way and up until meeting new people, I’d survived in my own way.
New people brought new perspectives and I regularly welcomed fresh points of view (I am forever hungry to learn new things and improve my abilities). At first, these people brought energetic conversations of possibility and talking ‘big’. After all they had little emotional investment and so who were they to decide what I was or wasn’t capable of?
However as time progressed, I noticed a change. A bittersweet change.
As the relationships evolved, we started to flesh out the full picture. The strengths, the weaknesses, the bluff and the boldness. Initially it felt enriching as I felt invested in these people and they felt invested in me. We shared an emotional connection and our conversations moved from discussing the brain properties of our ideas to the ones involving our hearts. It was very personal and it got down to tacks.
But this is where it got tricky.
I noticed that slowly but surely the advice and conversations that once spoke of huge possibility and high fives subdued to ‘practical’ and ‘pragmatic’ conversations about ‘real world’ logistics and the risks I could be exposed to. It seemed as first that I was privy to some special inside knowledge but after a while I realised something didn’t add up.
Understandably, the emotional investment created a protective layer around me and at a time when I may have needed pushing from the nest and a kick in the bum, I instead received cotton wool, worried faces and questions/statements that scratched at my self confidence.
I know they were trying to look out for me but I felt frustrated, suffocated and regularly isolated. I mean just years before I didn’t even know some of them and yet I’d built companies from scratch, built a life, made and broke stuff. Was I really that fragile and ignorant?
The key words? ‘I’m just looking out for your best interests.’ But in reality it’s quite the opposite. Not only are they NOT your best interests, it’s often their best interests.
It really can just be good intentions by well caring people who don’t see it the way you do or who aren’t capable of doing what you know you can do. They in effect impose their past and/or limited experience, knowledge and understanding on your future potential but in a way that makes you feel like a jerk if you rejected it. If you do, they feel you’re invalidating them even though this isn’t your intention. They’re not doing it maliciously though, it’s just the friction point when two minds don’t agree.
It can be one of the toughest things in your life to back yourself despite that some of the closest people around you are smothering you with contradictory but well meaning assessments. And so most people don’t resist them and wonder why they wake up one day living a life someone else thought would be ‘best for them’.
Failure is feared by most due to the high emotional (and at times financial) loss we associate with it. However deep down, those who really want to achieve happiness not only need – but want – failure in their lives. Yes it bites but when we overcome this fear we grow much more than if we just avoided taking a risk at all. Furthermore, have you considered that your past failures could be the very reason you’re building a new idea/opportunity?
In my life spanning 28+ years, I’ve had just three people who have worked out how to help me try, fail, learn and then achieve rather than protect me from the big bad world. They knew I wouldn’t achieve results by limiting my risk of failure but rather by setting the bar high and letting me embrace the thrill of the chase with the expectation I would get through it (even if they had their own reservations). These are the people whom I responded to positively. Ironically it’s not because they ‘looked out for my best interests’ but rather saw where I threw down the gauntlet then they pushed it six inches further away and said, ‘now let’s work out how you’re going to get it.’
My advice? Surround yourself with people who force you to set the bar higher, who will stand behind you and tell you harden up when you’re tired and most of all, who will guide their ‘good intentions’ toward backing you 100% when you want to take a risk rather than play the devil’s advocate.
Most people I’ve met are their own harshest critics, so I’m confident that the risk assessment and the ultimate weight of consequence are in the safest hands – theirs.