The Day I Understood the True Price of Success

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My father’s beloved Molly, who refused to leave his side in his last days.

I well remember the sound of the crunching of gravel as two young men steadied the heavy gurney between them. I stood in the doorway with my mother and siblings, all of us holding hands, witnessing this last journey my father would make — down the walkway he’d poured, away from the home he had built. It was his final farewell, the end of the long goodbye that had been his journey since his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s several years before.

But more than those memories, I recall with vivid clarity the sound of gravel crunching under my own feet, of my keys jangling together as I pulled them from my purse to start my own vehicle, of my own half-sobs as I struggled to hold back my own tears as I followed the van carrying my father’s body down the driveway and away from our parents’ home.

I almost wish I couldn’t recall the feeling of my heart breaking over and over as the little girl inside begged for time to grieve with family, to cry and remember the small moments that had made up our fifty-some years together as a family. The little girl inside had to stay quiet that morning so that the grownup could do what needed done.

I had a meeting within the hour with an investor, and as much as I needed to grieve, I also needed to fulfill the commitments I’d made to my cofounders and employees to secure the capital we needed for our startup.

While I am quite grateful for the grace I found to get through that meeting, I am well aware that the personal cost was incredibly high.

As business owners, we calculate and plan for a lot of costs — operations, production, marketing, new hires. We make and refine projections to understand when we will break even or start making profit. But very few of us begin this entrepreneurial journey with the same level of preparation for managing our stress, fear, exhaustion or the dynamics of our personal relationships.

I had already launched APPCityLife when my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and the demands I faced with growing a startup resulted in very limited bandwidth to help my mom with the many hurdles she faced as his disease progressed.

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My dad with my eldest son several years before Alzheimers was diagnosed

When I took time out of my work schedule to be with my parents, it was time not spent our business. When on travel or overloaded with meetings or work, I missed out on time with family that I couldn’t get back. I endured many sleepless nights worrying about how to give more, do more, and be more to my team and my family.

Life is messy, and it doesn’t come in neat little packages that focus on one thing at a time. In the middle of our ambitions and professional goals, we often come face to face with tragedy or heartache — and finding the mental and emotional balance to cope with it all can be quite difficult.

For me, finding that balance has meant embracing a healthy dose of pragmatism about what I actually owe others in the way of sacrifice and what is my own misplaced guilt.

I’ve learned to be more efficient and disciplined with my time, getting up earlier to take advantage of the quiet time in the morning before the day gets crazy. I mute text messaging and email notifications from everyone except my family and colleagues so that I can be more focused on what I am doing in the moment.

I give myself permission to be “off the grid” to recharge whenever I can.

I am grateful to be part of a supportive team that picks up the slack for each other when the demands of life and work clash. In the time that we’ve been together, all of our startup’s cofounders have faced similar difficulties as my own — and all of us have had to balance the needs of the team with the needs of our own and our families’. We’ve done our best to carry each other through the difficult moments in our lives. For me, this mutual support is one of the markers of a truly successful startup team.

Oh, and the investor I met with that day?

They didn’t invest.

Others did, and we’ve since enjoyed an incredible time of growth in our startup.

But I’m not sorry I made the effort. I learned I was stronger than I thought — and that knowledge alone has allowed me to make decisions from a place of confidence instead of fear. I am also learning that it is ok to define better boundaries for myself on what is reasonable sacrifice to seize an opportunity or meet an important milestone or deadline — and what is unnecessary or off limits.

There is a lot of conventional wisdom telling entrepreneurs to sacrifice more, give more, and push harder in order to succeed — and it really does take being “all in” to succeed. But we don’t talk nearly enough about what to do or how to cope when life happens to us on our way to success. Nor do we talk enough about redefining our own view of success to include emotionally fulfilling, healthy lives.

Maybe it’s time we do.

Originally published on Broad Insights via Inc.

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The Hidden Cost of Quitting

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We’ve all heard some version of the saying that begins “when the going gets tough…” But the reality is that when things get difficult, even the tough find it very tempting to look for reasons to give up. And to be fair, quitting can be the right decision – but the hidden costs of that choice mislead us into thinking that the relief of giving up is worth the disappointment of not finishing.

When we come upon a massive barrier to accomplishing a goal, the level of desire to gain whatever we see as the ultimate reward is directly related to the price we are willing to pay to overcome the barrier.

If our goal is to earn a specific degree in college, it isn’t the degree itself that keeps us going through the difficult classes or enormous financial costs – it’s the ultimate reward of a coveted lifestyle or opportunity to work within a specific field that forces us to dig deep in the difficult moments where quitting seems to be so much easier than continuing. The degree is just a piece of paper; it’s what that piece of paper makes possible that we see as the ultimate reward.

If we’ve chosen to become an entrepreneur, it is rarely the job itself that we see as the big reward; it is seeing our idea becoming a reality, our solution to a problem put into action that fuels us to give up so much to see that vision through to fruition.

But, whatever the goal, when things get difficult, we begin weighing the cost in front of us with the value of that ultimate reward. We start to doubt whether we are actually capable of finishing the goal, whether we’d really like the results of finishing, and we begin to think of ways to lessen the goal to something that wouldn’t take nearly as deep a toll on us financially, physically, emotionally or mentally. We allow ourselves to rationalize why quitting would be better. We would have more time again. We wouldn’t be so broke, because we could do something easier to make money right away. We would have more time to pursue a hobby. We could put all of our energy into a new interest that looks easier to do and like a lot more fun that what we’re trying to accomplish now. The reasons, really, are limitless.

Quitting brings instant relief. The pressure is off. The fear of failing is over since quitting isn’t the same as failing (or so we tell ourselves). And the temporary disappointment we feel and that others may express will pass. Besides, it’s not their life, it’s ours, so if we’re ok with the decision, everyone else can just get on board or keep it to themselves. Ah, yes, it is so alluring to quit.

But what we don’t take into consideration nearly often enough is the hidden costs of quitting. That temporary disappointment we feel in ourselves? It’s not temporary. It’s permeates every facet of our psyche and has a powerful effect on our future decisions. When we find a new goal for ourselves, we begin that goal with the knowledge that we might quit without reaching it. It makes it harder to begin again and easier to quit the next time. When we measure ourselves up against our competition, we secretly believe that we may not go as far as they will, because we might quit when they’re still committed and willing to pay a higher cost to get to success. We start making smaller choices, safer decisions, and we start seeing ourselves as less-than.

Sometimes we will fail. But the long term cost of failing isn’t nearly as devastating if we’ve given everything we could to try to achieve our goal as it is when failure comes by quitting. And, yes, sometimes the right decision is to quit. Sometimes the price is too high. Sometimes we weren’t realistic when we set out to achieve some goal. Sometimes the timing just isn’t right. Sometimes a need arises that supersedes our desire to accomplish a goal. And when that is truly the case, the challenge will come in reminding ourselves of the actual facts of why we quit when we begin to doubt our ability to see something through to the end. In those instances, we must remember that sometimes the sacrifice of giving up is the right price to pay to meet a higher need.

But far too often we tell ourselves we’re quitting to meet a higher need when the reality is that the cost of continuing just looks far too expensive. It gets harder before it gets easier. It looks more impossible right before the solution becomes clear. And we will never, ever know the incredible joy and satisfaction of success if we quit when we’re on the dark side of difficulty.

The next time you’re tempted to give up on a goal, ask yourself if it is worth living with that choice the rest of your life. Ask if the future regret will be worth the relief now. Your answer may surprise you, and it may be the fuel you need to push through when the going gets tough.

 

Three Things You Need To Know About Failure

Mourning

I recently had a conversation with someone who was pointing out how many times I’d failed to meet the same goal. It felt pretty awful, especially because I knew it was true. But in that moment, I also realized that I could either accept that as my permanent truth, or I could look a bit deeper at why I was failing. In the process, I discovered three powerful truths about failure.

Sometimes failure to try is our way of gaining space until the time is right.

Two years ago, I suggested that my talented, artistic daughter open an Etsy shop to sell her handmade cards, calendars and posters. I campaigned pretty hard for the idea. The entrepreneur in me wanted to see my daughter take control of her own destiny and share her talent with the world, but the mom in me wanted her to find her own path, whatever it was. So I backed off and left her alone when she made it clear she wasn’t ready.

Well, for the most part, I backed off.
Except when she would show me something she bought on Etsy.
Or someone would mention Etsy.
Or I would mention Etsy.
Ok, to be honest, I probably didn’t leave her alone as well as I should have.

You can imagine my surprise recently when she sent the text I’d been hoping to see for over two years. “So I know I’ve been really resistant against an etsy shop…” she wrote. Her text had phrases like “… but it occurred to me … I was looking at … and I kept thinking I could do better … and then I realized I should.”

It was in that moment that I realized what likely felt like failure to her two years ago when she said she didn’t think she could try this new idea was simply her way of carving out space. She needed time to muster up the courage and to own the idea for herself.

It wasn’t failure at all. It was simply not the right time.

Sometimes when we fail to try, we see it as failure. That perception makes it harder to find the courage to try the next time we see an opportunity. Sometimes no isn’t failure; it’s simply not the right time.

The skills we learn on our way to failure often carry us to our next success.

Sick person with headacheThere was a point in my company’s journey about three years ago where I couldn’t see my way forward. I was a nearing the end of my bootstrapped resources. My initial idea hadn’t taken off like the wildfire I’d imagined, and I saw a brick wall in front of me that felt an awful lot like the end. I didn’t sleep at night, and I couldn’t focus on anything during the day. I was looking in the face of failure, and it felt worse than anything I’d felt before.

One afternoon I started writing down all of the things I’d learned since launching my startup, from the mundane to the profound: how to write a business plan, incorporate a business, set up a bank account, pay corporate taxes. I learned to hire an accountant so they could pay corporate taxes and a lawyer to set up the business correctly. I learned the value of building relationships and a network. The list was several pages long, and at the end of that exercise, I realized I’d gained more skills in those three years than I could have any other way – all skills that would help me do something else if I did fail.

When I realized that even if I failed, it wouldn’t be a complete failure, that helped me focus and take control. We pivoted the company shortly after that, and within months, we were gaining traction and customers – a validation that this new direction was solving real problems in the market. We’ve grown a lot since then – acquired another company, hired employees, gained new customers, built out new technology – and none of it would have happened if I had accepted imminent failure as the complete story.

Nine out of ten startups fail. 92% of New Years Resolutions fail. And the number of diets that fail? That statistic is all over the map. Failure is part of the journey for most of us, in some part of our lives or another. None of us experience success at everything we try. Accepting that failure is a real possibility is very different than believing that failure is imminent. Changing our outlook when we begin to fail can change the outcome. There are often far more successes than failures if we just look for them.

Failure is often a result of stopping short of going all in.

Relaxing in a chairWhen I decided to not close up shop but to pivot the direction of the company, I also decided that there could be no holding back. I’d always had this thought when I was a solopreneur that if I failed, it was just me that would be affected. I told myself that trying at all took a lot of courage and was a success in itself. But once we pivoted, I committed to going all in – nothing held back. It was so much more terrifying than when I’d allowed for failure to be a viable option. But it also made all the difference in my level of willingness to put myself out there on the edge of my skills and knowledge. It was a scary thing to acknowledge that if I failed, everyone on our team would have to start over at something else, not just me.

Believe me, I am still very aware that our company could end up having to close its doors someday. I’m not naive about the odds. But I’ve witnessed the difference between a really good effort and going all in, and I’m convinced that it is only when we are willing to be terrified on the edge of the precipice that we find success. You know what else I’ve learned about going all in? Others can tell. They’re willing to get on board and get behind you when they know how committed you are to success. We’re still in the beginning of our growth, and we’ve enjoyed our growth due to the commitment and belief of an amazing staff, savvy investors and great clients who were willing to get behind our vision. I never take for granted just how remarkable that is.

Failure feels so much worse, eats at our self esteem, when we know we lacked commitment and effort. I’m pretty sure this is the root to the continued failure I’ve experienced up until now in one of the goals I set for myself a very long time ago. I’m having to remind myself to not be afraid of failure – it may or may not come. Be afraid of not going all in. That’s a much more bitter pill to swallow, and it will hold us back from ever enjoying the heady rush of finally finding success.

Midnight Musing: Opposition

It is a rude awakening to discover that there are those who would find greater joy in our failure than our success. But finding a path to success in the face of opposition builds self-assuredness and inner strength that cannot be found any other way. When we succeed without opposition, the only real enemy is ourselves. When we accomplish our goals despite opposition? That is when the chance of failure is much higher – and the reward even more satisfactory. So don’t be discouraged when you discover those who hope for your failure; use it to strengthen your resolve.

 

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