I put an unexpected halt on a launch my team had been working on for weeks. After looking at the worst-case financial scenario of changing course and evaluating the tradeoffs, I gathered my team to explain my reasoning. We were going to sacrifice the cash flow this launch would drive for greater flexibility, the opportunity to recalibrate, and a smoother first quarter next year. The trade was short term gains for a stronger brand in the long term.
The experience has me reflecting on some of the other things I’ve learned this year. Here are five breakthrough lessons that 2021 taught me. In some cases, they’re things I already knew but needed to practice. Maybe you’ll know what I mean.
- Growth isn’t linear. Any entrepreneur who tries to tell you that they don’t have days where they think about burning it down is too afraid to be vulnerable. If starting your own business feels like the best idea you’ve ever had on certain days and the worst idea on others, you’re in great company. The natural state of entrepreneurship is a constant stretching between how far you’ve come and everything you still want to do. Contrary to “passive income” myths, you never arrive. You can choose if you want to build a business that has you working 10 hours per week versus 50. You can choose the market you serve and how you show up for them. But there will always be setbacks and opportunities to do better by your customers from the lessons you learn along the way. Anchor your expectations here for a more enjoyable ride.
- Leadership is figuring it out. In 2021 my team doubled in size. Every new member onboarding feels like showing my messy car to someone I want to impress. When I first started my career, I used to think that leadership thought they had it all figured out and I would question why they did things a certain way. 2021 has taught me that leadership is not having it all figured out and showing up anyway. It’s cultivating curiosity and a willingness to help others figure it out, too. It’s keeping your purpose at the center and letting it guide you along uncharted territory. Growth is messy and there’s no roadmap for what we’re building so our path is consistently two steps forward, one step back. If that’s what it feels like for you, you’re not alone.
- The compounding effect of time on commitment is the most powerful force that a legacy brand can tap. I spent last week walking around Disney World, making this one impossible to ignore. Throughout the property, tens of thousands of employees are referred to as cast members. Each that I interacted with was a master of their craft, and I was completely taken back by the level of commitment to the character from housekeeping to the front desk, to restaurant staff and our VIP tour guide. It was over-the-top enthusiasm, an extra spring in their step, a constant outperformance of any other hospitality I’ve ever experienced. That, alongside the legacy of every Disney character, the magnitude of the parks, and the attention to detail across every single inch of the property — the organizational case study of what it takes to build an operation that performs at this level is second to none. Walt Disney’s entrepreneurial path followed the same trajectory as most: he began as a dreamer, then became an illustrator, then elevated himself to producer, which catapulted him into the realm of entrepreneur, and the success of his endeavors positioned him to become a strategic investor. Where the brand is at now is almost incomprehensible, but the simplest explanation of how it got here is the compounding effect of time on commitment. It takes time to get to where you want to go, and there’s no greater force than just sticking with it.
- There’s no right way to build your business. We’re living in an instant-gratification economy, and the entrepreneurial education market has been perverted by it. There are millions of mediocre business coaches on the internet tapping into our desire to get there faster by writing headlines that convince you they have it all figured out, packaged up in the perfect roadmap for you. But your business is more than a vehicle to pay your bills and increase your wealth. If you want it to be, your business can be your truest form of self-expression and a means to craft a life you love. But that shit is personal: If you follow someone else’s roadmap for too long, you’re bound to wake up one day and wonder why you own a business that doesn’t bring you joy. We need mentors that are willing to get to know us personally, understand all of our goals, and work with us to build a plan that’s unique to our own definition of success and happiness.
- Community is critical. Sometimes all it takes is a reminder that you’re not alone and that what you’re experiencing is “normal” to shake up your perspective and keep you charging forward. Instead of pressuring yourself to fix all the things in your business today, maybe you need to focus more on your mindset, expectations, and building a business that’s aligned with your values and ideal lifestyle. Beating yourself up is easy to do. Training yourself to work with imperfection, have patience, and accept setbacks as an essential part of growth is not only more challenging, it’s a much more worthy investment of your time. It’s also damn near impossible to do on your own. Find your people and make a habit of asking for help if you want to increase your chances of staying in the game.
That’s all for now, but there’s sure to be more later. I hope today affords you a moment to think of something this-year-you did that last-year-you would be proud of. There’s nothing more gratifying than personal growth because we earn every bit of it. The trick is taking the time to look at how far you’ve come.