It was second grade. In front of me was a pink sheet. I knew the drill. If I could answer these 100 multiplication tables the fastest in the class I would win. It was our teacher’s weekly “weakest link” drill. I knew there was a reward on the other side or 2nd place, which was the first loser. I was happy to be the winner that day.
Fast forward to 3rd grade I was standing in front of the school, with 300 people looking at me. I was one of 2 finalists to be considered for the regional spelling bee. I was up, the word was government. The pressure was on, I failed, and I forgot the n after the r. I was devastated. Not because I did not go to region, but because I made a stupid and preventable mistake. I let myself lose focus. I lost that day.
I remember when I was 17. The doctor, staring at me and informing me I would never walk again and that I would be in a wheelchair the rest of my life. I also remember secretly making a promise that I would not only walk. I would run. I completed a Tough Mudder a few summers ago. I won that day.
Take a moment and consider your most intense and challenging moments of life. How did you step up or handle those challenges? Did you choose to win or learn? If you did not do one of those two and do it fast, Startup Life may not be for you.
I was asked recently how it is to work at a startup company. Simply stated it is a fluidic set of experiences that are like my most challenging and rewarding moments of life. But in the timespan of one day or in some cases a few hours. The ability to be as fast as a jeopardy champion, as nimble as a ballerina, and engaging as Oprah is a must at all times.
The brilliance of a working at startup company is the set of super intelligent colleagues that are riding the wave with you, which you are learning from and with. The challenge is that you will never have so many wrong and right decisions in your life. Since humans focus on the wrong decisions, if you can’t grow a strong backbone, Startup Life is not for you.
If you are considering joining a startup company here are some pro tips:
- Check your ego at the door – everyone is smart and it’s not about being right. It’s about team and customer success
- Adapt to change fast – In a fluidic environment changing directions, strategies, or live decision changes happen often. The principle; fail fast, forward, is never more true
- Be a T shape employee – You will join and go deep in your certain expertise and then you will need to flex your muscles across multiple disciplines to ensure company success
- Be the Glue – Communication is key. Ensuring you stay connected and that you are the glue that keeps people aligned and on the same page is a crucial component of agile and flawless execution
- Prepare for the Race – The race in this space is real. The competition is intense. Customers are won and lost every minute of every day. You will be running a mile at a 100 meter dash pace, be prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally.
As I reflect back on my last 18 months, I often joke I just got my PHD. In reality I have learned so much about myself, my potential, and what a committed group of professionals can accomplish. Much more than I expected. I also learned what sacrifice really is and what being part of something way bigger than myself is all about.
With that said, this experience won’t be for everyone. Similar to how my teacher was testing for the “weakest link”, working for a startup will quickly expose those that cannot make it. In a very non-emotional way, I truly believe some things are just not meant for some people.
True success and potential inside an individual comes with open eyed and minded self-awareness. As an example, while I love music and dream of being an amazing musician. I also know this will never happen. Not because I don’t want it, but because I don’t have the natural talent.
For me, I joined a startup company because I loved the product and am in even more love today than the day I joined. I can only imagine what the next day will be like and what I will fail and succeed at. What I do know, is that whatever hits me I can handle. Largely because of an amazing group of colleagues I trust and my own self-awareness of my capabilities and potential. Cease the day!