I saw the city through the small window next to my exit row seat and I felt a swell of creative energy, anticipation, and excitement well up from my gut. Here we go… The opportunity of a lifetime starts now.
On July 21st, 2013, I landed at JFK airport for a two week project with a team of 16 other interns and Seth Godin. I had been chosen after applying via Seth’s Squidoo lens and the time had finally come to get started.
While I knew I could expect the internship to change everything about the way I think about life and work, I don’t know if I fully understood what it would be like to work nonstop for 14 days with a team of world class people. With a full year of perspective, it’s the perfect time to share what I learned so that you can apply it to your own work as an independent entrepreneur.
The 17 people I spent every waking hour with taught me more than I can possibly express in this one blog post. However, I believe these 14 lessons (one for each day of the experience) offer a great snapshot of the impact the experience had on me , as well as the lessons you can take away and apply to your own life.
Note: The drawings throughout this post are reproduced images of my sketch notes from the plane ride home from NYC, which were originally done on the cover of August 2013’s Fast Company. One lesson I learned is that expressing myself in multiple media types helps me solidify my learning. I’m no professional artist, but I hope they add character to the lessons learned.
That Ship it Type Mentality
Too often we ask ourselves: when is the latest possible date I could complete this project without losing out on the opportunity? That mentality is very similar to the attitude the average person has when going through school. We say, “What is the least amount of studying I can do to get the lowest grade I’m ok with?”
What I learned during this two-week project was to think in the opposite way. I learned to ask, “When is the soonest possible date I could complete this project?” As a team, we set out to accomplish more than most people accomplish in a year. The thought was, “Hey, what the hell, if we can get it done in 14 days, imagine the impact we can have on people as soon as possible.”
The next time you start a project, ask yourself, “How fast can I get this done? Now what would I have to do to cut that time in half?” Do that. Do it again. And again.
I don’t think you’ll regret it.
You ≠ Your Career
One of the key messages from Seth’s book, The Icarus Deception, is that we need you to fly closer to the sun. This, perhaps obviously, is a reference to the fable of Icarus, whose father told him not to fly too close to the sun because the wax on his wings would melt. Long story short, Icarus does it anyways and falls to his death after the wax melts and his wings fall apart.
The fable comes from an industrial mentality that says, “You are your career.” Stick to the rules, stay in your lane, don’t poke the box, and you might just make it out alive.
Come to find out, none of us make it out alive. You are not your career. You have a career. Next time you’re thinking about taking a chance, remember that.
Your career is not meant to be a limiting factor, but rather an enabler. If taking a chance and doing your best work means getting fired, then it’s time to get the hell out of there. Go find something that matters. We need you at your best.
You are not your career. You are a talented, unique, and important contributor. Don’t waste it. You won’t make it out alive.
This Might Not Work
Fun fact: anything worth doing might not work. You might fail. You might announce your project to the world and then have to admit that it didn’t work.
Think for a moment about the most intimidating project idea you’ve ever had. If you tried it out and failed miserably, what is the worst that could happen? What about your life would change if the worst happened?
I would bet that the worst that can happen is not really that bad.
If all I’m doing is pursuing ideas, projects, and tasks that are guaranteed to work, then I’m doing it wrong. The same goes for you. Breakthroughs, meaningful work, and genuine connections come from acknowledging the reality that they might not work.
Comfort –> Learning <– Danger
When I thought about applying for this internship when it was first posted, it scared the bajeebers (Scooby Doo, anyone?) out of me. I knew it probably wouldn’t work, that it was highly unlikely that I would be picked.
Even once I made the team and arrived in NYC, I was still nervous. What if I failed? What if I didn’t deliver on what I said I could? What if I was way out of my league?
But deep down, I knew I had worked all my life to prepare for this kind of opportunity. Every experience I’ve had has added up to the mindset, skills, and relationships that have led me to seek out the opportunity to begin with.
That inner circle up there, that’s where everything is comfortable. It’s waking up and watching tv at home. It’s having dinner with friends we’ve known for our entire life. It’s checking email nonstop. It’s comfortable and predictable. No risk involved.
That outer circle, that’s the danger zone. The danger zone is the place where we truly are not able to contribute. For example, if you apply for a Ruby developer job but you’ve never had any experience with web development, then you’re asking for trouble. It’s the danger zone because you’re lying about your ability to contribute.
The most important space is the space in between the two. That’s where learning happens. We learn when we push to the absolute edges of our existing skills and experience. Learning happens when we take on a project that allows us to learn by activating our highest potential.
That’s what this project was about for me. I was entirely truthful about my skills, experience, and mindset. I know what I can contribute to a given project. Over the course of the two weeks, I pushed myself to use these skills in new ways, interact with new people, lead in new ways, and ultimately push my boundaries. Now, my learning zone is a bit bigger and my danger zone is a bit smaller.
What are the projects or opportunities that will push you to the edges of your learning zone? Find those. Pursue them with reckless abandon. That’s how we learn.
Tribes (Connected to each other, led by an influencer)
Just before I left for NYC, I watched Dances with Wolves. I hadn’t seen the movie in years, and the way I interpreted the story was very different this time around. World Domination Summit 2013 helped me realize just how important it is to be surrounded by great people who will support me, and that was reflected in my interpretation of the movie.
Kevin Costner’s character goes from enemy to tribe member of a nearby Native American tribe. As he becomes more ingrained into the tribe, he learns to hunt with them, contribute to conversations, and eventually marries a member of the tribe. By the end of the movie, he is living happily in a teepee and has rejected the society he came from. He derives his wellbeing, happiness, and sustenance from the tribe. The tribe is his life.
My two weeks in New York hammered home the idea that we are meant to live, work, and play amongst a group of people we trust, respect, and believe in. That’s how we were built. We are social animals.
For two weeks, I spent every waking moment with amazing people who get me. Talented people who believe what I believe. People who learned to care for one another. Remarkable people who engaged with 110% of their emotional and mental capacity.
Find your tribe. You will accelerate your growth. You will improve your skills. You will open up emotional and mental capacities you’ve hidden from yourself. You will learn about feelings you have no words for. You will do work that matters, have meaningful relationships, and live a fulfilled existence.
Go find your tribe. They’re waiting on you. And the world will benefit when you find them.
It’s this, not that
Every project worth pursuing requires tough choices. Here’s a little secret I learned while working with Seth: if you choose the middle, you choose nothing.
Creating something for “everyone” is the excuse most people make for not making the tough choices. Everyone is not a target market. It’s a method of self-sabotage that saves us from the heartache of failure. If everyone doesn’t like it, then at least you tried, right? No.
To create something meaningful, you have to make tough choices.
- Will you sell through your website or will you sell face to face?
- Will you build an honest brand or a deceptive brand?
- Is this for wealthy people or people on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale?
- Will you cater to businesspeople or volunteers?
There are always decisions to be made and the clearer you are at the beginning, the more able you are to build a project that matters and becomes successful. Your dot should be way off in the corner of more than one graph like the one above. Whatever you build, create, or act on should reflect those choices.
Yes, Facebook is for everyone. But first it was just for students at Harvard. If Zuck had tried to make something for everyone right off the bat, he would have failed.
So, if you want an excuse for failing, don’t make the tough choices. But if you want to succeed, make the tough choices early and then make every decision based on those choices. I will use this principle for every project I launch going forward. I hope you will too.
“Every project worth pursuing requires tough choices.”
In Linchpin, Seth talks about two concepts called the Lizard Brain and the resistance. He first found the concept of the resistance via his friend and prolific author/writer, Steven Pressfield. The Lizard Brain is that tiny portion of our brain that tells us our craziest dreams will create failure, which will get us fired, which will prevent us from buying food, and then we’ll die.
That’s the thought process created by the resistance every time we sit down to start a project, write something, or have a difficult conversation. The ultimate result is always the same: I don’t want to die!
Push back, on the other hand is benevolent resistance. It’s what happens when we’re committed to letting the best ideas win. It’s what happens when 17 brilliant people focus their energy on making your idea better in every way possible.
Push back is how great teams, great leaders, and great shippers make things happen. They collaborate to create the best possible work of art within the given time constraints.
Some people call push back “feedback.” Feedback is fine, but it’s often passive and weak. Feedback is asking for the minimum necessary input from another person in order for them to feel like they contributed.
Push back, however, is the opposite. Push back happens when intelligent people give 110% of their energy and attention to solving a single problem. It happens when one person stands up and puts an idea on the table and then a committed team picks it apart, reassembles it, and drops the mic when they realize just how good it has become.
Push back is how you create greatness. But it has to be about the work…
It’s about the work, not the person
At one point, we were setting the table to make tough choices during the project. To ensure that we were all as open as possible, we agreed that all of the comments would be about the work, not the person who created the work.
There’s a big difference between the two.
Pushing back on the work to make it better means everyone learns, improves the project, and moves on together. Gathering honest feedback and making sure the best ideas win means that the work is constantly improving. When the best ideas win, they can be polished into pearls that work for the market.
When we criticize the person behind the work, we cut our teammates off at their knees. Personal criticism opens up any number of insecurities, past feelings, and debilitating self-talk. The best teams avoid this at all costs. They don’t direct their pushback towards people, but rather towards the work.
Pushing back is key to success, polish, and meaning. Pushing back on the work makes everybody better. Keep it about the work, and watch your team thrive.
Dance (or, Have Fun)
Seriousness is an indication that we’re scared of opening ourselves up to deeper connection. Vulnerability is the opposite of closing ourselves off to connection.
Vulnerability means dancing like a fool and letting someone make a .gif of it. It also means making and taking jokes. It means generally having a good time to create better morale, connect on a deeper level, and unleash positive energy that wasn’t previously open to us.
Sometimes all it takes is one person being the initiator and a second person joining in on the fun to completely change the atmosphere and unleash creative energy. You need someone to be the first, but more importantly, you need someone willing to be second.
Dance like a fool. Make jokes. Take jokes. Have fun. You only get one shot at this thing called life, so why not enjoy it?
Be Open, Generous, and Honest
Trust. Respect. Love.
These three elements create an environment where miracles can happen in short periods of time. Trust comes from people who are open with their hearts, minds, and intentions. From people who have a genuine desire to help each other succeed.
Respect comes from generosity. It comes from seeing someone do the work that no one else wanted to do. From giving of themselves until they’re at 0% and have to recharge.
Love comes from honesty. Love comes from raw emotion and vulnerability. It comes from a desire to care. It comes from a desire to give. Love is what happens when we open ourselves up to giving and receiving.
A team that trusts, respects, and loves as a result of openness, generosity, and honesty is one that changes the world. If I could have only taken away one lesson from this amazing team, it would be this.
Posture: It’s Not Just How You Sit
Posture. Such a funny word.
Chiropractors talk about posture constantly. It’s what keeps our back, neck, and hips in alignment. It’s how we’re supposed to sit in the chair, stand in the street, and drive in the car.
Then there’s the kind of posture I learned about. This type of posture is all about the story you’re telling with your life, projects, and relationships. Your posture is the way the world perceives you. Are you open, generous, and honest? Or closed, selfish, and deceitful?
Ask yourself: “What story am I telling through my actions and words? What story do I want to be telling? How should I change my posture to close the gap?”
Posture. It’s not just how you sit. It’s how you stand and see the world (and how the world sees you).
$1,500 –> $15,000
During one session or another in Seth’s office, we were talking about how much we charge for a day of work, how to scale our time, and how to shift our mindset to reflect our talent.
We settled on an example of $1,500 per day as a current bill rate. I was proud to get my daily bill rate to that neighborhood.
Seth told a number of stories similar to those on his Startup School podcast, which is free to download. The outcome of those stories was an intense challenge to the way we’ve all been thinking about the way we make money.
Here it is: What would you have to do to add another “0” to your current bill rate? As in, multiply it by 10.
Woah. $15,000 a day? Who pays that?
Come to find out, that’s how the best in the world scale their time. They charge what it’s worth and work with the clients that fit their sweet spot perfectly. The end.
So, I’ll ask you the same question… What would you have to do to make 10x more per hour, day, or year? How many more hours could you spend on passion projects if you earned 10x more for every hour you worked?
Make a plan. Get some coaching. Follow through. Change the world. Period.
Technology + In Person Connection = A Winning Formula for Growth
We live in a connected world. Technology gives us more leverage than ever before to connect with people that never would have known we existed in the world of 15 years ago. Go to San Francisco, Austin, Boulder, or Buckhead (GA) and you’ll find startups in every industry using technology as the entire basis of their business model.
It’s wonderful in so many ways. Technology is democratizing everything from the flow of information to learning to elections around the world. But with the democratization of everything comes information overload.
Now the problem is not about getting connected or access to information. The problem is in curating that information and leveraging technology to form real life connections (or a tribe). No matter how much technology we bring into the world, we will always be social animals. So what does that mean?
It means that those who own the future will be those that learn to leverage technology in two key ways:
- To curate information and make it more useful
- To provide ways for people to connect in person in meaningful ways
That reality became more and more obvious to me as the project came to a close. So how can you use technology to curate information and bring people together? If you want to change the world, that’s the ticket.
Go Go Go
Everything we learned and did during those two weeks all boils down to this one word, repeated three times. Go Go Go. Without this phrase, none of the above matters.
It’s not hard to understand, but it’s very hard to implement.
You can talk about doing the work, or you can use that time to do the work.
Meetings should serve to move the work along, but not to plan to plan to do the work. Pre-project marketing should only be done to the extent it holds you accountable to the work; otherwise, ditch it. Planning for the future only matters if it changes the way you do the work now. Otherwise, do the work, ship, then plan for growth; there is no growth without the project being complete.
You have everything you need. You have talent, you have this time right in front of you, you have opportunity. Go Go Go.