Be Harsh, In The Interest Of Being Excellent

Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.
— Thomas J. Watson
Be Harsh, In The Interest Of Being Excellent

Do you ever feel like you're trying and trying and trying and nothing's happening? You feel like you're working so hard, putting in the time, making a heroic effort, and yet, you're not seeing results. Part of why it takes so long for change to happen is avoidance of facing the harshness of the present moment. The feelings that swirl around when you give it your all, but don't see results is soul-crushing. It's like wolves eating and spitting out the bones in the midst of a feeding frenzy. Not as violent, but just as raw.

Most of us have a nasty habit of ripping ourselves apart for fuck-ups. We can't change the past, but we'll dwell on the decisions we made until we're blue in the face. Yet these rarely lead to moments of insight. Because we fail to give ourselves space to take it all in without judgement – robbing us of the potential to reflect, learn and apply new insight or strategy that comes from stillness. We can't improve our circumstances if we avoid facing the harshness of what put us there in the first place.

That phone you might be reading this on is not the first version they decided to release. Nor will it be the last. Everything has to start somewhere. We have to release the fear that the first version to come into contact with the world needs to be perfect.

A lesson that continues to pop up for me is, you don't know what you don't know. In my first year of business, I did a ton of work with my coaching program. I assumed what people wanted help with. I held back sharing my work, waiting for perfection. Because of that, I missed out on the opportunity to tap into resources that could have saved me months of leg work.

That was valuable time where I could have been getting feedback and improving my services. Instead, I was worrying about hypothetical problems. If I'm being honest, it was really an attempt to delay the harshness of what feedback can sometimes feel like. But as I've come to realize, these moments let you leapfrog your life and business into a place of service that becomes something far bigger than yourself.

In an e-mail to employees of Slack, founder Stewart Butterfield spoke about the importance of “Putting yourself in the mind of someone who is coming to Slack for the first time — especially a real someone, who is being made to try this thing by their boss, who is already a bit hangry because they didn’t have time for breakfast, and who is anxious about finishing off a project before they take off for the long weekend — putting yourself in their mind means looking at Slack the way you look at some random piece of software in which you have no investment and no special interest. Look at it hard, and find the things that do not work. Be harsh, in the interest of being excellent."

Entrepreneurs who experience continued growth and success are those who don't let the fear of perfection be a roadblock. They don't wait for ideas to get 98% of the way there before they look for their first piece of feedback. They're talking to people right out of the gate. An unwritten rule for putting together online programming is to get it out there as soon as you have 20%. Let the idea live in the real world before you spend the energy, time and money on producing something that may not have a need.

Is your business solving an actual pain point, or is it something you believe would make life slightly better? Entrepreneur Tyler Pearson frames it like this: are you selling Tylenol to relieve pain or are you pushing Flintstones vitamins? One has a real motivation to take action. You'll do anything to get out of pain. You'll even face the idea that failure might be a part of the work. Vitamins only give a slight advantage that probably won't be enough to make it worth the perceived effort and possibility of failure.

My friend Kris Borghesan has been a founder of multiple companies. He sees failure not just as inevitable, but the pathway to success (heck, he even has a podcast called The Art Of The Fail). He recently chipped away at the importance of failure in personal and professional growth and encourages each of us to "Fail. Not once or twice. But hundreds of times." He went on to pull the needle out of the haystack with this gem "Without failing, what is success? Fail, learn, improve, repeat."

School does a horrible job of preparing you for life. Failure is not viewed as a part of learning, but something to avoid at all costs. For many of us, the thought of facing failure head-on is downright terrifying. I see people avoid it as if an admission of failure means they'd be burned at the stake in the Salem witch trials.

Here's an idea that might make the idea of failure a bit easier to digest. Use the collective wisdom of those before you to learn and improve from their failures. There are approximately 7.7 billion people alive at this very moment. And 100 billion walked the earth before you even took a breath. The ones who left their mark on the world were guided by a mindset of fail, learn, improve and repeat. They found new solutions to problems that were assumed unsolvable. 

Here's the beauty of success, it leaves breadcrumbs. Humans love to share stories of triumph and overcoming adversity. Each of us has the ability to tap into these insights and avoid some of the trial and error that those before us faced. You don't have to set sail searching for the horizon of where the sky meets the end of the earth. Those before you have already confirmed the earth isn't flat.

As author James Clear said "It is the greatest gift you will ever receive. We are smart not because of our individual genius, but because of our collective knowledge."

In the same way someone experienced that the earth isn't flat, someone started a company, wrote a book, or lost 100 pounds, with far worse odds of succeeding than you likely face. I don't say this with the intention of igniting a spiral of emotional guilt, but with a belief from my own experience that each of us is capable of far more than we think.

When you stop tolerating a life of continuing to do what you're comfortable doing and start believing what you're capable of doing, you become one of the people who moves the needle on what each and every one of us was put on this earth to do. To be the absolute best version of yourself.

Let's start by acknowledging the fact that change takes time. I liken it to watching my one-year-old niece eat four blueberries and some pureed sweet potato. You better not be in a rush because it's going to take a hell of a lot longer than you thought was humanly possible.

In his New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits, author James Clear describes the process of water shifting from a solid form to liquid as a metaphor for how change happens slowly over time.

Picture living inside a freezer where your entire world is frozen in time. Change is a slow process that acts like the turning of a dial on a thermostat. The kicker being, you're only able to turn the dial one degree at a time. Life will seem like nothing is changing because it's only one degree at a time. But where the magic happens is at 32 degrees when ice turns to liquid.

All your one percent improvements have tipping points where the solid turns to liquid and results start to take place. That's why I say keep it simple with my clients. You want a plan that feels and is possible to take action every day. At a certain point, you simply have to trust the process. 

This becomes far easier when you step back from focusing only on the short-term. When our decisions only live in the present moment without regard for the future, it leads us to cut corners. We see negative outcomes as signs we're not on the right path and to take change as something that is out of our reach. Our overarching mission matters.

Most of us give up before the ice has had a chance to melt. You're most likely just a couple degrees from melting point where you get to taste what you've been working so hard for. Check out my piece on crafting a vision for something to weave together with your plan so you have a snack to bite into each day for inspiration.

When you decide to make a change, it means you're pulling out of the smooth paved lane that most people are driving on. You're taking the less travelled dirt road full of potholes, one that lacks turn-by-turn navigation from Google.

This is why the collective wisdom of others is like scrounging for buried treasure at a garage sale. There's a lot of junk to sort through, but if you know what you're looking for, you have the advantage of finding something valuable that nobody else sees.

The more specific you are on what your vision is for your life and business, the better you can identify where and when you'll need support – and who can help you learn what you need to know.

You probably don't need a reminder, but I'll give it to you anyway. Life is short.

Sometimes we need that nudge to remind ourselves that if we have a vision for what we want to experience in life "then moving quickly matters," as Clear urges. "Launch the product. Write the book. Ask the question. Take the chance. Be thoughtful, but get moving. Start now. Optimize later. An imperfect start can always be improved, but obsessing over a perfect plan will never take you anywhere on its own."

Shameless's Emmy Rossum talks to Sam Jones about how her impulse towards perfection is at odds with the flawed, human nature of art.