Why Entrepreneurs Need To Embrace A Spirit Of Continual Reinvention
Entrepreneurship, and life in general for that matter, is a never-ending cycle of creation and destruction. Ideas, beliefs, and behaviors ebb and flow evolving to influence our lives in different and often unexpected ways.
Central to this truth is the concept of reinvention. I think that many times, entrepreneurs feel like the act of personal reinvention is tantamount to admitting failure. They’re not wrong.
Failure is an integral part of my life, both personally and professionally. To claim otherwise would be disingenuous. However, I’ve found that failure, while often painful, provides the catalyst for change.
My overarching goal is to acknowledge my mistakes, failures, and shortcomings while working towards becoming a better person and leader.
As Hemingway once said, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.”
However, this radical commitment to self-improvement often easier said than done. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along my journey.
Don’t be embarrassed by your failings
As humans, we often find ourselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place. We are deeply flawed beings, destined to make a mistake after mistake yet at the same time we are often incapable (or unwilling) to acknowledge our errors.
We’re often afraid of what will happen should we come clean about our mistakes. We feel as though people will think less of us or impose consequences.
These things might happen. However, the key is learning that such outcomes are okay.
In our pain-adverse, instant-gratification focused culture; this statement may seem crazy. Perhaps it is, but I’ve found that the burden and spiraling cascade of compromises and lies that have to be told to hide our transgressions are toxic.
We bottle these things up internally, poisoning our thought processes, decisions, and overall wellbeing. The result is that our mistakes begat more mistakes, leading to a terrible and destructive cycle.
Put simply, without this acknowledgment of our failings; there can be no growth.
The truth sets you free
I’ve struggled the most with this in my relationship with my cofounder. I’ve never had much fear of sharing my mistakes with the greater public, but when it came to sharing it with my cofounder and mentor, this kind of candor has always caused a knot in my stomach.
I think it is because he has invested so much in our business, both financially and emotionally. When I make a mistake, it is the fear of letting him down that holds me back.
At one point in our company’s history, we had some employees who simply weren’t performing. This lack of sales performance cost us a significant amount of money and led to a bit of an existential crisis.
I waited far too long to make the necessary changes because I saw both sides of the story. These team members were working hard without question. Their lack of performance was due more to our lack of product/market fit than any specific behavior on their part.
I knew this and felt responsible for their struggles. So, in an attempt to right the ship, I pushed forward in the hope that other product changes I was making would change the situation.
Unfortunately, while I tried to salvage the situation money continued to flow out the door. I was afraid, depressed, and wildly frustrated.
Finally, I realized that I could not fix this problem through sheer willpower alone. I had to confront my fear and admit to my cofounder that I had failed. In trying to save face I let a bad situation simmer for far longer than I should have.
Owning up to my mistakes was an incredibly freeing experience. The admission and candor strengthened our relationship, rather than damage it.
The simple act enabled us to stop stringing things along and instead focus our efforts on solving the situation at hand. In retrospect, I wish that I had been brave enough to do it sooner.
Carry your cross
Growing up in an Irish-Catholic family, I’ve always been told that the key to thriving in this world is to learn to “carry my cross."
It was only recently, however, that I finally understood what this means. What we as leaders (and individuals) need to strive for is “excellence, not perfection.” We cannot accomplish everything on our own. Perfection is unattainable, and the pursuit of it is a fool’s errand.
Instead, we must learn to live with our failures and weaknesses. We all will carry heavy burdens at various points in our lives. These burdens will undoubtedly become too much to bear, and we will certainly fall down time and time again.
The key, however, is that we learn to keep getting back up.
I’ve learned that as the CEO you will make mistakes, over and over. The determinant of success isn’t whether you fall, it’s how you pick yourself up and move forward.
Hemingway was right; true nobility lies in being superior to your former self. Failure is inevitable, however, we must keep getting up and trying to do better, no matter what.