We all know that any good organization worth its salt has powerful and intimate systems that regulate it, that help it move things forward, that allow it to perform optimally, and that help it maintain its course.
The challenge when you start a new venture is that you’re building most if not all of these systems on-the-fly; the common metaphor that is that of putting together an airplane mid-flight – this works because that’s exactly what it’s like.
Robin Williams’ portrayal of Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society is one of the ages — I have often gone back and watched the film (or Google’d particular scenes) to remember not only what he said but to whom he said it to and how.
Our efforts with hackschooling have continued now into their second year and I’m pretty darn pleased with our progress.
Although, for some, it might just be semantics I think that he hits on what I believe is a touch point and even a commentary on how the next generation (this generation…?) thinks about work and career.
Personally, I’ve had a ton of jobs over the years and I’m very thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had. All of these jobs are building the story which I am calling “my career” — this is categorically different than how my father and his generation understood “career” which was more along the lines of one specific job at one company for a very long time, possibly until retirement.
My father, in fact, worked essentially for one company for 37 years and, in comparison, I may have worked for 37 companies / organizations already at a tender age of 33. We couldn’t be more different!
But my father has been successful and I’m on my way — it’s probably another discussion entirely about what “success” really means and looks like but that’s for another post another day.
What does this mean for a new company and how we talk about working with the team? I think it means we have, at the very least, a fresh opportunity to clarify, in no uncertain terms, how we view the ideas around jobs at Eve and what we think about the person’s career.
And so I’ll do that right now:
At Eve we understand a job in the much larger context of one’s career. In other words, a job is specific work for a specific time (or season) where value is created for both the organization and for the individual’s career, which will ultimately consist of many jobs through many different seasons that may span many different and exciting themes.
My commitment as a leader at Eve is to make sure that the work today (i.e. the job) contributes strategically to the individual’s career and that it is not good enough to exchange time for dollars — instead, it is our pleasure and our unique opportunity to significantly impact the trajectory of their career and leave a positive, lasting mark.
This is just the beginning to my personal thoughts and internal dialogue around the meaning of jobs and careers but I want to keep them top-of-mind and to encounter it plainly, for myself and for our growing team.
I want to make a commitment to talk openly about my own career and my staff’s career path(s) so that we can all benefit greatly from our time together. I think this also makes our work even more exciting, worthwhile, and fun.
Building systems is important for every company of any size. The challenge is that it’s much more difficult to do that the smaller you are, especially in the early stages as almost everything is fluid.
This is partly why breaking your own rules is okay, at times. There will always be more work to be done, regardless of how much effort, time, and progress you actually make.
I once heard someone say that building a startup is like P90X for your mind, except that you never get any breaks, ever.
This metaphor worked for me because 5 years ago I actually attempted the P90X regimen and it was really, really hard — one of the hardest physical training exercise routines that I’ve ever attempted.
I managed to complete the full course, never missing a day and religiously giving it my all and then I never did it again — it was that effective in its difficulty.
But the example stuck with me and I’ve been starkly reminded of that while putting together Eve because there isn’t any time not to be thinking about the company, the product, and every single known existential crisis that continues to crop up.
A startup is truly P90X for the mind and as Tony Horton, the creator of P90X has famously said:
I hate it, but I love it.
Man, that cracks me up every single time I hear / see it… there’s also a bit of PTSD if I’m honest.
When you start a company you build it on the back of hopes, dreams, and a certain level of naiveté that allows even the most experienced professional or startup founder leave the orbit of reason for a bit of time so that you can move things forward.
It’s physically and mentally getting up in the morning and believing that all of it is truly possible and even though you know that things will inevitably go completely sideways it doesn’t stop you from moving forward.
The seasoned entrepreneurs (and I count myself on that list, although with a bit of trepidation) know enough when they begin to build in systems at the very start to ensure that moving through the typical ups-and-downs are handled with a bit more finesse and skill; or, at the very least, can be managed with greater speed.
I’ve done a lot of that with this company, building a relentlessly resourceful culture and one that allows a bit of fluidity with our values as things change. I set the tone, the pace, and a very high bar of expectations of my staff and team, but most importantly, on myself.
Outside of these philosophical “flags in the sand” I also began pacing out a lot of our more tactical, day-to-day operational elements, like daily standups for the team (and even when I was by myself) and religiously blogging twice a week on this blog.
You see, these daily and weekly exercises create sure footing which is especially important when much of a startup is locked up in rampant ambiguity and the unknown.
But last week I failed to create two pieces of content for the company blog and I got unbelievably frustrated with myself over what is not even that big of a deal — or is it?
Staying positive when faced with disappointment is not something that anyone ever taught me. In fact, it’s probably not something that anyone ever taught you either.
It’s just something that some of us seem to navigate really well and with very little impact while, for some of us, it can completely derail our entire life and put us in a near-irrecoverable tailspin.
Historically, I’ve been in the latter camp and for the longest time it would take me days, weeks, and sometimes years to recover — there were some issues that I would “hold” onto that couldn’t be released without significant help from the outside via therapy and counseling. Worse still is the fact that the cost of not letting these things go is difficult to count.
But gratitude has been a welcome panacea (which is partly why I count the days) and something that continues to be a worthy and welcome salve, especially to the issues and pain that is often self-inflicted.
Was missing a blog post last week really that bad? Did the world end and did people suffer because they didn’t have one more thing to read in their RSS readers or on their mobile devices? Obviously not.
But taking a step back I realized that it was symptomatic of some of the larger challenges of startup life that I had yet to solve and that I had become so overwhelmed with these larger issues that I was unable to even fulfill some of the smaller tactical pieces of company building and operating.
Hard medicine to swallow but the reality of a startup is that there are 1,000 things that need attention and a constant challenge is to prioritize and then execute. Simply put, if you are unable to exercise extreme executive decision making then a startup just isn’t for you (and even the best of us still struggle with it!).
And the job of the CEO is to do just that. Balance it with the ability to forgive oneself for a small act of potential negligence (e.g. forgetting to blog two times a week) and you’ll do just fine; I’ll do just fine.
Besides, breaking the rules is part and parcel of what a startup is all about, right? If you’re unable to break your own, recover, and ultimately thrive then startup founding is probably not for you.
So go on, break the rules, stay positive in light of the overwhelming odds, and be exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to get your ass kicked while doing something meaningful.
Life just doesn’t get any better than this, including P90X… why?
I hate it, but I love it.
Yup. Just like that.
At Eve we believe that there is a better way to do Human Resources. Follow our continued progress of building a company in San Francisco via Twitter, this blog, and even via our email newsletter.