In short, the human traits required to be a founder are very different to the human traits required to be a CEO. And yet the paradox is that the biggest companies are built by founders who have evolved to become CEOs, because they have the moral authority to make difficult decisions and they can never blame it on the last guy. If you’re the founding CEO, everything is your fault, which is simultaneously crippling and empowering.
(This post also appears in full on Medium)
Right now is a great time to be on the hunt for a job, according to my former boss, my parents and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But no matter how promising the job market, or how supportive the network you have, job hunting is scary. Not lose-a-little-sleep scary, but an all-consuming and terrifying brand of scary that banishes all your other fears into dark corners.
Our bodies are hard-wired to react to this kind of stress by cueing fight-or-flight responses, revving us up so we feel the need to react quickly and without a lot of thought. In the past, this meant the second I felt uncertain, my mind snowballed: no job = no money = no ability to pay bills = will have to move home = will die alone and sad. Then, I’d make a decision solely as a preemptive strike; I’d scramble to find a job that perhaps wasn’t the best fit, and halfway through my second or third month, I’d look up and say “how did I get here?”
I don’t know about you, but my idea of hell is manning a desk and serving as a slave to a task list.
Luckily, I had a really incredible and tough boss and supportive mentor at my most recent gig, who both helped me realize my potential and encourage me to find the best opportunity with whatever’s next. But even with this support, I was overwhelmed by the unknown.
To combat this, I sought advice from mentors instead of drinking the intoxicating cocktail of my own “what if” thoughts, which would have surely lead to lurking on jobs boards without even knowing exactly what I was looking for, ending up a googly-eyed mushbrain cog in the proverbial wheel.
But amidst all of the sage tidbits of advice about networking and asking for favors, one whipsmart woman advisor spoke three words changed the entire process.
She asked me a few questions that took me by surprise: “What do you want? What energizes you? What have you learned you don’t like?” She suggested I spend time reflecting on these before I so much as touched my resume or started to send rounds of emails.
Wait, what? Not act NOW? Not get started TODAY? Not be proactive ASAP?
It’s human nature to react quickly, so fighting that instinct is incredibly uncomfortable. Resiliency is a quality I take pride in. If it were a trophy, it’d be sitting on my hypothetical fireplace as we speak. Plus, time is precious and arguably expensive when there’s a countdown timer to your income. I had 30 days and then I’d be SOL. Taking a few days to “reflect” initially seemed like a waste of time.
But over the course of the last few years living and working in New York, I’d met a handful of people who are truly energized by the work they do on a day-to-day basis, and I didn’t want to be the type of person who envied this; I wanted in to the secret club. In order for a job to be fulfilling and exciting, however, we have to know what we want from it, or we’re just passive participants of a system we never opted in to. This of course makes a lot of sense, but when our brains are in “go” mode, we sometimes overlook the obvious.
So, with the rest of my life in mind, I took a few days to clear my cluttered brain, fight the anxiety with lots of yoga, meditate throughout the day, meet with close friends and listen to their own experiences, and journal about what has revved me up in my rather short but expansive work experience thus far. What made me unstoppable? What lit my brain up and kept me thinking?
A few days later, I had answers.
For the first time in my life, I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do, and now, it’s about being persistent, focused and clear about what it is that will make me unstoppable. This all came from:
Pretty soon after I took those few days to think, I put together a Slideshare deck outlining what I bring to the table and what I’m seeking next, which has sparked a few really productive conversations and even initiated some meetings with founders of prospective short-term consulting work. I could have never done this without first identifying what it is that would make me unstoppable.
A friend recently pointed out that those of us who can be thoughtful about where and why we work are privileged to be in such a position. She is, of course, right, and I feel lucky to be picky about where I’ll land next. Am I still anxious when catching a glimpse of the horizon? Yes, because I don’t know where it starts and where (or how) it ends. But I’m finding that the big bad Unknown is where all life’s rewards are hiding.
You can’t control when people see great opportunities. But you can make sure they think of you first. This is where most people have huge potential for optimization. The problem isn’t that others won’t act on your behalf. The problem is they aren’t thinking of you.
…accomplishment is unreliable. ‘Succeeding,’ whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended…Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.