Growing up is interesting. It’s interesting because you still remember yourself when you were younger but can recognize the changes that are happening to your body, mindset, and view of the world. These last 10 years were my first adult decade in my life and many things happened. On the surface, the last ten years were pretty straightforward -- I attended and graduated from the University of Ottawa, I moved to Toronto, and have started and grown StackAdapt to a sizable team of 65 people. In reality though, the last ten years were an endless collection of failed relationships and startups, forgotten languages, dozens of attempted projects and countries visited, countless revelations and opportunities to learn. Here you will read the biggest insights I have arrived to at the end of my 3rd decade on Earth.
Lesson 1: Create Value and Don’t Chase Dollars.
In my early 20s I was obsessed with coming up with a business idea that would generate me money (thanks, 4-Hour Work Week). “What hack or trick or creative business idea can I push forward that would generate me money?” I grew out of this mentality when we started StackAdapt. There were no hacks in that growth. It was earned through blood, sweat, and tears.
What I’ve grown to recognize is that money is just the vehicle for value exchange, so to make money you have to create value. The more value you create the richer you will be. Regardless, whether you have a job or you are building a startup, create value. Help companies grow faster and you will skyrocket in the ranks. Build products that truly make other people’s lives easier, and your company will grow.
Do not chase money. Chase ways to make other people’s lives better.
Lesson 2: Everything Takes a Lot Longer than Expected.
Patience is something I had to learn over the course of the last decade. “It’s been 3 months since we started our startup, why aren’t investors throwing money at us?!” was a legit thought in my head.
Everything took much longer than I expected. Big competitors don’t crumble over night -- the bigger they are, the harder [and slower!] they fall. Industries change, but slowly. It is hard to replace enterprise software. It is hard to get decision-makers in one room. It takes time to find a job, close a client, find a partner. Whatever the reasonable number for an activity is in your head, multiply it by three so you aren’t stressing out and can focus on doing whatever it is that you are doing.
Focus on the journey and fall in love with the process.
Lesson 3: Double Down
I am very enthusiastic when it comes to trying new things. Learn Chinese? Hell, let’s book a language test 4 months from now and try to pass it! Playing in a co-ed soccer league? Why not hire a professional coach? Martial arts are fun – we should pick up three of them and become good at them all. Writing? Hell yea, let’s start a blog! Great idea!
Acquiring new skills is fun! You can be an O.K. ping pong player in a week, you can play a song on a guitar in a few lessons, you can put together some phrases in a foreign language in a month. The problem emerges when you become a jack-of-all-trades, and a master of none. You should totally spend your early 20s figuring out what you like, but by your late 20s you should have a clear idea of what you will be doubling down on in your 30s.
There is nothing wrong with picking up and dropping new hobbies. The problem emerges when you treat your career like these hobbies. You simply have a limited number of times you can abandon whatever you are doing and start from scratch. At the age of 30, I can confidently say I will never be a professional athlete. I will likely not have the patience to go to school for 10 years to become a doctor.
More doors are closing every year. At some point, they will all be closed. Play the musical chairs of discovering what you want to double down on, and pursue it relentlessly. If you feel you need to drop it, drop it quickly. Do not commit yourself to something you can’t get lost in.
Boom! Bonus random lessons!
1. Don’t do what everyone else does. It’s the quickest way to mediocrity.
2. Do what you love. Today’s world is so, so competitive. If you are up against people who are committing their life to a cause or a skill, you will fail when you go up against them. People who love what they do work so much harder that they will simply outwork you.
3. Take care of your body. It becomes very hard to lose pounds as you grow older. Learn how to cook healthy meals.
4. Maintaining relationships is an active effort. Don’t think that your family and friends will be there forever. Make an effort to build stronger relationships.
5. Impact many people. I’ve come to realize that if you want to create something truly grand, you have to spend your life serving people.
We only get one life and it would be very sad to wake up one day to a bunch of closed doors realizing that you spent your time on this planet doing something that you didn’t love.
Now you have a little more in your arsenal to take on the day. Now go out there and crush it. Crush it YOUR way!