If it isn’t really, really hard, is it even worth doing?

THE JOURNEY 

Four years ago I quit my job to start my own business. This was June 2014. A month later my first child was born. Three mouths to feed. One mortgage. Zero incomes.

Some days I didn’t sleep well because, well, a new born with reflux and all that.

Some days I didn’t sleep well because I was worried about the future.

Some days I didn’t sleep well because my mind was over flowing with intoxicating ideas about our exciting future.

Basically, not a lot of sleep in those early months.

But I hustled. Gary Vaynerchuk style. About three months in we, Michelle Rushton and I, launched our People of Influence website(aleadership development consultancy by the way; speaking, training…you get the idea). I was nervously optimistic.

A few days later I received a letter from lawyers demanding I delete my testimonials from the website as well as from my LinkedIn profile. My ex-employer claimed the testimonials related to my work when I was employed and I had no right to them. They claimed it was deceptive and misleading conduct and they would not stop until I complied with their demands. I was shattered. And angry.

I confided in a client about my troubles and she hooked me up with her barrister brother. He had worked with three Prime Ministers. And he worked with us. At a big discount. Eventually that all went away. I was relieved. But also disappointed to witness the charcoaled remains of a burned bridge.

Soon after that we won some really exciting client work. I was cautiously pumped.<
Then we lost it to a big training company. Meh, I guess I sort of expected that. But, you know, faaaaark!!

I suppose people often use the metaphor of a rollercoaster because it has ups and downs, but the rollercoaster metaphor implies there is a set track you are on(that’sreassuring) and that someone else has the controls(notso cool).

This felt more like skippering a yacht into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. In the middle of the night. Yeah, I was the‘skipper’I suppose with access to the‘controls’,but I didn’t feel in control because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing or where I was going. I just knew that I had to survive.

In February of 2015, barely 8 months in, I received a call from a leader at a global tech company asking what my availability was the first two weeks of March(HiNush!). I let her know that I was delivering 9 out of the 10 days, that the second Monday was technically available, but if I delivered that day I might lapse into an exhaustion coma. Bless her heart, she said“I’lltake it!” I did three days of prep for that half day’s delivery(weekendsobviously).

I delivered something like 17 days that month. Not including prep and travel. We were in demand! Maybe this gamble was going to work after all!

Towards the end of March, at a conference with my wife, sick son and mother/babysitter in tow, I noticed a patch of painful bumps on my abdomen. I had shingles. Apparently, I was so exhausted and stressed and my immune system was so weakened, that my childhood chicken pox had returned. I tried to ignore it. I powered on.

THE REWARD

My god. I’m starting to feel exhausted just writing this…and this was only the first nine months! I’d like to say it was all smooth sailing from there, but that would be, well, laughable.

Some days suck. And I wonder what the hell I was thinking quitting my job four years ago.

Most days though, I am overwhelmingly grateful that I backed myself, that webacked ourselves. The rewards have been many. Freedom and flexibility, greater choice, financial – you know, all the things you might hope for when you give up a reliable and healthy pay check.

The biggest reward though? Self-esteem.

There is something that happens to a person when they dream big and then stop short of taking action. For some a drive and determination slowly builds until they explode in a frenzy of bold decisions and massive action.

For others though, if they wait long enough, and second-guess themselves too many times, they become sort of hollowed out inside. They may morph into a smaller, enfeebled version of themselves, unwilling to step out and slay dragons, afraid to face into the chaos and uncertainty.

Yes, that sounds a little dramatic I guess. It sounds like I’m talking about hobbits and rings and quests and…(I haven’t actually seen the films but I got the gist from the trailers).

Maybe this rings true for you

It was Henry David Thoreau who said:

‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’.

Some days to me still feel a little desperate. I don’t always know how to make it all work. Balancing delivery of current business to current clients with time for pursuing new ideas and new horizons. Balancing business with everything else in life: marriage, parenting, family relationships, friends, health and fitness, fun, alone time(rememberthat parents?!). These areas can be especially grey given my co-founder at People of Influence is also my wife and mother of our kids. It is a constantly shifting puzzle many people can relate to.

But whatever desperation I may feel from time to time, it is anything but quietdesperation. It was Dylan Thomas who wrote:

Do not go gentle into that good night, 
Old age should burn and rave at close of day; 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.  

Or as Bill Pullman as the President more recently said(Or Bill Paxton. Who the hell knows?):

“We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”  

THE SECRET

There is one thing – a useful perspective – that has particularly helped us stay the course with some level of equanimity and enjoyment. Whenever we are truly stuck; whenever we don’t know the path forward; whenever we are tempted to give up on something; Michelle and I have a familiar refrain:‘barriersto entry’. Often we look at each other in those moments and say it simultaneously: barriers to entry.

Rather less poetic than Thoreau or Thomas or Pullman, this harks back to my undergraduate Economics degree where I was exposed to Michael Porter’s Five Forces Model(hangon a sec, I’m losing you!). In summary, if it was easy everyone would do it. These challenges we were having were barriers to entry to everyone else. The things that make a worthy goal worthy, and its payoffs great, are the same factors that make it difficult to attain.

Everyone together: BARRIERS TO ENTRY!

Perhaps you can see how this applies to you in your career?

With all the drama I have portrayed I hope it is clear how happy I am with the choice I made four years ago. I portrayed it as a pretty disorienting yacht expedition across the dark Pacific. I have since learned that most of the worries I have had – maybe all of them – have never come to pass.

Or as Mark Twain said:

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”  

This feels true. Minus the old man bit.

THE FUTURE
I don’t know where you are at in your career or your life. Perhaps life is comfortable and you want it to stay that way. I get it. Some days that is my plan too. I wish you the best of luck.
If that is not you though, if you are contemplating your next move and you want it to extend you and thrill you and test you, then I would like to especially wish you the best of luck. Whatever it is that you are contemplating, I hope you find it daunting. I hope it scares you. I hope it scares the sh*t out of you.
Because why would you want it to be easy? What truly worthy goal in life is easy? Or to flip it around: if it isn’t really, really hard, is it even worth doing?

Shaun Kenny

Shaun Kenny is director of leadership development consultancy People of Influence and one of Asia Pacific's most in-demand speakers and educators, having delivered 1,000+ sessions to 150,000+ people in the past decade with clients such as Microsoft, PwC, Visa, LinkedIn, Australia Post and Uber.
Shaun is an authority on helping leaders harness the science of influence and behaviour change to create world-class teams and organisations. An economist by training, Shaun translates the latest insights of behavioural economics and neuroeconomics into practical tools that professionals can use for immediate impact.

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