Recently I had the great fortune to sit next to Derek Sivers at a business conference in Bangkok, Thailand.
Derek was one of the keynote speakers at the event and a true inspiration. We were all moved to hear his story rising from modest beginnings to selling internet business CD baby for $22million – his humble, unpretentious manner was refreshing and his moto “whatever scares you, go do it” an inspiration. So finding Derek, a very deservedly successful man, TED speaker and multi-millionaire randomly sat next to me was a generous stroke of luck. Moreover his (previous) business is very similar to my business ArtWeb.com. In terms of seeking advice, there’s few other people in the world who’d be as closely matched to my ideal guru as Derek Sivers – as Tim Ferris might put it he was my “Yoda” (from the 4HWW, Comfort Challenge from Chapter 9 “Finding Yoda).
Though it turned out he had to leave imminently to catch a plane, Derek exchanged contact details with me and said he’d be more than happy to answer any questions I had later on. And he very kindly took the time to personally respond to my emails a few days later – I’d scarcely had time to even introduce myself at the conference.
Meanwhile, I’d also discussed my business with a variety of other entrepreneurs at the conference, some seasoned veterans, but equally some who’s businesses were at a much early stage than mine. At the risk of sounding ungrateful (If you’re reading this Derek – a great big thanks for your time ), my Yoda though he still had some great advice, was just one amongst the helpful voices. No one person at that conference was the silver bullet -it was talking to a lot of people who helped and by no means only the “successful” ones.
Success is somewhat random and chaotic. Hard work, intelligence, balls, determination, impeccably honed dog grooming skills etc are no guarantee of “making it” – for every diamond in the rough, I’d bet there’s 100 dumbasses on the throne. Many of the people who are seen as successful may have some talent, but without the right conditions there’s a very real chance they’d still be flippin’ burgers. (There’s a great book on this subject outliers).
So I think the human tendency to live off the words of famous and successful like it was sagely advice isn’t perhaps the best of ideas. Everyday one can see social media plagued with quotes from the famous, the name at the end of the quote giving credence to words more than the words themselves:
“Never say never” – Justin Beiber
Yes, Justin – I’m 11 years old, but I will never say never to a man in a trench coat offering to show me some puppies.
“Rule No.1: Never lose money. Rule No.2: Never forget rule No.1.” – Warren Buffett
Okay Mr Buffett, so in that case I’ll just get a sensible job and not take any financial risks.
“Swallow at least two whole dogs before lunchtime” – Albert Einstein*
* Actually I think this one might have been someone else
Without the big name attached to the words, would you pay so much attention?
Owing to the element of chance, some successful and famous people may have a completely false idea as to why they “made it”, perhaps even be totally delusional. And as I found, in a room full of people, even those really smart and hard working successful people, even Yoda himself (Mr Sivers), may still not have the best advice.
Learning From #Fail
As well as looking to lessons from success, I think it’s equally valuable to look for lessons from failure. Often the lessons from failures are more clear cut and obvious, and there’s the added bonus of not being blinded by stardom – you don’t need to follow some lucky big shot to hear stories of failure, everybody has a #fail story.
So I’ll end today with some of my #fails
- My neck hurts.
After about 7 years of headstand photos and yoga I noticed my neck hurting long-term. Whilst I got a great buzz from doing my spontaneous and sometime dare-devil stunt – headstand photos, I seldom took the time to warm up before hand. It’s possible this discomfort was from the yoga headstands and not just the stunts, but either way I’ve taken a sabbatical from any strain on my neck, and when/if I return to inversions, I’ll do so with plenty of warm up and pay attention to my teachers.
- Charge peanuts and people think you are a monkey.
when I started out as a freelance web dev, I set my rates low. Subsequently I attracted clients that could only wanted to pay a pittance. These people took advantage of my generosity and didn’t appreciate quality. I was stressed out and didn’t enjoy the work and barely made enough money anyway. Doubling my prices made these people go away. Ironically 10 years later with a pretty successful business, I’ve just learnt this lesson again, for a long time I set the prices low aiming for high volume over high profits. We just started experimenting with pricing, doubling the price has resulted in MORE people signing up than normal.
- Pushing too hard..
I’ve always been one for trying hard, pushing the envelope and going where other people dare not. About 4 years ago I was perhaps at the height of my self motivation to push myself. I was simultaneously experimenting with my diet, excercise, sleep habits, social habits – I was working and playing hard in all areas. I found some success in what I was doing – more waking hours, better physical and mental performance but ultimately I think I was greedy and pushed and pushed until I ran myself into the ground. Eventually my body rebelled, and slowed me down – I became ill and didn’t fully recover for about 3 years and frustratingly no (western medical) doctor could find any illness. Only now after a few years of being pretty miserable have I been humbled enough and learned to respect my vulnerability and know my limits.
- Due diligence.
I’ve lost a total of over $50K on a few occasions, directly as a result of being too trusting with of people. I could probably have avoided this by using some pretty basic business fundamentals, like having a contract, exercising more caution and doing a business plan.
- Drugs & Ho’s
When I was fifteen, my friends and I hatched a master plan to make some money by becoming big shot weed dealers. I even had a replica pistol (from my army cadet club) and thought I was bad ass. Of course being 14 years old and leading a sheltered private school life we had very little contact with the seedy underworld of Marijuana dealing in middle class Britain, but as luck would have it one day I stumbled across a happy looking man with dreadlocks asking if we wanted to buy any hash. Quickly seizing the opportunity (and thinking I was a Don), I asked him the price on a ounce. To cut a short story shorter, despite me being a bad ass with my replica in my pocket (still legal back then), the guy easily lead me up the garden path and conned me out of most of my savings – about 150GBP. That was from 6 months hard work getting up at 6 fucking AM to deliver morning newspapers. Whilst I may have had some balls for a private school kid, and there was a slim chance I might even have got lucky made some money, it was clearly for the best that I lost that money and had this rude awakening.
So, anyone else care to share some stories of failure?