Several years ago, I took a day off from my job at Bose Corporation. Actually, it was a "mental health" day -- one of those days where I just couldn't deal with going to the office, sitting in my pathetic cubicle, and working on something that I didn't think really mattered. I needed a day to contemplate where my career was headed, and what I should do next.
I spent the day wandering around, and later in the afternoon I found myself at the Natick Library. I spent a few hours meandering among the books, and that's when I saw the book that forever changed my life. "What Should I Do with My Life" by Po Bronson. The title of the book seemed to be speaking right at me, begging me to pick it up. So I did.
Over the next week, I devoured the book. I read the whole book in just a few sittings, and then re-read certain chapters multiple times. During the times I wasn't reading the book, I was thinking about it. I was fascinated with the personal stories of the people in the book, and I was riveted by the authors commentary. The stories inspired me. Noah, who wanted to teach golf. The Toner Queen who finally branched out on her own. Heidi, the Boom Wrangler. And on, and on. Each story, raw in its reality, was linked together by the artful weaving of this brilliant writer. Together the stories made a quilt, and I was completely wrapped up in it.
In every way, the book seemed to be written FOR ME. Here's one passage that spoke to me very clearly (from Chapter 6): "Many people have this notion, or maybe it's a hope, that their calling will just come to them one day, as an epiphany, and it'll be clear. We wait for that clarity. When our notions are muddled or vague, we often don't pursue them, assuming the lack of clarity is a sign it's not our true course."
When I read that passage, I remember saying out loud, "Did Po write that for me?" With his words, he seemed to know what I had been thinking and my ongoing struggle. What should I do with my life? How can I start doing everyday what I want to do?
This wonderful book changed my life. Although it took me more than a year, I finally faced up to what I really wanted to become. I want to be an entrepreneur! I want to start a company! I didn't know what I wanted the company to do, and I had no idea how I was going to figure it out. But Po's book gave me the courage to start down the path even though ALL of my notions were muddled and vague.
One can argue that there is no greater success in life than changing someone else's life. I hope that I someday get the opportunity to tell Po just how much he changed mine. I bet he's heard that before, but I hope he never gets used to it. His gift of words and thoughts forever impacted who I am, and who I'll still become.
I'm going to send Po this blog post, and I hope that he feels my words jump off this page. And I hope he'll wonder over to Punchbowl.com and take a look. I'm proud to say that I'm an entrepreneur, and I'm doing what I want to be doing.
Maybe someday Po will do a second book -- and chronicle all of the people who were inspired by his initial book and the resulting impact it's had on the world. Take Punchbowl as one example: we've raised millions of dollars in capital, we employ a couple dozen people, and millions of consumers have used our site to plan hundreds of thousands of celebrations. None of this would have happened without Po's book.
On the last page of the book, Po offers some advice that I've read countless times: "Success is defined as when you're no longer held back by your heart, and your character blossoms, and the gifts that you have to offer the world are apparent. Don't cling to a single scenario, allow yourself many paths to the same destination. Give it a lifetime to pay off. Things you work the hardest for are the things you will most treasure."
Thank you Po. Thank you.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Lots has been written about why you should have a co-founder when you start a company, but I haven't come across too much that talks about how important it is to have a rock in your entrepreneur life. I would argue that a rock is just as important as a co-founder. Do you have someone in your life that is your entrepreneurial rock? Maybe it's your spouse -- but it might be a close friend, a mentor, or even your parent. How do you know if you've found your rock? Here's a list of just a few of the things that Jessica does for me to help me succeed everyday.
She's non-judgmental: I've never met someone as non-judgmental as Jessica (really, ask anyone who has ever met her). Even in the early days of Punchbowl, when my ideas were unformed and unintelligible, Jess never passed judgement. Instead she nodded in agreement, asked simple questions, and never once criticized my ideas. More than anything, your rock should understand that you need positive reinforcement, especially in the early days of your start-up venture.
She's outside my bubble: Jessica and I joke that we could never work with each other, even though I'm sure we could. However, I don't want to. She keeps things real for me by not being in my bubble. I know I can count on her to get an outsiders view of what I'm working on because she doesn't live and breathe in the technology or start-up world. Get someone out of your bubble to be your rock and you'll always have your feet on the ground.
She listens really well: The first night I met Jess in college, I was taken with how she listened to me. Years later, she exhibits the same behavior day after day, night after night. She's always there to hear about what happened that day, listen to me talk about my frustrations, and look at me with those caring eyes that tell me everything is going to be ok. Most entrepreneurs have opinions, and lots to say. Make sure you have someone in your life who really is willing to listen.
She cares for my well-being: Like most entrepreneurs, when I get focused (or I'm stressed) I tend not to take care of myself. Without Jess in my life, I probably wouldn't have eaten many nights or even stepped away from my computer. Find someone in your life who cares about your well-being and be thankful and appreciative when she makes you take a break to eat dinner.
She can be my harshest critique (when asked): Most of the time, Jess is my supportive rock. But everyone once in a while, she'll keep it real by providing harsh feedback when I ask for her opinion. A few months ago, I asked her what she thought of a marketing campaign that we were doing, and she didn't mince words: "Yeah, what the hell was that?" she said. Her point was made, and I heard it loud and clear.
She takes care of things in my life: Here's a quick test to see if you have a rock in your life. Let's say you have an unexpected meeting in the morning, and all of your good shirts are in the laundry. You need to get a shirt cleaned and ironed in a hurry. Who do you call? What if you need to get a package mailed before noon? Who will go to the post office for you? I can't tell you the countless times that Jess has stepped in and took care of simple but important things in my life. I'm forever grateful for everything she does to take care of things in our family's life.
She loves me, unconditionally: Let's face it -- despite what everyone may think from the outside, some days as an entrepreneur/CEO just really suck. It's takes a certain type of disposition to be able to withstand a constant barrage of people telling you "no" and somedays it's just too much to bear. And on those bad days, you might act like an irrational jerk and you may even take out your anxieties and frustrations on the one who loves you the most. And yet, despite all of this... she loves you, unconditionally and she reminds you just how much. She wants you to succeed so that you feel fulfilled in your career and she is happy to come along on your journey. When you find this person, hold her close. It's like finding the end of the rainbow.
As I wrote this post, it's been great to reflect on how important Jessica is to the success I've had as an entrepreneur and CEO. Simply put, I wouldn't be where I am today without her steady hand and guidance. Jess: you are my rock.
Happy 8th Anniversary, love.