Ugh, then there are those times when I feel dead inside. I wake up early and swing on the pre-school swingset like a pervert.
The sun rises and instead of being orange and blue and beautiful it’s white and glaring and it’s a terrible terrible sunrise, burning everything inside of me.
This is what happens to me when change is being born. At least for me: I’ve never avoided any of these steps.
1. SOMETHING’S MISSING
You don’t know what it is. But it’s like you left something at home. Maybe the stove on. Or a book you were supposed to read. Or a key that opens a door you forgot about.
It’s a bloating. A constipation of life that just won’t get digested until it wears you down, makes it hard to move, forces your face closer to the grind that will kill you.
When I spoke with David Levien he told me about his commute to work. Seeing the people asleep or reading the paper and he felt that sense of being bloated.
The feeling of “Will I fall asleep?”
So on the commute he wrote a page a day of what became a bestselling novel.
Albert Einstein was dying from the rigid eight hour day at the patent office. He was so bored he was even denied his first attempt at getting a promotion.
He would try to dig out the crevices that time had carved into his routine so he could work on his own theories of magic, since the magic of today always becomes the science of tomorrow.
I was told all the time in my 20s, “You have to pay your dues.” I was told this by people with some higher rank than me. As if they had paid their dues.
But one man’s rank is another man’s stank.
You pay your dues when you finally come to that realization that something is missing.
That whatever they told you in the past: your religion, your parents, your friends, your bosses – is wrong. Not for them. Since who knows the price of another’s life.
But for you.
The “dues” are when you find your authentic voice. The singing voice that stands out in the world chorus. “Paying the dues” is when you open up that voice to its full range.
When you sing.
I realized something was missing but didn’t know what to do.
I thrashed. I would read books. I would see which people I would want to model myself after. I would study them.
I’d write ideas down each day.
I’d cry because these were the times I was most lonely, when one group was disappearing and another set of friends and colleagues had yet to find me.
Trust that the desperation will go away. You’ll find people to love. You’ll write ideas down every day. I finally learned to be grateful for my desperation. This is the egg that will crack open and give birth to new life.
It’s going to happen many times. Even every day.
Go forth and multiply.
3. TOTAL CONFUSION
When you speak in that authentic voice for the first time, you say words you never said before. Maybe nobody has ever said them. You’re going to scare the people around you.
You’re going to scare yourself. Because people close to you will react.
You might be wrong. When you write the first page of the novel, you can’t possibly know how it will end. When you start a business, not a single person in the world can predict the outcome.
Odeo is always my favorite example. Started by a guy who had built a hundred million dollar company previously. Everyone trusted his idea was good. A platform for podcasting. Huge idea!
Many great investors invested. But no customers. One of his employees started a side project. Sending messages back and forth. He got 10,000 users. A small amount.
The founder offered all of the investors a chance to get their money back. 100% of them accepted. The founder then changed the name of the company to the side project.
All the best investors in the world missed out on investing in Ev Williams’ new project, Twitter.
The world is changing very quickly. In a few years, your 3D printed car (your 3D printed food) will be dropped off at your house maybe every month.
Companies like Coursera and Khan Academy and Udemy will destroy overpriced colleges. AirBnB will end the need for hotels. New technologies in batteries will end our reliance on the pervasive “grid.”
There’s no answer. There’s no guru who can say what will happen. I’ve started 20 businesses and watched and cried while 17 of them failed. I’m divorced and have lost two homes. Many friends I love, no longer love me.
When the tide shifts, it’s too hard to figure out what companies will go down with it. I’ve seen many billion dollar companies fail within a matter of weeks or months. The only thing common among all of them: lack of character at the top.
You build character by remaining calm in the confusion.
Sometimes I haven’t been able to do this. One time my mother said to me, “I can’t believe you are my son.”
Character is a hard thing to cultivate. At least for me. But it’s possible for everyone. This is also called, “Paying your dues”.
Two different friends of mine are self-sabotaging themselves right this second in two very different companies.
I can’t tell them because what do I know? But they will do it.
When I was a kid, the world’s record for losing the most amount of money in one day was held by a young man named Ross Perot. If I remember right, in 1969 he lost a billion in a day when the stock market fell.
He said much later, “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game one foot from a winning touchdown.”
I didn’t used to believe in self-sabotage. I thought that was an excuse. But now I see how it happens.
You’re so close but you’re afraid to take the chance and disappoint people. You say later, “I was just being honest” or “I couldn’t take the chance”.
I self-sabotage myself all the time when I’m afraid to disappoint someone else. Or when I’m not honest about my real feelings and desires I tend to mix them up so badly until it’s all a big mess. Or when I think I don’t deserve the good fortune that I’ve worked for.
Why wouldn’t I think I deserve it? That seems fake. I have no clue. But it’s true. Somewhere deep inside there’s a hole and it can’t be filled except by sabotage.
Recognizing it, noticing it, working around it, is the third step on the path to change.
The other day I had to give a talk. Everyone was smart and successful and knew more than me about the topic of the conference.
What could I teach them? How could I start to get their attention?
A friend of mine is working on a company that has a technology for detecting what part of the country every strand of marijuana comes from. He explained some of the science to me. I mildly misinterpreted it to start my speech.
“Did you know marijuana plant has both a penis and a vagina,” I started my talk with. And then explained what I meant. Then related it back to the topic: marketing. People laughed. But I had been afraid.
I died in another talk. Everyone in the audience was very successful. So I gulped down a can of coke but didn’t swallow the coke. Instead I walked on stage and pretended to throw up. Dead silence.
I have to go to a big meeting next week. I am helping a company and maybe millions of dollars are at stake. Will I look too weird? Will I have nothing to say? Will I say the wrong thing?
Anxiety is the doorknob. The doorway leads to change. But you have to open the door knob first.
6. SOMEONE LISTENS
David Levien wrote his book on his commute. His best friend read it and loved it. Kay Cannon wrote her script on the subway over three years. A studio then made it into a movie.
Einstein slaved away in the patent office and wrote “e=mc squared”. A physics journal decided to publish that equation from a third level patent clerk.
Frank McCourt, now a bestselling author, wrote his first book in his 60s. His memoir, Angela’s Ashes. Someone agreed to publish it.
Guess what? 35% of entrepreneurs last year started their first business at the age of 50 or older.
Lisa Gable had never started a company before. At the age of 70 she got disgusted with her falling bra-straps. She made a bra strap that help everything up. Strap-mate, now a multi-million dollar company.
Coolio wrote lyrics every day for 17 years in a row before having a single hit. Someone finally listened. Somehow his voice stopped imitating others and became his own.
At some point you’ve paid the dues and everything begins to pay off. You begin to get that return. People listen. You stood out and everyone hated you but then fight through that and now you begin to have an impact.
7. SLOW DOWN
When you find your voice, slow down. There’s no rush. Out of six billion people, you’re the only one with your voice, your experiences, your ideas, your wisdom. There’s no competition to be you.
Someone once complimented Arthur Rubinstein on his piano playing. He said, “It’s not the piano playing. I handle the notes no better than anyone else does. It’s the pauses – that’s where art resides.”
When your change kicks in. This is the moment not to plan for the future, but to find the pauses in the present.
This is what makes or break the person who surfs the world of change. Too often I rushed into the future and fell off the cliff, with all my limbs broken.
I wish I had done this: respect the pause, respect the people around me, respect that I have to write down ideas every day, be grateful that I got to this step.
Gratitude fights the gravity that tries to pull you down and prevent you from taking the next step.
When you slow down, everything lasts longer.
8. EVERYTHING CYCLES
When I follow my own advice, my life changes almost completely every six months.
But often things go really bad. A few months ago, a company I was involved in fell apart. There was corruption. Things got ugly.
I was so disappointed. I didn’t see it coming. I hit a low point. Low points and high points happen in every creature on the planet except in our Facebook feeds.
You have to know in a low point that it’s time to rest a bit. At a high point you act. At a low point you rest.
This doesn’t mean turn on the TV. Turning on the TV turns off the rest of the world.
Do the opposite. Turn on the rest of the world by being with people you love, finding the gratitude that is ALWAYS buried in difficult situations, writing down ideas every day (one in 100 might even be good).
I was at a low point and had a hard time getting out of bed. Until finally I told myself, this is the perfect time to follow my own stories.
And so I did. And then things got better. I wrote 20 things I learned from the experience. I figured out how to turn the death of this psychic murder into the birth of a new life for me.
9. FIND YOUR TEACHERS
When you change, it’s like you’ve walked through a portal and entered a new world.
In this new world, you need teachers to show you the way. You can find your teachers in real life. You can find them through books. You can spy on them and model your life after their examples.
Everything that happens to you, every person you encounter was sent specifically by the mad scientists who created this virtual reality to teach you. Their methods are insidious and not out of the standard textbook so you can’t be fooled. But learn.
Eventually you pass them as you further develop your voice, as the world now becomes something not that you entered but something that you impacted and changed. Now it’s your world and you are the teacher.
It never ends.
“Paying your dues” has nothing to do with working hard. It has nothing to do with the failure porn so common right now.
It has everything to do with that terrible white sunrise. The one you didn’t want to happen. The one that wakes you up while everyone else is still asleep.