I have built many startups.
Some of them were just multi-week brainstorms that never made it past ideation. Some I worked on for months and spent serious money on. Some I worked on for over a year (ouch). Some have generated revenue, other’s haven’t. Some raised capital, most of them didn’t.
Most of them went nowhere. I’m not a billionaire. But that’s not the point of what I’m saying. What I’m saying is this: I’m someone who has worked on many different things. So I have seriously thought a lot about “what should I work on next” – and why – at many times in my career .
Most of the time my “why” was simple: I wanted to make shitloads of money. I’m not saying this was exclusively the only goal. But this was a big reason why I chased the opportunities I did – I thought they were all serious opportunities to create significant wealth.
Throughout my adulthood, my immediate nuclear family have been through a challenging time economically. My family were evicted from our home and my parents declared bankruptcy when I was 21.
This was a traumatic experience for my parents and the start of many years of “tough times” for them.
Just as it would be for any child who loves their parents, this situation was stressful for me and it impacted my decisions around how to spend my time. I was extremely driven to make money and there was an intense inner sense of urgency about it.
So anyway I got into tech startups and went “full nerd”.
Every time I started out on a new venture I’d always believe “this project was going to be the one that changes everything for my family & I.”
But of course, every startup I worked on before age 27 failed. None of them helped me or my family. In fact, they cost me everything and if anything they negatively impacted my parents’ stress & overall wellbeing.
Startups are hard for the founders and those closest to them. Failure sucks and the higher your own expectations are of yourself, the more it sucks.
I always made the foolish mistake of putting a due date on my success. I thought I could just “outwork everyone” my way to a multi million dollar exit in 2-3 years.
I only worked on things I believed could make me rich in as little time as possible. Once I was rich, I thought, I would then “get back to doing what I loved” – which for me was always being outdoors and exercising.
My algorithm for deciding what to work on was completely broken.
“Get a solid win in the bag, then begin your life’s work” is a trap. I want to help other young entrepreneurs avoid this trap.
The point when my life & career changed forever was when I finally removed the ‘due date’ on my success.
I asked myself “what should I do now, given that I now understand it’s going to take forever”.
This is an important point for any young people out there trying to figure out what to do in their careers. Stop asking yourself “how can I make a million bucks as efficiently as possible”.
It’s the wrong question!
Until 27 I had always tried to determine how I could quickly make millions to support my family and then later on once the people I love all had financial security I’d start to think about what my real personal interests were and focus on that.
We all read stories about entrepreneurs like Elon Musk who sells Paypal and cashes in, then turns his attention to his real interests/passions.
But this example is the exception, not the rule!
Anyone who wishes to be an entrepreneur should immediately ask themselves what they love doing and what they’re extremely passionate about.
Being passionate and excited about something is the only way you’ll truly be able to endure the requisite workload necessary to build a successful startup.
If I had focused on making money in fitness at age 18 and accepted that it may take a decade to breakthrough, I could have almost certainly achieved material success at a much younger age and “helped my family” a lot sooner than I did.
But instead, I wasted my time trying to build startups that someone else is far better suited to build.
This huge mistake cost me a decade of frustration, anger, disappointment and some very close calls with depression & suicide.
That’s not to mention the many wonderful relationships that get blown to pieces when a person loses their mental health during a startup’s hardest moments.
Or the opportunity cost of working like a slave in obscurity while your peers are all around you working less than you, making more money than you and generally enjoying their lives in ways you simply cannot.
Seriously, you should do what you love.
Don’t run this experiment in your own life. Don’t try to “get rich quick” and foolishly believe it’ll be quick/easy. It never is.
Figure out what excites you and what you’re truly passionate about. Start there and build a startup around that.
It took me a few big failures to figure out the right “algorithm” for what to work on in life. But now I know where my talents are best utilized and I continue to search for new opportunities on the intersection of:
- what I love to do
- what I’m extremely good at
- what society will pay me for
- what will help me achieve my personal mission
This is the algorithm I’ve come up with for determining what I do each day & it’s the same algorithm I’ll always use to determine what I’ll do next.
- If you’re lost in your career or not sure what to work on, use this formula to determine where to start
- Figure out if you have a personal mission – is there some cause you care about more than anything?
- If you’re already working on something you hate, get out! Don’t fall into sunken cost fallacy. It’s a trap. Stop wasting your precious life on something that’s for someone else. Cut your losses. Get out. It’s never too late to start over.
It’s crazy to think about it now. But I honestly felt like it was “too late to start over” in my career when I was 26 years old and decided to go back into fitness.
This seems comical to me now at 28 years old, just 2 short years later. I’ve made more progress in 2 years than I ever thought imaginable – and I’ve been doing what I love the whole time.
It’s never too late to find what you truly love and do that!
I hope this is helpful! & if you know someone who’s lost or who may benefit from this message – please feel free to share! 🙂