I’ve been seeing an executive coach for more than 3 years now. She’s really good by the way, in case you ever find yourself in need of…help.
When I mention that I have an executive coach, my listener’s eyes often light up. Like…we’re suddenly in a new club together, the club of People Who Can Admit and Not Be Weirded Out About Getting Help and Are Finally Talking About It With Another Human™.
It’s a good club to be in.
Otherwise, we play entrepreneur chicken, asking for the right kinds of help to look the part, but very seldom, if ever, addressing what’s really giving us trouble.
How’s business? How are you? Are you hiring? How’s life outside of work? What’s keeping you up at night?
The answers are often saccharine. There are “good problems to have,” and the rest don’t get talked about.
I’ve seen a shrink at many different points in my life, and I try to be vocal about that too. For as self-sufficient an image as I like to project, I have a lot of help, and I get a lot of help.
I still remember a talk Doug Leone gave Disrupt a few years ago. He described how the average age of the entrepreneurs Sequoia sees has steadily dropped from 45 to 25, and is getting younger every year. Some people have called this the Zuckerberg effect.
I don’t agree with the notion that ignorance can be bliss, and that youth helps of envision and facilitate technological change disproportionately.
We have a lot of young clients and I advise a lot of young companies and first-timers. But I just as regularly collaborate with entrepreneurs who are as passionate about their fifth venture as they were their first. Each persona has its strengths and weaknesses, but I’d be hard-pressed to assign odds.
Our clients at JDI currently range between 23 and 62, and that fact has stuck with me more than I thought it would. What’s interesting is that in my experience, age seems to have little bearing on (or correlation with) the need for help.
We have a regrettable culture in entrepreneurial circles where real help is frowned upon.
Too often in my opinion we’re merely performing help, instead of actually getting or giving it. In fact, I think there’s a big difference between professional and truly agnostic, and truly confidential help – and casual, requisite, biased and ultimately greedy help.
The latter is not real help – that’s steering, that’s insurance, triangulation and perhaps even leverage – but not help, not really.
The kinds of culturally acceptable help we have at our disposal as entrepreneurs are few. Advisory Boards, Boards of Directors, and Mentors are essential supports, but they are neither holistic nor exhaustive.
And sure, we have conferences and open office hours and more “how to” posts and tips and tricks than we could ever want in our time here on earth. But it takes one to know one. Most of that material is marketing: company pitches and public back-patting and not-so-humble bragging that masquerades as altruism.
Help can mean lots of things of course — it can mean help building out your team, or refocusing it. It can be intensely personal. It can be about having better insights and being more creative. It can be about taking on a new public role. It can be about leading a group of people in a substantive way and creating culture that’s more that espresso and rollerblades. The list goes on.
I also remember a talk that Bob Metcalfe gave at Capital Factory’s second Demo Day. His tips for startup success were not your usual cup of tea. Bob is contrary in an unforgettable way.
His #1 tip above all else was about helping yourself, particularly when it comes to health.
As Bob said, you’ll need to pull all-nighters from time to time, that goes with the territory and the risk-reward dynamic. But the mythology of the 80-hour, Red Bull-fueled, Lynchian “beast mode” workweek is just that — a myth. You’re much more effective with proper rest and a body that functions correctly. Grow up.
My doctor offered a startling fact the other day. Did you know that humans start to feel symptoms when our function drops below 60%?
Think about that for a second.
We can be 40% messed up before pain kicks in. On top of that, our peculiar brand of American tough-guy posturing and cultural stubbornness risks pretty hot water by the time we actually work up the courage to seek…help. I think that’s a good reminder for doing business.
No matter how successful we are, we all get sick, we all get down, and we all screw up. That’s the game we’re playing, and that’s part of the fun.
And yet, when someone’s business function drops 20 or 30% and we’re not yet really feeling a lot of symptoms, we remain oblivious to our woes, and often to our colleagues’ too.
At JDI, people are quite literally the product, so I care more about this issue than most. But the same line of thought goes not just for people but for software and physical products, processes, cultures, and whole organizations too.
We don’t feel symptoms until function dips below 60%. And as a result, we don’t seek help often enough, or early enough.