Why We Should All Just Be Ourselves

Expressing our thoughts, especially the unpopular ones, is dangerous. Or so we think. It makes us vulnerable and gives people an opportunity to judge. But can that be a good thing?

I think there’s much more to be gained by sharing an unpopular opinion over not sharing one at all. Here’s why: vulnerability is powerful - it’s the main point of connection between people who don’t know each other. Being neutral doesn’t make you friends or enemies.

It’s important to connect with people beyond superficiality. You want to make a human connection with them, not just exchange information mechanically. To do this, you have to find a common shared view or a common shared enemy. This happens by being real and letting people know what you really think and stand for - not by trying to appease them. For those who agree with the real you, this is how relationships form, bonds are made and deals get done. People connect with people they agree with.

Being real will also cause people to disagree and oppose you. That’s OK - this is a great mechanism for identifying which relationships you shouldn’t spend time on. By making ourselves more vulnerable to opposition, we’re also making ourselves more recognizable to potential allies.

Whether you’re looking to make new friends or to close more deals, you should be looking to find other people like you: people who think like you and believe what you believe. These are the best connections you’ll make, both in business and in life.

What have I learned from doing this wrong for so long? It’s always best to be yourself - when meeting new people in person, over email, text or elsewhere. This helps build deeper connections. If you try to be who you think the other person wants you to be, who does that make you?

Let’s worry less about the people who might not like us for who we are and more about the ones who will join our team.

On Delayed Gratification:

I had a conversation this morning that got me thinking about delayed gratification and how hard it is to resist a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger, more enduring reward later.

I think this is a) one of the major differentiating factors between ultimate success and failure and b) a massive opportunity area anyone can exploit to be more successful in their career, relationships, health, finances, etc. (because science).

Training ourselves to think a certain way

Our mindset is something we can change without much overhead and with tremendous ROI. We have to train ourselves to make certain decisions, like saving vs. spending, staying home to get ahead on work vs. going out, or putting up with a not-so-great job that will help boost your career later.

The ability to delay gratification is essential to accomplishing goals. You have to trust that the future will eventually become the present and that you’ll be in a much better position because you previously opted out of the short term reward.

Just get a raise? Save or invest the extra money instead of buying stuff you don’t need. That money will become your ability to leave and start your own company later.

Run a business? Give your customer a refund without asking questions, even if it costs you. Being known for amazing customer service will make you much more money later.

Each decision (both macro decisions and small, day-to-day ones) should be made based on its long term effects, not what you’ll get from it right now. Eventually, the “long run” becomes the “now” and you’ll get residual benefit from the previous sacrifices you made that others didn’t.

Always try to adopt the mindset that life is a marathon, not a sprint.

How Taking A Step Back Can Help You Get A Step Ahead

I’m spending today working from the pacific coastline near Monterey, CA, debating the value of stepping back from work from time to time. I used to think any time spent not working was time wasted, but lately I’m finding value in getting away. I think a little vacation time can be surprisingly productive if you spend it thinking about the right things:

Strategy: work smart, not hard

It’s really important that we regularly examine our overall strategy - or our plan for achieving a particular goal. I find that getting away from life’s everyday realities makes this easiest. Some call it meditation, some call it planning - I call it zooming out.

If we spend 12 hours/day busting our ass on the wrong things, that doesn’t get us very far, does it? Remember, it’s about working smart, not hard. Being in execution mode is useless if we don’t first hash out our strategy.

Reflect, identify, calibrate

Since we live in the real world where people change, conditions change, and priorities change, it’s important to calibrate yourself against previous goals, taking note of whether you need to correct course (or even change it entirely). In Startupland we call this a pivot.

I try to have these self-checkins regularly - monthly if I can. You know yourself best, so feel out what’s most comfortable for you.

Free your mind

This is another thing I struggle with. Finding the answer to a problem or situation doesn’t always come from intensely thinking about it. It comes from the opposite - completely getting it off your mind.

If you’re in a slump or can’t solve a certain problem, get away. It doesn’t need to be a full-blown vacation either. Go to an unfamiliar area and explore. Get in your car and drive for a couple hours without any destination. When you’re not expecting it, the answer will hit you.

So in short, try getting away for a bit when you’re not feeling like you’re in the right zone. Even if you have a lot on your plate. I think it may help 

How The Wrong Job Can Help You Build Your Career

I’ve written before about my ambition to build a meaningful company and my journey of being hired away from my first attempt, taking what seemed like a step backwards. I wanted to put myself in a system that was succeeding to understand how it worked. And although I knew early on that I wanted to build things, that obviously wasn’t much of a plan.

I was easily in the “I’m not sure what I’m doing with my life” bucket.

Leverage what you know

At the time, I knew I liked working with people. I was fascinated by the impact the right person made on a project vs. the wrong one and I thought there was no better way to make an impact on a company than putting the right pieces in the right places. Heading toward a career in hiring and recruiting wasn’t where I *wanted* to go, but I realized how it could help me get to where I did. I realized it could be leveraged.

In my case the point of leverage was clear: as a non-technical founder, I wanted to be the best team builder on earth. I learned through failure that building the best possible team is the ultimate competitive advantage. It’s much more important than your plan, strategy or ideas.

Take any NFL football team for example: if they had the world’s best playbook (plan) but their roster was filled with average players (people), how good would they be?

It all comes down to the people and I wanted this to be my specialty; the irreplaceable value that I’d bring to the table as a founder. Getting good at identifying, recruiting and hiring the right people suddenly has tremendous value to my career.

How does this relate to you?

If you’re currently in a job or on a path that doesn’t seem to be getting you closer to the career you imagined, you have to figure out a way to leverage the experience and skills you’re getting and then use that as your competitive advantage.

As I recently told a friend (a great QA engineer who’s contemplating a new direction):

Building a foundation in QA can set you up to provide a very unique kind of value, regardless of what type of role you move into. You have a QA perspective you can apply to certain problems that others can’t, and this is what makes you unique and valuable. This may be the exact unicorn skill-set some companies are looking for.

We have to recognize that an engineer isn’t an engineer, a sales rep isn’t a sales rep, a founder isn’t a founder. Every single person is unique and so is the value and perspective they bring to the table. Just as I’m working to position myself as a founder with hiring and recruiting deep in my blood, you can (and should!) position yourself as an engineer (or sales rep, or founder, etc) with a unique background and set of experiences in your blood.

This is something you can and should leverage throughout your career.

I hope this helps you (even if just a little) gain more clarity into your career path. I’m incredibly passionate about this stuff and I’m more than happy to continue the conversation if anyone needs a sounding board. Feel free to email me directly at troysultan [at] gmail.com if you’re interested in bouncing ideas around.

To Become An Expert, You Have To First Be An Idiot

You know what’s hard for me to admit? That I usually have no idea what I’m doing. I like to act like I do, but I don’t. Sometimes I figure things out and they work really well, and the other times I just tell myself it was a learning opportunity and I move on. I just try not to make the same mistake twice. 

The hardest part about becoming an expert at something is knowing that you have to first start as an idiot. You have to embrace that. 

But what about what everyone else will think? There will always be people who want you to succeed and people who want you to fail. Some people are jealous, selfish, whatever. Don’t hate them - accept them. And then avoid them. Just don’t let them be the reason you don’t get started.

Taking some action - even if it’s the wrong thing - will help you learn what the right thing is. Thomas Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” I love that. It’s really hard to take the first couple steps. But once you do, you’ll notice yourself getting “lucky” much more often.