One of the big reasons people end up failing in business is because we tend to be too optimistic about our future success. When we first develop a new app or design a new product, we assume--a danger word if there ever was one!--that people will love it, that we'll become rich and happy, and that our plan will succeed.
Then, reality sets in. Our optimism is, strangely enough, one of our biggest impediments. The glowing light of the future traps us like a deer in the headlight, freezing us in a lock-step of indecision. We get too focused on what could happen instead of making sure it does happen. Too often, we sit and wait for success to come to us, acting like we're entitled to some sort of reward. And, we assume--there's that word again!--that any new idea will draw attention only because it's new.
I'm living proof. Assumptions like that don't work.
Just this month, I reached a major milestone--I've been writing non-stop for 15 years straight. It's made me look back and think about how it all started. I've told the story about my corporate days many times, but I've been hesitant to explain what happened in the first six months after leaving my corporate job. It was a time of emotional upheaval and career experimentation. I ended up picking one goal. I wanted to become a published writer. It was more than just not taking "no" for an answer. It was more than knocking on every door until someone opened one.
In my first few months, I adopted the viewpoint that my newfound entrepreneurship was destined to fail. I don't see this as a negative approach. I put a positive spin on it, and that made all of the difference. I knew it was incredibly unrealistic to think I could become a published writer, so I made every effort to prove myself wrong.
In the first month, I would pitch 100 editors per week. You might think, are there even 100 editors around who accept pitches? I wasn't sure and it didn't matter, because I was determined to keep finding them. I looked under every rock and every leaf. I dug through every website. I looked on job boards, scanned through mastheads, and spent hours sifting through magazines at Barnes and Noble. I lived, ate, breathed, slept, and dreamt about my publishing goal. I was totally consumed by it.
Then, a kindly editor named Jessica finally replied with a yes. She noted my corporate experience, my journalism credentials, and the fact that I had emailed her six times in two months. She relented to my relentlessness. I wrote a feature story about smart cards, then another one about biometrics, then became a contributing editor for several years. My main gig, for those of you who knew me way back then, was to review routers. I lived, ate, breathed...you get the idea. I was really into routers for a while. I was really into whatever my editor wanted me to be really into. I kept right on assuming I would fail, even after publishing 50 stories, then 100, then 500.
My records are not that precise, but I've tracked my writing production fairly closely over the years and now estimate I've published around 10,000 articles in 15 years. If you do the math, you know that's a pretty high batting average! It's a ridiculous amount of productivity, which is one reason I've written so much about that subject over the years. It's also a bit overwhelming to think I've been doing this for so long and produced so much work. It's embarrassing to own up to my own productivity.
My entire outlook for the past 15 years has stayed the same, though. My goal was to figure out how to make sure my assumptions about failure proved wrong. When I pitched 100 editors in a week and found that didn't work (and when my brother-in-law dropped off some groceries on our front door steps one weekend), I started pitching 200 stories per week. In those early days, I used the email method I've mentioned countless times here, which is a quick follow up check-in.
"Hey, what did you think of my pitch?" I'd write.
One word that always sticks out to me is leverage. I was constantly leveraging one angle with another. If a feature story was working out with one magazine, I'd assume it would be my last. So I leveraged it against three other feature stories, and six other reviews. Leveraging was my way of making sure my career would lead to success and not a dead end (or an empty bank account). Every tech conference, every router test in those early days, every email was essentially building on that leverage. I never coasted, and I still have never coasted. I don't know how to coast.
Assuming you will succeed is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in any career. The assumption about failure needs to be the springboard that makes you figure out every conceivable scenario that could lead to success, and then do them all. Leverage them against each other. Think about what could cause failure and then mitigate against that. When you mitigate against failure, always leverage against other road blocks. Then, do it again. And, again. Never stop leveraging against failure.
Looking back over the past 15 years, I see quite a few roadblocks. Fortunately, I also see the technique I used to plow over every one.