Success is a funny thing to reverse engineer. There's is no single formula to follow to be successful.
That said, I've made an observation about almost every successful person I know: their path to success usually starts with a false confidence or just sheer ignorance in pursuit of an overly ambitious goal.
As a result, any obstacles they face seem either inconsequential or appear non-existent. They throw themselves forward, trusting some deeper intuition.
A lot of entrepreneurs are called naive, overzealous, even stupid in the beginning.
And in many ways, entrepreneurs are. That was certainly the case for me.
Before starting my company, I was a bright-eyed 22 year-old working as a marketing analyst for one of the largest fast-food chains in the world. I worked with incredibly smart people, had a great income, and even received a promotion within months on the job. Life was good.
Just weeks after my first promotion, I gave my boss my two week's notice. She thought I was crazy.
"Why are you leaving? Did you get an offer from another company?"
I said no.
"Well, are you going back to school?"
I reminded her that I was grateful for the opportunity to work with her; grateful for the confidence she had in me and the opportunity and responsibility she had given me even though I had such little work experience. She was my mentor, and I felt like I owed her an explanation.
But I struggled to explain my decision to her.
The truth was I had no idea what I was going to do.
I had no plan. I enjoyed my job but I wanted to give up the good in pursuit of the great. I wasn't sure how to explain that.
My promotion had forced me to think about my future. Where does this lead? More money? A fancy title? Would I look back at the end of my career and have any regrets? Most importantly, would I have a positive impact on the world?
Maybe--but I wanted to be sure of it. So I left the company to create my own fate and begin my entrepreneurial journey.
A lot of people close to me scoffed at my decision and said I was being naive. That I was a stereotypical millennial. That I was being irrational.
But I wanted to be able to look back on my life, not just my career, and be sure that my time spent was meaningful: enhancing the human condition and pushing society forward, for the better.
I believed I could build a company that allowed me to create something that fundamentally changed the way we live. Even if I played a microscopic role in doing so, I knew I couldn't lose with this goal in mind.
Even if it meant I'd have to be broke. Even if it required a lifetime. Or worse, even if I was wrong.
But at least I'd have a purpose.
It made me feel invincible.
When I started my company, one of the biggest criticisms I received from those around me was that I didn't know what I didn't know.
I hadn't batted enough innings. I hadn't endured enough losses. I hadn't tried and failed enough times to call myself "experienced"--and yet, I was swinging for the fences.
I had nothing to lose. And a lot of people saw that as a bad thing.
In actuality, it ended up being my greatest asset.
I was sure that the technological advancements we'd make in our lifetime would be the most important contribution of our generation. It would push the boundaries of what it meant to be human, more so than any other point in human history to date. And I wanted to be a part of it.
But the thing is, I couldn't code and never worked in technology. But with my background in the behavioral sciences, I could use design as my ticket into the tech industry. So without any experience whatsoever as a designer, I decided to start a design firm.
By this point, the few people that didn't think I was crazy for leaving my job were now convinced I had lost my mind.
What began as an experiment turned into significant personal debt, damaged relationships with friends and family and deteriorating health. But not a single day went by where I didn't feel completely fulfilled. Every day inched me closer toward my goal of improving the lives of others with what I could create.
Because of that I had worked relentlessly, not because I was extraordinarily disciplined, but because I had complete ignorance to what the threshold of a normal workload looked like. I was too naive to know what a healthy work-life balance was. But I had torn down the boundaries between work and life, so I wouldn't have cared, either.
Eventually, after having worked myself to the bone, I suddenly began to realize how unrealistic my goals had been. I started to see the colossal challenges I'd been warned about. I questioned whether I had the courage to pursue such a lofty vision.
Did I make the right decision?
This is the one thing most people don't understand about the road to success.
I was too stupid to realize that what I was doing was too stupid. I was blinded by a vision and my own ignorance. But by the time I realized that, several years later, it was too late: I had landed multiple Fortune 500 clients, I was able to hire designers that I idolized and my company was recognized as one of the best UX firms in the world.
Most people think you're supposed to have it all figured out before taking the leap.
Most people think you should take calculated risks.
Most people think you should have a sound business plan.
But it doesn't work that way; entrepreneurship rewards the naive, the overzealous, the stupid.
You have to be ignorant. Otherwise, you'll be too smart to start.