THIS MIGHT NOT WORK.
These are four of the most powerful words in the human vocabulary.
Given what has become of my life in the past few years, there’s something to be said about investing the time and energy in diffusing the negative power of this statement.
The all-too-human, internal narrative always seems to spur dark emotions when it comes to mind. As an entrepreneur especially, this phrase can eat you alive before you even make it out of the gates.
My favourite teacher took the time to look me in the eye, behind his signature yellow glasses to change my worldview about them.
And by extension, invested his time into changing me.
The right influence from those who care for you and believe in you is a powerful engine to propel personal growth.
Last week, I sat across the table from two of the kindest blue eyes that I know. The past few years have been monumental for us both, and despite being divided by an international border, he and I still have always found a way to look out for one another. We’ve served as safe sounding boards, as uncritical or unbiased launch pads, an extra pair of helping hands and as honest voices of reason for one another for years. To this day, he remains one of the first people who was in my corner when Little Big Words was something only a mother could love.
Everyone should have a friendship like this with someone in their life.
Between chopsticks and brown-rice-tuna-rolls, he looked at me and said,
‘Do you even remember how this all started anymore? The idea of starting this company, why illustration, and how you got here? How did you know where you were going and that it was going to work?’
I looked away from him and around the room - trying to avoid an answer or the fact I barely had one. Tried even harder to avoid the fact that I had to be honest or he’d see right through me.
‘Would you believe me if I told you, that I don’t even know? I just chose to try and make it work, and figure it out. Fear is just as powerful of a motivator, as love for something is. Something in my intuition just told me start.’
This year went nothing, and I mean nothing – like I had planned. The level of growth that I achieved ripped the stitches wide open of what I thought was possible.
Who knew that selling greeting cards would get you this far.
Over the past few months especially, I’ve had the unbelievable privilege and opportunity to work with, coach and coach alongside a wide array of personalities and professional backgrounds. Small business owners, rocket scientists, students searching for their first job, Fortune 500 corporate executives and international not-for-profit movement leaders from around the globe were my students and colleagues working on Seth Godin's altMBA.
One by one, each one of them, found the courage to be completely human with me. Perhaps my own experiences about managing and dealing with fear, risk and finding the place to start are what allowed me to meet them where they were at. Somehow it seemed to level the playing field and help them process it - as together, we prepared to level up for the risks that they wanted to take or the change in the world they wanted to make through their projects and initiatives.
But after hours of interacting and observing, what I can say is this:
Regardless of who they are, or what they do and their level of responsibility – the fear that lives in statement of ‘this might not work’ -- plagues and inhibits everyone.
They just don’t talk about it.
Some people, even live their lives guided entirely by it.
Spend 6 months in entrepreneurship, and you will learn that if you get stuck in saying, ‘this might not work’, you won’t get very far, convince anyone and you can’t afford to stay there very long. For all of the perfection, validation and grades that the educational system primes us to seek -- the real world will throw it right out the window for you. Sometimes, even with a bow around it.
The good news is that everyone has the power to change the negative connotations and fear that surround these four little words, and win. I’ve seen it, first hand with dozens of students. Work alongside those who silence it each day. And lived it, myself.
It requires a twofold approach. It’s starts by deciding to never to get stuck.
First -- whenever that little voice appears and says, ‘this might not work’, replace it with, ‘we’ll figure this out.’
Change the end game from ‘perfect’, to ‘growth’.
And tell your ego to take a seat. The people who really matter and care about you aren’t going to care whether or not you fail or succeed. These decisions are not who you are, they are what you do. Practice compassion with yourself and say, ‘if failure isn’t an option, then neither is success.’
The second step, is to decide – about what you want to do, and why you want to do it. When you decide, you make a choice so that the work can begin, and a whole new hand of possibilities can appear.
As a society, thanks to smart-phone culture, we’re primed for instant gratification, digital validation and short term success.
But when you invest the time in making a long-term vision, it has the power to trump short term discomfort and inherently understand, it’s all part of the process. It has the power to absorb the costs, the mistakes and missteps. Because when you choose to play the long game, and commit to ‘figuring it out’, as opposed to being perfect – it cracks open an endless world of possibilities and avenues for how to get there.
The narrative of ‘What if’s’ can be transformed into, ‘Okay, what’s next?’ and ‘Where do we start.’
Not to mention the definition of ‘this’, has the ability to morph, grow and become ‘that’ – and even become something far greater than you ever imagined.
Little Big Words is a free-standing example of this.
And the people that you attract - to work with you, as friends, as partners, as significant others, as mentors and colleagues, respect you not just for your success, but for your guts for trying, and your humility for when you fail.
For all of thousands of doors that I’ve walked through and the choices I’ve made in the last few years, the luck I've had, and how hard and how much work it really is - you just have to keep accepting, that these four little words are always going to appear.
But the less power you give anything, the less power it has over you.
Push through the doors anyway.
Because a leprechaun - one that holds a dream or an opportunity that you didn’t even know was possible - may actually be standing behind one of them, and could have the power change the course of your entire life.
WHO WE ARE. WHAT WE DO. WHY WE DO IT.
Throughout the summer, I've been on complete academic lockdown as I worked my way through Seth Godin's Inaugural altMBA program. I used many of the Project Prompts from the course to work on the foundation for Little Big Words, and for our last assignment -- we had to create a 3 minute, off-the-cuff, non-edited, no excuses/apologies/reading, true-human-behind the camera video that explains what we do, and why we do it to our class. This is considerably harder than it looks and a very humbling exercise. Thinking about things is one thing, but being able to articulate it without an eraser is another. Here's why we do, what we do at Little Big Words.
For those who have followed us since the very first day, in particular -- we hope you enjoy this one. The cards you have bought, phone cases you have, the Christmas presents you've wrapped -- really are souvenirs that embody a way of being. We hope that this helps to articulate why our little guys radiate, the way they do.
Last week, I realized that I am closing in on a special milestone – breaking through 10,000 hours, working on the Little Big Words project. Things certainly look a lot different than they did at hour one.
For those who are unfamiliar with the school of thought behind ’10,000 hours’ – this idea was the thesis that underpinned Malcolm Galdwell’s international best selling book, ‘Outliers.’ While the book received criticism for its oversimplification and heavy reliance on anecdotal evidence, I’d argue that he has a very valid point in that practice - not just talent and circumstance - is truly the pathway to excellence in a specific discipline.
My friends would tell you that I’ve been a ghost at times over the last few years, while building Little Big Words, alongside an incredibly diverse skill set after dipping my toes into just about every facet of business. Many things of which, were seemingly absent from the degree at business school that I paid for. I haven’t watched TV in 3 years. I forget the last time I went to see a movie or went to a shopping mall. Don’t ask me anything about foreign policy, any major sporting event or pop culture. Sometimes, I come up against shadows of my former self while walking the streets of Toronto and have almost forgotten what certain things feel like, or the drive to do them. But my return on investment is simply this -- my start-up survived, and is on firm footing.
In my previous job, it would have taken me years and a couple flights up the corporate ladder to gain access to the experience and opportunities that hustling at your own gig can get you. I guess I opted to take a strategic short cut to get the education that I was really searching for in the first place.
As a tribute to all of those hours, risk and hustle, here are ten things that I know to be true and have learned through experience:
1. Find the confidence to always ask. If you accept the fact that the worst thing they can say is no -- you will go far.
2. When you have something special, people will try and take it from you. Invest in good intellectual property protection, trademarks and copyrights. While they are not cheap, a cease-and-desist letter FEDEX’ed with guaranteed express delivery before 9 AM is a wonderful little tool that can silence the sneaky.
3. Moreover, when you have something special, people and companies will try to collaborate with you. While I don’t believe that the world is ‘out to get you’, I do believe that people are out for themselves. That said, four things must exist for a healthy business relationship – they will collaboratively share their financial statements, you are both clear on explicit, tangible goals with defined roles, they will not hesitate to supply character references and there will be a contract. If they burn, be sure that you don’t burn with them. Accept nothing less than clean professional hygiene.
4. Spend some time defining, ‘This is how we do things at…(Little Big Words/Company X.’) Be clear on what you care about and truly value. When you know who you are, what you stand for and where you want to go – this little tool helps you cut right to the chase for the most important ways to spend your time. For us, our priority is our customers having all-around awesome products that inspire the kid in all of us. Period. I know my customers' names and they know mine. That’s really important to me and will never change.
5. The same exercise is really important when building your team. That statement, alongside the thought, ‘People like us, do things like this…’ can help you decide who you want to help you on your adventure.
6. One of the hardest things that an entrepreneur can learn to do is let go. But it is a must. You are the heart of the company – your job is to strengthen it and protect it. But it’s something that’s an entity that’s independent of you and has the ability to be something much greater than yourself. Growth really starts when you understand that your core job is to put people with the right skills, in the right places that are often better than you at that function whether it be permanently or on a project basis. Regardless, inspire and unleash them.
7. The educational system, particularly post-secondary education – is an exceptionally stifling place for those who dream of entrepreneurship. The system breeds compliance, conformity and at times, especially in business school, stifles creativity entirely. Your intelligence and prediction of future ‘life success’ is not congruent to an answer key. It also does not teach you how to fail. Entrepreneurs skew closer to scientists with their approach -- ‘try, fail, try again’, more than anything else.
8. If you are a female in a position of leadership, learn to say ‘yes’, instead of ‘sure.’ Further to that, if you are female, looking to level the playing field with males in leadership positions, speak in their language – succinctly, and with purpose. Before big meetings, listen to and channel your inner Beyonce for some extra confidence.
9. The single most important thing you can do in life is make smart choices about who you choose to surround yourself with. The devil has plenty of advocates - the brave need supporters. Criticism or snide comments come from those who don't have the courage, confidence or discipline to do it themselves. They are not in your shoes, so their comments are irrelevant.
There is not a day that goes by where I am not grateful for that warm, west coast voice that was in my ear almost daily, coaching me through decisions and getting me through what entrepreneurs call, the ‘survival swim’ before a risk shows reward. I hope that I was half the amount of support that he was to me on his toughest days and am forever grateful for his friendship and confidence. Find the ones who are in your corner from the very first day. And stay there. Trust only a select few with your grand master plans. They will help you find and keep your feet.
10. And above all else, this from my long time favourite teacher is true:
'Hard work is about risk, not busy work. It begins when you deal with the things that you’d rather not deal with: fear of failure, fear of standing out, fear of rejection. Hard work is about training yourself to leap over this barrier, tunnel under that barrier, drive through the other barrier. And after you’ve done that, to do it again the next day. And the next day. But this is the ticket to greatness. Greatness is frightening to many because it comes with responsibility. Persist anyway. Because what lies on the other side is priceless. With each barrier you pass through, you change. Each attempt becomes easier. And your sense of self becomes unshakable. The time you invest is worth every effort.'
- Seth Godin
Little Big Words was selected to study with international best-selling author, Fast Company columnist and TED Speaker, Seth Godin this weekend in New York City. Three life changing days were held off the grid at the Purple Crayon in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. They were full of big ideas, challenging questions, honesty, encouragement, hilarity, humanity and humility. The weekend filled every one of our cells with inspiration and joy. An extra special thank you to Seth Godin and Winnie for everything. We will remember this weekend for the rest of our lives. There are some moments that change you, and this weekend was full of them for me. I am sincerely humbled and grateful for the opportunity.
Little known fact: I'm actually featured in a Marketing Textbook for University Students across Canada in 2015. (Marketing, 2nd/3rd Canadian Edition by Grewal to be exact!) This book is currently used at Wilfrid Laurier's School of Business, Waterloo, Carleton, University of Toronto, UBC's School of Business, York / Schulich MBA program, The Richard Ivey School of Business.
In one of the chapters, there's short biography of my former corporate life and suit-esque photo (maybe slightly different than the attached...) Students from across the country have been messaging me on LinkedIn over the past few weeks, especially as I gear up to study with Seth Godin, asking me how I managed to get to where I was, what the 'unique thing I did'. Truth y'all. There's no magic formula. I wrote each student back and said -- three things:
1. Do not get caught in the rat race, information/social media glut of all of the things that your friends and peers are doing / you 'should' be doing. The 'right jobs', the 'right people', Just white noise. That's what's right for them. Choose what's right for YOU.
2. Successful people care little about what others think, and instead, focus on their individuality. They use that to learn how to challenge and build themselves, learn what fulfills them, and how to play to their strengths. A little doubt is healthy, (keeps ya humble), but be mindful of whether or not its prohibitive.
3. And don't be afraid to be bad at something, so that you can learn how to be really good at it. I've drawn a lot of bad pictures, I'll tell you that. In the end, no one really cares. Do it for yourself.
We traded in our illustrator markers for speedball paints this family day weekend to learn a completely new discipline -- the basics of Silk Screen / Screen Printing on paper and fabrics. It's always important to shake things up and adjust your creativity to different mediums, and practice makes perfect! We spent our day jamming to big tunes in Kensington Market's Model Citizen's dark room, listening, learning, and playing arts and crafts, covered in paint. We built our first set of screens for screen printing and mastered the art of 1-colour printing. Next up, 2 to 3 colour prints!