“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb
I’m loving my new life founding and growing an early stage company. What I love most is that I feel alive. Vibrant. Energized. Engaged. It might sound strange, but it also feels like my mind and intelligence is waking up. Sorry if this sounds dumb or arrogant, but I feel smarter. Sort of like I’m exercising my mind again and my mental muscles are re-emerging. I know, it’s weird. My personal learning and growth are off the charts. Yes, I got some of this as I switched between corporate jobs. But maybe it’s because the corporate safety net is gone. Wild success or wild failure, it’s on me (and my team). It’s probably like slack-lining a few hundred feet off the ground versus the slack-line in my back yard that’s 3 feet off the ground. On the surface, lots of what I’m doing is similar. But, without the safety net, the experience is entirely different.
So, I’ve been asking myself… WHY? Why did I wait so long in my career to make the jump? The first and easy answer is the math. I’m now 50. I’m told that you don’t many entrepreneurs in their 30s and 40s. That makes total sense to me. My kids are mostly grown. And, like a 25-year-old college grad, my ability to take risk has improved. Being an executive in a high-tech company where stock has grown from $30 to $300 put enough money in my pocket that my options have expanded. I have mad respect for Mark Garrett and Shantanu Narayan (Adobe CFO and CEO through most of the growth). Their big and bold transformation helped tons of people financially!
But there’s more than that. My life strategy was to start at the bottom and work my way to the top of a company. I imagined working for the same company my entire life. I made big sacrifices in the early years. While our young family was always able to make ends meet, it was never super COMFORTABLE. We didn’t take expensive family vacations. New tires or car repairs were a big stress. At the end of each year as we had eroded our bonus and tax return from previous years, I almost always had to find a way to bridge Christmas and end of year expenses. More than once, I considered getting a 2nd seasonal job to make ends meet. During those early years, I really pushed myself.
I could argue that only recently changed. But the truth is. 5 years ago. Maybe even 10 years ago, we were doing pretty darn good. And, the many years of hard work and patience really started to pay off. Job scope increased. Leadership autonomy increased. And the money increased. And, if you would have asked me then, I would have said… I put in my time. I worked my tail off to get here. I need to stay and harvest the rewards of that hard work. I think the overall strategy was pretty smart. And, it worked.
But, over the last 5-10 years, the ‘golden-handcuffs’ really started to tie me down. Big tech benefits were great. I was working with awesome people. Free drinks. Free food. Great health and wellness benefits. And, every year the bonus and stock would vest. And every year, I’d see another big vesting just 10-12 short months away. I had hired some of the best people on the planet. Leading top-quality people is JOYFUL. TRULY. Most of them were/are smarter and more capable then me. Taking vacation and personal time was easy. I could go on, and on. By nearly every measure, I was living a charmed life!
But I was ignoring my dreams and ambitions. Each time I felt I should do something else, I would push the idea and feeling to a back corner of my mind. It was fun to dream and talk of big ideas, but doing something big seemed kinda dumb. Why rock the boat? Why mess up my COMFORTABLE charmed life?
My coach and peers would regularly tell me I could (and should) do more. But, big companies aren’t designed to push me to the next level. Procurement is the last thing the CFO and CEO want to think about. They were COMFORTABLE with me in the role, so why would they rock the boat or take a risk moving me into another leadership role? My own COMFORT and these company forces sort of stuck me right where I was. Thankfully during those 10 years, we transformed Adobe Procurement from bottom quartile maturity to top quartile maturity. If it wasn’t for the opportunity to lead and drive continuous improvement (and working with amazing people). I might have gone crazy.
Sorry for the long story, and for the long answer to the question…why did I wait so long?
The more I think about this, the more I keep coming back to the addictive and powerful nature of COMFORT. How often do we choose the easy, pleasurable and comfortable path?
I’m not just talking about work and career. Think about every aspect of your life.
How many ways and where are you stuck?
Spiritually. Physically. Emotionally. Financially… think about every aspect of your life.
I have a strong family history of heart disease. Yet, what calls out to me is butter, cheese, and ice cream. I know how I should be eating. But I do (and avoid) just enough to feel COMFORTABLE with my effort. I know I need to lift weights. But I take COMFORT in the fact that I run 30-50 miles per week. My upper body is a wreak and what little muscles I had is now sagging to my belly.
My relationship with my wife is really pretty good. It’s in a COMFORTABLE place. But, I KNOW I could invest more and make it better.
My spirituality is ok. But there’s a number of things I know I should be doing to improve my relationship with God. But, I’m pretty COMFORTABLE. So, the days come and go, and not much changes.
Get the picture? I want to be a better person. I want to do more for other people. But I’m COMFORTABLE enough that I rarely push myself to the next level.
The same is true with my job. I was COMFORTABLE. I did a good job.
But good is simply not good enough. As humans, we need to improve. We need to learn and grow. If that’s not happening. The stagnation is a quiet cancer of COMFORT that truly limits our desire and eventually our ability to STEP IT UP! COMFORTABLY slipping through life isn’t much different than what many of our kids are doing; endless hours of Fortnite. When we see them wasting their days on something so pointless it’s obvious. I’m not minimizing the value and need to provide money and resources to take care of the many needs in life. We gotta pay the bills and take care of our families. That’s a huge first priority. But, it’s always worth asking. Can I do more? Can I learn more? Can I grow more?
Am I ignoring or suppressing inspiration and opportunities to grow to maintain the status quo of COMFORT in my life? Am I so addicted to COMFORT that I’m no longer willing really push myself? It makes me think about Neo in the Matrix. An entire world of people who are going through the motions of life. A life that’s superficial and shallow compared to what it could be if they would/could unplug and retake ownership of their own lives.
So… are you ready to unplug from the addiction of COMFORT and tap into the power and motivation of being 200 feet off the ground? Ask yourself… what have I accomplished in the last 10 years? And, if I stay on my current path, will I be proud of who I’ve become 10 years from now?
Whatever you choose. Create a lion that will eat you if you don’t get up. Get out of bed. And FREAKING RUN!!!
Mediocre isn’t good enough for you. Life is too short. And, you are amazing!