This question was driven home to me when reading a story about the founder of YouTube. You see, Steve Chen was an early employee at Facebook, one of the first 15 people there.
Then, he turned in his resignation to start YouTube. One of his colleagues at Facebook heard the news and said this to him:
“[Facebook] is going to be as important as any company in the history of Silicon Valley and you are making a huge mistake.”
In some ways, this answer is ironic to read, just as it is to think about all the people who rejected The Beatles, or those who passed on Harry Potter when J.K. Rowling was first shopping it around.
The story about Steve leaving Facebook to start YouTube was posted on Quora, and what really hit home to me was this comment:
“The world is a better place because he quit. [Facebook] would have always done well even without Steve.”
That blew me away.
How, so many of us feel essential at jobs we work for others, but they are not jobs that we enjoy or even believe in.
Sure, we know we are making a contribution, and love the validation of being an essential part of a team.
But often — too often — we get stuck there. Stuck in jobs that we don’t love.
Stuck at companies that would get along just fine without us, as our other dreams lie dormant.
We stay because of the validation it provides; because it is easier to keep doing the same thing, instead of causing disruption. Day by day, week by week, year by year, we slowly let our other professional or creative dreams rot. No sunlight shines on them, no stray rain encourages roots to grow.
In the story above, it is true that Facebook became one of the most important companies in history.
But so did YouTube.
YouTube has brought so many voices into my life. All I can think is: thank goodness Steve Chen left Facebook to start it with two of his friends.
Finding Potential Requires Risk
Six years ago, I took a huge risk to start my company.
I left the corporate world — the guaranteed salary, the office in NYC, the 4 weeks paid vacation — to follow an idea I had.
At the height of the recession, I left that corporate job, just a month before my wife and I had our son. A few months later, my wife left her tenured teaching job.
When I took that leap to find my own potential, this is the message I received from someone:
“Think about your family, you dolt.”
I tell that full story in this piece for Compose Journal.
For six years, I pursued what was possible, without the safety net of either my wife or I having a traditional employer.
Yesterday I received an email from someone I have been working with. It is one of those messages that you dream of receiving:
“I want you to understand why I am so bloody grateful to you for showing up in my inbox months ago. I don’t even know how I got on your list. I just need you to know that you matter to me. To my writing, to my life’s work. When you help me find my voice and reach my audience, you are helping me change lives for the better. You play a part in that, and I just wanted you to know YOUR WORK MATTERS!”
I am deeply grateful for this note. Isn’t that how we all want to feel? That not only our work matters — but that it is truly helping others?
Investing in Your Potential
At one time or another, we have all sat on the sidelines observing someone else having great success with an idea, and said, “I thought of that very same idea years ago!”
It begs the question: what are you able to create that you are putting off because other people’s priorities are clouding your vision?
I would like for you to consider this: the idea of “investing” in your potential.
That where we put our focus, our time, our energy is in some ways, an investment.
For most of us, we make the bulk of that investment in order to care for others and live up to our responsibilities. For instance, we take the early shift at a job we hate because the paycheck helps buy food for our child; or helps pay for medical bills for a parent. I 100% know that people struggle to make ends meet, and would never belittle that for even a moment.
If you feel that there is something missing… a dream that you have that is being ignored, I want to share three steps to help you explore what is possible:
Step #1: Find an idea that you are enthusiastic about. No, you do not have to identify your “one true calling,” because sometimes, that is not obvious. And not knowing a clear direction can lead you to stagnate, to not move in any direction because you want to 100% be sure it is right.
Instead… explore. Identify one idea you are passionate about, and name it.
For some of you, it is about writing a book. For others, it is about having a specific effect on the lives of others. It could be an idea for a business, or simply an activity such as painting.
Step #2: Find some margin in your life. No, you do not have to quit your job in order to pursue your idea. You simply need to find a little bit of white space each week.
Identify a single hour in the next week that you can sit down uninterrupted with a notebook, and explore this idea on paper.
A week after that, find an hour where you can tell someone about this idea. Simply writing down and sharing your idea will give that idea life.
Step #3: Identify the tiniest action you can take to start this idea. If that seems overwhelming, let me frame it to you this way: let’s say you want to get in shape. Now, nobody I know has extra time to fit in a workout at the gym. Everyone is juggling jobs, kids, relationships, and health.
But I know you have time to do a single pushup. Because that takes less than 10 seconds.
It may seem insignificant — a single pushup — but it is the start of potential:
- It is the establishment of a habit. As we know, habits are key to making progress towards our goals.
- It is proof to yourself that you are taking action towards your goal.
- Believe it or not, doing a single pushup every week actually will make you stronger.
- It is a measure of progress — the first pushup you try will likely be a miserable failure. After a 7 days, it will be more confident. After two weeks, it will be easy.
- It is a gateway habit — meaning that if you are able to feel good about the practice of doing a single pushup, you may begin making other healthy decisions about your level of activity or your diet.
All this from a single pushup.
In the comments below, I would love for you to tell me: what is the single action you can take this week, that would help you explore your potential?