Our Dirty Little Secret Starts with the Letter "L"

Our Dirty Little Secret Starts with the Letter "L"
Photo by Zhen H / Unsplash

Limits are the dirty little secret that no one talks about.

We talk about success like it's inevitable.

As if we live in a magical place where the heroine nimbly leaps to avoid disaster (we all knew she'd make it) and lives happily ever after.

I get it.

It's easy to fall into the lure of the bright lights when everything else around you is dark.

Like a moth to the flame, you roll right up on the spectacle, ready to take it all in.

I'm not talking about another Disney (tm) production. These are curated social "expressions" on all your favorite channels.

You need to know the truth to survive.

Hofstadter's law states that a project always takes longer than expected, even when the law is taken into account. Simply put, time estimates for how long a project will take to complete always fall short of the actual time required to complete it.

You Don't Know About the Line Until You Have Crossed the Line

In our quest for excellence, we collectively ignore the most obvious signs that things aren't going well.

It could be discomfort.

It could be boredom.

It could just be a funny feeling in your gut.

All of these intuitions, however, are inconsequential in comparision to the possible outcome of our hard work.

As a coach might put it, winning at all costs.

Since we plan for the future with the best possible outcome in mind, we ignore the possible consequences along the way.

1️⃣ The only way to know we've stayed up too late...is to stay up too late.

2️⃣ The only way we know we've said too much...is (regrettably) after we have said it.

3️⃣ The only way we know we took the wrong turn...is by not getting to where we wanted to go.

You get the idea.

But what does this mean for our physical and mental health? After all, we are all still human.

What happens to our dreamy, bright future if our daily work is actually driving us further away from that outcome?

Well, in our hero's journey, the protagonist mostly likely acknowledges his humanity (but still manages to succeed in the end).

We are suckers for this type of narrative.

Even though it's not true.

Lines are Great Targets, You Say?

Actually, I can't disagree with you here.

Whether the line was externally or internally set, it's often the clearest target to aim for.

With so much of our shared social media reality being arbitrary, sometimes your own lived experience makes the most meaningful line to beat.

And I want you to strive for them.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to hold you back.

I don't want to keep you in some safe, soft bubble where nothing bad ever happens.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained isn't just a pithy thing. It's gospel.

However, you do need to know what you are getting into (borderline trouble) and how you can get out.

Respect the Disconnect (Between Ambitions and Actuality)

Solopreneurs without a profound sense of self-awareness are at a material disadvantage.

This awareness is the bedrock of our capacity.

Without it, we are just working in the dark without lights.

Flying with no radar.

Blind in one eye (if not two).

This leads to overcommitting to work. Overextending. Over all the things.

It's critical that we embrace self-acceptance and understanding.

Not just to avoid the problems I've listed above. Because there's also the lagging tendency to over-compensate (as a reaction).

Done poorly, high achievers with no self-awareness are swinging from one extreme to the next...until they break.

Focus on these elements:

- Self-Awareness: Recognize when you're feeling off, and understand that feeling this way is okay. It's not about denying these feelings but addressing them.

- Acceptance: Understand it's natural to sometimes feel disconnected. Remember, it's not about always feeling good but acknowledging and respecting our emotions and energy levels.

- Avoiding Over-Correction: High performers often over-correct, pushing harder and working longer, leading to burnout. Steer clear of this trap.

From Dune, Book One

Flowing with the Current

The essence of entrepreneurship isn't rigidly adhering to a path, but fluidly navigating the terrain that presents itself.

There is no one right way. There are infinite ways.

Our job is to walk the path until we find the way.

Harmonious balance is achieved by:

  • constantly recalibrating our goals
  • being compassionate toward ourselves and
  • staying adaptable in the face of evolving situations.

Focus on these elements:

  • Finding the Middle Ground: Identify tasks that align with your current energy levels and work on those. Neither force nor completely withdraw.
  • Being Kind to Yourself: The journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Grant yourself breaks, recharge, and then surge forward with renewed energy.
  • Adaptability: As the landscape changes, so should your strategies. Be fluid, adjust, and find the best path forward.

Embracing the Season

Every stage of the solopreneur's journey, every high and low, forms a chapter in the larger narrative of growth and progress.

Instead of trying to avoid the low points, the quiet seasons marked by introspection and recalibration, you need to lean into them.

These moments offer a chance to shift our mindset. To recalibrate our core vision. To seek fresh inspiration to propel us forward.

Focus on these elements:

  • Mindset Shift: Treat low motivation as a season of reflection, learning, and growth rather than a setback.
  • Realigning Goals: Re-evaluate your objectives. If they no longer resonate, tweak them to match your evolving vision.
  • Seeking Inspiration: Sometimes, a fresh perspective can rekindle passion. Consider new activities, read, or take a trip to reignite that inner spark.

The Final Word

It's 100% correct to have extremely high expectations for yourself and for your work.

My only request is that you bring the same level of high expectations and focus to the key moments when things aren't working out.

After all, sometimes being the fastest doesn't mean outracing the best.

It means slowing down less than everyone else.

Have a great weekend!

Many of you already know I am a compulsive endurance athlete. I view  rigorous training and racing to be a core part of my identity. I see great synergies between the challenges we face at work and at play.

TLDR; my work life often parallels my training, with one imitating the other.

In this case, my late-season fatigue after some big races has forced some reflection on our personal limits.

Thank you for indulging me.