“I’ll tell you everything, and you tell me everything, and maybe we can get through all the piss and shit and lies that kill other people.”
~ Claudia Wilson Gator in Magnolia (1999)
This is one of my favourite movie quotes of all time. I remember watching this scene over and over again. Claudia was a complete mess. Actually, all of the characters in this movie were. But she was the most honest character about her messiness. She was willing to splatter her messiness all over the place just to get to a real conversation that may lead to a real connection.
Just over a week ago, I posted my own splattered messiness all over the internet in the form of a TEDx talk. When I gave that talk in February, it took everything I had to hold it together on the stage. When I wrote the script for that talk, I was bawling like a baby. It wasn’t manufactured or hyperbolized. In fact, I edited the final talk quite a bit to remove the bits that were sure to make me lose my shit on the stage.
I was scared to give it. I’m still scared every time I send it to someone. I’m not talking about my success or all of the awesome things I’ve accomplished in that talk. I’m talking about struggling, failing, not knowing where I’m going, being delusional, stumbling, breaking down and generally being a mess. Sure, I give a little upbeat Apple Ad bit at the end of the talk so I can end it on a hopeful note. It’s the same upbeat talk I give myself at the end of every single day.
But like Claudia, I just want to get to a real conversation that could, hopefully, lead to some very real connections at the end of the day.
And connect I have. I’ve received close to one hundred emails from people – mostly strangers – who thank me for giving that talk. They thank me because they are either experiencing the same struggles or they have experienced those struggles in the past. And in most of their recollections, nobody else came forward and told them they were in good company.
Instead what DO we hear? We hear about multi-million dollar valuations, twenty-something overnight billionaires, napkin sketches that get millions in funding, gabillions of downloads overnight and that crazy idea that went from zero to turning down a multi-billion dollar acquisition within a year. That’s a whole lot of millions, gabillions and billions to take in when you are sweating over whether you are going to make your payroll at the end of the month. It’s enough to make you think you just may be chasing a pipe dream after all.
Here is my counter-intuitive thought: the constant proliferation of success stories is actually discouraging to the right kinds of entrepreneurs that could be fixing a good amount of the world’s problems.
The majority of the email I’ve received is from women. Yes, it’s probably because I *am* a woman and they could identify, but it’s also more likely that they think if they talk about their struggles, they will show that they are weak and can’t hold up to the brazen entrepreneurship of the winning men. The truth is that everybody crumbles. Even men. Those stories just don’t make the covers of Fast Company. They silently slip away. Or they are told POST-success: “I had many failures until I achieved this success.”
And, yes, we all pay lip-service to success being in the eye of the beholder. But let’s get real here. There is only one kind of success that counts when it counts – when you are raising money or making the headlines or being invited to headline the big conferences – and it’s the payday.
So what if we could, as Claudia puts it, get through all the piss and shit and lies that kill other people? What if, when we stumbled, we understood that it was just part of the natural process of navigating the unclear path? I tell myself everyday I stumble that “this is just part of the startup story.” Every misstep, every rejection, every time I hit the big frickin wall, I say, “it’s the journey and if it were easy, I wouldn’t be growing and going somewhere I need to be.”
I used to be afraid of talking about my failures. But the more I do, the more people I uncover who want to talk about theirs, too. A couple of years back I was at FOO Camp and I encouraged a group of successful entrepreneurs to hold a session on failing. Let me tell you…the session was a fail in itself. Nobody could even talk about real failure there. It was all about how they hired the wrong person or chose the wrong programming language. There was very little honesty in that room. I decided not to talk at all because my failures seemed so epic compared to theirs. No wonder they were successful and I wasn’t!
I regret that now. I wonder what would have happened if I had piped in and talked about one of my very real failures. Losing a business to bad financial planning and ruining my credit. Losing a best friend over making a really selfish decision that ended up stinging me. THESE are things I learnt from. They were undoable. I pay for those failures to this day.
Years ago, I chose to live my life with the kind of transparency that would create real connections to real people and ever since then my life became fantastically uncommonly amazing. Yes, it leaves me incredibly vulnerable, but it also creates an amazing amount of safety for me. Having real connections with people means that I have an enormous group of people who would take a bullet for me. The only regret I have is that I didn’t do it sooner.
The lies ARE killing people. They are killing real progress. Real solutions to real world problems. If we took away the inflation of a few and really took a look at the landscape we would see that the majority of us are stumbling towards doing something meaningful.
Speaking of which, a big bonus…Hugh MacLeod‘s amazing cartoon that says it all:
Keep doing it. You aren’t alone.