I used to be averse to 9-5 jobs. Who in their right mind would want to call it a day at 5 or 6 pm, and enjoy the rest of their night? People are weird sometimes.
I gravitated to startup culture for its blatant- if slightly overplayed- cheekiness. Work whenever you want! Don’t you dare wear a suit! Take a specially designed American Apparel tee instead. Even when I didn’t mind donning pencil skirts and heels – and actually, kind of wanted to – something in me admired the irreverence of startup culture.
Underlying everything was my belief that startup people loved their jobs more than corporate ‘sellouts’ did. Startup employees had passion and personal stake that kept them working into the wee hours. While definitely true for some people, particularly founders, the obsessive workaholic drive isn’t a good fit for everyone. It eventually took its toll on me when I found myself unable to think amid side conversations 3 feet to my right, flying ping pong balls inches to my left, and no clear boundaries or stopping points in sight.
Since ‘selling out’ and joining a larger company, I’ve discovered that innovation can still happen in highly controlled environments. In fact, Tim Brown of IDEO says constraints, when set appropriately, drive innovation. Ideas develop based on the strict parameters provided (needs, resources, time, size, impact etc). They range from simple process tweaks to larger strategic initiatives. Sometimes they exist more as improvements than complete recreations, but it’s still innovation. Was not the iPhone a mere ‘smart’ improvement from the generic cell phone?
Entrepreneurship takes many forms. I used to think it didn’t count unless you worked at a startup, or bootstrapped your company out of a garage. Many of my friends are involved with side projects. My best friend has a popular fashion blog, another friend designs 3D bracelets. There’s Melissa who writes a vegetarian food blog after hours, and a stellar sister duo creating modern-day versions of global dolls. None of them are dropping out of college or quitting their jobs. Silicon Valley’s ‘fuck it all, wear your hoodie, strike it rich’ narrative is just a tale, not a template for day-to-day entrepreneurship.
The spirit to create lives in all of us, but the conditions (and constraints) needed to thrive vary from person to person. For now, I’m happy innovating from within.
Yesterday, I was dismissed from a great job at a great company with great potential. Six months ago, I was dismissed from a great job at a great company with great potential. Two times in a row, I’ve been rejected, dismissed as “not a good fit” which in some ways is saying, “not good enough”. Startup pace is quick, if not brutal. So today, here I am, back at what seems to be Square One, trailing behind the offshoots of engines that will jet off to greatness without me. By most standards, I’ve failed. But by at least one standard, I am encouraged. Defeat presents an opportunity to grow. Richard Nixon, a man who weathered a lot of turmoil, said that learning to survive a defeat is when you develop character. Scoff all you want about Nixon being the last person to know a thing about character, but he’s got a point.
“Ultimately what matters most is resilience–the ability to quickly rebound from failures, indeed to see failure as a stepping stone to success.”
– Arianna Huffington
That’s not to undermine the shame and embarrassment I feel. Being let go sucks. Being let go twice doubly sucks. When you think about it too much, you go crazy, believing your life is just pedaling against the current: one step forward, two steps back. You descend into all sorts of belittling comments and emotions. Heart-wrenching pain that leads to tears, sobbing, louder sobbing, and mind-blowing cries because heck – – rejection hurts.
But amid all the pain, there is a voice – small, quiet yet certain – that knows this is all necessary. After all, what is good without bad? Happiness without sadness? And success without failure?
The windows in my living room overlook the corner of a busy intersection humming with people rushing to their destination. It’s a perfect encapsulation of New York City. I usually scarf my breakfast in plain view of Kate Moss, whose Rag and Bone ad is plastered on the building across the street. Her frozen smile stares at my 99-cent Cinnamon oatmeal sprinkled with too much brown sugar. Her perfectly symmetrical face simultaneously captivates and infuriates me. I imagine her passing gentle judgment, with my asymmetrically cut strawberries, crumpled shirts, and pants squeezing too tight. “Nothing tastes better than skinny. Get it together, Lynne. Don’t fuck up today.” Perfection can be motivational.
Today, I looked out, expecting her gaze. Instead, I saw an assortment of black flyers advertising a weekend party. One of them had already been scribbled on. How quickly perfection had been replaced! I was reminded of the Augusteum in Rome, once the center of the empire only now to be a collapsed monument waiting for a reconstruction that will never happen.
My ego is bruised but has learned its lesson. Ruin is the road to transformation. Life is chaotic, bringing changes that nobody can anticipate. So, don’t take it all too seriously. Fall, but get back up. A job is a job, and life moves on. Like a fish out of water flopping about, I’ll find another place to swim.
“The Augusteum warns me to not get attached to any obsolete ideas about who I am, what I represent, whom I belong to, or what function I may once have intended to serve. Yesterday I might have been a glorious monument to somebody, true enough–but tomorrow I could be a fireworks depository. Even in the Eternal City, says the silent Augusteum, one must always be prepared for riotous and endless waves of transformation.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
To the next wave.
Last night, I attended a NYC VIP shopping event for a store opening. The event was sponsored by a reputable magazine and the magazine’s style editor was in attendance. I went, armed with a purpose. Pitch startup idea, make an impression, smile and conquer.
<<< I also shopped a lot. Though in retrospect, I wouldn’t suggest pitching while wearing green pants. People may not take you seriously.
Easy in theory. Here was the reality:
1. Unless you personally know the owner, an event is never as “exclusive” as you think. I arrived 15 minutes after opening and the store was packed. With doors wide open, people were pouring in because…everyone was invited! Receiving a forwarded email from a fashion friend with the word VIP in fancy font had fooled me into believing that this was an actual exclusive high-brow event. Apparently I’m naive enough to believe everything I read. Reality check #1.
2. Upon finding my target, I froze. What was I actually going to say? I had rehearsed the pitch a million times only to realize that you can’t just go up to someone and begin pitching. To be a smooth criminal, you must determine how to start a conversation with someone who has far more better things to do than talk to you. Reality check #2.
3. Once you finally begin to pitch, everything that’s been rehearsed goes unrehearsed. Words sputter and things you swore you’d never say come out. Rambling commences. The perfect elevator pitch is not what you need because the circumstances for a standalone elevator pitch to thrive don’t exist. Instead, proper cushioning and social grace are more effective. Reality check #3.
4. Leaving with 3 new business cards, I’m quite satisfied. Only to realize later that I’ve lost them! Alas, I remember their names! A simple search reveals all the necessary contact information…and Google saves the day! So wait, was all that networking anxiety even necessary?
In summary: if you’re a startup or someone trying to win hearts and minds, note the following:
1. Your pitch doesn’t matter. Context does.
2. What is advertised is not what you get, usually.
3. Brevity, transitions, and cushioning are gold.
4. Contacts, shmontacs. Schmoozing doesn’t work. Be genuine and people will respond. (Dressing well helps a little too.)
5. Try hard, but not too hard. Nothing is ever worth the anxiety.