Today’s Advice Sponsored by Freshworks
We Mortgaged Our Goals
The thing is, this didn't get away from us in a single move. It wasn't just because we took on investors or made a single customer commitment. It was all of those decisions. Each time we chased after that next big goal, we lost sight of our own original goals in the process — and we mortgaged them in the name of our startup's progress.
It's easy to see the upside, we just don't do a great job of truly considering the "loss." When we took on investment we thought "OK great, we'll be able to grow the team!" but we didn't think "Wait, if we have to answer to investors, I'm going to have a new boss that will indirectly prevent me from doing everything the way I want to do it."
We didn't build a startup to satisfy investors. But that's now the business we're in. Their needs now trump our needs, and along the way, our goals got set aside.
We Got Used To Putting Ourselves Last
Of course, the sacrifices didn't end there. We needed to scale up, so we used what little money we had to bring on some new staff. That meant we were going to have to cut back our own pay, or in some cases, continue taking no salary at all (the fallacy of all Founders). It's not that we stopped paying ourselves, it's that we begun to get used to putting ourselves last. In many cases, we used it as a badge of honor.
Once we started down this path, especially when we became proud of the sacrifice, what we unconsciously did was start allowing ourselves to be put at the back of the line. In fact, we created such a powerful behavior that not only did we feel most comfortable being put at the back of the line, we actually felt guilty when we put ourselves in any other position.
We felt guilty when we took time off. We felt guilty when we increased our salary. We felt guilty when our stock was worth more than someone else's. We convinced ourselves so readily that we were last, that we sentenced ourselves to being last.
We Allowed Everyone Else To Be OK With It
Not only did we convince ourselves that we deserved to be at the back of the line, we convinced everyone else that's where we belonged. We didn't do this intentionally, nor was it their fault. But every time we stopped putting ourselves first, we voted ourselves to be last, and no one complained.
Our investors never emailed us to say "Hey, you know, your salary is well below market even though everyone else is getting paid market wages to remain competitive." Our staff never said, "Hey, I've noticed you haven't taken a vacation in the past 2 years, you should really take time off." They just assumed that's the way things are because we set that assumption implicitly.
All of these little steps put us where we are. But here's the thing — it's reversible. The same power we used to put ourselves to the back of the line can be used to change position. The first step is recognizing that our initial goals and intentions weren’t to build something wonderful that would control our lives, but to empower them.
We need to revisit those goals. We need to remind ourselves why we built this thing and what we wanted it to accomplish. Then, we need to step up and make a non-stop concerted effort to put those goals at the forefront of every decision, breaking instantiated behaviors and expectations that have made us a slave to our own creation.
We built this. It's ours. It works for us. Not the other way around.
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