How about making YOU your startup?

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Photo by Gia Oris on Unsplash

Background

Startups. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. It’s not just a “buzzword”. It’s a symbol of freedom. Freedom of choice. Freedom from money issues. Being your own boss. Making your own choices. Doing stuff that you enjoy doing and doing them on your own terms.

Building your own startup (or shall I say – a business) for many seem like an (ultimate) goal in life.

I can definitely understand the driving force. It symbolizes everything that you most likely lacking right now.

There’s a belief that focusing your time and energy on a thing that you can influence directly, you most certainly are going to profit both financially and mentally.

I personally can’t say that I’m into it. At least not right now. I tried it once, invested tons and tons of time and energy, eventually having it experience death by thousand cuts. If anything, it made me appreciate my “9-5” job and the paycheck that I’m getting.

But here is the thing – I loved the journey. I enjoyed being committed to something that I can influence. Something that I was heavily responsible for. The process of building the damn thing is what made it worth.

And that’s what got me thinking. Why are businesses the only kind of “startup” that we believe are worth building?

Let me put this as straight as it gets – your BODY is a startup. Your MIND is a startup. Your CAREER is a startup. Your KID is your startup. Why not focus on that?

We Love Building Things

I used to play Minecraft a lot in the past. For those unfamiliar, Minecraft is a game where you find yourself in a randomly generated world and you can do pretty much anything. You can collect resources, build houses, domesticate animals, explore coal mines, … But one thing that I deeply enjoyed there was building a house. Even though it was all virtual, I was getting a tremendous amount of satisfaction just by doing so. I never cared about the interior that much, but I loved building the exterior – putting brick over a brick, adding windows, assembling a balcony, …

Now if you’re even remotely of the similar age as I am, you surely must have played The Sims. Same thing – building a house, a pool, a backyard, … a family? 🙂

How about the lunch? Some of you surely enjoy cooking stuff? Putting building blocks in (ingredients) and getting a finished product – a lunch.

The point is – we are biologically wired to enjoy building things. And most importantly, one main thing that distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom is – we enjoy building stuff that’s not necessary for our survival. And yes, that includes fancy dinners that you spend hours preparing!

And you know what? Evolution favors that! By rewarding us with the dopamine rush every time we build something, it keeps us busy and creative. Keeps us trying to find a new thing to focus on. A new thing to build and develop. Another recipe, another way to do carpentry, another way to decorate your house, …

Human race evolved by keeping itself dopamine-infused every time we come up with something new and harder. And mother nature loves it! And that’s why we love building things so much!

Hero’s journey

Let me quote Wikipedia immediately in order to help you understand the symbolism:

In narratology and comparative mythology, the hero’s journey, or the monomyth, is the common template of stories that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed.

Source: Wikipedia

I’ll give you a visual interpretation as well:

Source: Wikipedia

Rings any bells? The adventure? The struggle? The abyss? The transformation and return back home?

If you ever read anything about a startup being created, you surely must correlate the segments here.

My point is – we love embarking ourselves on a journey. And for whatever reason, we make ourselves ignorant to all the possibilities where we CAN and SHOULD apply and enjoy the journey.

So, does that journey have to be a business? No! You can and SHOULD make a startup out of anything that you appreciate. Be it your body, your mental health, your career, your family, … Those are all things that you can and SHOULD consider worth building and developing.

In order to give you a better overview, let me discuss the crude phases that each startup goes through. And then we’ll see how you can relate that to pretty much anything.

Phases of a startup

This will be a very crude and brief description which, by no means is meant to give the overall structure of what the real-life phases are. Rather, the idea is to give you the core that, usually, each startup goes through. Here’s a chart that nicely depicts that:

  1. The Idea — an initial phase. You come up with an idea of what you want to build. You feel enthusiastic. Excited. Can’t wait to get started. This phase would typically last from couple of weeks to couple of months.
  2. Reality hits — unless you are extremely lucky, you most likely start understanding that whatever it is that you were excited about is … well, not that simple. Or interesting. Compared to hero’s journey from above this is a phase of “temptation”. Most will give up here and lose their interest (end up in “abyss”).
  3. Experimenting & pivoting — for those who avoid the abyss and keep “hustling”, this is probably the phase that lasts the longest. Understanding that your “Idea” is not that easy and not that interesting, you start pivoting. Trying to find what actually does work and rejecting what doesn’t. This may last from couple of months to couple of years!
  4. Starts working — again, for those lucky enough, they finally get to find their market fit. Their idea finally starts working. You are getting a traction. Things start looking better. You are on the “atonement” and “transformation” journey here!
  5. Scale — this is where you invest bulk of your time trying to sustain what you found to be working. This does NOT mean you stop working here, but rather, you finally found a way how to bring your idea closer to reality. Congrats!

One thing to note here is the Happiness level. If you closely observe the chart above, you will find that for most of the time, you will feel “unhappy”. You’ll struggle and be nervous. You’ll be pissed and not able to generate a healthy sleep. You’ll hate it.

But here’s the thing – the reward awaits those who persist. Yep. And here’s one more important thing – this template is valid for absolutely EVERYTHING!

Your BODY as a Startup

As I was saying, the template above should not be used for building companies only. Instead, I’d rather say that whoever came up with it, actually stole it from whatever depicts the one’s journey; on ANYTHING.

So let’s apply this to your body. Or – how you can make your BODY your startup?

  1. The idea — “I want to get in shape”. Or, “I want to lose weight”. Whatever it is, it always starts with an idea and the initial excitement attached to it. And don’t tell me you haven’t been there!
  2. Reality hits — I’ve been there, you’ve been there, our friends have been there … we’ve all experienced it. As soon as the initial excitement wears off, the awful reality hits us in the face. Whatever it is that we expected, it seems way more distant now than we anticipated! We see some results, for sure. But mostly it’s just noise and void. Emptiness. Lack of results. This is where we usually give up, never to learn that this is just one phase of the whole process!
  3. Experimenting & pivoting — for those who endure, this is where we start experimenting. And this is REALLY important phase. If it’s a diet you are on – this is where you have to try “loosing up” a bit. Trying to stick to the same diet but maybe introducing a candy here and there. Or maybe switching to a new diet altogether.

    If we’re trying to get in shape – you either try out different approaches, or you hire a coach; or both. But the point is – you have to endure here until you find what works best for you.
  4. Starts working — finally. You’ve been miserable so far, but you endured. You finally found what your body likes. And a good thing about this is that once you discover what you like, you will have hard time getting off of it. Maybe you switched to a different diet or you moved from weights to kettlebells. But the awesome part is – once you discover that sweet spot of yours, your body will reward you! And this is when you start collecting the fruits!
  5. Scale — yeah! Just do MORE of it. And as I said, nice thing about this is that you will just WANT to do more of it. Because why WOULDN’T you? I love exercising every single morning because I know for a fact that it makes my days wonderful. I feel awesome. I feel energetic. I love that feeling so why’d I get rid of it?

Your CAREER as a Startup

Same template as above, but applied to your career:

  1. The idea — “I want to become a developer” or “I want to move to management”. Or, pretty much whatever it is that you might want to do, it surely will start with an idea of “I want to …”.

    In the beginning, you’re certainly excited and enthusiastic. You keep feeding yourself with all those tutorials and blog articles and you love yourself for doing it!
  2. Reality hits — bang. The harsh reality hits. You’ve been investing time but with no visible results. Surely, your friends and family are proud, but aside from that, not much has probably been happening. Maybe even for months now! The reality SUCKS!
  3. Experimenting & pivoting — Assuming that, in phase #2 you recognize the occurring pattern, this is now the time when you start experimenting. Maybe you need to change your approach to learning a new skill. Or try different things. Maybe try applying for some jobs and seeing if and what you are missing actually?

    One really interesting tactic that I’ve figured over time is – if you want to move to some role or career, just try and apply for that position. Really. See how you rank. Figure out what’s missing to land you an actual job. This can be part of your “experimenting & pivoting” as well.
  4. Starts working — Given enough time, proper experiments and pivoting, sprinkled on top with some luck – you eventually land a gig. Congrats! This is where things become easier and you’re ready to scale up!
  5. Scale — Suffice to say – your knowledge starts scaling and your salary follows. You’re finally collecting the fruits of your hard work. Congrats! You deserved it!

YOU are your Startup

By now you must have gotten the point. Startups should not be reserved for building business only.

Be it your body, your relationships, your career or your kid(s), you most certainly can collect those same promises that we so hardly are striving for. The feeling of freedom, success, independence, hard work paying off. Being able to choose WHAT, WHEN and HOW to work on something that you enjoy in.

What’s more, one additional benefit is – you can work on MULTIPLE startups at the same time! Will it be harder? For sure! But the reward(s) are amazing!

Before closing this article, if there’s one thing I’d like you to remember from it, it’s this:

Whatever you choose to work on, it will be a process. A journey. You will feel excited. You will feel devastated. You will lose hope. But ultimately, it’s all part of the process. Eventually you will get there. You just have to trust the process!

Recommended reading

  1. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries — even though primary focus of this book is about building businesses, I still found the “framework” from this book to be invaluable when it comes to pretty much anything. Publishing your minimum-viable-product, getting feedback, pivoting, … everything in this book can be applied to pretty much ANYTHING you pick.
  2. Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas — we’ve all heard of Walt Disney, right? But I guess not many are familiar with the fact that his “experimenting & pivoting” phase took around 30-40 years. Here’s just an excerpt from my review of this book – “The reason I gave 5 stars to this book is that, strangely enough, as I was reading it, I noticed myself changing my attitude towards the work, creativity, productivity, etc. For whatever reason, I just felt inspired, energised and way more creative than usual. And hell, I’m a programmer :)”
  3. Sidarta by Hermann Hesse — if you skipped this one in your high school, now’s a perfect time to go back to basics. Story about a young man trying to find his market and product fit. I try to read it at least once every couple of years!
  4. Finally, this blog would probably turn into ashes if I weren’t to mention the Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. For all newcomers – this is a book that pretty much compresses the “startup journey” of many successful athletes, enterpreneurs, commanders and other “celebrities”

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