By Todd Palmer
In the tech industry, we’re all on the fast track to success—until we find ourselves on the fast track to suck. When I started my own company back in the 1990s, I kept all of my stresses, questions, and mistakes to myself. I kept all my failures from my stakeholders. I carried the entire burden alone. I existed in a mental vacuum. This ate at my spirit and my drive. I endured this fear of failing and did my best to avoid it. Having all the answers was my mask and my way of not letting people see me sweat.
I never showed vulnerability. I was the rugged individualist, driven to prove I could do it alone. At the same time, I constantly suffered from Imposter Syndrome, that feeling we don’t deserve what we’ve achieved. When we close off our colleagues from our inner fears about the future (especially true during COVID-19), we open the door for Imposter Syndrome to sneak in.
Most of the entrepreneurs I’m now working with suffer from some sort of Imposter Syndrome. As we turn our Imposter Syndrome from something that sucks to something that pushes us toward success, we will begin to feel vulnerable, exposed. When that happens, we will generally fall into one of two groups. One group takes on a “fake it ’til you make it” mentality. They push forward pretending to know what they’re doing and have all the answers. The other group is the “willing to be a little vulnerable” group. That group will admit they don’t have all the answers but move forward anyways, willing to ask for help and figure things out along the way.
Entrepreneurs who fall into the “fake it ’til you make it” group almost always continue to struggle. In fact, it’s the fake it ’til you make it mentality that often leads people into a world of suck in the first place. They pretend they know what they’re doing. They don’t get advice or direction from others. And they end up making a big mess.
Entrepreneurs who fall into the “willing to be vulnerable” group almost always end up better off in the end. It’s a bit counterintuitive, of course, but having a healthy vulnerability is one of the best strength-building exercises you can do to achieve success.
So here are 4 ways you can use vulnerability to rebuild, no matter your business.
Pair Vulnerability with Mentorship
This is one of the best ways to find strength in vulnerability. Of course, you can get mentorship in many ways, including books, podcasts, group memberships, or even coaching. The information and accountability you receive through mentorship helps you grow your knowledge and have accountability to do the hard work it takes to push through obstacles. I get mentorship and accountability by hiring coaches, and by joining groups of other entrepreneurs, such as Entrepreneurs’ Organization, or EO, to surround myself with people who have similar goals as me. I get information by reading books, taking courses, and listening to podcasts. EO and other groups I’ve joined also give me access to top quality information to help me continue to grow.
Find Success in Failure
History is riddled with examples of people who failed and failed again before finding success. But one of the best stories about using vulnerability to build a life belongs to a 9-year-old boy named Alec, who approached me after a talk I gave in Toronto several years ago. I had encouraged the audience to embrace failure when it happens. When Alec got to the front of the room, he handed me a diagram of 13 boxes, 12 with the letter F for failing in them and only one box with the letter S for success in it. As I looked at the paper, I immediately recognized F as the shorthand for failure that grade school kids are used to from report card grading. I looked back up from the page and made eye contact with Alec. Before I could say a thing, Alec smiled and said “It doesn’t matter how many times you fail, right? All you need is one success.”
Alec taught me a lesson that day that I continue to think about to this day; business and life isn’t about avoiding failure. It’s about still moving forward and pursuing success despite past failures. We don’t need more success than failures to lead a great life. We only need one. When we are pursuing a business and life of our own design, just one success will bring us more joy and fulfillment than we ever dreamed possible.
Discover Your Ikigai
Once we’ve embraced our failures through vulnerability, we have a chance to find the most important tool for rebuilding: our “why,” or, as it’s known in Japan, our ikigai.
You find your ikigai at the intersection of what you are good at, what you love, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. As Hector Garcia, the co-author of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, explains: “Just as humans have lusted after objects and money since the dawn of time, other humans have felt dissatisfaction at the relentless pursuit of money and fame and have instead focused on something bigger than their own material wealth. This has over the years been described using many different words and practices, but always hearkening back to the central core of meaningfulness in life.”
Iterate, Repeat, and Move Forward
As you rebuild, ask yourself this question anytime you feel yourself get out of alignment: “What’s not working?” When you identify that, embrace your vulnerability: get help, plan, and pivot. Iterate and repeat as necessary. It truly is the best and easiest way to keep from landing in a world of suck and redirect toward success.
Todd Palmer is CEO of Diversified Industrial Staffing (named by Inc. 5000 as CEO of one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. — an incredible six times) and author of From Suck to Success: A Guide for Extraordinary Entrepreneurship.