Like I’m sure many of you, I never thought I could fail. I was successful at everything without ever trying too hard, I moved through life easily with a sense of purpose and comfortable in the belief that I knew myself and that I knew what I wanted.
Awake but barely
One day, I woke up. I realised I was kidding myself about things that really matter. Here I was, in coffee shops, advising founders on dealing with failure, yet gleefully ignoring my own. Here I was, on stage, talking to people about “Thriving in Chaos” whilst ignoring this gaping whole in my chest. Self-actualisation, right... Whatever happened to love and belonging, I wondered.
I woke up, yes, but that doesn’t mean I was thinking clearly yet; I was a prisoner of ways of thinking that weren’t true to me, so as I tried to fix it, I made a bunch of wrong decisions.
Leaning into the darkness
It’s not until I suffered that I started to be able to make some progress. And it’s not until I realised how much I made others suffer that I was able to make some change. It’s not until I started giving back that I found a deeper resilience inside of me. The key for me was to not ignore my darker side but to lean into the discomfort, let myself sink to the bottom of the pool, rest there for a while before I kicked myself back to the surface. As Leonard Cohen once said — “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.
I cracked. Inside the shell was a weird shaped onion, and that onion was me. I’m an onion, you’re an onion. We really all are just a bunch of onions. Shrek was right. We have layers. Sometimes a layer has “dickhead’ printed on it. That’s OK too.
Fortune cookie advice
Now, shake off the drama! I’m not here to take you on my personal journey. I’m here to share a few of the things I have learned. Read then discard; it’s your journey.
- I thought I knew myself , and I was completely delusional. “Knowing yourself” is for most of us a lifelong project. I know people who are in touch with their deeper self but in my experience they are few and far between.
- Getting to know myself better was really hard. My first line of defense was STRONG. It took many attempts and much time to break it down. Perhaps a life event will break it for you, as was the case for me. That’s OK.
- Once I broke down the initial barriers, once I stepped through that first door of discovery, other doors presented themselves to me. You may find the same. Once you appreciate what stepping through that first door did for you, you should take every other one that presents itself to you. You’re not done yet. Lean into the pain and discomfort, the shame or the anger; they are here to teach you.
- I don’t think you really ever “change”. You just (re-)discover yourself. You just shed. You shed other’s beliefs, or that trauma you took from childhood, or the weight of expectations your parents put on you, or that sense of inadequacy you had as a kid, or that fear of growing old and dying.
- My best qualities pushed too far become my greatest faults. For me, the journey towards a better self is one of subtle tuning, of understanding who I am without the crutches of recognition, success, money, status or anything else, just looking at myself exactly as I am and understanding my place in the world and my impact on others.
- Being true and being authentic is not about being nice or being humble or being empathic. It’s about being true. Think about it.
- Everyone around you is on their own path. Don’t judge. Don’t put people in a box.
- In my opinion, “happiness” is not a great goal to strive for. Purpose and meaning are better. Sometimes you’re happy, sometimes not. But purpose will carry you through anything.
Life is a very personal journey. It’s hard to advise others, we can only help each others think, or feel. My only real piece of advice is this:
Feast on your life. The good, the bad, and everything in between.
PS : Credit where it’s due to opening my last door — team Reboot (Jerry Colonna, Khalid Halim, Jim Marsden, Albert Lee), our host Brad Feld and the amazing crew of humans who took part in the latest VC Bootcamp. It’s hard to describe the experience but brave souls have tried, such as Simon Cant (Grace, VC and Surrender), Jacob Chapman (Crash? Reboot), David Goldberg (My VC Reboot), Elaine Stead (The Weeping Woman), Dave Mao (My Values as a VC) or Charlie O'Donnell (The Feminine Will Save us).
+ Radical Self Inquiry
+ Shared Experiences
= Enhanced Leadership + Greater Resilience