The journey towards independence

Several months ago I wrote about breaking the fear cycle. Today I bring you the results of what’s possible when you break through the negative thought cycle of fear.

Let me be clear, I am not free of fear and doubt. I am trudging through the muddy waters with the best boots I own. I am beginning the journey towards independence.

For the last ten years I have built my career in technology through hard work and continual learning. I have always held the belief that success was the byproduct of kindness, constant learning, and most of all hard work. Measuring by the job requirements, I was not nearly qualified for any job that I have ever taken. I was, however, qualified in my capability and desire to learn.

Constant learning is the key to growth. Over the last thirty days, I challenged myself to learn some new skills by launching my own web-based product. Over my career as a product manager, I have launched many products and features. The process of delivering a product is not new to me.

The Personal Challenge

This is different. It’s my own product. I designed, developed, tested, and funded the entire thing. My goal was to design, build, and launch my product in less than 30 days and for less than $500 investment. This required me to learn skills far outside my current qualifications.

Why did I want to do this? To start my journey towards independence. When I started working in venture-backed startup world, I saw a huge opportunity to use technology to change the world while banking on major financial equity events. I saw a path where my entrepreneurial mind could be both analytical and creative.

What I have learned in my short-ish time in these startups is that all of these things are possible. One can, in fact, change the world through innovation while working towards a major windfall. What I didn’t anticipate was the fact that this is rare. Often the focus is less on changing the world and more on the major windfall.

The problem I have with this line of thinking is that both the opportunity for windfalls and the windfall itself are fleeting. I am more interested in providing a meaningful service to the world, being deeply engaged with my family, and making a significant impact in my local community.

Venture backed startups generally start out with a huge vision and idealism. Somewhere along the way that vision and idealism becomes confused by conversions rates, revenue, and strategy.

I am starting this journey to explore building a small business by solving problems with small sustainable products. A small business that eventually supports my family by providing solutions to every day problems.

Launching Libdox

Over the last 30 days, I have been building a brand new product called Libdox. Libdox is a personal document storage service. I want to liberate your documents from the filing cabinet.

I have never enjoyed keeping paper documents. It always feels inefficient to store a document in a filing cabinet where I most likely won’t be able to find it when I need it. Usually I just throw them away, but in some cases I stored copies in Dropbox or Google Drive. Even when I put them in Dropbox or Google Drive, I could never find them.

I built Libdox to solve this problem. An incredibly simple service to scan or take a picture of your important documents and directly upload them to be indexed and stored securely and permanently. There is no sharing, no public access, just a secure repository for tax receipts, warranties, pay stubs, and any other important document you need to keep.

For this, I’ll be charging $9/month and your first 15 days are free. [button href=”https://www.libdox.com/#trynow”]Try Libdox Now[/button]

Building Libdox

If you remember, my goal was to launch within 30 days and for less than $500. I’m happy to say that I launched the product with a few test users last week on day 27 of the project with a total investment of $419.

Along the way, I hired a developer to help me build parts of the application that I was unfamiliar with. This was my largest expense.

For those that are interested, Libdox is built using Ruby on Rails, deployed using Heroku, Amazon S3 for storage, and Stripe for payment processing.

Through the course of the project, I learned how to build a Ruby on Rails application from beginning to end. I started this journey by taking a course with One Month Rails.

I’ll continue to document this journey as I continue to improve, grow, and learn. For now, I’d love it if you gave Libdox a try!

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The Worst Business Advice

There’s this piece of advice that is routinely given to young entrepreneurs, young professionals, and anyone else who struggles with self-doubt. It has often been retorted to me in moments of authenticity where I share my doubts. On the surface, it’s great advice.

Fake it until you make it.

This line appears in books, discussions, conference talks, and repeatedly in my own head. Through college and my early career I would repeat this line to myself whenever I encountered an interaction that was outside my comfort zone. It helped to calm my anxiety working with executives, giving presentations, and making critical business decisions.

It works. This line has brought me pretty far in my career at a fairly early age.

But there is something dangerous about this adage that is rarely discussed. It functions on three very flawed assumptions that will put you in the hamster wheel of life if you aren’t careful.

1. It assumes that there is a shortcut to experience.

Each job you take, project you work on, every colleague you meet is an additional chance to learn something new. If you are constantly trying to to shortcut these experiences, you’ll miss out on real opportunities for growth. There is no shortcut to experience. This isn’t something I wanted to admit early in my career.

2. It assumes that there is a single point in time where you’ve “made it.”

There is no destination, so stop trying to make one. Goals are very important for your career growth, but stop making them a litmus test to validate your worth. Success is elusive. Define your own version of success. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.

Stop chasing the metric of success that somebody has defined for you. Rebuke the expectations of others and create your own path.

3. It assumes that you aren’t good enough as you are.

The most hurtful of these assumptions is where you don’t feel worthy as you are. Don’t let anybody convince you that you have to be different than you are. If others fail to see your value, move on. If you are in a place where your limitations are considered a weakness, you aren’t in the right place.

Believing that you have to “fake it” forces you to create a persona to convince others of your value. It separates you from your true identity and pushes you further the false person you think you need to be.

But don’t let this sound like I’m advocating complacency.

Very far from it, actually. Complacency is quite possibly the worst spot to be in professionally. Even failure is better than complacency.  Complacency means you’re stuck, failure means you’re trying.

The “fake it until you make it” advice has good intentions. It pushes people outside their comfort zone to accomplish things they don’t think they can do. It inspires them to dream big and take action towards making their dreams come true.

You should absolutely dream big and take leaps to make them come true. But instead of faking it, seek mentors in areas where you find gaps in your knowledge and experience. Be honest with yourself and fill the gaps. What better way to build your own self-worth and confidence than by identifying and filling gaps in your experience. Don’t fake it, just make it.

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Four Ways I Broke the Fear Cycle

Fear is a funny thing. It has a way of convincing you of all sorts of inaccuracies about who you are, what you are good at, and what you’re not good at. Fear running rampant and unnoticed for too long will push you into the dark corner of routine and complacency. Fear will silence your inner voice.

For months I have wanted to begin writing, but I couldn’t decide on a topic to focus on. I sat around trying to decide if I should go for the personal journey or business and product strategy route. I overanalyzed topic ideas and tried to rationalize in my head how each topic wouldn’t appeal to a large enough audience.

I let fear stop me in my tracks. Instead of starting, I let the negative dialog of fear convince me that every idea was bad.

I was afraid that people would read what I wrote and think I had no idea what I was talking about. I had convinced myself that I didn’t have a unique voice to stand out. I let fear tell me that my voice was insignificant.

This fear paralyzed me for an entire year. An entire year.

A year ago I set a goal to build my way out of being employed. I was going to start my own business to build my way out of the never-ending ladder of success. I wanted to build a different kind of success – one that provides for my family without the sacrifices of the nine to five.

This remains my goal and the reason I am beginning to write here. I’m taking the first small steps towards that goal. I know that I’ll mess it all up and get it all wrong, but I know those failures are notches on the belt to success.

Here are the four ways I forced my way out of the fear-cycle.

  1. I made time to listen to my inner self. I found one hour a week where I went by myself to a busy Starbucks. I grabbed some coffee, set my phone down, and sat quietly. Sometimes I read a book, sometimes I just sat there quietly staring at the blue sky.
  2. I forced myself to be more thankful. While I sat there quietly, I reflected on the many things I am thankful for. Some days I wrote them down, other days I just reflected.
  3. I worked to identify triggers. When I felt myself in the fear-cycle, I would take a step back and try to identify the source of the fear.
  4. I changed my surroundings. I had to kick myself into gear with new scenery. The same daily routine was the perfect feeding ground for the fear and complacency to grow.
Don’t let fear silence you. You are unique and have inherent value as a human being. Be bold, speak up, and offer yourself to the world.

 

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Avoiding the Tunnel Vision of Success

For most of my life I have actively pursued this elusive ideal called success. I believed that it was the foundation to happiness. The inherent flaw in that logic is now painfully obvious.

I have a nearly unhealthy level of motivation for success. It is something that I will attain and no obstacle will stand in my way.

From the outside looking in, I have succeeded. I graduated high school, earned a bachelors degree, and I have been blessed with a career path that is incredibly bright. I have constructed the perfect facade to show the world that I am a success.

Why, then, does it feel like it is not enough? Somewhere along the way we are taught that success requires accomplishing a goal. That success is measureable in trophies, grades and salaries.

When we allow ourselves to believe that success is decided by external validation, we open the door to materialism and failure. I’m learning that there’s more to life than this type of success.

[pullquote]“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” ― Albert Schweitzer[/pullquote]

My undergraduate study was in business. I loved design, technology and numbers. The business school let me explore all three in varying capacities. It felt comfortable.

The unfortunate consequence of this was that I missed the opportunity to stretch myself and grow outside of my comfort zone. This path provided me the career path that I desired with a measurable outcome that could be expressed in a stable salary.

I inappropriately assumed that there was a litmus test for success and that the success I sought would lead to happiness and comfort. I marched towards success with tunnel vision, but no matter how hard I tried I never seemed to get any closer.

I have learned the error of my thinking and am adapting the best I can. I’m living life, I’m learning along the way and I’m growing in ways I never thought was necessary. It’s funny how life works.

I do not know what lies ahead, but I’m praying deeply about my next steps. I have a feeling that my next steps are going to involve people. Understanding, helping and loving people as deeply as I can. That is where I find the greatest happiness. And where I find happiness, success is right there with it.

I know that I’m headed in the right direction because it’s terrifyingly uncomfortable and I’m fully trusting in God to help me figure it out along the way. There’s no measuring this. This is my life.

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