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How to Write Your Resume, Part 2 – Writing Your Objective Statement

Objective statements are a truly dangerous thing for your resume. Since an objective statement goes at the top of your resume, it’s the first thing people see, but mostly people really don’t know how to write an objective statement because they don’t really know how to put themselves in the shoes of the hiring manager and empathize with why they are looking at your resume.

This will become a theme. You must understand why someone is reading your resume, and what they want to get out of the experience of pouring over your boring job history.

I’ll give you a hint. Nobody reads your resume for fun. Nobody reads your resume because they are dying to be impressed about your honor society accomplishments. They don’t read your resume to learn that you went on a volunteer trip with Charity: Water.

No, the only reason anyone reads your resume is because they have a very particular type of person / skillset they are interviewing for, and they want to see a piece of paper that verifies that you are indeed that person. The good thing about a resume is that you can shape it to tell the best possible story about what you can do for the company.

For example, I worked at an international company for about 2 years that wanted a San Francisco-based marketer who was familiar with SaaS business models, and cared about small businesses because small business owners were their customers. I needed my resume to convey that in my objective statement (and the rest of my resume) order to get the job.

So your first step is to make sure you understand who is reading your resume.

How to put yourself in the shoes of the person hiring you

The first person reading your resume is going to be one of two people. One, it’s going to be a recruiter, whose primary job is to filter out the people who *won’t* be a good fit for the role, and make sure that people who fit the profile of the job can be phone screened.

The Recruiter

It’s helpful to think about recruiters as salespeople. In many cases (not all), they work on a form of commission, where they make a percentage or as much as ALL of the salary for the role that they fill. For example, the upper echelons of recruiters are often called headhunters, and their only job is to maintain a strong network of executives at various companies that they can recruit for other companies. Getting a well-compensated, successful executive to leave their current company is no small task, and these recruiters are well-compensated for the work.

However, even at the lower levels, recruiters are usually compensated based on their ability to successfully place a candidate, but they follow a the same process with each resume that they see. They’re essentially pattern matching for specific keywords, experience, and other cues that the hiring manager has instructed them to look for.

The best recruiters will take the time to find candidates who may not have the direct experience, but could still be a good fit. However, those recruiters are rare. In general, you should expect recruiters to skim your resume, and you need to make things jump out at them. Even when you get those awesome recruiters that are looking closer, you’ll still make their lives easier with a very clear resume.

The Hiring Manager

Hiring managers will look at your resume in a bit more detail, and since they are the ones hiring, they will have an intuition about what they need from the person that they hire, and in some cases they’ll be more apt to read between the lines.

Again, you still want to make your resume as simple as possible to read. The easier you make it on your future employer to consider you a good fit, the more likely you’ll get your interview.

But how are hiring managers thinking about your role when they read your resume?

Well, they are thinking about a specific set of tasks that they want to hire you for. They have a set of things that need to be done at the company, a set of deliverables that they want to be delivered, and they probably have a pretty specific way they are going to measure everything that you do.

Earlier this year, I was looking to hire an events manager / field marketer to take over a series of community events and conference planning. I knew that I wanted this person to have experience organizing a team of people to attend a conference. I knew that I wanted them to be super organized and to love spreadsheets.

Since the success of a conference is based on a simple math formula of Cost of the Conference / Number of Leads Captured x Value of a Lead, I wanted this person to be excellent at budgeting and measuring the success of an event.

When I read interviews, I was looking for experience in the above areas. Certain things I would be willing to work on with the person to help them grow, but in general my #1 priority was to find someone who could do this job without too much input from me so that I could just count on shit getting done.

When you are writing your objective statement, you need to appeal to those people.

Take your career story and put it into a single sentence.

In Part 1 of this blog series, I talked about how important it is to have a good story about how each of your jobs leads into the next. Well, your objective statement is a 1-2 sentence summary of your job story. It’s a statement in the present tense that describes exactly who you are as a potential employee.

If you remember, I talked about how to break down the key things that you take away from each of your past jobs and how you grew as an employee and as a human being at each job. You describe tools you learned how to use, and specific processes or projects you mastered that you can apply to future companies. You talk about how the experience at each company leads into the next one, and how they all add up to make you a perfect fit for the next company that you join.

Your objective statement should be an incredibly brief summary of your entire resume. If someone was going to sum up who you are in terms of your career, that’s your objective statement.

This is what my objective statement says:

Community and product marketer with over 5 years experience at rapidly growing startups. Focus on product marketing, developer communities, go-to-market strategy, and sales enablement.

I can break this down for you.

My bread and butter is as a community manager / community marketer. I thrive on connecting with users of products via content and social media, as well as at events and in person. I’m happiest when I get to be out there working with people who are using a product I am passionate about. I know this about myself, and I really only want marketing jobs where I can be as close to the customer as possible, developing relationships with them.

I also have a good deal of experience launching new products and developing messaging, press strategy, and awareness strategies around new products, and I love this part of tech business, so I put product marketer down.

The years of experience is helpful because it tells people how much I should know about startups, growing companies, and what they can expect from me. I want to set realistic expectations for what I can accomplish / what I can’t accomplish, and years of experience is a helpful barometer of this. Of course there are always exceptions this, but you get the idea.

The second sentence describes the areas of marketing where I have the most experience and can add the most value. If you dig into my resume and look for product marketing experience, you’ll see bullets that demonstrate that. If you look for go-to-market strategy, you’ll find that as well.

This sentence is high level that cues the hiring manager into what the rest of the resume hold, and qualifies me in for some jobs, but out for others. I don’t want to be interviewed for a job that I wouldn’t be a good fit for, so I want people to know who I am as soon as possible!

They also describe the things that I *like* to do, and want someone to hire me for. It’s ok to let your future company know what you want to be doing!

Avoid using meaningless statements.

I also said this in the previous blog post, but it’s worth repeating. Don’t put meaningless words and phrases into your objective statement. You get one shot to make your first impression here, so you need to make sure you make it count.

I worked with someone who used the following sentence in his resume (I’ve changed this to anonymize it).

I have a deep affection for people, art, Lego, and music.

First of all, I have no idea what a “deep affection” means, but it sounds like something that belongs on your E-Harmony profile, not your resume. And what is a wonderful affection for people? What is a wonderful affection for art? Why do you have Lego on your resume?

If I was hiring for that job and that resume came across my desk, it would go in the “no” pile immediately.

Tailor it for every single job you interview for.

This really goes for your entire resume, but particularly for your objective statement. If you’re applying for jobs that have somewhat different descriptions, you want to tailor your objective statement based on what the skills and required experience are for each job. This should be a simple process of making a note of the what the job listing describes and then using the exact phrasing, or similar phrasing in your resume.

Now don’t manufacture things on your resume just to fit a job description. That will only get you in trouble because if you actually get the job, it won’t take long before your employer realizes you don’t have enough experience.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Seven steps to ask for (and get) great advice from people you admire

Hey dude, can I buy you coffee to pick your brain?

I had coffee with someone this week who is further along in their career than I am because I wanted to get his insight into where my life might be heading. I also reached out to a blogger I really admire, with a very good introduction no less, and was kindly told by his assistant that he really couldn’t make any new connections right now in order to keep up with his existing commitments (ie.  a very rich life in and out of work that takes up most of his time).

I credit most of my growth to good advice that people have given me along the way, and I’ve been fortunate to work for and with, or have access to really amazing folks.

I’m rarely shy about asking for a connection, and you shouldn’t be either. If you identify someone who can teach you something, there is no reason not to ask for their input into whatever it is you are focused on at that moment.

It’s incredibly helpful to sit down with someone who has 10+ years experience on you and get their insight about where you are currently at, where you’re headed, and to think about if your life is heading in the direction you want it to.

But there is a very wrong way to reach out and ask someone for advice. If the phrase “pick your brain” is in the request anywhere, you’ve already lost.

Earlier in my life, I’d meet someone that I admire, or I’d have an intuition that they could teach me something, so I’d ask them for coffee. The problem with this approach is that when you ask someone who is more successful than you for coffee without a clear outcome in your mind, you’re effectively asking them to spend an hour with you without a specific purpose, and you aren’t respecting their time.

If you’re very lucky, they’ll recognize that you’re a bit aimless and start asking you really hard questions in order to figure out just how aimless you are, and then give you good advice.

If you’re unlucky, they’ll sense that you’re not really sure what you want to accomplish over that coffee, and they’ll do a simple cost/benefit analysis. “Do I spend an hour with someone who doesn’t really know what they want, or do I spend that time being productive or spending time with my family?”

More than likely, they will tell you no, and they’ll be right to do so. If you can’t be bothered to put your thoughts together and have a very clear ask for a busy person’s time, then you need to spend some time working on your question before you come back to them.

It’s helpful to think about someone in terms of how much an hour of their time would be worth if they charged for advice by the hour. It’s not enough to buy someone a cup of coffee because anyone whose advice is worth listening to can buy their own latte. Do some math to figure out what the monetary value of what it is you’re asking for when you ask for an hour of their time. If they make $150,000 each year, an hour of their time is worth at least $75. Double that once you factor in taxes and the expenses of running a business, and you’re looking at the most expensive, fair trade, hipster hand roasted latte you’ve ever heard of.

If you’re asking someone for $150 worth of their time, you need to do some work in advance.

Step One: Start with at least one very clear reason you want to talk with that person.

Let’s say you are considering a move to tech startups, but don’t have a ton of experience in technology or in early-stage companies. This change will involve leaving your current career behind, possibly getting new training, and starting a brand new career. You want to ask someone already in that career about what it’s like to actually live that life and if they love it. 

Go ahead and take some time to identify someone who is outstanding at this new career. Someone who has shaped their professional and personal life in a way that you’d like to emulate. Make a list of what it is about their career path that you admire and want to model, and then include that in your request for their time.

If they are an entreprneuer maybe you admire how they have not only started and are running a successful business, but how they use their success to contribute back to their community. Furthermore, you also admire how they keep a clear balance between their work and family life.

Your request then looks like this:

“Hi Ms. Entrepreneur,

I’m a big fan of how you’ve started and run your company, but I’ve also noticed how you’ve taken your success and leveraged it to make your community a better place by investing in after school programs for underprivileged kids. I’ve also noticed how you always strike a balance between your family and work life, which I particularly admire.

I’m writing because I’m considering a move into startups, and I’d like to understand what drives you to start companies, and how you balance that fire with the rest of your life.

I know you’re busy, but I have a short list of questions I’d like to ask you, ideally over a coffee, but I am flexible.

Thanks in advance,

-Your name

Step Two: Compile a lot of evidence about who you are as a person that confirms “yes entrepreneurship is the path for me.” 

One of the first questions you’ll be asked at coffee is, “why do you want to become an entrepreneur,” and your answers to this question are incredibly important. In particular for entrepreneurship, there basically has to be no alternative in your life, because starting a startup is practically impossible, and the people are successful at it tend to not have a choice. They have a fire in their belly that they can’t quench without starting a business.

But for any sort of vocation that is worthwhile, you need to have a similar answer. “I’m pretty sure that if I don’t take action on this, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.”

If you want to be a therapist, your answer might be, “I find that a lot of my friends come to me for advice repeatedly, I am able to help them in some way, and it feels amazing when I can be part of helping someone move past something that was bringing them down.”

If you want to be a writer, your answer is something like, “I feel more human when I am writing every day, and there is something about the act of sharing my writing with the world that brings me fulfillment that nothing else really does.”

Step Three: Scrutinize your evidence. Ask yourself if your reasons are the right ones.

There are a lot of people who want to be entrepreneurs right now, in the same way that in the 90’s people wanted to be lawyers or work on Wall Street, and sometimes in the same way that teenagers want to start a band. Certain career choices are always en vogue, and portrayed as glamorous. You want to move past the glamour in your exploration in order to really understand the good and the bad so you aren’t surprised down the line.

Entrepreneurship, in particular, is not really glamorous for the first few years. You’re working all the time, you have to ignore your friends, if you take investment you are accountable to your investors, etc. The risk is high, there is no instruction manual, and you feel alone in your pursuit most of the time.

If you want to be an entrepreneur, spend a lot of time thinking beyond dreams of going public one day, or selling your company. Think about whether you want to do the hard yards of thankless toiling trying to get your first customer. Building a new product out. Hiring and firing.

Step Four: Come prepared with brass tacks questions about the good and the bad.

Share your motivation to be an entrepreneur, and listen to what their motivations are. Are yours similar? Are they different? 

When they tell you about their motivation and what they get out of this life, ask yourself if what they are describing is a life a life you want to emulate? Do you get a good feeling about their priorities and decisions? If you resonate with their values, you’re on the right track, and you’ll be able to tell because you both will be vibing off of the same energy.

If you feel doubt or don’t relate to what they are telling you, listen to that voice. It’s giving you valuable feedback that this path may not be for you!

Listen to how they talk about downsides. Do the negatives sound manageable or inconsequential compared to the upside of living the life of an entrepreneur? Or do the downsides sound like too great a price to pay.

Pay attention to the way people answer you about the negatives. If the conversation seems physically exhausting to them, you either have found a career path that sucks (like being a lawyer), or the person you’re having coffee with hates what they’re doing and you shouldn’t take their advice because they need to be doing something else.

And if the negatives sound awful to you, then you may need to think about a different direction.

Your goal is to arrive at a place where you your assumptions about the vocation vs what people actually get from this job start to line up.

For example, we’re taught that law is a great career, but career dissatisfaction amongst lawyers is rampant. The story we are told about lawyers doesn’t match up with the truth.

Entrepreneurship is branded as a glamorous job, particularly when Jack Dorsey is photographed taking Square public, but that misses the last 10 year of his life in the trenches, being fired from Twitter, and countless other hard times.

Step Five: Does your contribution from being an entrepreneur correspond to a higher purpose of contribution and love?

This is a short one. Ask yourself how you’re making the world a better place. How are you giving love back into the world as a result of your career choice.

Ask your coffee-mate how they are giving back to the world with their work. You’ll be amazed at what you learn. The most successful people in the world usually have an incredible vision for how they want the world to be a better place as a result of their life, and they live with that focus in mind every day. That’s how you want to feel too.

A quick note about living your contribution in love. It doesn’t mean you have to go sell everything you own and build orphanages in Africa. Love doesn’t mean you have to be a social worker and make zero money.

A big motivator of mine is to make a lot of money because I want to turn around and help other people with it. This means a lot to me because there was a successful entrepreneur who helped me earn my way through college as a result of my writing. His contribution to my life was about $10,000 over the course of my college career, which kept me out of school debt. I want to pay that gift forward, and the best way for me to do that is create my own success in business so that I have the financial leverage to turn around and help others.

So ask yourself, “How does this career allow me to offer something unique to the world that it lacks? How is this contribution loving the world?”

Step Six: Ask them what they would have been doing if they hadn’t pursued this career?

How unfulfilled would they have been? Is the thought of NOT doing that painful? Would they look back with regret?

A big part of the reason I started writing again was it was getting too painful to NOT be writing.

You want to find something that brings so much joy to your life that you cannot imagine your life without it. If you are unsure if your thing brings you this joy, then you’re probably sure it’s not a good fit. When you’re sure about something, it’s undeniable.

Step Seven: After asking all these questions, what do you do if you realize this wasn’t for you after all?

If at the end you end up with a vocation that doesn’t fit, spend some time thinking about what you just learned about yourself. Don’t get yourself down by being hung up on this being the only career choice for you. Take what you learned about yourself and translate that into a new question about a different course in your life. 

Then rinse and repeat. You’ll stumble upon something. And if you came to coffee with clear questions, chances are you will have made a strong connection with someone who will be willing to help out more along the way.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

A process to work through bad situations

I was talking to a close friend today about a challenging situation that he’s found himself in. The details aren’t super important, particularly because we all find ourselves in really challenging situations throughout our life. Maybe we lose a job. Maybe we find ourselves at odds with someone in our immediate family. Maybe we are fighting with someone we love and cannot seem to find our way back to love. If you’re reading this (and not a GoogleBot) you can insert your own tough situation here.

I’m going to explain how I conceptualize every single challenging situation that I go through in order to frame the bad that I am experiencing in a positive and empowering way. I fundamentally believe that bad situations are there to offer us feedback that it’s time to adjust our strategy, and the faster we understand and internalize the feedback of the situation, the faster we can remove ourselves from anger and pain of the situation and move forward.

Bad situations can feel like failure, and I know that I grew up believing failure is supposed to be a bad thing that I ought to be afraid of and carry shame around from.

That’s not an empowering way to live, so I spent a lot of time redefining failure for myself.

Failure is never a condemnation of who I am as a person.

Failure is always feedback. As traumatic as it can be, failure is simply a part of life, and the faster I can extract something of value from a bad situation or a “failure,” the faster I can move through that lesson and apply it to get ahead in life.

Failure is a nudge to explain that my current strategy isn’t working, and that I now have an opportunity to try something different. That different thing is usually much more effective, and can feel effortless in comparison.

Those are my beliefs about failure and challenging situations that leave my mind open to the following process. When I am open to a new idea, it is easier for me to learn something from what is happening around me.

This is my process for working through failure.

1. I believe that I am responsible for getting myself where I am.

Notice first that I use the phrasing, “I am responsible,” rather than, “it’s my fault.” That’s an important distinction. When I say, “this is my fault,” I am placing blame for the shortcoming. When I say, “I am responsible, it means that I was empowered to get the current, albeit bad results, which also means I am responsible (and capable) to get different results.

The willingness to accept responsibility for where I am in life means that if I am not happy with a certain result, I am empowered to change it. This is one of the most life-affirming beliefs, and possibility-focused ways any of us can live. “I am responsible for my life. If I want something to be different, I am empowered to change something to make it so.”

And if I am happy with where I am in a given moment, I can say “Awesome. I did this right. Here’s to more of the same”

In both cases, I hold the keys to where I am in life.

2. I got myself where I am today via the decisions I made, the attitudes I have (whether or not I am aware of them), the beliefs I hold, and the actions I took.

If I am unhappy, I ask myself, “what can I adjust or do better in order to put myself in a different situation?”

Do I believe something that is disempowering? Am I taking actions that are based on fear rather than love or possibility?

Does my attitude reflect the best in myself and others, or is it pessimistic and negative?

What decisions have I made that got me here today? We always have a choice. We have a choice to accept job opportunities, or to put our hearts at risk in love, or to move heaven and earth for someone. When I make a big decision, it is mine alone, no one else’s, and no matter the outcome, I am responsible for making that decision, the beliefs and attitudes that drove me to make it, and whatever outcomes arise.

For example, if I were in a job that wasn’t fulfilling, that would be because I accepted the offer, and continued to accept my paycheck every month as payment for my lack of fulfillment.

That decision I made to be in an unfulfilling job might be based on a belief that I can’t do something I love AND have a secure financial future. Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t, but it’s the belief that I would be holding in that situation. If I believed something else, I’d be making different decisions and my life would look different.

If I am happy in my love life, that is a reflection of the belief I have about being worthy of good love, and the decision to make myself the best person that I can be in the pursuit of giving as much love back to the person that also loves me.

If I’m unhappy in love, it’s because I’m making a compromise about the sort of love I think I am worth. Or I am deciding to not take the risk to challenge myself to approach love in a new way.

As human beings, we are inherently creative people. We speak and write and build and things become reality. When I walk around the Financial District of San Francisco at lunchtime, I am surrounded by tall buildings that were ideas in some fallible human’s head at some point in time. They believed that those ideas should become reality, so they made decisions and took actions to set that reality in motion.

When I walk out to Crissy Field, I can see the Golden Gate Bridge, which is the result of someone’s vision to build not just any bridge, but a bridge beautiful enough to live up to the experience of gazing at Marin Headlands as the emerge from the Pacific Ocean. They not only had the vision to do it, but they believed that it was possible.

Here’s to massive belief that can see all of us through every single challenging situation life throws at us.

Here’s to building beautiful bridges that cross us to the other side.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Reclamation as a theme

When I was 13, one of the realities of my life was that I had to quit going to school and playing sports. By the time I was 16, I’d spent a decent amount of time in a wheelchair instead of walking. Then I needed to have both my hips replaced so I could walk again.

I don’t say this to get anyone down. It’s just how my life turned out, and that has had an incredible effect on my life in some really positive ways. For example, you don’t know what you’re capable of until you spend 18 months in a wheelchair, have your hips replaced, and then learn how to walk for a second time. In many ways, I suppose I reclaimed my ability to walk.

What doesn’t quite get reclaimed are the years where I wasn’t having the normal experiences of a 13, 14, and 15 year old. I don’t really get those times back, and I think there is a big part of me, even 15 years later, still trying to get some pieces of myself back that I felt like I had lost. More and more, I find myself more and more fully integrated as a whole person, but tonight I had a profound moment where I got to hearken back to one of my favorite things: sitting in my room, alone, listening to music, and reading.

One of the values that my father instilled in me from an early age was the importance of a good stereo system, so from an early age, I had a full receiver (usually a hand-me-down from him), and he taught me how to wire my own speakers. I remember getting a really great Kenwood receiver for Christmas one year, and how it traveled with me from high school to college.

A few years later, I even got a minidisk player because those were going to be, like, the future. Minidisks never really took off (at least in the US), but man did I love making mixes on my minidisk player in high school.

In the evenings throughout my adolescence, I’d close my door and sit on the floor and listen to music and read. I had one of those amazing CD wallets with space for about 24 CDs, which was about all the music that I had. This was a few years before Napster and Kazaa came along, and well before iTunes and Spotify, so I was limited to the music that I could physically carry on disks with me.

Sometimes, I’d just listen to the radio instead, tuning into the modern rock station in Austin, Texas. The callsign was 101x, and to this day that radio station is burned into my memory.

Maybe as adults we all idealize the endless possibility we experience as we start to become teenagers, or maybe it was just me. In either case, I remember how the world was opening up for me at school and in life. I was an athlete, classes were easy, girls had begun to like me. Life was good, and I’d sit at home in my room at night, reading and listening to music and visualizing where my life was beginning to take me.

Everything was new and full of possibility, and something about those evenings in my room listening to music drove that home for me.

Tonight I had a handful of things collide and bring me back to those evenings.

I have a thing for really good covers of pop songs, so I’m a fan of the music Like a Version (I’d link to the YouTube channel, but it’s an Australian TV show, so you can’t watch their videos anywhere else) puts out. In particular, Chairlift absolutely crushed Beyonce’s “Party” on the show once.

Go ahead an listen. I’ll wait.

As I was procrastinating this blog post tonight, I found myself noodling around on YouTube on the Triple J channel, searching for more good covers. I had also just gotten out of a great 90 minute hot Bikram yoga session. Despite the big meal I eat immediately after yoga, I was ravenously hungry the way I used to be in high school. I’m almost 30 now, so I tried to ignore the hunger, but it was not going to be denied. Into the fridge for the leftover ginger beef and fried rice to accompany the music.

One of the great things about listening to covers is if the artist picks the right pop song, a flawless classic, they can sometimes transcend their own songwriting and as the listener, you can catch a glimpse of how talented they are as musicians. The effect is more pronounced because covers often are often live and lack post-production treatment that would mask the artist’s shortcomings. When you listen to a cover, the artist has nowhere to hide. As the listener, you know exactly how talented they are.

The Chairlift song is a great example. They’ve taken a great pop song, imbued it with their own style, and offered their listeners something absolutely delightful.

Tonight, the cover that I discovered was done by Milky Chance. They did Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.”

If you’ve listened to Taylor Swift’s 1989, you already know that it’s full of pop gems that are all flawlessly written, probably by Dennis Pop and Max Martin, not Swift. The songs on her album don’t really go together, but sound like a lot of singles that were written individually and only then compiled into an album for the sheer economics of traditional pop music marketing and distribution channels.

Taylor’s album isn’t an album so much as a vehicle for her stardom and what I assume is probably a pretty amazing concert experience. Nothing but love for her business, particularly when it creates such amazing singles.

Ryan Adams has already done a stellar job of covering 1989. Below is his version of “Blank Space,” but I highly recommend you listen to the entire thing.

The point is, everyone is that everyone is covering TayTay these days, including Milky Chance.

I remember hearing Milky Chance come out of the woodwork a few years ago. The vocals of their lead singer Clemens Rehbein always seems incredibly distinctive to me. His voice lacks an equal in pop music today, but there is this nasal, gravelly quality about it that I didn’t appreciate until I heard this live cover of “Shake it Off.” As soon as he begins to sing, the room comes alive. It’s the sort of voice that commands the room.

The cover loses its momentum about a third of the way through, however, the impression is made. Behrein’s voice cuts through the noise, and the band is smart enough, and talented enough, to build subtle, precise arrangements around him.

People stop talking and gather when someone like Rehbein begins to sing. An oddly distinctive, magnetic voice is a mark of a true songwriter.

I like Neil Young for this as well.

Check out Neil playing Heart of Gold in 1971, soon after he wrote it. As he introduces the song, his voice is awkward, but as soon as he begins to sing, something amazing happens. You’re sucked in, almost in spite of how he sounds.


Tonight, I found myself immersed in music for a long while again, reclaiming a quiet space in my heart. Hungry like a 16 year old, and blissfully lost in my thoughts.

Now it’s time to go do some reading.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter


The Compounding Interest of Habit

One of the big reasons I started writing again is because it dawned on me what my life would be like if I continued to delay on getting back behind the keyboard again. That’s the reason I’m sitting here at 11:45 on a Wednesday night writing instead of passing out in my bed. It’s because if I don’t write tonight, I’m losing my momentum, and I must keep my momentum up.

It’s late because after yoga, I went out for dinner with some friends from New Zealand who are in town. The last startup I was at is based in Auckland, and I got incredibly close with a lot of the people I worked with there, and Kiwis all travel a lot. In fact, over the span of 8 days, I’m going to see 4 separate Kiwis from that company, all in San Francisco for various reasons.

San Francisco isn’t all bad. I suppose if I lived in Tulsa, I might not have quite as many opportunities to see these people as I do living in San Francisco…

But had I not gone out to dinner, I’d have been writing sooner, and I’d have already hit publish, and I’d already been in bed. As it stands, I have an hour of writing to do today, and I can’t sleep until I do. There’s a decent chance I’ll be off my game tomorrow because of how I’ve spent my time tonight.

It was actually a pretty hard dilemma. I really couldn’t justify not spending more time with my friends since it’s a bit hard to hop a plane to Auckland too often, and they really are relationships that I will sustain. However, I knew I’d be missing out on some sleep in order to get this blog post done.

I think that’s a lot of what being an adult is. Knowing how you’re supposed to prioritize and structure your time is the first part, but then you have to actually do it. The last handful of months have been the first in my life where I’ve consistently increased my level of discipline, almost across the board. I have a morning ritual that involves a good bit of meditation, and I’m not missing that because I feel and think more clearly after just 15-20 minutes of meditation every day. I’ve cut alcohol out of my life dramatically, and at this current rate, I may end up cutting it out altogether. If I quit drinking altogether, I think I’d miss Zinfandel and really good gin-based cocktails, but man am I happier when I drink less.

Yoga has also been a massive discipline I’ve cultivated. Since I have some physical ailments that keep me from lifting weights and playing most sports, it’s been a struggle to find a good exercise regimen for a decade. Discovering Bikram Yoga 6 months ago was a godsend. It’s given me strength and energy that I forgot was possible.

At first I was going 2 days each week, just to get the habit up. Over the past month, I’ve started going 2-3 days in a row as often as I can. The more yoga I do, the better I feel. Yoga ceased to be an option. It’s become a *must.*

I won’t go off evangelizing the yoga (you should do it). I’ll simply say that my emotions are clearer, my memory has improved dramatically, and my body is stronger, much more flexible, and full of energy. When I get out of 90 minutes of yoga, I feel like a million bucks. Everyone should feel this good all the time. I certainly like to, so I’ll keep going back.

Prioritizing these things is transforming how I interact with the world, and I think it’s making my life better.

For so much of my life, I’ve thrived by being flexible in most things. I could rearrange the pieces of my day based on something emergent, and would reprioritize my time and my focus based on external forces. I’ve been willing to not write, or not read, or not spend time lost in thought, or not exercise because it was more important to let myself be pulled in a different direction by something outside of me. That’s a huge reason I wasn’t writing as much. I would get distracted, or some people from New Zealand would come into town, and I’d end up going to bed instead of staying up to put pen to paper.

I remember having a conversation about the importance of consistency and structure with Jason Cohen a few years ago over dinner in Austin. I talked about how I believed that the secret of life was to consistently make specific decisions every day, and keeping some order in how you spent your time, your focus, and your energy. He told me that wasn’t how startups worked, that you couldn’t plan everything out and had to be prepared for the chaos.

I don’t think he was suggesting I give myself over to the chaos without a fight. I never saw Jason miss something that he believed was important.

And right now, it’s dawning on me right now that no matter what is happening around me, there are first principles that I need to focus on every single day.

There is a decent amount of chaos in being part of a 5-person tech startup like I am right now. But if you want to be a 6-person startup, and then a 10-person startup, and then a 100 person company, there are certain things you have to prioritize every single day.

The apartment I’ve lived in for a little more than a year is the place I’ve lived in the longest in four or five years. Before this, I had been moving every six months or so.

Talk about chaos.

Doesn’t matter. I have to execute no matter what.


And I think that being an adult, at least being a successful adult comes down to knowing that you spent your day focused on the right things that you decided. Period, the end. So here I am cranking out another thousand-word blog post tonight before I go to bed.

It seems real simple. Figure out what it is that is important to do and do it. Don’t do the other thing that is probably a bit easier to do, but isn’t as important. It’s easy to say, but turns out it’s really hard to put that into practice. It’s so hard that I think that there are more of us than we’d want to admit who aren’t living some important part of our lives out.

I will be the first to raise my hand.

I think it starts in the littlest things. Going to yoga and meditating were the two cornerstones that my writing is now built around. For several months now, I know that when I wake up, I pull out a prayer rope and say the Jesus Prayer for about 20 minutes, synching my breathing up with the cadence of the prayer. When I meditate in the morning, my days simply go better. It’s like having a cheat code for your life. If you meditate, things will go better than they would otherwise. And the stronger a connection I make to meditation and good days, the easier and easier it is to make it happen every day.

And then after work, I go to yoga. No matter what is going on, I go to yoga. I go when I’m tired. I’ve gone hungover, and suffered through 90 minutes of sweating out the previous night. I go when I’m hungry, and just make sure I finish the whole class. I know when class is every day, and when it’s time to go, I drop what I’m doing and head over. It’s just what I do now.

And if my friends want to catch up over a drink or dinner, I suggest we do yoga instead. People actually take me up on this all the time. It’s awesome.

The next thing I’m add is writing. When it’s time to write, I come home, pop out my laptop, plug some headphones in, and start typing. I don’t really plan right now. The less I think about it, the less anxiety I feel about “what will I write about” and the easier it is for me to build the habit back up.

And then when I’m done writing, I hit publish. I don’t really edit right now. I don’t second guess myself. I just get the words down and send them out into the world. If nobody reads, that will be ok, but that’s actually not what’s happening.

And as I’ve written and shared it with you all this week, I’ve felt more alive and more connected to myself than I have in a while. And on top of that people are reaching out to me to talk about what they’ve read, and offer different perspectives.People I’ve never met before, but wanted to, have reached out to have tea. To have a conversation. I love that most of all – when my words on paper start conversations in real life.

Even when they reach out to tell me I got something wrong.

All of that is huge results from a few hours of work and a few thousand words.

I think this is starting to happen because I am writing, and I am a person who is supposed to write, and since I am sharing things with the world, tiny little things are starting to happen, and with consistency those tiny things may start to build up. It’s a wonderful feeling.


Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Finding my writing voice all over again

When I was 21, I spent 3 hours getting my first and only tattoo. A typewriter.

Getting a tattoo isn’t something I really enjoyed, or something that I recommend to most people, but I still have this typewriter on my left shoulder that greets me in the mirror.

But it’s not an ordinary typewriter. There is a bit of blood on all 8 of the home keys, as if the writer had blood on his hands. The idea for the typewriter came from a high school teacher who I give sole credit to revealing writing to me as something I love. Her name was Connie Roalson, and she was one of those teachers who changes the course of your life.

On the walls of her classroom, she had a lot of posters as high school teachers do, only hers didn’t suck. They weren’t the trite motivational “you can do it” posters that will pass the administration’s “is this vanilla enough so as not to be offensive to anyone” test. No, the things Mrs. Roalson hung on her wall were real things that real writers had said, and they weren’t always nice.

One particular poster really stuck with me. It was a quote from Hemingway (oft misattributed to the late sportswriter Red Smith)  that said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

I loved that quote so much. Even at that age, I was learning the feeling I would get when I had written something that was worth reading. The words contained a part of me in them, as if a part of my personhood was conveyed in what I had written. My hands had transferred some of my DNA to the words I had published, and when I had written something that I believed to be important, it was a bit like I had bled into the pages in the process.

So when the time came to get a tattoo, the idea of the bloody typewriter was the idea that I went with. A tattoo with blood on the home keys to represent the process that every writer knows. That every artist knows. Your best work is imbued with a part of you, and when you put something out into the world, it is an incredibly personal, intimate act.

You have put your blood into your work, and it is a new creation. And the artist temperament will confess that when people react poorly to your work, it feels like more blood is spilled.

Where am I going with this?

Well, over the past 2 years, I’ve done a lot less writing and publishing than I ought to. A few things happened about 2 years ago that shook my confidence in my writing quite a bit, and since writing is such a personal and vulnerable expression for me, it’s taken me a little longer than I had hoped it would to climb back on the horse.

When I quit writing a couple years ago, I had been publishing frequently for about 2 years, and some of the stuff that I was writing at the time was striking a chord. I was picking up momentum, but I let myself get a bit spooked from holding some strong opinions in posts like this one on SXSW having lost a lot of its luster (an opinion I stand by, albeit with a bit more nuance) because there was a bit of controversy for someone from an Austin startup to write a takedown of one of a crown jewel of the (more impressive by the day) Austin, Texas startup scene.

That post and a couple more got me some attention and scrutiny I didn’t quite know how to handle, but that post also saw me featured in the Grey Lady a year later. I was on to something good, but I got spooked and my solution was to disappear for a bit and keep my head down.

When I sat down this evening to write this post, I intended to talk about the things that threw me off my regular writing cadence, but as I’ve written here, I realize the events hold almost zero power over me right now and the point really isn’t why I quit, but why I’m back at it again.

What’s gotten me back in front of the WordPress dashboard again was a conversation over the weekend with Brad Hart, who I’m working with as my coach right now. Our conversation at Bernal Heights on Saturday revolved around what my vision for life was. Writing and publishing has been a massive part of what I wanted to do for a decade, and that came out as we talked. Brad walked me through how my life might progress if I continued to be afraid of writing, or delaying it every day the way that I have been.

It wasn’t a fun picture of my life.

Then we walked through how my life might look with me writing and publishing again. The things that I’ve loved about writing have been the connections I’ve made through my blog. I’ve been able to contribute to some really amazing site, and met some fantastic editors and other writers. I’ve dated someone long term that met me via a blog post. I’ve gotten to speak to families with kids who have Rheumatoid Arthritis because of my experience growing up with that.

Writing has been a way for me to connect with the world, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet and know so many people that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t blogging. Without a regular stream of words published here, who knows what I’ve missed out on over the past 2 years.

And as I write tonight, I realize this is the second time I’ve let a blog languish a bit right as it was starting to pick up a bit of an audience. When I was 16 or 17, I bought the domain “” and blogged about my journey to graduate from my private liberal arts school debt free. The site ended up making me about $15,000 for less than 6 months work, all of which I plowed into my tuition and books and did indeed graduate debt-free in 2009.

However, once I got to college, I got distracted and didn’t quite know how to keep the blogging up. I don’t have very many regrets, but not seeing where I could take that blog is one of the bigger ones.

[NB: I let the lapse, but just purchased it again. Will have to come up with something to do with it now.]

A few years ago, I heard an entrepreneur in San Francisco say he had a really new angle on his identity. He said, “I say that I am a developer, but did I write code today? If the answer is no, then can I honestly say that I am a developer?”

The idea was that we live our lives one day at a time, and our identities are made up of the actions we take and the decisions that we make on that day, and if we fail to take action one day, our identity starts to crack a bit and we may lose the ability to credibly say “I am a developer,” or “I am a writer.”

So if I want to say that I am a writer, I’d better be writing everyday in order to build that into my identity. And it’s something that I’m committed to doing every day. I may not be publishing all the time, but I will at first.

Those of you that have read the blog in the past, bear with me as I find my voice again. I’ll be writing about whatever’s on my mind for now in order to build up the habit and rhythm of publishing again. The idea is just to sit down, write for an hour or so, and then hit publish every day.

After all, the tattoo shouldn’t be the most writery part of my life :-)

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter



The Wisdom of Three-Legged Dogs

This morning I was at the top of a really beautiful hill in the Bernal Heights District of San Francisco with a friend / mentor of mine, Brad Hart. We were talking about a lot of really deep things that involved career, developing a deep sense of purpose, and what it truly means to live in contribution to the world. It was a three-hour conversation that we have pretty regularly as part of something he is working with me on.

When I moved to San Francisco 3 years ago, I lived at the foot of Bernal. When I look out at the city from that vantage point, I go back to the emotions and thoughts I had those 3 years ago in my first days in the city. I can feel the sense of possibility and adventure that San Francisco held for me at 26, and it reminds me of the number of things that have changed over the past few years, where I’ve come and what I’ve learned and become in the process.

With those thoughts, it’s fitting to have a vantage point looking down at a city as it unfolds below you. The view from the top of the hill looks North through the Mission, into SoMa and the Financial, following the 280 all the way through the city until it turns into the 80 and crosses the Bay Bridge via Treasure Island. You can actually see both bridges from where we stood. The elevated perspective over the city matches the perspective of reviewing the past few years of your life to see where you’ve come from.

We were talking about living to your greatest potential, and laying plans down to build an amazing future. Any time I have those conversations, and I think this is probably true for everyone, the little voices that tell us we can’t do something tend to pop up. I was certainly thinking about mistakes I’d made, or things in my past that were surely going to hold me back.

I think that’s a really human way to feel. It can be the easiest thing in the world, at least until we learn a different way, to let our past get us down or even let it get in our way sometimes.

As we talked, there were a lot of dogs running around. People from the neighborhood walk up and let their dogs run around and play fetch. As Brad and I talked, we had a constant stream of canine friends to pet and hang out with. One of them adopted me for a while to play fetch, and kept bringing his slobbery tennis ball up to me, and I kept throwing it back down the hill for him to chase.

His owner laughed when I picked the tennis ball up for the first time. “You’re brave.” I think he was talking about picking up a wet and dirty tennis ball for a dog I didn’t know. I figured washing some drool of my hand later seemed like a small price to pay for the smile it put on my face, and the dog’s.

As I was thinking that, a tiny three-legged terrier ran by us, chasing a ball that his owner had thrown. Brad and I had been having a deep conversation, and it made sense to stop for a moment and call out how much I think three-legged dogs are a model for how we should all live our lives.

If you’ve never seen a three-legged dog run around before, it looks really awkward at first. The dog has a really funny gait, and has to compensate by balancing differently on his remaining three legs. He’ll never run as fast as the other dogs. When I see a dog like that, I always wonder if he was born without a leg, or if something had happened and the leg needed to be amputated at some point.

Dogs are easy to empathize with, and describing a three-legged dog run around really makes my heart hurt a bit, because I can see the dog struggling to run in a way that he was clearly meant to, but won’t be able to. He’s struggling a bit, and putting a bit too much weight on the lone leg. It’s not how things are meant to be.

But the key detail is that the dog never stops smiling, never stops running. It’s in his programming to have a blast, and he doesn’t question that prime directive. He runs, he chases, he barks, he licks things, and he loves people, his pack. The dog never seems to question whether his body is missing something, or if there has been some grand injustice done to him for having received only seventy-five percent of his total leg allotment. The smile on his face continues to be massive. The joy he has chasing a ball isn’t diminished, and love for his owner remains undaunted in the face of a limp.

Really, he doesn’t know any better. He just lacks the reasoning that would make him think, “well shit, something isn’t right here…I appear to be missing a leg…” and then arrive at the place where he starts feeling depressed about his lot in life, or starts believing he was robbed of a good life that would only be possible with the full provision of four legs.

Three-Legged-DogThat’s an easy conclusion for us to draw when we see a three-legged dog. The poor little guy is a little fucked up, and won’t be able to really live a real life. He can’t quite run right, so all his little doggy friends are going to probably pick on him, or at least reject him. And he may not want to run around in the first place, missing a leg and all.

This is certainly us projecting ourselves onto the dog.

Thing is, none of his doggy friends will actually care if he’s missing a leg or not. If you’ve ever seen a huge German Shepard jumping around and playing gently with a tiny Chihuahua, you know that the last thing those dogs are thinking about is the physicality of one another. They’re just there to play and bark and jump around.

And you’re never going to tell a dog, no matter how many legs it has, to disobey the singular voice that lives inside of him that makes him chase tennis balls, and bark at things in the night, and want to be outside running around until he wears himself out.

No, the dog lacks the ability to question his purpose in life, and this gives him the unexpected virtue of ignorance. He doesn’t wonder about how many legs he has, man, there are balls to be chased. There are other dogs to run around with. There are owners’ and their faces must be licked, dammit.

The smile of the three-legged dog is no different from the smile of any other dog. Their bark doesn’t come with an asterisk. Their joie de vivre is untarnished.

They are a reminder to us that we are just fine with our scars and our pain. That our smiles are still worth the entire world, and the entire world is out there for us to explore and adventure without any hesitation.

Here’s to the wisdom and the undaunted spirit of the three-legged dog.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Listen to my appearance on the Unstuckable Podcast

We were sitting at coffee talking about trying to build companies. I have a good group of friends that get together to talk about the work they’re doing, and what they’re trying to build out in Silicon Valley.

It was August, the coffee was good, and it was fueling a great conversation about a new way to buy and sell websites for fun and profit.

Then the guy in khakis and a polo, the guy who didn’t look Silicon Valley, and who had been eavesdropping on our conversation all morning spoke up.

What are you guys talking about, and next time you get together can I join?

That was when I met Christopher Wilson.

Honestly, Chris annoyed me that morning. I didn’t know who the guy in the East Coast outfit was, but I knew that didn’t want to talk to him, and I certainly didn’t want him to interrupt our vibe.

Chris has become a very good friend since then. We meet up for dinner, or we take walks and talk about what we’re trying to build in Silicon Valley.

Shortly after we met, Chris left his job doing ad sales to focus full-time on The Unstuckable Podcast. A podcast aimed at millennials who are trying their damnedest to figure out the rules that this rapidly changing world wants them to live by.

I am a millennial. A lot of my friends are millennials.

For those of us who graduated from school in 2008 or 2009, the world we came into was completely different from the world we spent our adolescence and early 20’s preparing ourselves for. The economy was in a weird place. The well-paying jobs many of us banked our college debt on may not have come through.

Some people have called us a selfish generation, but we’re just trying to figure out how to live a life of meaning.

I think there is a prevailing since of having failed in many millennials. The world didn’t quite work out the way we expected, so the game we were taught to play didn’t work, and our best laid plans didn’t come to fruition.

Since the rules have changed, we have a unique opportunity to make up a new set of rules for how we work, how we live, what we buy (should we follow the American consumer model?), and how we contribute something meaningful back to the world.

As Millennials, we’re learning about ourselves in order to learn about the world. We’re changing ourselves in order to meet the world head on.

We embody the thing my priest tells me:

Change yourself, and the world around you will follow.

That’s what the Unstuckable Podcast is about. It’s about making sure you yourself, and you know how to evolve to meet the challenges of the day. You become the 4×4 out mudding in the pasture that always manages to “un-stuck” itself.

I’ve previously written about my brushes with failure. About not worshipping failure, and then why failure is an opportunity. Chris was kind enough to have me on Unstuckable to talk about failure.

Apparently failure has become one of the things I talk about. 

When I was 15, I had to learn how to walk again after both my hips were replaced. Nobody prepares you emotionally to learn how to walk again as a teenager. It’s not something you go to school for, and there isn’t a model for how you start to see the world differently. But if you want to keep walking around, you just figure out a way to keep standing back up and taking the next step.

Does that resonate with you?

If so, I’d invite you to join Chris and I to talk about what it means to always be able to take the next step on the Unstuckable Podcast.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Why Failure is Always an Opportunity

Why Failure is Always an Opportunity

I’ve written before about not making a cult out of failure. How there can be an obsession with failing that seems to place too much value on what we learn from failure. I talked about how it can be problematic to focus too much on failure when success is in fact be the greatest teacher most of the time. Whether you call it “failing fast” or something else, I remain convinced that, for the most part, we should focus on success rather than failure.

So what happens when we do fail? Massively. Undeniably. Something went wrong, and there is little but a smoldering wreckage and a fair bit of shame, or pain, or loss to ponder?

Is failure the end of the world, or just the end of something that needed to be over and done with.

Recently, I’ve been thinking that failure can be a signal that a particular course of action, or a particular set of behaviors isn’t cutting it anymore. Failure is the signal that what you were doing is a dead end. Failure is feedback that if you want to be successful, something needs to change, and you’ll need to figure out what that happens to be, and make the adjustment.

There is an entire section on this in Napoleon Hill’s book, Outwitting the DevilIf you’re struggling to come to terms with some form of failure in your life, I cannot suggest that book highly enough.

robert-downey-jr-mugshotFrom Heroin to Movie Star

An example I’m partial to is Robert Downey Jr. whose heroin addiction nearly ruined his life. He lost everything and ended up in prison – a golden Hollywood boy on the front pages for drugs. Life brought him some failure in order to tell him, “this course of action won’t cut it any longer.”

Downey listened and then climbed back from time in prison and rehab to the global stage with the Iron Man trilogy and The Avengers, some of the highest-grossing movies of their time.

Talking about his time behind bars, Downey said,

When the door clicks shut, then you are safe. There is nothing aside from a rogue correctional officer that can do you harm if you have the right cellie. You are actually in the safest place on Earth. Safe from the intruders.”

Downey isn’t talking about being safe from intruders or things that go bump in the night. He is talking about being safe from his addiction.

Addicts will tell you about the peace that comes from being locked up where their demons cannot find them. The bars served Downey as the discipline and self-denial that he couldn’t find in himself. The bars kept him from finding more heroin. They kept him safe from his demons, and so he felt safe.

The bars represent the feedback failure offers us. The bars are the signpost that alerts us when we have reached a dead end. There is no way forward. It’s time to do something new, and experience rebirth. It’s an opportunity to be the phoenix.

From Layoffs to Startups

When I was a couple of years out of school, I took a job with a consulting firm that did software requirements gathering. At the time, I didn’t know enough about the nature of software requirements to recognize that it wasn’t going to be a good fit for me. There was too much work behind a computer and not enough interacting with the outside world. I hated it, and as a result I wasn’t good at it.

I found myself working 16 hour days to keep up with work that everyone else seemed to be able to just do. I felt myself failing night after night, miserable, but unwilling to give up and quit. This went on for months until the company and I parted ways in a round of tech layoffs. They picked me to go because I clearly wasn’t as good as anyone else at the work. I had failed.

I vividly remember my feet hitting the pavement outside the office with a feeling I couldn’t shake that, “this is the best thing that happened to me this year.” On paper, that gut feeling didn’t make any sense. I’d lost a well-paying job (2 times my previous salary), and a promising career track in product management. But I’d spent nearly every day there there miserable, trying to figure out why things just weren’t working.

The money and the potential career just weren’t worth it. I didn’t love the work, but had things worked out differently, I might have ended up muddling through my career that way. But instead, the layoff set me free to find my next gig.

About six months later, I drove back by the company’s office on the way home from a new gig that would shape my life, and ultimately bring me to San Francisco.

Failure is feedback.

Failure is an opportunity to evolve and become a better version of yourself. Failure is the start of something brand new. When we accept failure as a sign that we need to change course, it becomes a tool. When we look back at the times we’ve failed and ultimately ended up in a 10x better place, we gain confidence to pursue our success and fear failure less and less.

If all failure brings is feedback and opportunity to 10x our current standing, we learn we have less to fear from failure. We learn to believe that we can do the impossible: see failure (when it comes) as a blessing.

Seeing failure as a blessing is incredibly hard when failure and shame tend to go hand-in-hand. Success brings acclaim and glory. Failure brings scorn and shame, and if we listen to those emotions too closely, we may not pick ourselves back up again to try the next thing.

Shame is a powerful emotion that tells us to stop doing something. Shame makes us want to hide our faces from the consequences of our actions. Shame can keep us from getting out of bed for weeks on end. It’s easier to start the next episode of Game of Thrones on Netflix than to face the shame from failure.

Sometimes prison bars are comforting because they are the full force of our shame coupled with a physical barrier that prevents us from repeating our failure.

But if we knew we weren’t going to repeat our mistakes, we might be able to accept them as opportunities to grow. Touching the hot stove may leave a scar, but that serves as the remainder of the place of our failure – the place we don’t want to return.

Five Stages of Failure

I think there are about five stages of failure that take us from that first moment of failing, through to integration of what we learned into our identity.

1. Sadness

Sadness is the feeling of loss. Sometimes failing removes an opportunity from our lives; one we’ll never be able to re-claim. This is incredibly depressing, particularly if a failure means having to close down a business or losing a job. It’s impossible to turn back the clock and make different decisions.

The only respite comes from a sense of inevitability. Failure means the way we were living was never going to get us what we wanted in the first place. The only solution is to leave behind behaviors that were holding us back. The sadness can be replaced by a sense of optimism that we’re moving forward towards greater success. We can become something new.

2. Anger

Sadness can give way into anger at just about everyone. When something goes wrong, it’s an easy solution to blame everyone but ourselves. That doesn’t help. Anger directed at anyone else allows us to be the victim of our circumstances rather than accepting responsibility for our lives. If we’re the victim, we can’t learn from our mistakes, which means we can’t move past the failure. Holding on to anger at anyone, even ourselves is a distraction that keeps us from moving forward.

3. Acceptance

Acceptance happens when we acknowledge the sadness and anger over our failure. We can accept our situation as a starting place. Once we’ve begun to accept where we are, we stop holding onto the past, and can start focusing on the future. But acknowledging the current state of affairs allows us to simply be where we are rather than focusing on where we could have or should have been. We first acknowledge where we are and then we are free move onto the next thing.

4. Gratitude

Gratitude means we start finding ourselves grateful for the opportunity to be in a new place. We’re grateful for the lessons earned along the way, and have faith that we’ll seize the opportunity to grow into the next phase of our lives. The gratitude is for the chance to leave a place that no longer served us so that we can find somewhere better. We have an unshakeable sense that we’re on to bigger and better.

5. Peace

Gratitude brings us to peace. Peace lets us examine the past in a weird state of contradiction. We can look back through mistakes that were made and examine them for lessons, but rather than feel stress or anxiety, we are at peace. We’ve let go of the fear and shame, and see the past as both the end of something unhealthy, and the beginning of something new.

Failure is Re-Birth

Failure is something to find immense gratitude in. It is a new chance at life. It’s your opportunity to grow into the next version of who you are. It’s your chance at an exit from where you are, and the time to discover where you will be soon.

Failure is the brick wall that tells you the most blessed message you, as a thoughtful, caring person could ever hope to receive – this isn’t going to work. You need to figure out a better way to live.

And seeking a better way to live is the only way to really live. Be grateful for those opportunities when they come at you. And if failure’s brick wall pays a visit, find it within yourself to be forgiving of your mistakes, admit what they might have been, and accept the opportunity to correct them, and set your course anew.

The wind will rise to greet you, and your sails will carry you far.

We can end with a quote from Winston Churchill.

Success consists in stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Bon Iver, Risk, Hazardry, and when to say “I’m Just Gonna Call It.”

I spent the better part of a few moments today piecing together all the “Starred” songs on my Spotify. First thing I noticed was how my strategy for starring songs has changed over the past 2 years. I also noticed how I can track the trends of what I was listening to or working through at given points in my life. I listen to music as much to help me focus as to help shape my mood.

If I want to feel like a badass, I listen to Aloe Blocc. If I’m working out, I’ll listen to something like Breaking Benjamin or Metallica.

I was going through the playlist looking for a song that capture a sentiment I wanted to express and send to someone. I tend to catalogue songs that represent a given epoch in my journey, and they often become a memory capsule of the emotions I had at that time. Listening to Aloe Blocc anchors not only the badass emotions I wanted to generate, but also their counterparts: a series of negative feelings that weren’t productive at the time.

Listening to these songs is like following my own trail of breadcrumbs and retracing a timeline of emotions I was cultivating, people I had met, and ideas that I was working through at a given time. Sometimes a few weeks back, sometimes years back. It’s like reading an auditory journal. Or an AI penning a song to describe a moment you shared with it.

The song at the top of the page, Beth/Rest, off of Bon Iver’s sophomore album, was there with me at a number of pivotal moments in the past 2 years.

I remember a girlfriend dropping me off at an airport, and knowing with a lot of sadness it would be a while before we saw each other again. As I connected in DFW, I played the song, and figuring that an airport is as good a place as any to cry in public, I found an unoccupied gate and spent a few minutes doing just that. Beth/Rest helped queue the tears as I watched jets take off, waiting for my own.

The song represents coming full-circle, back through memories of the good and the bad, and finding a lot of beauty in how the past will play into the future. It’s a song about acceptance and resolve. Acceptance of where the present has brought you, the choices made along the way, and how to proceed forward with the best of intentions, and a focus on what has and will continue to be beautiful.

There’s a line where Justin Vernon makes the statement,


I’m just gonna call it.


It precedes the lines,


Sure some hazardry /
For the light before and after most indefinitely.


His poetry is amazing, and his choice to act for the beauty he encounters along the way is how I chose to live my life. I want to be in service of the beauty I can find, and willing to stop and appreciate it when I discover it. I’ve never gotten to those places of quiet wonder without experiencing some risk and hazard along the way, which is probably why I don’t have too much problem putting myself in harm’s way when I think there might be a sunset from the Marin headlands after an afternoon walking in Muir woods afterwards.

It never crosses my mind that jumping in front of some risk might not be worth it for the experience, for the journey, for the beauty. Risk for me is often a way of adding a bit more possibility to any given choice. Add risk, add potential reward. Do this intelligently, and God-willing, you can move a bit faster than the mean. Most of the time, the risk is a paltry sum for the potential reward.

Sometimes, despite all the fear, you just gotta call it. Face the hazardry, and remember the exquisite beauty of the experience that will be your traveling companion along the way. I think this is the surest way to fall in love with your life, and whomever happens to join you along the way.

Here’s to that.

Austin W. Gunter