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Asking What It Means to Slow your Hustle Down and Take a Breather

Taking a Break to Take it All In

“How long have you been here?

 

Less than a year?

 

That’s not a super long time for everything that’s happened….”

 

 

Have you ever gotten a gut-check on your ambition? A little message from the world around you that suggested it would actually be ok for you to slow down and take a breath first?

That sort of feedback is really hard for those of us who are making our careers in the hard-driving tech industry. Working 10-12 (and more) hour days, 6 or 7 days a week is a badge of honor, and there is so much talking and tweeting about #hustle and #startuplife that it can be hard to tell the difference between posturing and working round the close because shit needs getting done.

Many of us in tech startups have a similar drive. We actively seek out opportunities that will grow our companies, and grow our careers as a result. We seek opportunities, and we follow through on them.

The more things we can build with our efforts, the more successful we become, the grander our organizations can become, and the more money we are able to make. The better I can perform for WP Engine, the more I can learn, the bigger an impact I can have, and the more I can measure it, the bigger my career gets.

When you’ve pushed for years and years to get to a place of career growth, you get used to that as a state of being. And then it can be hard to find a bit of balance because you start believing that the absurd level of hustle is essential.  The voice in your head says, “Without absurd hustle, I simply wouldn’t have been able to get to where I am today.”

...Therefore, without more absurd hustle, I won’t be able to keep moving forward to where I want to be.

In my head, I have this voice that tells me that if I don’t keep pushing hard for more, I’ll lose ground, and end up back at square one. It’s incredibly motivating, but it’s also exhausting. In the past few months, since arriving in San Francisco, I’ve been wondering if it might actually be permissible (yes, that’s the word to describe it) to stop, look around, and let myself catch up with myself.

“How long have you been here? Less than a year….?”

Translation: “Austin, I hear you pushing for more, but 1) here’s a little perspective for you about how much time things actually take, 2) you’ve actually moved plenty fast, and 3) slowing down and taking a breather isn’t a crime, and you may be glad you did…

Last week on a phone call, Jason asked me that question. I had some new ideas that probably would have added more responsibilities and more work to my plate. I was angling for growth for myself, and growth that would tie into WP Engine’s. As companies grow quickly, they often create big opportunities for employees and founders to grow as well, and I look actively for those openings. I want to be there when they happen so I’m able to turn them into potential opportunities.

In my head, opportunity knocks once, and you sure as shit better be ready to answer. If you’re not, you miss out for good. And there seem to be a million opportunities for me to add things to my plate right now.

In my head, there is always more work to be done, and not enough time to do it.

And as I write this post, I wonder if it is possible for me to be happy with what I’ve got for the time being, and then spend some months rounding out my life a bit.

Ben mentioned to me several times that there is a lot to be said for learning how to execute at your craft, and that may mean spending time just doing your work for a few years.

But not driving hard towards the future is something that I think I’d actually have to *learn* how to do.

Since graduating college, I’ve discovered a direct relationship between the things that I can pull off and the work I’ll be allowed to do in the future. The more I do now, the more I’ll be able to do later.

Conversely, if I miss an opportunity to grow now, then I may miss an opportunity I want later. At least, that’s what the voice in my head tells me.

If you’re reading my blog, I suspect you relate on some level. You want the most, the best, the biggest possible, and you know that what you have right now doesn’t match it yet. You haven’t made it yet. You can’t be satisfied yet. You can’t let up or relax yet. You’ve still got another hill to climb, and a battle to fight inside yourself, and a victory to not celebrate because you’ve got to wake up again in the morning in hot pursuit of the next growth opportunity.

But what if you believed that the next opportunity was right around the corner? Would that make it ok for you to let the immediate go a bit, and focus your energy differently? Would you be able to relax a bit?

How does that affect what would otherwise be an incredibly all-or-nothing attitude about life? We either made it all, and climbed on the rocket ship as it was launching, or we fell back to earth, flat on our back, starting again from square one.

It’s been fear of never achieving escape velocity that drove me. Fear of continuing to have what I’d always had, but never really wanted, that kept me setting my alarm at 5AM for an early breakfast, and to start sending emails and writing before I had to be at work.

Fighting every day like my life depended on it. Fighting to get something that I knew I wanted out of life, fighting so that I could someday take a deep breath, look around, and be satisfied.

But what day is that satisfaction supposed to arrive?

Do you relate?

In the past couple of months, I’ve been hearing a different perspective from the world. The advice I keep getting suggests that it may actually be time to slow down for a bit and settle into the work I have before me. To slow down and let life catch up with me a bit. There isn’t a rush right now.

Maybe I don’t actually have to keep hustling so insistently right now. Maybe the ground isn’t going to fall out from underneath me, and maybe the world won’t leave me behind like I’m afraid of. That stability I wanted to create might be all around me at this point.

Maybe I’ve made it through the atmosphere, my heat shield has held up, and I’m now peacefully floating in zero gravity with the heavens welcoming above me, and the Earth smiling up at me.

Maybe this is a year to lay down a foundation.

The Question

All that leads me to the question, “When is it (is it ever?) ok to take your foot off the gas and relax your hustle?” Is there a right answer to this question?

Is it ok to loosen your grip on the steering wheel for a moment, and take a breather?

I think the answer is probably yes. I think it might be ok to rest my bones and my mind, and focus on just doing the job at hand for a while.

What have you all done when it was time to slow down for a bit?  How did you know it was ok to let up your pace for the moment?  Did you have a hard time giving yourself permission to let up?

 

The Entrepreneurial Mindset – Mikey Trafton

Mikey Trafton is the founder of Blue Fish Development GroupFire Ant Software, an original investor in the Alamo Drafthouse, and mentors several Capital Factory startups. When Mikey and I met in 2012, he told me a few stories that distilled his motivation for entrepreneurship down into radically discrete elements that are so simple for us to apply in our day-to-day lives there is zero excuse not to. Things like how we do our laundry, or the work environment that we want to have.

Mikey calls the result of these motivations, “local optimizations.” As an entrepreneur, when Mikey wants to adapt a tiny area of his life, he evaluates his circumstances, isolates the element that he wants to be different, and then makes a change to create a situation that will serve his interests.

These local optimizations have been major players in Mikey’s life that led him to start his first company.

Mikey’s story tells me that “entrepreneurial mindset” can be attained. You or I can train ourselves to think and behave like the successful entrepreneurs that have build companies and created products that are changing our world.

Mikey told me that he started Blue Fish because,

“…I wanted to have a cool place to go to work every day. If someone else had started Blue Fish, and I had started working there right out of college, I wouldn’t have ever needed to start my own company.”

As soon as I heard Mikey say that, I thought, that boils entrepreneurship down to it’s essentials.

He’s not after a revolution.

He’s not on a wild crusade.

He’s using zero buzzwords.

Mikey is just stating an honest desire to have a great place to do work that matters with people who “get it.” When Mikey looked around, he couldn’t find a place that he liked to work, so he went and created his own place. He didn’t have to become an entrepreneur. But he did need to work in a certain environment in order to maximize his life. And he was unwilling to compromise those values.

Mikey was describing the results of a lifetime of “local optimizations,” slight modifications to his environment throughout his life that have made him into the entrepreneur that he is today. The same willful qualities that he describes made him a “bratty kid” also made him a “successful entrepreneur.”

Me, I’m a selfish person. I heard Mikey say those two sentences, and I started scheming how I could get more access to his mind so I could hear him tell his story and hopefully apply it to my life and efforts.

The interview is the result of that conversation

Here are the highlights of what we talk about:

  • The founding ideas behind the Midnight Cowboy Speakeasy
  • Why Mikey wanted to become an Entrepreneur in the first place
  • Minority owner in a company is something Mikey wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy
  • Started Blue Fish Development Group to be “an optimizer of my local environment”
  • Discovering that “going the extra mile” for his clients is a keystone motivator leads Mikey to start Blue Fish
  • “I just wanted a cool place to work” is the only justification Mikey needed to start a company
  • Sought to create a “get it” culture. A place where he want to work, and a place where his employees want to work there as well
  • First contract was with Sun Micosystems turned his idea into a 6-Figure Company overnight
  • His first attempt as an entrepreneur is met with a crisis when he doesn’t hire for cultural fit
  • Your company is only great if the people who work there also think it’s great
  • How to hire really badass developers who normally work in “product” companies in a consulting company
  • Turning down business for the sake of the culture
  • Tweaking the business model to attract the right people
  • How being “incredibly selfish” motivates Mikey to seek ways to locally optimize his environment in an entrepreneurial manner
  • “As a child, being selfish made me a brat. As an adult, I guess it makes me an entrepreneur.”
  • Asking “how” questions, not “why” or “who” questions
  • “Don’t compromise your values” vs. “Being a selfish jerk…”
  • Why a high need for approval makes Mikey a perfect leader for his company
  • “I’m not afraid to go try something if I think it will improve my happiness”
  • Also, “I’m even less afraid to remove things if I think they are getting in the way of my happiness.”
  • “I’m one of those people who believe rich people should pay more taxes…and I’m rich, so that belief technically hurts my wallet…”
  • “One of the things that makes me happiest is when one of my rockstar employees comes into my office and tells me they’re leaving to start their own thing or to be a CTO…that’s freaking awesome”
  • Mikey’s rule on relationships: they must be built on a spirit of mutual giving
  • The more you give, the more you get, and the world is a better place
  • “The rantings of a selfish man”
  • Being opportunistic and creating opportunities for yourself
  • The belief that you actually *can* create the life you want
  • Forget the 5 year plan…How do I prioritize for right now, and let the rest work itself out?
  • Not everybody has to be an entrepreneur, not even me…and I’m fine with that
  • Knowing what matters to you and being able to prioritize accordingly
  • Know what you care about and then prune the tree
  • I’d rather make less money and have a great work environment
  • “There’s two kinds of people in the world…”
  • “Giving myself permission to live the life that I wanted to live…”
  • Define your goals correctly: “The goal to make $100MM…that’s a messed up goal.”
  • Realize the core values of how you want to live your life, and your opportunities will balloon
  • “If Bluefish had existed when I graduated college and I had gotten a job there, I never would have started my own company…”
  • Summary, “Get to watch DVD player all day, and you’ll be happy.”

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter