Well, it’s time to for me to start blogging again and (inspired by a recent conversation with a friend on Facebook) what better to start with a list of some of the things that I really should have done differently over the years:
- Don't rush in to having children - Let’s start with this as, in some ways it’s the toughest one to explain. You see, I love my kids dearly and, obviously, I would never wish them away however I can honestly say that having them only a couple of years after starting a very ambitious business venture and not feeling emotionally ready for it at the same time was one of the toughest challenges I’ve ever faced as a human being. I’d like to think that they’d say I’m not a terrible father but I feel like I could have been a better dad to them if I hadn’t been under so much pressure and felt more prepared for it.
- Guard your bandwidth - Although tactics and strategy are important it's a reality that most battles are simply won by overwhelming the opposition. The only exception to this I can think of is the Battle of Thermopylae in which a few thousand Greeks held 20-30x that at bay by controlling their (and therefore the enemy's) bandwidth. By choosing to fight within a pass the enemy were simply unable to overwhelm them. Anyway, setting appropriate boundaries and ensuring you're not overwhelmed is one of the keys to staying sane and in control of yourself - it's *particularly* important as a leader - you can't lead other people effectively if you're struggling with your own load so:
Don't be afraid to burn a few bridges here and there - Obviously it's a good idea to do your best to be liked both in a business and personal context but one thing that I've learned in recent years is that it's also not such a bad idea to let a few things go along the way. Trying to make a bad situation work or maintain an opportunity that's not a good match for you takes a huge amount of work mentally and is often also not a good experience for the other people involved. So - try not to be an arsehole but avoid flogging a dead horse.
Overcome/avoid Target Fixation - There's an interesting phenomena which I first came across by doing track days which is known as Target Fixation - a driver can become so fixated on a hazard that they want to avoid that the inadvertently end up driving towards or even crashing into the obstacle concerned. With experience behind the wheel you progressively learn to look at the space around the object instead and and thereby avoid the danger. Obviously this doesn’t only apply to driving (I remember crashing into a wall on my bike as a kid for similar reasons, sorry Dad!) but I believe it also applies to your wider undertakings. It's very easy in life to become so focussed on the one thing that you fear or don't want to happen that you kinda end-up making it happen - once you get into the grip of that fear it's really hard to let it go so my fundamental advice would be to try and always go with your gut in the first place - if it doesn't feel right to you it probably won't be if only due to target fixation.
Don't be a clown if you want people to take you seriously - I’m still figuring out what this one means exactly and it might be an issue that’s quite specific to me as I have always had a tendency to act like the class clown. You can kinda get away with it in your thirties (particularly if you work in games) but as you progress and the stakes get higher people expect a certain level of seriousness and awareness of the right time and place for frivolity. Unfortunately if you’re the boss you kinda have to act like it.
Have regular medical checkups and go to the doctors if you’re sick - Sounds super-obvious but I can tell you from experience that it’s easy to let slip. In my case I suffered from untreated acid reflux from about 1999, let my health seriously deteriorate due to the pressure I under while running Kempt/Burke & Best, suffered from high blood pressure in the latter years, took Asprin to help with that and then - after rashly buying a skateboard at the age of 40 - had to ply myself with lashings of ibuprofen in order to cope with the resulting beating I took. Undoubtably some or all of these factors resulted in my cancer diagnosis in 2017 which - needless to say - I would strongly recommend avoiding if you can.
Get critical illness insurance - Hopefully you’ve already got life insurance but do check that it also covers critical illness. Mine didn’t, if it had I would have been sitting on a tidy sum right now and it would have made the process of going through treatment and recovery A LOT easier.
No, the housing market will not inevitably crash - As a child of the 80s I witnessed the effect on my parents and other people of the huge fluctuation in house prices we saw at that time. Unfortunately this made me very risk averse with regard to investing in property which has meant that, over the last couple of decades I kinda missed-out. In hindsight, it’s better to be investing in your home than paying a landlord but, that said, I would still advise against mortgaging yourself to the hilt - life is for living and you never know what’s around the corner.
There's a difference between brave and foolhardy - One of my favourite sayings is "fortune favours the brave" but its important to remember that you also need to not be reckless. Before you undertake anything ambitious consider the cost of it going wrong and weigh it up against that. What's the absolute worst that could happen? Is it worth the risk?
Cash out occasionally - When you’re young and you don’t have any real commitments it’s easy to take a few risks but as you get older it gets progressively more difficult. On top of this there can be a temptation in business to keep doubling down on your investment and, when things get tough, this can end-up with you being backed into a corner financially and having to act out of necessity (instead of your best interests) in order to solve the problem. To help with this make sure you cash-out occasionally during the good times, make sure that you have a decent financial buffer against the inevitable tough times - particularly if you’re planning a significant change in the business.
- Ensure that you get a good system
- Delegate as much as possible
- Leave contingency time
- Let "under-promise/over-deliver" become your daily mantra.
Well, there you go! I’m sure there are more things that I could share but that feels like a decent starter for now, hope it’s of some use to someone.
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