The Daily Gratitude: a complement to the stand-up meeting

dogstar

I recently started a new company where I’ve been heads down doing a lot of testing and building. Part of this experience has been working with a new team – specifically my co-founder Shala, who is one of the fastest growing individuals I know.

From day one, we’ve started to think about our culture – and the focus on culture has been inspired a lot by our advisor Joel Gascoigne and the crew at Buffer. (You can view their culture deck here.)

Among many things, like kindness, humility and authenticity, we deeply value gratitude. The thing about gratitude though, is that it’s not just an attitude – it’s a practice.

Vulnerability research professor and TEDster Brene Brown discusses the cultivation of gratitude in these videos here and here.

“These folks shared in common a tangible gratitude practice. They either kept gratitude journals, they did a ’1234′ every day, they said something out loud that they were grateful for, or they said grace at dinner.”

and…

“It’s gratitude that makes us joyful.”

Joy is an incredible emotion to harbour while building a company as there’s always more that needs doing and moments of pure contentment are fleeting. Joy is like an energy snack you can pull out when you’re exhausted by the startup marathon.

There’s been a lot of focus on the practice of mindfulness – meditation, yoga, breathing and so on – but I’d say the practice of gratitude has as much of an impact on the balance and outlook of ‘self’.

Gratitude also has a scientific relationship on happiness. You may recall this Soul Pancake video that went viral last year.

With all this in mind, we’ve formalised our gratitude practice at CloudPeeps via ‘The Daily Gratitude’ – a verbal or written note of thanks we share at the end of the day. While our standup meetings in the morning talk about achievements, tasks and blockers, mostly related to work, it’s our gratitude sessions that reflect back on our progress and joy.

Here’s two examples from our sessions:

“I am feeling a deep resilience and confidence with what we’re doing – and that feels so good.”

“I am grateful to be able to completely trust you. Really awesome.”

What’s nice is that we’ve begun to incorporate some personal moments (like simply enjoying a walk in the park on a sunny evening), which means the process is more holistic and contextual.

So, have a go at practising a Daily Gratitude session – I’d love to hear how it goes.

Image credit: Oil Painting of the Dog Star, Deb Anderson

I can’t decide if I want to write in British or American English anymore so bear with me.

The joys and benefits of keeping a low profile online

rolling-hills-in-abstract-madison-latimer

“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” ~Albert Einstein

In the age of the perfectly-lit selfie, the algorithm-gamed status update and the never-ending quest for more, we have become lost in the attention economy. We find ourselves in a tiring ‘sharing’ cycle – in an ongoing pursuit to be heard.

How many articles do you come across everyday telling you to create a ‘personal brand’ or build an online profile and following? It’s nauseating.

It’s going to be hard for me to continue writing this with a straight face. I mean, every time I use the term ‘personal brand’ I want to leave the internet forever. But, I’m fascinated by the sociological way we now represent and express ourselves online – crafting our lives in one neat communicable package.

I’d love to share something with you: I had a personal brand and I hated it.

Personal brands are incredibly limiting. They put you in a box that has defined values and then you continue to attract people and things to that box. This noise drowns out your deeper wants and needs. Personal brands grow exponentially and then you end up as a person known for being known, not for what you contribute.

Personal brands aren’t to be confused with reputation – the latter develops from primary sources: from first-hand interactions you have with people. Reputation is like a thoughtful LinkedIn reference from a ex-colleague while personal brand is those annoying LinkedIn endorsements (of which I’ve amassed ~1200 of, for many things I know nothing about).

So, back to the downsides of online profiles. I recommend you start by reading the founder of Lifehacker, Gina Trapani’s post on The Flip Side of a Big Audience. She articulates her experience well and summarises it to:

  •  You field a weekly flood of pitches
  • People who don’t know you make wildly inaccurate assumptions about things you say
  • You forget how to share with people who do know you
  • You get addicted to the approval of strangers
  • Your view of the world gets skewed
  • You’re a spam magnet and a troll target

The first one hit home. Before I moved cities, well countries – from Australia, and became a pseudo-recluse, I’d wake up daily to a stream of requests and asks from strangers. Even old school friends I hadn’t heard from in years would send Facebook messages wanting help. Jobs, intros, general promotion – you name it. If I met anyone in a professional setting and they were aware of my background, I’d literally see a change and flicker in their eyes while their brain pondered what they could get from me. For a while, 90% of communication that came my way was people wanting stuff. I became so accustomed to it that I was automatically on the defense, trying to protect my energy. I became completely flooded with incoming that when I needed help growing my company, I had no idea how to reach out or contact people myself.

You also forget which people are your friends and which are ‘industry friends’. Two of the loveliest people I’ve encountered over the past few years include one from a random Craigslist inspection and another on a long-haul flight.

And let’s not get into Gina’s post about being a troll target or how people treat you when you say no to their request.

After spending 2013 purposefully quiet and concentrating internally, I am so grateful for the space that has been created. Space is important as it allows you to experiment away from people’s view. If you’re an entrepreneur you especially need this freedom to explore while your offering finds its true place. And the thing is, you must be comfortable being misunderstood during this time. The people around you might not have any idea what you’re working on. They might not know where to place you. It’s okay – it’s all part of the hero’s journey.

“I believe you have to be willing to be misunderstood if you’re going to innovate.” ~ Jeff Bezos

To finish, let’s include an obligatory Ralph Waldo Emerson quote. In the Self-Reliance essay, he discusses the need for ‘each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency and follow his or her own instincts and ideas’. He writes:

“Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

So, here’s to 2014. You’ll find me in the corner – popping up to say hello to share what we’re creating but not for the sake of it.

Image credit: Madison Latimer

How to keep believing in yourself

Simon Pemberton

I stood there catching my breath. A gush of thoughts were racing in my mind. “You don’t even believe in me,” I sighed to my best friend. “No one does.”

It’s funny how as soon as the words left my mouth, it dawned on me. A metaphorical mirror – a projection of my own reality. I’d hit a wall. Exhausted physically and emotionally from working 100-hour weeks, it was now as clear as day: I had lost my way in believing in me.

This wasn’t about others, it was about my own relationship with myself.

Usually fueled by a quiet confidence, I’d become worn down. Paralysed from making decisions as big as the best way to issue company stock right down to the minutiae of which Instagram filter to use. I was plagued with self doubt. Which was the best way forward? What are all the possible outcomes? Are things succeeding or failing? Who can and will help me?

Some people think they’re awesome. They even outwardly share the sentiment. From a young age, parents coo to them how special they are. Unfortunately, I’ve battled with feeling the opposite for most of my life. Couple this with an energetic drive and you have a delicate tension to balance.

The thing about entrepreneurship is that you’re forever operating outside a box – or known boundaries. That’s why some of the greatest innovators are ignorant to begin with.

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” ~Bertrand Russell

This freedom can be crippling. Your confidence can be built to egocentric levels one day and smashed down to nothing the next. You contemplate how taking a job would feel like a sweet retirement. You are drowning in advice and critical feedback from everyone, and forget what it was like when you were in that position. You look around at everyone’s social media showreels and wonder if they are going through the same.

“Entrepreneurs have struggled silently. There’s a sense that they can’t talk about it, that it’s a weakness.”

It’s only now that publications like Inc. are uncovering tales from founders with articles such as The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship. While one of the most-loved conferences by web geeks, Brooklyn Beta, created the space to host and share these conversations at this year’s event. Leading startup incubator Y Combinator also recently funded 7 Cups of Tea – a mental health platform that connects you with qualified listeners.

We’re only just beginning to rejoice in what sharing in this area can be like.

With some space, it’s been almost comical to personally reflect on my progress. How our company can be profiled in a national newspaper one day, an incredible co-founder join me the next and our growth be up 50% month/month in November – and still feel this way. Which brings me to:

“Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have.”

It’s natural we want to keep pushing, but it’s important to recall the wins so you can curb any self doubt. One helpful tool is iDoneThis, which will show you what you did rather than your to-do list. The Minimalists discuss in the Costs and Benefits of Awareness how:

“Our standards change whenever we are infected with a new awareness. We scrutinize ourselves more. The more we scrutinize, the more the spotlight brightens, and the more our imperfections stand out.”

In How to Believe in Yourself in the Face of Overwhelming Self-Doubt on Tiny Buddha, Melissa Ng recommends to be careful with who you surround yourself with. When you are rebuilding your belief, keep away from toxic people who will tell you “No” or “You can’t”. I often divide people into two groups – your ‘critics’ and your ‘cheerleaders’. Your critics are crucial for providing awareness that helps you grow, but in times of self-criticism and doubt, devote time to your cheerleaders who will egg you on and boost you up.

Ng also says: “Self-doubt never disappears. Over time, you just get better at dealing with it. It will greet you every time you fall out of your comfort zone and whenever you strive to do something great. But know that it’s not something you have to fear or resent. Your doubts are only thoughts, not your future.”

Now excuse me while I go remember and appreciate I might actually know stuff. :)

Image credit: Simon Pemberton

A refreshing take from swissmiss on leadership, creativity and living

It’s been a busy week since I got back to New York and I’m trying not to forget the new perspective I collected during my trip.

Luckily, I stumbled upon this video (~6-mins long) after checking out the relaunched Creative Mornings site. It’s a beautiful portrait about leadership, creativity and values by Tina Roth Eisenberg aka swissmiss. If you have followed Tina’s work, you’ll notice she is incredible at uniting teams together on projects – both locally and across the globe – with an infectious positive energy. I only wish more founders shared her motivations behind why she creates and does what she does.

She is also honest and aware about her flaws as a manager, touching on spreading herself too thin and what it must be like to work with her. Some choice quotes include:

“Sometimes it’s a little lonely to be the boss – to be at the top. Being a boss is really hard work.”

and

“The most important thing is that you are true to yourself. That you can look back at your life and say you are fully behind the decisions you made. I’m proud of the decisions I made. And by living your life, you made the world a little better.”

 

Stay tuned for upcomings posts on ‘How to chose a founder to work for’ and ‘Why I don’t share who I’m with’.

Celebrating detachment

cinque-terre

When I pause, I get to reflect back on how much has happened over the last two years. My life is almost unrecognisable now. When you’re living in the moment – going through periods of immense change, you’re often unanchored to the past. So much so that it’s hard to see progress without reminiscing about where you’ve come from. Not seeing progress is demotivating as you can’t understand the results of your actions.

Today, as I prepare for a sneaky summer sojourn to Europe and let my drive chill, I feel proud of where things are at with work and grateful for the brilliant community I seem to have gathered around me. Perhaps what I’m not so proud of is some of the things you miss out on along the way when you’re pushing hard to create something. In my case, it’s often the art of simple relaxation. I’m incredibly bad at it. Put me on a beach with a book and while it’s most people’s idea of bliss, I dance with the guilt of not achieving anything. It’s a huge challenge to be comfortable without ‘doing’ for an extended period of time.

In this post Psychological Detachment – The Importance and Benefits of Mentally “Switching Off” From Work During Leisure Time, Dan DeFoe discusses how crucial mental disengagement during off-work hours is for well being. When you’re doing a startup, it’s almost impossible to switch off.  There’s always something more you can be doing and ‘shit hits the fan’ at least once a month. You can try to make the most of working longer to gain a sense of control but this is a huge mistake for productivity. You get more done by stepping away. DeFoe recommends:

“Clear physical and mental boundaries between work and non-work life provide best pathway to psychological detachment.”

and

“The effects of psychological detachment evidence in day-to-day changes and fluctuations.  Past research shows associations in noticeable changes in contentment, cheerfulness, fatigue, depletion, irritation, and job performance relative to detachment from work.”

According to research he came across, the most important aspect of the restorative environment is “fascination”. I used to associate relaxation time with social time (often eating, drinking, sitting, etc.), which doesn’t have to be the case. You can create your own version of it – I’m more of a fan of writing, napping and walking.

Charlie Hoehn also has an incredible post about how he pushed through and switched off successfully using ‘play’ in the context of fun (after all Dr Seuss reminds us that “Adults are just obsolete children.”).

“Giving myself permission to PLAY was the cure for my anxiety. It was a subtle but powerful shift in how I viewed the world.”

and the symptoms:

“The real problem had been my state of mind. I’d become increasingly adept at rejecting any form of “non-productivity.” I couldn’t allow any form of play if it didn’t contribute to earning money or doing something “meaningful.” Even when I was with friends or doing something that was supposed to be fun, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the time I was wasting.” … “Once I saw that I’d forgotten to treat my work as play, I knew what I had to do in order to fix it. It was simply a choice.”

One of the things I’ve done for both my personal and work email is put an out of office autoresponder on. A few months back, my inner tech early adopter was laughing at how redundant such a function was and how only the land of corporates used them (after all, you can’t take a true break and palm off all your responsibility in a startup, right?). How wrong I was. Being super responsive and connected year-in, year-out is ridiculous and letting people know when you’re off the grid is not only respectful to them – but yourself. It creates a subtle barrier.

So, what’s next? For starters, I’ll be travelling and getting out of Manhattan’s humid rabbit warren. Most of the trips I’ve taken in recent years have been work-oriented and location independent in style – glued to the next wifi location. This time I plan to barely open my MacBook. I’ll be headed to the UK first for a friend’s wedding, then the South of France before driving along the coast to Italy. There, I’ll cover Cinque Terre, Florence and Tuscany, Rome and Amalfi.

Follow my travels along via Instagram – and don’t forget to play this summer/winter.

Image credit: Maranola Night on 500px

Note: I wrote this post two weeks ago – I am currently listening to the distant church bells on a peaceful evening in Corniglia :)

Hustling for ambiverts

pic In the last couple of years, the popularity of the word hustler has soared.

Especially in tech land where you often hear the combination of hacker, hipster and hustler to represent a dream founding team (i.e. development, design and business).

I haven’t tended to use the term to describe myself… for one thing, ‘hustler’ seemed synonymous with porn magazines for most of my life.

Not only does this turn me off but now, every founder is hustling their energetic jazz hands across the startup community. “Like this, share this, buy this, we’re awesome.” It can come across noisy, ego-filled – and a lil’ desperate. And oh so extreme extrovert.

I was interviewing candidates for a role a couple of weeks ago and one even showed up with ‘hustle’ written on their palm. Kinda cute.

Young professionals are now also asking for career advice on how to become a hustler. Choice excerpts from the responses include:

“Exploit counter-party weaknesses”, “Learn how to intimidate someone. Financially or physically. Whoever has might IS right”, and “Hype it up, talk a good game”.

I understand persistence and not taking no for an answer is part of the sales process but what’s an ambiverted or introverted individual supposed to do when dumped in the hustling bustle?

First up, reframe what it is to be a hustler

While I’m old fashioned and believe ‘marketer’ does the job, ‘growth hacker’ and ‘distribution hacker’ are also passable as titles. You see, hackers are smart. They’re analytical and look for patterns. They’re self-sufficient but can collaborate when needed. They’re curious and seek new ways to optimise processes. They understand there’s science and art. If your version of a hustler is my version of a hacker, then I’m happy to be called a hustler. If it’s uncreative, sloppy, void of strategy and at the expense of others, then no.

Remember: hustle in your own way.

Say no to bullshit

I had a micro-epiphany the other day when it came to looking at how I tell the story of my company. For a while, something in my gut wasn’t quite right – I also couldn’t get my head around how to play the game. Then it hit me – that’s because 80% of startup land is bullshit and I hate bullshit. I just can’t do it. I can’t lie (well, not express my version of reality). It’s all vanity metrics, bloated achievements and boring same same. I was viewing a stream of old accelerator pitches the other day and was mesmerised by how impressive each founder was. It was like watching magic. But then I stood back and realised I’d heard of none of the companies and upon a Google DuckDuckGo search, found minimal product or press trails on the web. I questioned if many were still around.

Remember: you can progress and tell it like it is.

Make it so you then can fake it

I’m flipping this one around. The best way to build your confidence is by doing. Explore and go wide, then focus in on an area to get your bread and butter. (The T-shaped analogy is still relevant.) If you’re feeling demoralised or unproductive, create a side-project and put some of your energy into watching it grow. This flow state will have a snowball effect into your other work. You’ll then hustle from a deeper, more purposeful place. Faking it requires energy and when there’s no time left (and your social life has become non-existent), you don’t want to worry about projecting confidence – you need inner belief and will.

Remember: you don’t have to think if you’re telling the truth.

Accept that your version of being annoying isn’t actually that annoying

Growing up in England, it was drilled into me to always be well mannered and very respectful of others. Don’t talk about yourself, don’t ask for too much, always give, be humble, express your gratitude relentlessly and so forth. [Sure, this may be universal but stay with me...] Fast forward to when it comes to hustling and wow, there’s a lot to balance and unlearn. When I used to cold email people and not hear back from them, or better – get a response saying they’re busy – I would interpret this as the biggest “Go away and never contact me again” signal going. Wrong! This gets your nowhere – especially in larger markets like the US. Someone once told me you can follow up six times in America without being annoying. (Perhaps divide that by two for Australia.)

In Bali last year I met an amazing guy working on setting up the creative community there (such as kicking of its first coworking space and local events). I asked him why he wasn’t sharing more of his work and ‘asks’ on his social profiles and he remarked that he didn’t want to come across too self-promotional. I laughed. Here was this incredible giving listener worrying about being ‘noisy’. Contrast this to the Cindy Gallops of this world (who make retweeting great feedback about oneself look cool and humble brags a normal part of life), he had a long way to go.

Remember ambiverts/introverts: your version of being loud, persistent and annoying isn’t really all that loud, persistent and annoying.

Focus on less, not more

You’ve likely heard Carl Jung’s theory that introverts get energy from inside themselves (ideas and concepts in their own minds), and extroverts get energy from outside of themselves (interacting with other people). This means that you need to preserve your sweet, sweet energy juices when hustling. It gets exhausting – especially when you’re working across different cities and have to prove yourself in each. (I’m waiting for the day ‘personal brands’ become more portable!) Don’t overdo it with new connections. Despite working on a startup around professional event discovery, I don’t recommend heading out to any old networking mixer frisbeeing business cards into people. Go for one-on-one coffees, share your story and build up a relationship. Slot non-work conversation time in. Be vulnerable and personable, it’s refreshing and real. Get to know people over time. There’s also a beautiful thing called the internet where you can enjoy chatting without leaving the sanctuary of your desk. Regardless of all the face-to-face IRL mantra in the media, you can get a lot done online and across borders.

Remember: slow and steady wins the race.

Change hustle leagues 

New York is the city of hustlers. If you think you have hustle, come here for a while and enjoy life in the don’t waste people’s time/speak quicker than biologically possible/schedule calendar invites for everything world. On my last trip back to San Francisco (which I thought had hustle), it felt like everyone was floating around slowly talking about ideas to change the world rather than getting stuff done. Yep, manic NY.

Any others?

Feel free to share them below.

Related: my friend Elizabeth Yin is hosting an event dedicated to non-technical founders and the art of hustling. Hustle Con (which is now sold out) is being held in Silicon Valley next week – and we’ll have some coverage on The Fetch Blog. If you want to see if you can grab a last-minute ticket, use promo code ‘thefetch-hustler’ for 25% discount. (See the quiet hustle there?!) ;)