I’m often asked about my founding story…
I originally started the company the summer before my senior year in college selling t-shirts and sweatshirts to student organizations on campus.
My plan was to do that until I graduated and got my real job…here we are almost two decades later, and I guess I’m still waiting for that real job.
I will always remember the moment my future path became clear.
As I was evaluating whether I was going to accept one of a few job offers I had (I was lucky) or pursue my own company, I talked with as many people as I could: vendors, professors, advisors. I talked to everyone trying to get a good understanding of the potential outcomes my options had in store.
As fate would have it, I was waiting to see Debbie, one of my advisors, and her prior appointment was running over on time. I sat patiently in her waiting room for my turn to chat. To pass the time, I picked up a copy of Fast Company and started flipping through it, when one article jumped out of the magazine at me.
“Leadership Lessons of a Rock Climber” by Jim Collins. Ok, now I know who Jim Collins is and have read several of his bestsellers…at that time, it might as well have been Tom Collins.
In the article, Collins connected his experiences as a rock climber to leadership through several analogies, two of which absolutely changed my world forever.
Failure vs Fallure
You get one chance to scale a wall “on-sight” without prior knowledge or scouting. When you get to that point when your forearms are filled with fire and the next move is possible but very unlikely…at that point, in that singular moment, you have a choice: let go and let the rope slowly lower you down (failure) or dig deep for that extra push and go for it, likely not getting the hold and slamming down a bit less slowly (fallure).
In both situations the external outcome is the same, an incomplete on-sight run, but the internal outcome is much different. Do you buckle and cave when times get tough or do you buckle down and give it everything you’ve got, or as Collins says “In fallure you fall; in failure you let go.”
Only until you push yourself beyond what you think is possible, do you truly learn what you are capable of.
Odds of Failure vs Consequences of Failure
As strange as it sounds, most rock climbing deaths do not happen on the face of the wall but actually on the walks between the climbs. Seems counterintuitive, right? But when the odds are high, so are safety measures and focus; when your guard is down, when you least expect it, is when accidents happen.
Collins shared this conversation he had with one of his Stanford graduate students:
“I’d really like to start my own company, but it just seems so risky, so I’m going to take a job with IBM.”
“What would happen if you give your startup the full try and failed?” I asked.
“I suppose I would go and get a job,” she said.
“And how hard would that be?”
“Not very hard.”
“So you’re telling me that the worst-case scenario is that you’d be right back where you are now: looking at getting a regular job.”
I’m not usually one to believe in “eureka moments” but that was one for me.
About that time, Debbie’s door opened, and I walked in with the magazine in hand…”Debbie, I’m going for it.”
That article, that moment changed the direction and trajectory of my life and many others around me.
Once I decided to commit to the possibility of fallure and pay more attention to the consequences vs the odds, a world of possibility was opened up to me.
Where in your life could you reach for the next seemingly impossible grip instead of just accepting defeat?