What you can learn from the 10 years and millions of dollars I lost
Standing in the rain, drenched to the bone and 3000 miles from home. I stared at the ATM screen as it said ‘insufficient funds’. It was going to be a long and cold night of reflection. How did I go from signing a consulting deal for millions of dollars a few months ago, to this?
I’m certain that every human is capable of 95% of the things they want to achieve in life. The other 5% is the reality of time surpassed, physical limitations, or the luck required in some pursuits.
If you’re 25 and want to be an Olympic gymnast, I’m sorry, not going to happen. If your real goal is getting to the Olympics, try skull boarding instead. A sport that weeds out the committed competitors from those with too many broken bones.
Want to be the next Jeff Bezos or Sara Blakely? There are so many factors outside of your control that need to fall in place. You would be naive to think pure will, a good idea and hard work will get you there.
But whatever you think you’re capable of. Really think you’re capable of. I’m pretty sure you’re capable of 1000x that. And likely more when you get there.
As a 17 year old I received a scholarship offer from a Div1 University in the US. It would be the next step in my golf career, and the eventual goal of being one of the top players in the world. But I decided to forego the scholarship to pursue the opportunity of working on a magazine I started.
When I sold my magazine as a teenager, I had an opportunity to build something huge with a publicly listed company. But I got distracted by the requests to do speaking at various companies and conferences.
Soon I was speaking all over the world. I was the youngest finalist at World Championships of Public speaking in Washington DC. Voted as one of the best professional speakers in the world when presenting beside legends in the industry.. But I decided to pursue entrepreneurship because I didn’t want to be ‘just a speaker’.
I tuned my entrepreneurial efforts to a consulting niche and built a business that had some of the Fortune 100 as clients. But I started getting distracted by other interests and ‘more exciting projects’. I was ill-prepared for the ’07/8 market crash compared to my competitors.
After my consulting business failed I raised funding and launched a sports media startup in Silicon Valley. On a trip back into the US from Canada I took my eye off the ball. Deciding to get into an argument with an asshole border agent, resulting in my entry to the US being denied. The red tape and paperwork required to reverse that one altercation took years. The company folded in the interim.
I have countless more examples; being one of the first bloggers in Africa, being offered a music recording deal, losing a romantic relationship, building relationships with some of the most powerful and inspiring icons in business and society, being offered a dream job… All these have resulted in the same outcome. Not once did I seize the opportunity in front of me and apply myself to create something significant.
Over the last 10+ years I’ve seen my peers in all these varied pursuits go onto tremendous success, recognition and global impact. They’ve sold businesses for millions of dollars. Become top20 players in the world. Addressed the leaders of nations and industry at WEF and Davos. Created non-profits or firms that have changed and saved the lives of millions. What did they have that I didn’t?
One could surmise that there’s something wrong with me, or many things. Psychological defects of sorts. Maybe I don’t want to be successful. Maybe I hate money and achievement. Maybe I crave novelty too much. Maybe I don’t love myself. All these could be true but I will counter that all the failure-events in my life have one thing in common. My inability to focus and show up consistently.
I’m not saying there’s no argument for quitting. As the quote says, ‘if you’re running east looking for a sunset, please stop and reassess’. My version of ‘quitting’ was more like Usain Bolt sprinting in Olympics, being 40m from a world record, then making a 90 degree right turn and running out of the stadium. Only to find him a few months later selling artisanal ice cream from a food truck in Cyprus because ‘it seemed interesting at the time’.
Life has no problem with being consistent. It will hand you the same lesson over and over again until you’re ready to hear it and apply the learning. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Push past the next shiny novelty that appears on your path to mastery. You’ll only discover the true greatness that lies within you once you’re willing to focus and show up for an extended period of time.
I’m grateful for many of the positive and negative experiences I’ve had over the last 10+ years. But the lesson of focus could not have hit home at a better time. Last year I became a dad, and I show up every day. My hope is that I turn this into a character trait in the rest of my life. And that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.