2022 didn’t start as planned. For weeks, I was waking up before 3am.
One morning I woke absolutely wired. There was no chance of getting back to sleep. I needed a whiteboard to think through some work challenges, so I crept out of the house to not disturb my wife and 3 girls. I swiped into WeWork at 2:30am.
Another morning I woke with my whole body tingling. It felt like a fountain of electricity was pouring out of my chest. I could only lie there to wait for it to gradually subside.
Another morning I woke crying. My heart rate was 74 bpm.
What the hell was going on?
Sure, there was a bit on my plate:
- a new local COVID wave with isolation over the holidays,
- plans to raise money to build a tech product,
- an ongoing hamstring injury that had stopped me training for 8 months,
- a metallic taste in my mouth triggered by anti-inflammatory medication that just wouldn’t go away…
But it still all seemed disproportionate to the circumstances. I also knew literally billions of people had it far worse than me. So I kept working at it – the business plan, the iso activities, the rehab program, the diet, the meditation, everything I thought I could do. Regardless of what I did, the sense of pressure in me just kept rising.
Eventually, I felt it was centred around work so my business partner and I had two good conversations and planned a third.
When I woke up on the morning before the third call, I found myself contemplating a concept from the Tao Te Ching, about how a bowl’s usefulness is created by the emptiness it defines. It’s similar to a martial art concept of meeting force not with force, but with emptiness. It made me also think of Michael Singer’s book, The Surrender Experiment.
So how could I be empty? How could I stop fighting this building sense of pressure? How could I surrender?
As I was drawing up an agenda before the call, it hit me.
Surrender was resigning from the business and going out on my own.
How on earth was that going to work? What would that mean?
That would mean I’d have to tell my business partner about the decision when our call started in 30 mins.
That would mean telling Luce when I got off the call and figuring out what it meant for us and our three girls.
That would mean going back to the people and clients who’d invested time, networks, money, support; to share my decision, to say thank you, to make sure they were looked after.
That would mean resigning as founder and director, after going all in for 3 years.
That would mean resigning, for a second time, from a company I’d founded.
Maybe the purists would say that two resignation data points don’t make a trend, but the pattern seemed obvious.
I cried telling my business partner. I had learned an enormous amount over the 3 years from him, from our clients and from the company building process.
When I finished the call, I went upstairs to Luce. She was reading on the bed, so I lay down next to her and shared it with her. I felt exhausted.
Then I walked back downstairs to my home office to start thinking through what was going to happen now.
2 weeks later, I sat down to reflect on the process of arriving at that decision. I love the quote from American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, John Dewey:
“We don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflection on experience.”
I used two frameworks to guide me. (You can download my reflection template.)
After Action Review
- What was supposed to happen?
- What happened?
- Why was there a difference?
- What worked? Why?
- What didn’t work? Why?
- What would I do differently? What did I learn?
I was surprised to find 13 pages of typed notes fall out of me. My notes explored decades of patterns and crystallised some critical insights that crossed over into multiple domains – business, health, relationships and more.
- Over the last 3 years of this business I reconnected to my ability to go all in. I cannot overstate how valuable it is for me to feel that I bring all of myself to an endeavour. I’ll now need to stay connected to that moving forward.
- There is a kindness and excitement to recognise that I have changed over the three years and become more of myself.
- I understand in a new, very real way the importance of sequencing in the company building process – start with the idea (problem/solution), market, product, competition, team, traction, funding etc.
- I’m hugely grateful to have met and learned from all the awesome people who’ve contributed along the way.
- To trust my gut and if necessary seek additional data, second opinions, and alternatives. Then own the decision and keep moving.
- That the feeling of excitement or feeling “pumped” that I see a lot of people chasing, is a key hook of mine. It means I tend to jump all in without slowing down to pause and understand the strategic landscape and how decisions might play out. When I look back, I see this pattern clearly – particularly in water polo and business.
- I have learned to decouple “me”. That means I can choose, everyday, who I want to be at my core. I then have the chance to express that as a husband, father, colleague, entrepreneur, coach, friend. I get to express it in my health, in every conversation I have, in what I choose to explore and where I invest time, effort, energy, money and focus. It offers the choice and the responsibility to bring the best version of myself to as many moments as possible in a day. It also frees me up see “me” as an ongoing process of daily reinvention rather than something that is fixed and static.
- Finally, the power of surrender. I’ve learnt how to meaningfully and repeatedly practice it – through mindful awareness of my thoughts, emotions and physiology, through reconnecting to what matters to me, and through constant reminders to myself that stress and pressure are the price of entry to doing anything that is important to me and an absolutely natural part of life and growth.
The ongoing process
The reflection process was hard and uncomfortable – especially as it dawned on me just how much ownership I needed to take for my circumstances. It helped me to truly understand and has changed my behaviour.
It has also helped me to surrender to the clarity of the decision. Not just once, but again and again and again. The emotional impact of this decision isn’t something that gets dealt with once, it’s a process too.
Until two weeks ago, it had never occurred to me that the process of reflection holds up a figurative mirror to my actions and decisions to attempt to truly see them – warts and all.
It’s why questions are little mirrors, because they force me to pause and actually see my actions and decisions for what they really are.
And it’s why, perhaps unsurprisingly and especially in situations of pressure or stress, the mirror is the hardest place to look.