[Editor’s Note: Peter Chee is founder and CEO of Seattle-based Thinkspace.]
I've been reflecting on my journey over the last 10 years of being an entrepreneur with my boys, Max, Sam and Josh, of which Sam and Josh are 10 years old. I've been having them reflect back on their 10-year life journey too. Through this journey, I've experienced some amazing highs and crazy lows. I've made some good choices and had some fantastic experiences that I lean on which remind myself that I can accomplish things I never thought I could. I also see a string of mistakes that I've made which still sting with pain like a cut on my foot while getting hit by a wave of salt water at the beach. It's uncomfortable, but, in a healthy way.
Back in the first year of running the company, I hired Sonya Stoklosa, an executive coach who was a former Olympic Trials athlete. I resonate with someone who has an athlete mindset and applies that to business. One of the most critical questions she asked me was to make a list of the 10 most important people who I care about. After looking at that list, she said to me, why isn't my name on it? My response was I have to take care of other people; I don't have time for myself. Her response was if you don't take care of yourself, how could you take care of others? It was this one question that spawned off a lot of shifts and changes in my life and business.
I intentionally make sure my kids see me falling down. They have even said to me, “get back up and try again.” Life of being an entrepreneur isn't a highlight reel of success. I've learned that while it's important to have a lot of grit and push really hard, it's much more about resilience from failure. It's about getting up quickly after falling. The most important part of failure is to keep running at it, not away from it. Eventually, if you spend enough time running towards something, it will get a lot less scary and difficult.
Keep intact the things you cherish the most. For me, my non-negotiables are:
While measuring feelings sounds subjective or maybe even impossible it can be done. Start by doing this on the first day of each month and come up with one-word summaries for these things and ask yourself how you were feeling over the last 30 days:
Then for each of these things assign a number between minus five (-5) worst it has ever been and plus five (+5) best that it has ever been and where zero is your personal normal. Once you begin to track these things you'll see trends and from there you can make conscious choices to give energy towards the category that you want to see change. It wasn't until I had amassed a year of data that I threw this information into a spreadsheet and saw these trends. I also started to reflect back at those past months and ask myself what did I do to make some months so much better than others?
In this framework, everything has to be fun. There are three categories: Type 1 Fun, which is quick. Type 2 Fun, which is moderate. Type 3 Fun, which is big impact. Here are some examples of my Type 1 Fun: checking email, talking with a new customer, having a glass of wine with a friend and having a good conversation. Type 2 Fun: talking with a mentor that is 10x where you're at, strategic planning, coming up with a go-to-market strategy, going for a 5-mile run, learning to swim. Type 3 Fun: launching a new location, forming a new partnership with a big company, running a marathon, swimming across Lake Washington, hiking Mailbox Peak.
So for me, it's simple, I need to spend more time doing Type 2 and 3 Fun. Just remember to define your own list, some of the things on my list could be total torture to another person. Once you start to schedule in these kinds of things into your day and week, protect your schedule and see the impact on how you feel.
My personal core values became clear to me over this last 10 years. They are:
In the darkest times of running your company when everything comes into question as to whether or not you're doing the right thing, take a look at what you're working on and ask yourself where you're spending your time. If you're spending all of your time on things you don't enjoy, you don't have to quit your company, you can hire someone who really enjoys doing those things and focus your time on the things that are in alignment with your personal core values. Be the best version of yourself and let that drive the business. Don’t let the circumstances of the business drive you.
Yes, you're spending so much time focused on your company and chances are after 10 years, people will associate you with the brand of your company. Through the successes and failures of your company, those things do not define you and if you get to the point where you successfully exit your company, you're not exiting yourself. If you're a parent, you're not defined by your children either and some could say that you care about your company and your children similarly. Yes, you love them with all your heart, but, they do not define you. Do other things that provide you personal accomplishment. For me, I'm a marathoner and an Ironman in-training. These other activities give me confidence, reduce my stress, provide me focus, and allow me to invest in myself.
Yes, there are sacrifices that you have to make. Sometimes cash flow is so tight that you fear you might miss payroll. This is always the most stressful and scariest thing that can happen. If you're bootstrapping, the first thing that happens when cash flow is really tight is you pay your employees and don't pay yourself. If you've raised money and cash flow is tight or you are not hitting your goals, your board or investors may ask you to lay off employees. Either way, you're in a situation where you're going to have to make hard decisions. The key thing is to pay yourself. You're putting everything at risk and setting aside 10 percent profit for that level of risk needs to be ferociously defended. Once you set that aside, you won't have any regrets, and, the company will learn to adjust itself on the expense side. Leaders in charge of profit and cost centers will innovate in order to survive and eventually thrive.
The number one reason is accountability. Hire someone who is going to be asking you hard questions, helping you set goals, and holding you accountable. They can provide you an unbiased perspective on what you're dealing with. If you can't afford to hire a coach, bring on advisors to your company. These advisors should be people who are 10x where you are at. Set a regular time to meet and ask them to hold you accountable to your goals. These people don't judge you, they support you, and just want you to succeed. This is a game-changer.
After reflecting and talking with my boys, the things that they said they learned were to not worry about what others think of them and it is not going to be as bad as you think. The thing that they are most proud of is hiking up Angels Landing in Zion National Park, Utah.