I was miserable. I had just been offered 4 million dollars for a business I had started five years earlier in the finance space. The only catch was: I had to sign a five year employment agreement.
And it was brutal: if they had decided to fire me for any reason, the entire deal would fall through and I would have to give the money back. Even five years later.
“I thought slavery was illegal,” my lawyer told me.
“Let’s take the deal anyway,” I told my business partner. I was pacing back and forth in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street.
Dan, my business partner, who would’ve made a good sum of money, said, “We just can’t. There’s no way we can take this.”
So we shut down the whole business.
We weren’t building any value for ourselves. We had to sign these restrictive employment agreements. Our business actually had ZERO value.
When you build a business, when you create art, when you deliver value, when you have an idea, you want that value to be like a baby. A baby that eventually grows up and exists without you (I hope my 15 year old is not reading this and saying, “Yeah Dad! Listen to your own advice!”)
So a few weeks later, Dan and I sent around an email to everyone involved in our business that we were shutting down. Many people were upset. Investors were upset (although they were getting their full money back). I was upset.
What would I do? This had been my life for the past several years before this moment. Now…nothing.
I had to come up with a new idea. But I was out of my comfort zone. Everything I had built for about five years was now done.
My comfort zone turned out to be a very very small world. It was filled with my tiny business that had no value. And when that comfort zone was gone I was in raw pain. I had no income, no ideas and nothing to fall back on. I was terrified.
It’s outside of the comfort zone that the world of big ideas exist. Inside the comfort zone are only ideas that fit inside the boundaries of that zone.
But when you destroy everything around you, you’re forced to go outside of your comfort zone to be bigger than you ever were before. DESTROY then CREATE.
I could take a job.
I could make a website.
I could develop software.
I could make a search engine.
I could make a social network.
I could write more books. I could write novels. I could became a professional cellist.
Well, no I couldn’t. I can’t play the cello!
But wait, maybe I could learn? How hard could it be?
So I did most of the above. I started a newsletter for awhile. I made 10 websites on 10 completely different topics. I made a search engine (it combined image search, video search, social media search, and regular search all in one.) And I made a social network. Or two. Or three.
I wrote a book.
I didn’t become a professional cellist. But I got good at Scrabble.
Every day I had more and more ideas. I shared ideas with more and more people. I built up a network. I had breakfasts and lunches (WAY outside of my comfort zone) and even DINNERS with people.
Nobody who knew me knew what I did for a living. Because I did many things for a living. I was living for a living.
And no idea was bad. If an idea seemed bad, I’d just look deeper into it. Every idea I would destroy, mash up, recreate, rework, until it seemed like a good idea. Every bad idea has the seed of a good idea in it.
And THEN I would throw it away and come up with more ideas.
Write down every idea you have on a business card. Put them in a pile. Then pull out two or three cards.
Work your idea muscle and combine the three ideas into one idea. Someone just sent me a picture of them doing this.
This is painful to do. It involves admitting that most of your ideas, by themselves, are no good. It involves being scared enough that the gun is to your head so YOU HAVE to come up with good ideas.
It involves stretching your idea muscle in ways that it has never been stretched before. That’s painful. And then it involves figuring out how to execute on an idea, probably more than one. Execution is hard and sometimes not fun.
The Earth is very very tiny when compared with the size of the galaxy. I think there are supposed to be 100 billion suns in the galaxy.
That ratio happens to be the EXACT SAME ratio as the size of your comfort zone compared with the size of the true world of ideas and business and art and value that you can create. The world that would welcome you.
Only YOU can decide how big your sandbox is in.
So many people choose a tiny sandbox. So many people choose a quicksand box. When you play in a quicksand box, you die.
The other day Claudia and I were making a video for the fun of it. I was going to try to do a headstand (I had never done one before) and then we would switch coats and she would finish the headstand and come down.
We would edit it so it would look like I was doing the headstand but then you would realize at the end it was her.
Just for fun. No reason. We did about 20 takes to get it right. It was a Vine video so just six seconds.
For some reason, I’m scared to do a headstand. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m afraid I will break my neck and be paralyzed. Maybe I don’t like being upside down. I don’t know what it is. SCARY!
It’s outside my comfort zone.
But a funny thing happened while we were doing this video. I kept trying to do a headstand and falling. As expected.
And then on the 20th take, somehow, I balanced myself upside down. I was in a headstand! What the hell!
I had moved past my comfort zone. The universe had previously been “world where James can’t do a headstand” to “world where James can do a headstand”. My universe became bigger.
Figure out where your pains are:
- afraid to start a business
- afraid to move across country for an exciting but scary new job.
- afraid to have a child. Afraid NOT to have a child.
- afraid to write a novel. maybe nobody will read it!?
- afraid to say YES to the right person.
- afraid to say NO!
- afraid to be broke
- afraid to stop reading the newspapers (junk)
- afraid to write someone you view as important and send them your ideas for how they can improve their business.
- afraid to ask a girl or guy out on a date.
- afraid to be abandoned or betrayed or lonely.
- afraid to show your art.
- afraid to make new friends
- afraid to take an old paradigm (write a 250 page book) and make it new (write and self-publish a 20 page book).
- afraid to try being a standup comedian (this one belongs to me) or afraid to say No to certain people.
- afraid to start a magazine in a world of blogs.
All of these fears come from people who have written me in just the past week. Everyone has their comfort zone clearly mapped out.
There are oceans on one side you can’t swim across. And mountains on the other side you can’t climb.
But these are the exact points where you can explore. Where you can build a bigger map. A bigger world to live in.
I was very afraid when I shut down my business. When the gun was to my head and I had to come up with lots of ideas.
And I had to execute on them. And something like nine out ten of the ideas I executed on totally failed. Burned in flames. I was so sad.
But one idea worked. I built it for about $10,000. Sold it eight months later for $10,000,000.
And then less than two years later I was dead broke again.
I lost a home, got divorced, lost my friends, lost all my jobs, lost other members of my family. And because I had been so arrogant, people were happy to see me fail.
I was outside my comfort zone again in a way that I had never been before. And it was very painful. “how many times am I going to go through this?” I thought to myself. I didn’t want to be outside of my comfort zone. But here I was.
That was six years ago. Many good things have happened since then. I’ve had to live on the outer edge of my comfort zone in order to survive. I had to DESTROY.
Now, every day, I always make sure I am living on the edge of my comfort zone. It’s usually painful. Very painful. And I get scared all the time.
But more and more, it’s total and absolute freedom. I feel like I can travel through time and space.
Reprinted with permission from The Altucher Confidental.