What amazing things could you achieve if you stopped telling yourself “I can’t”?
By Becky Cruze (Startup Founder)
I recently read Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, a memoir by Anna Quindlen. Quindlen is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and novelist based in New York, and, at first glance, would seem to have little in common with today’s startup founders.
But as I reflected on the life lessons she shared, it struck me that many of them applied to entrepreneurship as well.
Learning to Do a Headstand
One lesson in particular began with Quindlen sharing the story of learning to do a headstand while in her late 50s:
“It took me two years to get there, but today I can do a headstand at a moment’s notice… I worked hard on this headstand, indefatigably, systematically, harder than I’ve worked on my own work, which comes fairly naturally to me. What I don’t have naturally is a sense of balance.”
She goes on to explain that it wasn’t necessarily true that she didn’t have a natural sense of balance — that it had become one of “those little stories we tell ourselves”:
“Oh, those little stories we tell ourselves. They make us what we are, and, too often, what we’re not. They are the ten commandments of incapability, cut to order. I can’t cook. I’m not smart. I’m a bad driver. I’m no jock. Maybe they’re even true. It’s hard to tell at a certain point…
The little stories we tell ourselves become mythic, difficult if not impossible to discount or overcome. They get written into our DNA, so that when the plane hits a bump, adrenaline floods our bodies as we say to ourselves, ‘I am afraid of flying.’ Sometimes over time it becomes clear how many of the little stories are fictional or, more particularly, lies.”
My Own “Little Stories”
Upon reading this passage, I began reflecting on the various “little stories” I’ve told myself over the years, the most significant of which were undoubtedly regarding my startup BeCouply.
Back in 2010, my boyfriend Pius and I were chatting one day about how, as a couple’s relationship becomes more serious, you spend increasing amounts of time with your significant other and yet, ironically, you tend to put less thought and effort into making that time truly fun and special in comparison to when you first started dating.
We talked about how great it would be if there were an app that gave you awesome date ideas you could try nearby or maybe even a subscription service that would take care of all the date planning, ensuring that you had at least one amazing night out together each month.
After conducting a thorough search and discovering that no such app or service existed to address this need, Pius suggested we create our own. Given that he is a computer science grad from MIT, the idea of building this product ourselves was a no brainer for him. But for me, a political communications major with no real experience in business or tech at the time, the idea of co-founding a startup was completely foreign… and more than a little intimidating.
As I began sorting through my fears, I found myself thinking again and again, “I’m just not the type of person who could start her own company.” But as I talked with my boyfriend, family members, and close friends, I heard the same response again and again: “Why not?”
And I realized that I didn’t have any logical basis for thinking I wasn’t cut out for entrepreneurship — it was just one of those little stories I had told myself enough times that I’d come to take it as gospel.
In the end, we decided to take the leap and poured everything we had into BeCouply over the next few years, achieving more than I could have imagined at the outset (including raising an angel round led by Mitch Kapor, launching a private beta of our monthly subscription service that had a nearly perfect retention rate, and partnering with Ford Motor Company and rock band Mötley Crüe).
The Next Chapter
After a long, exciting ride bringing BeCouply into the world, Pius and I decided to step away from our day-to-day roles at the company, maintaining the app for current users but each moving on to new projects.
For me, that meant combining my communications expertise with my knowledge of the tech space gained through my experience with BeCouply to start a marketing firm geared toward startups.
To date, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many fantastic clients, such as ThinkApps, an on-demand service for designing and building stunning apps for web, mobile, and wearables. But even today, I am sometimes tempted to let those “little stories” rear their ugly heads again, thinking that “I’m just not good at X” or “Y doesn’t come naturally to me.”
Then I remember Quindlen’s lesson: “… it occurred to me that maybe I’d reached a moment when I could stop telling myself old stories and start inventing some new ones.” And I begin crafting a new tale for myself.
Who has inspired you in business?
Photo credit: Eldad Carin via Shutterstock.