Easter 2005. Tignes, France.
It’s April 2005 and I’m skiing with friends in the French Alps. I’ve just left my steady job at a software company to stumble into entrepreneurship. There wasn’t any great plan or well thought out strategy, I had a few irons in fires here and there, but mostly I was just bursting with desire to do it.
I had two ambitions when I was younger. The first was to go to University, and the second was to run my own business. I didn’t care what the business was, it could be making lampposts or bottle tops, I just wanted to run it.
I remember saying on the ski trip “I just need to go and mess it up”. Or, put more thoughtfully, I just need to go and learn how to do it. I had been in six different roles over seven years, etching out a corporate career, but was itching to do my own thing. The decision was made so much easier by having a boss at the time who was a bit of a plank. As the old adage goes, you work for your manager not the company.
I did okay in my first year, it wasn’t amazing. I covered most of my costs and accrued a bit of debt. I was selling my own time. I learnt a lot but decided to wind things up within twelve months. A wedding was looming and a steady job was required.
One thing I had done during my first year of running my own company was to build my own website. I remember I received more accolades for that website than anything else I achieved in that year, so I started doing websites for people in my early mornings and evenings. I soon made enough recurring income to see 80% of my essential costs covered. I thought if I can cover 80% of my bare essentials moonlighting I must be able to make it work doing it full time. So, two years after parking the first business I went full time on the second.
My third business had a convoluted start and grew out of the second business.
At some point along the way before I went full time on the web design business I had started a project to blog about the field that I had spent most of my career up until that point; IT Asset Management. My previous company had started some corporate blogging and I knew from speaking with people in the industry that there was dire need for some independent coverage.
This hobby site (later to be called The ITAM Review) also became a bit of a showcase for the web design business. Much like a graphic designer starting out might pull together some spoof designs or art work for friends and family to pad out their portfolio, so The ITAM Review was also a spoof design used to showcase our web design work.
The strange thing was the spoof site started taking on a life of its own. It had no business model or intent, but was generating thousands of visitors a month. I was running the web design business and this hobby site 50/50 until eventually I could work on the ITAM Review full time in 2010. Even when the ITAM Review wasn’t generating any income whatsoever for the first couple of years, I just had a hunch that I ought to focus on it.
Listening to signals
How do we make a decision about what to do next? What guides us to go from one career to another or one job to another? It’s very rare to have some definitive path or roadmap or divine light shining the way. What’s more likely is signals pulling us in one direction or another.
For me there are three signals here: the frustration that oh my god, I just need to do it. I just need to get out there and do it and damn the torpedoes. Then there is the validation from others that you’re good at something. And then there’s just the blatant hunch, which is, I think I’m onto something here. And I need to pursue it. I had a failed business that gave a signal for another business, which morphed into another business which would ultimately grow. Who knows what signals, adventures and failures lie ahead.
And I guess the lesson here is you need to be able to listen to these signals and have the confidence to follow them. As you can tell my path was not smooth, there were plenty of rocks in the road, but ultimately I feel they led me to the right place. Listen to the signals.
This is me listening to a signal right now, telling me to write this.
Listening to the signals; such a succinct way of conveying how to live and lead a life of purpose Martin.
I’m really enjoying your blog.
This is the truth. There are many times in my life when I have ‘ignored the signals’ be it through commitments, social pressures, financial burdens etc. Largely speaking I have come to realise that these signals (or more realistically, opportunities) were a catastrophic mistake to let pass by. I am now on a journey to claw some of those back and specifically ensure I don’t make the same mistake twice. Life is short.
How to harness true inner direction and ignore ego-driven goals
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