First, Let’s Start At The Beginning
You know how you’re told for the entirety of your life that you should aspire to work hard, achieve, and be successful? That these goals are noble and that you’ll feel fulfilled when you accomplish them?
Well, it’s not completely accurate.
I have worked extremely hard since elementary school. A solid work ethic is something that was instilled in me at a very early age thanks to my parents and community. In the early years, I was tracked into an accelerated learning program, was voted president of my middle school class, went to Loomis Chaffee (a prep school in Connecticut), Trinity College, and then Harvard. All of these accomplishments are now just points on a resume but they each required a lot of hard work.
Do I feel fulfilled from doing exactly what I was told? Do I think that my life is better for busting my ass and getting a couple degree and making some solid professional connections? No. Am I glad I did it? Yes.
That’s just it. Getting ‘ahead’ is not going to actually make you feel fulfilled. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel ‘satisfied’ and ‘accomplished’ but not internally fulfilled. This is because you will feel like a rat in a maze chasing the proverbial cheese that everyone else wants as well.
Don’t spend your entire life trying to fulfill someone else’s life goals. Whether that means attending a school your parents want you to go to, working at a job that makes someone else fulfilled / rich, or simply doing anything that makes you unhappy … consider what your other options are. We all need to make money and a steady paycheck is a good thing. But … and this might blow your mind … did you know there are other ways to earn a steady paycheck out there? If you’re unhappy or feel unfulfilled with your current lot in life, change it. Don’t be subject to dogma and live by someone else’s decisions.
So, What Will Actually Make You Feel Fulfilled?
Great question. In an effort to figure out what would make me feel more fulfilled, I decided to start a blog about a passion of mine in 2010. It was all about education technology and called Edudemic.
For the first couple of years, it slowly gained traffic as the ‘edtech’ landscape was slowly evolving and becoming something people actually cared about. This really happened thanks to the Apple iPad which was truly the first major product that teachers actually wanted to use in the classroom.
Edudemic grew steadily in social, search, and all other kind of traffic to the point where it was actually the largest education technology site in the world. At this point, my wife Katie had become co-founder and was writing more than half the content for the site. Without her, Edudemic could not have turned into what it was and is.
Find someone you trust with your entire business and partner with them. You never know if they’ll take over the business for some reason or another. If your spouse is up for it and you can both work on the same project together, you’re very lucky and should take full advantage. Keeping 100% of the revenue in your household is a big reason to strongly consider this.
Want to know one of the biggest things that keeps running through the back of my head while offering up some of my biggest tips to my fellow entrepreneurs? The famous Steve Jobs speech at Stanford. It’s short, succinct, and makes total sense after you’ve followed his advice. If you’re not familiar, watch the video here:
What Actually Makes You Feel Fulfilled?
So let’s talk about what might actually make you feel fulfilled. I’d recommend doing what I did and start by making a list of your top 10 passions in life. Whatever they are. Fishing, bowling, eating, jogging, TV, whatever. Write them all down on a sheet of paper and carry it around with you for a week. Look at it when you’re daydreaming and figure out which item draws your eye first.
Which is the biggest passion in your life? Once you answer that, it’s time to answer the big question: what’s the simplest way you could pursue this passion starting next week?
For example, would creating a blog about fishing be the easiest first step? Take it. Start with the activity that is the path of least resistance. I recommend this because it’ll help you sharpen your understanding of both your passion and how you might turn this passion into a full-time job, career, or retirement plan.
Find out your top passion by writing them all down. Identify your biggest 1-3 passions and then find an activity that lets you pursue those passions. You don’t need to quit your job at this point. Join a club, attend a meetup, start a blog, whatever. This will help you figure out your next steps. You can’t figure out what all the steps in life are going to be. You can only understand your life’s choices by looking back. Never forward. So don’t waste your time making long-term plans. I live one year at a time and plan on living all over the world pursuing passions. Feel free to join me.
How The Business Was Sold
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, you can’t plan out your future. Seriously. You can make plans for the next week, month, or year but there’s no guarantee all those plans will actually happen. Life gets in the way.
While Katie and I were busy growing Edudemic into a sustainable business, we were contacted via LinkedIn about a potential sale of the site. That same week, we were approached by an international organization that wanted to put in a significant amount of funding in order to own a percentage of what the site could become.
Both offers came out of the blue and were from seemingly random events. I had only recently added the site to my LinkedIn profile and the funding offer was completely random.
We had a big choice to make. At this point, the site was making enough money to support us but not quite enough to really quit both our jobs. We could take the buyout money, the funding money, or carry on without either. Since this was a new world for both Katie and me, we sought out advice from anyone and everyone.
Most of the advice ended up being ‘do what makes you happy’ which is a great sentiment but, well, re-read the first part of this story and you’ll see why this advice is not useful. We wanted to do what made us feel fulfilled, not just happy.
After hemming and hawing quite a bit, we decided to take the buyout offer because we wanted to secure our future and ensure that we would not have to worry about ‘what if’ in the future if the funding money ran out and we’re left with a smaller ownership stake of a company that didn’t benefit from being funded. As a technology-focused site, we had been covering failed edtech startups for years and were terrified of becoming one of them.
So What’s It Like Selling Your Business?
So we agreed to a buyout and moved on. Now we’re building a much larger business with a co-founder who actually introduced us to the international organization that wanted to give us funding for an ownership stake. This partnership lets us build our very own international organization that is poised to be the one offering seed funding rather than hoping we are on the receiving end.
In other words, our professional life is comprised of chance meetings that happen to work out in our favor. I think there are a few reasons things have worked out for us. Here are my biggest tips to help you ensure that your life events end up in your favor:
Tip #1 – Be nice. No one wants to proactively seek you out with life-changing offers if you’re not nice. Treat everyone with respect, don’t speak ill of others, and always be the ‘friendly person’ in the room. This is the biggest reason we’re both able to maintain so many contacts after selling our business. People actually don’t mind being in the same room as us!
Tip #2 – Be proactive. When we were deciding whether or not to sell, we sought out advice from many people. Those people then felt a sense of ownership over our decision and we’ve since worked with most of them on various projects.
Tip #3 – Don’t be afraid to say no. We were terrified of saying ‘no’ to the funding offer but eventually realized it just had to be done. The international organization didn’t hate us for it (even though that was a big concern because we just wanted to be nice as in tip #1). Now we’ve learned that it’s important to manage your most important asset: time. If you can say ‘no’ to something, you can manage your time a lot better.
Your life is a series of random events. Be nice and manage your time in order to take full advantage of these events. You never know where you’ll be one week, month, or year from now. Don’t worry. That’s how life works for everyone else, too!
Want To Sell Your Own Business Someday? Don’t Plan On It. Literally.
First off, selling your business should never be your end goal. It was a random occurence for us and was just a stopping point between our initial project and our next project. It’s let us build something even bigger (Daily Genius) and has enabled us to earn the respect of peers, develop fruitful relationships, and improve our professional standing around the world.
Long story short, you should only be considering or aiming to sell your business right now if someone is offering you the payout. If you’re just starting out and hoping that you get a Snapchat-esque payout, then it’s time to realize that you probably won’t be that lucky. That being said, you can still earn a life-changing payment from a buyout … but don’t make that be your end goal.
Your goal right now should be to build the best quality product that actually helps others. If you’re building a cat GIF-generating app in order to sell it to Facebook for a billion dollars, don’t hold your breath. Instead, effort to create something that YOU would want. Whether that’s a better local coffee shop, a new kind of app, or some other product / service, make it something you’d like. After all, you’re going to be toiling away at this business for at least a few years (if you’re lucky).
Stop trying to plan. Don’t plan on selling your product or service. Do your research on your market and see if that’s even an option. Honestly, not all products or services get bought up or go to an IPO. In fact, basically none of them do.
Plan on being successful and work on building a product or service you love. Simple as that. That’s the big secret I learned from building products and selling them.
Don’t live how others want you to. Don’t stay in a job you dislike for the steady paycheck. Find a new job. Manage your time better. Devote some thought to your future but don’t try to over-plan it. Enjoy the randomness of life rather than letting it knock you down each day. You’ll have ups and downs but if you roll with the waves, pretty soon you’ll find yourself surfing rather than sinking.
And there are plenty of big waves out there. Grab your surfboard and do something great.