Overcoming Doubt

I’ve been beating myself up the last couple of days because I had a bug in the app I’m working on that I couldn’t figure out. It was erratic and kept showing up in different places each time I saw it – kind of like that whack-a-mole game. I doubted my abilities and felt like the entire thing I created was awful because of this one (crashing) flaw. I was overwhelmed and wanted to crawl in a hole and try to forget about everything.

Instead I just kept going. Trying something else, failing, trying something else, failing, researching, stepping away and thinking, trying something else, failing, researching, trying something else, making a little headway, trying something else, and so on. Enough of that and I figured out the problem and a way to reproduce it every time (thank you Apple developer tools). Figuring out the problem was the hard part but solving it was difficult also. The problem was in a piece of third party code that I’d found because I didn’t want to write it myself. I ended up starting all over on the trying something else, failing, trying something else, failing, researching, and stepping away and thinking cycle. I slowly made progress and got to where I needed to be. Hurdling over one doubt at a time.

Trusting Others

Every time someone lets you down is another opportunity to beat yourself up with thoughts like “that’s what I get for trusting”. You can then close yourself off and make others prove their trustworthiness before you let them in.

In my experience neither those thoughts not that strategy is very useful. You end up closing yourself off to many great opportunities that require you to make the first gesture of trust. The best way to build someone else’s trust in you is to make a leap and offer your trust first.

My Word

My word – doing what I say I’ll do – is my most valuable possession. If I have to choose between feeding myself and keeping my word then I’ll go hungry. I can’t always keep my word – things happen – but every day I have the simple opportunity to keep my word by being where I say I’ll be. If I RSVP that I’ll attend, I’m there. If I say I’ll be at a meeting then I’ll be there. In some ways those little things are more important than the big – anyone can show up for one time when the stakes are high. The challenge is showing up every day when you think no one is watching.

Your Results Will Vary

We’re all different from each other in thousands of tiny ways. Those differences mean that it is more sure than “your results may vary”, they will vary. That’s why finding your path and happiness is important. Following my path or your coworker’s or neighbor’s won’t work. You can see what we do and test to find out if it works for you but if it doesn’t then that’s OK.

Pointing Out What Is Wrong

It is easy to see what’s wrong. That ability comes and almost visceral level – something feels wrong or you feel in your gut. The hard part is seeing how to fix it. That’s also the valuable part because another person pointing out other thing that’s wrong doesn’t do much to solve the problem.

Having the vision to solve the problem takes more effort than seeing the problem. It takes thought, acknowledgement of your biases, and the ability to see points of view other than your own.

Role Model Companies

When starting our business I had a good idea of how we wanted to operate it. Many of our choices came from who we are as people and our natural responses to a situation.

But that doesn’t always work – running a business involves a lot of decisions and I didn’t have answers to all of them. I looked at other companies that I treat like role models that may have faced a similar situation from which we can draw guidance.

Breaking these companies of the categories, I have two types: aspirational and similar. Aspirational companies are bigger and have proven success, like Apple. Their lead on environmental and diversity issues strongly shapes my decision-making process.

Obviously as a tiny two-person shop we are not Apple. Which brings me to the similar companies I look up to. Generally these are husband-and-wife or boyfriend-and-girlfriend small businesses, just like us, but they’ve been around a little longer. Simply seeing others doing what we are doing helps me keep going, but in addition to that we can see the things they’ve struggled with and overcome already and figure out if their solution would work for us.

So what companies are your role models?

Not Knowing Where I’ll End Up

I’ve never had a plan for my life. As a kid I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’ve never been able to plan where I’d be in five years. I’ve been affected by change outside my control enough to learn to not try. Fortunately I’ve been open to what life has presented me and that has led to a full, if unconventional, life.

If I’d had a plan (and been able to stick to it) I’d never have sold cars, gone to massage therapy school, joined the Army, or worked a number of roles in banking. I can’t say my life would’ve been worse but it would’ve been very different. Despite all the stress and heartache I’ve been through I like where I’m at now. Looking back, I feel like I’ve liked where I was far more often than not. I don’t think I can judge life in any better way.

Of course I still want some things to be different – I think that’s a natural part of being human. It is the part that keeps moving us forward. But it’s possible to be both happy in the now and want things to change. And fortunately things always change.

From The Outside

From the outside it always looks like things on the inside could be improved. Usually it looks easy too – I find myself making comments like “they just need to do this to fix it”. Sometimes that’s true but usually not. Usually though you can find a way to learn more and either confirm your initial thoughts or figure out it is more complicated than you thought.

Learning more taking effort but so does actually solving the problem. When in doubt I ask questions rather than share opinions.

The Root Of The Problem

When I have ants in my kitchen, the ants are a symptom of a problem. The cause of the ants being in my kitchen is that I have crumbs on the countertops. That’s the root of the problem and the part that needs to be solved. I may need to find a way to temporarily relieve the symptoms – maybe gather the ants into a jar and let them outside – but if I only do that without solving the root problem then they’ll come right back.

Seem simple? It is until it isn’t.

Most problems you see are symptoms. Finding the root cause is the hard part. You don’t just have to dig. you have to do so scientifically and methodically. You have to identify a possible cause, research until you know everything about it, and then either logically deduce or test to determine whether it is the root.

Given this idea of root causes, you may see the world differently. When you have knee pain you may dig deeper instead of reaching for the pain reliever. Or when your dog misbehaves you may think about ways to change its lifestyle so it doesn’t do so in the future. Or when you encounter a million different situations you may handle them differently.

The Beaten Path

It is tempting and easy to see how someone else got to where they are and want to imitate it. One problem with this is that you never know exactly how they got there – what you see and even what they tell you isn’t the whole story. Another problem is that their success came in their time – six months or six years ago when they were where you are.

It is important to notice what others are doing and you can use that knowledge to help inform your decisions. But blindly copying what they are doing, or even what the entire industry is doing, won’t get you where you want to be given your resources and timing.