A Million Miles or a Millimeter?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019 - 07:59

One of the most frustrating parts about goals is the paradox: the feeling of being so close, yet so far apart and vice versa.

We may feel like we're on the verge of a breakthrough! Yet, we are getting further apart as we sprint in the wrong direction.

We may feel like we're a million miles from the finish line! Yet the answer can be hiding in plain sight a millimeter from our face.

Close, yet far.

Far, yet close.

This paradox is especially true in a tech startup. If you're building something novel in the space, all the intelligence and conviction in the world will not bypass the inevitable process of exploration.

Exploration is tricky. You may boldly step in a reasonable direction, but there will be times when there is stumbling around in the dark. What then? You may accidentally bump into the "SOLUTION TO ALL YOUR PROBLEMS"(TM). Or you may find yourself in a Blair Witch scenario, where you walk for days only to return to the exact same position like a house of mirrors.

Far, Yet Close

I love the story of how I met Tom Chenault because it illustrates the power of human connection and networks as a means of opening doors. We were just two people in a coffee shop. My startup was looking for an introduction to a particular investor that was in high demand. All 6 of us had no obvious path forward until I just happened to bump into Tom. Within 10 minutes, he not only gave me his number but already sent an introduction email. I went from nowhere close to instantly connected.

Close, Yet Far

Then there is the other extreme. Every startup goes through the initial phase of proving the product-market fit. Armed with intelligence, ideas, and determination, they keep trying and trying and trying, hoping the next "one thing" will start the tipping point. 10, 20, or 100 attempts later, they still haven't struck a chord. If this continues long enough, the company may fold, having run out of time and resources to explore... the goal now feeling a million miles away.

Beyond Business

This paradox is true not only in business but in all areas of life as well. Twenty different diets may yield no long term results, but then you find the one that "just works" and your life is transformed forever. It happens with friendships, careers, communities, etc. I recently joined the Techstars mentorship program, something I had emailed about with no results and I just gave up. I then just happened to overhear a conversation with the person in charge of the Mentor program. Coincidence? Luck? It doesn't matter. It went from not even on my radar to the fast track to completion the second I was in the right place at the right time.

Yeah, But This Kinda Sucks, Right?

The biggest takeaway for me is the emotional rollercoaster this causes when starting a new business. Since we never know when these solutions may appear, it seems reasonable to always keep going. However, if you've tried 100 or 1,000 different things and still find yourself in the same position, you may be out of options. Still, there is always a chance that the solution is right there. Frustratingly, you may have even looked directly at it! But this is just part of the gig. It's also what makes it so exhilarating and fun because there is nothing like hitting that home run that keeps you searching for the next one.

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.