7 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Was Younger

January 14, 2014

9:00 am

I’m not sure if it’s the holiday season, missing CES this year, or the fact that my startup Speek just released our SaaS business offering this week, but something’s made me sentimental and introspective as of late.

I’ve found myself thinking back through my entrepreneurial journey thus far. What have I done well? What have I done poorly? What lessons could I pass on to my kids? 

I found myself making a list in Evernote answering the questions above. And rather than hold on to it until my kids are old enough to appreciate it (right after we’re really really done with potty training, I think), I thought I’d share it with all of you, in the hopes of reaching some young founders or future entrepreneurs: gather ‘ round Uncle Danny’s rockin’ chair, youngins; he’s about to drop some knowledge.

1. I look up any word or phrase I don’t understand

I do this 100 percent of the time, no matter what. If I come across an unfamiliar word or phrase when reading, writing or communicating, I stop what I’m doing and go look it up. I assume this goes back to my days at DeMatha High, in Lit class under the famous Dr. “Buck” Offutt. He instilled in us the habit (read: directive) that if we can’t explain a word or phrase from an assigned reading succinctly, then we are being idiots and need to go look it up. Years later, this remains one of my favorite habits. “Don’t be an idiot” in general is a pretty good one, but I digress.

2. ‘It’s Just Business’ Is Bullshit

If you are truly doing what you love with your life, then the line between your personal life and business life is razor thin. In a perfect world, there’s no line at all. Find what you love doing and spend every waking hour becoming the best at it. It’s a surefire recipe for happiness and success. Don’t do it for the money. Don’t do it because of other people. Do it because you love it and would do it even if there were no money involved.

3. Get Enough Sleep

When I was in my 20s, I regularly pulled all-nighters once or twice per week and averaged maybe 3-5 hours of sleep the other days. Looking back, I realize this was more about pride and ego than actually getting shit done. I get much more done now, not despite maintaining a healthy balance of work and leisure and sleep, but because of that balance.

4. All Or Nothing Doesn’t Work

For most of my life, I believed unreservedly in ” all or nothing.” If it’s worth being in, at all, than it’s worth being all in. If I couldn’t exercise for hours every day and get in tip-top shape, I wouldn’t do it at all. No bullshit 20-30 minutes here and there for me, thanks. This actually worked out all right, because I tended to err on the side of “all in” than ” not at all,” plus I could find the time because of the whole ” no sleeping” thing (see above). Unfortunately, this balls-to-the-wall, can-do spirit also applied to less positive habits like drinking. Talk about dedication!

Now that I’m older, I look at life as a marathon rather than as a sprint. I now see the value in doing a 20-minute workout that can be done daily, rather than holding off until I can find the time for the perfect 90-minute workout every single day. And I see the value in having the phrase “I’m done drinking for the night” not always being synonymous with “we’re out of scotch” or “last call!”

5. Everyone Peaks Differently

I never truly hit my stride until my early 30s. I spent my teens and 20s feeling inferior, incomplete, and generally lost. Those around me all seemed to have it figured out or otherwise be more successful than I was. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or who I really was. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin until my 30s.

So, don’t do that. Don’t worry so much about those around you. Focus on becoming the best version of you that can exist. We all hit our strides at different stages in life. There are tons of people from my life that peaked early and are now spending their days miserable and selling insurance for a living. While I, on the other hand, am living the startup dream. Now we drink champagne when we thirstaaayyyyy. Not really. Oy vey. FML.

6. 10,000 Hours Rule

To summarize, in the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell discusses the idea that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. This is, of course, quite a lot of hours, which means you can only truly master a few things. It’s worth spending the early part of your life trying different things, figuring out what it is you want to become great at, and then choosing wisely how best to spend those 10,000 (or 20,000, or 30,000) hours.

7. Spirituality Doesn’t Need A Label

I was raised Catholic and very quickly had my doubts around Christianity. I spent many years absorbing everything I could about the major religions of the world. What this made me realize, after contemplating the data and facts, is that they all pretty much have got it wrong. Most started off with something that was likely rooted in fact but got completely distorted along the way.

While I do not believe in a single, all-powerful deity (some call this God), I do subscribe to a spirituality most closely resembling Einstein’s beliefs on the subject (e.g. “true religion is real living; living with all one’s soul, with all one’s goodness and righteousness”). Rather than refer to “God,” I think of “the universe.” People tend to want to categorize and label things like religious and political beliefs. This is a mistake. It attempts to make something extremely difficult to fathom into a binary description. The reason people want these labels and categorizations is for differentiation: so that they can more easily slot everyone into the world as “us” or “them,” “right” or “wrong.” This is unnecessary, and ultimately beside the point to any actual spiritual reckoning. The universe doesn’t care which team you’re on. Or, if you prefer, neither does God.

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Danny Boice is the CTO of Speek - a 500 Startups-funded startup that lets users do conference calls with a simple link (speek.com/YourName) rather than using phone numbers and PINs. A serial startup/technology entrepreneur and executive, Danny started his career as a software engineer working for startups like Network Solutions and MusicMaker.com in the 90′s. You can find Danny on Twitter @DannyBoice.

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