The life of an entrepreneur is one of constant reflection. For us, every aspect of business is held close to our hearts- our relationships, our products, our decisions. After all, they dictate whether we have Top Ramen or sirloin for dinner.. or if we even have dinner. When every move you take is a risk- when just being an entrepreneur itself is a risk- your ability to seek, receive, and heed advice can determine whether yours will be a life of fulfillment or struggle.
I’ve received some great advice throughout the years. Some I swept aside, thinking that the worse-case scenario would never happen to me… until it did. Others I learned after the fact. I’ve amassed a fortune of two-cents from people smarter than me, but it’s in these three snippets where I place the most value.
1. On choosing a partner
A good friend of mine, John Song, has started, built, and sold so many successful companies, I’ve given up trying to recall them all. I learned early on that when he gives you advice, you listen. Years ago, he offered me this:
Never work with someone you wouldn’t work for.
Unfortunately, I didn’t fully understand it until recently. Today, I take this advice to mean simply this: People change.
The kind of relationship you have when you’re a startup will not be the same when business moves forward and gets bigger. Money, greater responsibilities, investors, customers- these things change people. They’ll change you, too. There will be times when you need to follow, and there will be times when you’ll need to lead. If you’re smart, you’ll partner with someone you can grow with and someone who can handle this ebb and flow in your relationship.
Maybe this isn’t what John meant when he told me this. But after years of working with people I wouldn’t work for, this is how I interpret it.
2. On assertiveness
Awhile back, I met with a good friend of mine for Korean barbecue, soju, and good conversation. What began as one of our usual fun, lighthearted chats became a serious discussion on depression, work environments, and professional relationships. She shared with me this simple reminder, this harsh truth she herself had received, and it was exactly what I needed to hear.
No one wakes up in the morning and wonders, “What can I do to make Jen happy today?”
My jaw dropped at the bluntness of it. A smile stretched across my face as I realized she was 100% right.
No one fills their time thinking of all the favors they can do for you. Sure, they want you to be happy and may even help you. Note: Help you. You’re solely in charge of pursuing your happiness.
So there I was, feeling bad for myself, looking for sympathy, complaining about a situation I was unwilling to change. Being lazy about obtaining my own satisfaction at work.
(Can I just interrupt here for a moment and say that that is the perfect opportunity for you to make a joke about a sex toy designer being dissatisfied at work?)
I went to work the next day giving less fucks about playing nice and giving more fucks about taking control of my happiness. And it was glorious.
3. On applying yourself
The same friend who gave me advice #2 also gave me this life-changing gem:
Be careful of what you get good at, because you’ll spend your life doing it.
Holy shit. THIS.
If my life were a movie, she’d be that character who pops in every once in awhile with profound statements that make you stop in your tracks in awe and rethink everything you thought you knew.
At the time, we were talking about the kind of jobs or career paths we all take at some point in our lives, which more often than not, are not our true dream jobs. I’m very fortunate to be working in a field I’m passionate about. But it’s not like I graduated and suddenly had this amazing job. It was a journey, and there were a lot of rocky roads.
This advice applies to not only the jobs you take, but the ways you choose to use your time. After much self-reflection, I learned that I am good at daydreaming. And it sucks, because I’ve gotten really, really good at it. So good that I should probably be writing fan fiction or something.
It can be anything, really. Daydreaming, procrastinating, settling, doing a job you don’t love. Just know that if you’re going to dedicate enough time to get good at whatever it is, you’re gonna end up doing it for a long time. It’s the 10,000 hour rule. What? You thought it just applied to skill?
So that’s it. The best business advice I’ve received. I think there’s a reason why these three are my favorite and it’s that these can just as easily be applied to your personal life. Here’s a good read from other entrepreneurs sharing the best advice they’ve ever received. I just may need to add this one to my starred list.
“Always look for people smarter than you, and surround yourself with people who can challenge and inspire you.”
—Doug, Redwood City, CA
What’s your favorite piece of business advice?