Age bias is one of those sneaky things. However enlightened you think you may be, it has a way of coloring your perceptions. Especially at work.
If you’re in your twenties, how often have you pointed to a forty-something’s age a reason for their views or behaviors? They took a nap? Only drank one beer last night? Didn’t know about OAuth? Must be because they’re old.
The same thing happens in reverse. Older employees blame youth when a twenty-something is brash, error-prone, or makes hasty decisions. These young ones have lots to learn, they think.
There may be some truth to it, but generalizing is an easy trap to fall into. It also tends to dismiss people’s strengths because of perceived age-related weaknesses. I’ve seen this happen in all kinds of companies but startups are notorious for skewing young. It’s understandable because most founders are young and associate with others their age. They often want a young, energetic image for their company, kinda like a rock band. But they could be missing out on valuable experience that can guide them toward success.
Age is just a number to those who take good care of their mind, body, and spirit. Life hasn’t beaten them down or made them cynical as they’ve aged. Similarly, good younger workers don’t use their age as an excuse for mistakes or underperforming.
Hire for skills, energy, and experience where you need it. Filter out any age-related perceptions and get to the core of the person. Mindset and enthusiasm trump age every time.
I’m not talking about germs, I’m referring to moods – which can be just as infectious. In a close-knit dynamic like a startup, moods are especially contagious and the leaders set the tone. Just as panicked CEOs create panic amongst their teams, they can also foster an upbeat, motivational culture.
Startup employees have good reason to be more sensitive to their leader’s moods than at larger companies. After all, their CEO’s giddiness could mean the company just closed a huge deal that could change their lives. On the flip side, a chronically cranky leader might mean imminent doom for all.
Studies show that happy employees are much more productive than their disgruntled counterparts. The more a founder is aware of how much they set the company’s tone, the more they can position it for success by spreading the positivity and enthusiasm.
I had joined five startups before my son was born. I was lured to the startup world by the excitement of working with passionate teams and building cool products. Little did I know those crazy times would prepare me for fatherhood.
1) Winging It
In startups you have to make decisions – sometimes big ones – without much supporting data or precedent. Nothing is truer of newborns. You can read all the baby books on Amazon, but there will be daily stuff you’ll just have to figure out on your own. It gets less terrifying.
2) Prepared for Anything
Missing payroll. Jaundice. Your first trade show. Pneumonia at 4 months. Winning your first big customer. Projectile diarrhea (the baby I mean). Big customer threatens to bolt. Spontaneous crying (me). Just another day.
You don’t find Humility – it finds you. You’re feeling cocky, then BOOM – your lead investor pulls out at the last minute. Your top engineer abruptly quits. You didn’t know it was possible to be bad at burping a baby. Your new son gleefully pees on you – never your wife – when you change him. Hello Humility.
4) Real Sleep Deprivation
There’s something cool and sad about discovering different levels of sleep deprivation. I learned to function on what I call Grade I sleep deprivation at a few startups – 80 hour weeks, some all nighters. It helped prepare for those weeks of nighttime teething and 5-per-night feeding sessions. Some bad stretches led to Grade II, when I sat at my keyboard trying to compose an email and my fingers wouldn’t type any of the right letters. Not one. If you’re Grade II, just go home and sleep.
So if you really want to prepare for parenthood, don’t get a dog, join a startup.
Einstein once said “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” He was ridiculously humble, and knew first-hand the benefits of being an Obsessive.
An Obsessive is defined as someone whose thoughts or feelings are dominated by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc. In other words, it’s part of who they are. While some people may feel obsessed with an idea from time to time, Obsessives always have a need to fixate on something. This is especially true of serial entrepreneurs. When they say they have a “mission”, it’s a socially acceptable way of saying they’re obsessed. It’s second nature, an integral part of their personality and business approach.
Lots of people preach about work-life balance, but this is a fallacy in the startup world. Yes, ignoring your personal life is bad. Take heed when your partner asks you to be less obsessive about personal stuff. But if your thoughts aren’t dominated by how your venture will win, it probably won’t.
All sucessful serial entrepreneurs aren’t Einsteins but they are all obsessive. Being an Obsessive often gets a bad rap, but don’t stifle it – embrace it for your business. Stay with problems longer than your competition. And when you succeed, be humble like Albert.
Imagine for a minute that you woke up one morning and realized you were transported to a parallel dimension. It looks the same as your previous life and your memories contain the same events, but they feel different. You start to figure out why.
Recalling the good times makes you grin as always. But you feel no emotional attachment to any of the bad times. No lingering frustrations, resentments, or disappointments. But that’s not all.
Your career. That boss you hated? The promotion you didn’t get? Your startup that crashed and burned in spectacular fashion? None of it drags you down anymore. Actually you feel like you’re being propelled onward and upward.
In this parallel dimension, you’re a blank slate. You aren’t afraid of failing or what other people think. Suddenly the ideas start flowing and all you can think about is which one you’re going to build your next company around.
Since you’re a visitor in this new life, you don’t know how long you’re gonna be around. A year? A month? A week? Better get this party started.
Now stop imagining. Wouldn’t it be great to live in that parallel dimension? See where this is going?
Anyone can be a visitor with a blank slate. You just have put in the work to learn from negative experiences without being constrained by them. And we’re all visitors of course. Tomorrow could be our last day. No time to waste.
Onward and upward!
When it comes to your goals and dreams, some people will tell you to be patient. “Don’t worry, it’ll happen.” “Your ship will come in.” “It’s meant to be.”
This is horrible advice. Horrible.
You have to make it happen. Swim out to meet your ship. It’s not meant to be unless you make it so, starting with HARD WORK.
In one of his most popular songs Beck says “Things are gonna change, I can feel it.” The song is called Loser.
To achieve your goals, impatience is definitely a virtue.
‘Tis the season of giving, perhaps moreso this year with recent heartbreaking tragedies and a wonderful emphasis on donating time and money. Giving is a fundamental part of human nature, perhaps that’s why we feel more whole when we do it.
But often times people forget about themselves. If you really want to give and share the best of you with others, then you need to take good care of yourself. One metaphor – which can also be literal – is you can’t care for a sick person if you become sick.
Exercise regularly, eat right, work on issues that cause stress, get enough sleep. Prioritize these things. I’m not saying ignore others and focus on yourself 24/7. But when you take care of yourself, you’ll feel healthier, more energetic, and more balanced. And imagine how much more of yourself you can give to others. They’d be getting the very best version of you, and don’t your family, friends, and causes deserve that?
So take good care of your body, mind, and spirit all year round. Then you can give more of yourself to others.