About a decade ago I was working in tech support for a small software company. To say that it was mind-numbing work would be an understatement. I got the same calls hour after hour day after day. I got to the point that I knew the solution to every customer’s problem in the first 30 seconds of every call. Not because I’m particularly smart, but because there were only 3 things people called for to get their password reset, to get help with their homework, and they needed to reinstall Silverlight (yuck).
I had been doing this for about 2 years and had gotten into a pretty good groove. The pay was decent, even a little high for what I was actually doing. But then it happened, I came home from work one day and my house was covered in congratulations decorations. My wife was pregnant. We both worked and we decided that she’d work as long as she felt like she could then when she had the baby she’d stay home with it. Well a few weeks later we went to the doctor and found out that there was going to be not one but two additions to the family, she was pregnant with twins!
It soon became apparent that my wife wasn’t going to be able to keep working as long as we had hoped. It also became clear that I was going to need to pick up the slack when it came to income. I had to figure something out, and fast.
The one good thing about the job was that there was a lot of downtime. I mean A LOT OF DOWNTIME. I had always wanted to learn how to build websites so I could make some money on the side. So I learned a little html, php, mysql and built a site with wordpress. Any time I had a problem I’d google it. I had been doing this for about a year when my company made an acquisition. They had purchased two websites and the IT guy they had on staff didn’t have the time to manage them. I thought, “this is my chance” and offered my services as a webmaster.
Immediately after sending the email I was struck with panic. Sure I had built a website that had grown to a few hundred hits a day, but these sites were already doing 30,000 a month. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I thought maybe I should back out. Then the IT director responded with an excel spreadsheet full of login/passwords and a rough word doc with the infrastructure info. One of the sites was written in Joomla, a platform I had never used before. The other was written in hand-coded php. My first project was to get the website up on a new server. Easy enough right? Wrong. I copied the files and restored the database then browsed to the site. Nothing. I was panic stricken. I was sure I’d be fired for this and lose my cushy support job.
After a few hours I finally got the site partially up. The rest was showing errors instead of links and images. Shit! So now I had to go through literally thousands of files of code written 5-8 years ago and figure out exactly how all of this was working. I had never done much in php before beyond some wordpress tweaks I found on google. Why the hell did I even volunteer for this in the first place? It got late so I went home to get some dinner, knowing I’d be working long into the night.
When I got home my wife asked what I was so stressed about. I told her my new job was going to be over pretty quickly if I couldn’t figure out how to get the site up. I ate dinner then started going through code. In a file with a random name like “8325lkjaslekjadoa313lkj.php” I finally found what I was looking for. There were two entries that showed database usernames and passwords. One of the passwords was wrong. After fixing that the site was up and running. I finally fixed it! Nothing in the world can describe how happy I was to have fixed the problem. I was literally jumping up and down with joy.
I tell you this story because it describes the cycle I’ve gone through at EVERY SINGLE JOB that requires any kind of expertise. I only tend to apply for jobs where the requirements are a stretch for me so I can learn and advance. Every single time I feel like I’m way out of my league. Almost every time I end up figuring it out and powering through. There have been a few times where I’ve failed, but they have always been learning experiences.
I always tend to hold myself to higher standards than I hold others. I’d see @garyvee on twitter, fb, and instagram saying all these things I aspired to do. I’d hear Tim Ferriss interview the top performers on his podcast. And I’d see all the things these people had created and just felt discouraged. Especially as I hit my 30s I felt like my chance had passed me by. I had never created an app with millions of users. I had never invented anything. I felt like if I pushed myself at work I’d eventually fall into some key piece of knowledge that would allow me to create something truly amazing. The problem was the more I learned the more I realized I didn’t know. How could I start a successful company knowing that I know so little?
Like I said in my other article you don’t need this job. I never felt like I fit into a regular job role. I felt like I had to go my own way and start my own thing to be happy. The problem was I never felt good enough to start something. This crippled me for years. I felt like I shouldn’t be charging people for my expertise if I wasn’t really an expert. What if they asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to? Shouldn’t I know all the answers off the top of my head? These questions plagued me and led to years of inaction. Meanwhile I’d have to drag myself out of bed every day to get myself to work. I used all my PTO days because I just couldn’t bear going to work.
Early on in my side hustle I sat down to lunch with my step-dad. He is a lawyer and has always been there to offer sound advice. We were talking about the business and I mentioned that I wasn’t feeling confident enough to charge people for my services. He told me, “I hate to tell you, but I’m not the best lawyer and I still go to work every day.” It was like the heavens opened. You mean to say I don’t have to be the best web designer in the country to start a web design business? I don’t need to create something new and be on the cutting edge to be successful? Hell no you don’t. You just have to put yourself out there and be competent enough to deliver. If you have spent any significant amount of time studying something, you’re easily in the upper half of the world when it comes to knowledge on the subject. So what if you aren’t the one who created wordpress. So what if you didn’t invent Nike. YOU DON’T HAVE TO. You just have to start putting in effort.
There are two reasons you should start now, like right now. First, everyone starts somewhere. The Beatles started by playing in dive bars night after night until they actually learned how to perform. They never would have gotten there if they just sat at home and messed around in their garage. Second, it doesn’t matter where you are right now, you can help someone. You don’t need to start by fixing a million people’s problems. You just need to start with one, you can worry about scale later. This is true in pretty much any area of life, all you need is a minimum viable product to get going. Virgin airlines started because Richard Branson had his flight cancelled on him and it was the last flight of the day. He looked into chartering a jet but it was too much money. So he made a sign that said “Virgin Airlines $29” and sold tickets. He used that money to pay for a chartered jet. This is how the airline was born. He didn’t have enough to start a billion dollar company, he had enough to charter one jet. That’s all it takes.
The only thing you need is to be consistent and competent. Someone who can deliver a quality product will always outperform someone who can only deliver a great product every once in a while. There is a reason McDonalds and WalMart are the leaders in their class and it isn’t quality. Sure, they both have a base level of quality they meet, but they don’t come near the top of any list when it comes to the quality of their products. Where these two companies excel is delivering a consistent product at every location. You know that whenever you go into either of these places you’re going to get the same experience you get at every location.
You may have heard that ideas are shit and execution is everything. The key here is not that the execution has to be flawless. It just needs to happen. So go out and do it and improve as you go. Like Denzel says in the Equalizer: