For many of us, 2017 was an exhausting year fraught with political change, devastating natural catastrophes and economic strain. But Silicon Valley never stops evolving, fueled by talented people driven to create positive change and effective solutions. I’ve had the pleasure of coaching some of the Bay Area’s fastest rising founders, tech leaders and startup teams as they turned their ideas into reality, started companies that attracted clients with the biggest and hottest names in tech, joined executive teams that launched transformational products, and challenged themselves to take professional risks in new high level roles. Engaging in coaching helped them sustain motivation and gain clarity through periods of doubt, burn out, and high stakes decision making.
Their pathways to achievement in the startup space are not meant to remain hidden and unaccessible to others who are just beginning their journey. My goal as an executive leadership coach is to share honest lessons from their pivotal experiences so that others can find encouragement and make progress with aplomb.
- You don’t have to do things the way they’ve always been done (or the way others have done things for that matter) to “make it”. For every newly minted ivy league graduate gunning for entrepreneurial success in the startup community, there are countless others who have leveraged their humble education or work experiences with immensely profitable gains. Not having a degree is no longer a reason to believe you can’t create opportunities to learn and achieve in your chosen field.
- Fear and doubt are emotions not behaviors. Use mindfulness to manage your thoughts, which have a direct impact on your emotions. You can’t rely on waiting for your emotions to ‘be ready’ to start taking on new challenges. Set yourself up for success by using ‘SMART goals’, a behavioral timeline that is realistic and achievable, at a pace that allows small but measurable progress.
- Take your own short cuts. Use what’s available rather than re-inventing the wheel. Our time and energy are better spent creating impact in unique ways than in rebuilding something that’s now available off the shelf. Open-source, high engagement educational tools and projects, third-party design tools, and strategic outsourcing are ways to focus more of your time on leveraging your core competencies.
- Listen to your gut. What are you truly curious and passionate about doing? Find a space to explore and track these thoughts, talk about them with trusted others or engage in coaching to gain clarity around what you want to build towards in this phase of your life, and how to set yourself up to achieve your biggest goals.
- Embrace your difference. Undeniably, the world remains in the grips of a political climate that systemically limits opportunities and equal rights for ‘otherness’ identities. Yet now more than ever there is evidence that embracing diversity yields unique perspectives that reinvent what’s broken, generating innovative solutions that raise the bar across all industries.
- Grow at your own pace. While many people would love to have the problem of achieving rapid success, growing pains that strain one’s functional capacity can feel like a dam threatening to burst. What’s at risk if you lose control of your growth pace? It’s not necessary to convince yourself you ‘have’ to accept all the big opportunities that come your way. Helping founders decide how and when to aggressively prioritize growth opportunities has revealed to me the critical value of pacing growth in the big picture of one’s success map.
- Use losses and transitions as a chance to re-evaluate and re-direct your personal vision of success. The tech industry has the lowest average employee tenure, creating a cutthroat climate for those in the game. Employment transitions and lost opportunities can feel overwhelming, especially for those whose work identity is a grounding anchor in their self-esteem. It’s normal to feel uncertain about what to pursue next, especially if it opens up other major decisions like where to live, and what relationships should be prioritized in the grand scheme of one’s life. Borrow Salesforce‘s ubiquitous alignment tool, the V2MOM. Creating a personal V2MOM is one way I have helped clients formulate next steps according to their vision, values, methods, obstacles and measures. It can help to do this exercise with an objective person you trust, or anyone without personal stakes in your decision-making.
- Pay attention to how far you’ve come, it’s further than you realize! One of the most fulfilling parts of being a leadership coach is taking inventory with my clients of how much they’ve learned and grown by tracking their measurable progress. As a lifelong skier, I’ve always enjoyed taking that moment to pause and look back at the steep, icy, once intimidating run I just came down. It’s so important to acknowledge where you started!
- Surround yourself with people who want to see you win. Well cultivated friendships and supportive social networks are irrefutably one of the healthiest, most rewarding things we can instill in our lives. Making friends in adulthood can be intimidating, don’t hesitate to review some surefire tactics for building social equity into your current phase of life.
- Engage in mentorship for highest ROI. Contributing to the collective wisdom of groups you been inspired by reinforces the ‘why‘ in your daily life, and serves as a springboard for reinforcing gratitude and resilience when you need it most. It’s a way to bring together your values and share in building the communities you believe in most.