Why new pain is better than old pain.

Misery is optional. Pain is not.

The myth – “The pain I know is better than the pain I have yet to experience”. We avoid risk because it might cause pain, and we’re not sure we can handle it. So we just muddle along with the known and tolerable pain of an unremarkable life.

I’m laying in a hospital bed with six rib factures (a couple are broken twice) and a broken scapula (In my delirium I thought the doc said spatula.)

Yesterday I was finishing one of the best long bike rides I’ve done this year and was pushing hard to stay under four hours. Just a half mile from my house I was climbing uphill at a really aggressive 17-18mph and ran into the back of a van parked in the bike lane (I was looking up, but apparently not often enough!) The van didn’t move.

I woke up an hour ago thinking about a taxi driver I had met last year in Charleston, SC on the way to do a keynote address. I asked him what food he liked, and his instant response was surprising – he jumped right to the negative – “I can tell you I do NOT eat shrimp!”, which of course is big in that beautiful coastal town.

Hanging On to Old Pain
“Why?”, I asked. “Because 30 years ago my cousin died in a shrimp boat accident. No sir, won’t touch the stuff.” This old pain was sitting right there on the surface of this guy, controlling his world. It was sad to see. He had never figured out how to get past it, or better yet, to use it to make him stronger.

I had a cousin die twenty years ago at 42 of a massive heart attack while running. If I reacted like my taxi driver, I would have stopped exercising. But life (and business) doesn’t work that way. Pain is meant to make us better, not stop us.

My taxi driver was heavily invested in his old pain. He had focused on it instead of focusing on what he could learn from it, and as a result it had grown like coral and crusted over his whole life. He wasn’t about to take a risk to move forward. While the pain was clearly not something he enjoyed, it was also clear that he was quite willing to live with it simply because it was possible that more pain might follow if he ate shrimp again. The pain he knew was better than the pain he might yet experience. So he just stopped growing.

Should I get back on a bike?

Using the New Pain to Get Somewhere
A couple months ago Dr. Stephen Covey sent me a signed copy of his latest book, The 3rd Alternative, for having quoted me in it. It’s about solving life’s toughest challenges. Read it.

He died last week at 79 riding his bike in Utah, which is what made me think of him. My accident was scary, too – not easy to do the kind of damage I did at 17mph going uphill. Last year I rode with a friend who I thought had died in the accident he had that day – he recovered fully. I’ve seen other scary accidents as well.

The Purpose of Pain
Should I get back on a bike? Seems like a stupid idea. But I believe pain comes into our lives to make us stronger and wiser for the next time, not to keep us from ever eating shrimp again. Pain is pretty much the best way to grow, if we respond to it the right way.

I’ll be back on my bike as quickly as I can safely do it. And I’ll be a wiser and better bike rider, less likely to crash – and a stronger person both mentally and physically for having fought through the rehab.

Use the Beaver Dams to Get Stronger
Life is a stream running to the ocean, and it’s full of beaver dams. Don’t expect to go around them all. It just might be that today’s beaver dam makes you able to blow through a dozen other beaver dams down the road as if they didn’t exist. Don’t go looking for pain – we aren’t made TO struggle, but we are definitely made FOR the struggle. It’s the struggle that makes us stronger.

When the pain comes, embrace it and work through it. Come out the other side a better person and a better business owner.

Live a Remarkable Life
Ray Kroc – “If you don’t want to take a risk, get the hell out of business.” And maybe this applies to life as well. Don’t be afraid to take risks because something happened in the past, and something else might happen in the future. Avoiding risk only ensures that nothing remarkable will happen.

Live a remarkable life. Get back on the bike.


Risk what I risk, not what I say.

Grab the flag. Lead the charge.

Recently a client and good friend said, “I would be willing to bet a smart guy like you with a lot of success in your past wasn’t in danger of losing your house when you started your business, even if it had failed.” She’s wrong, but she’s not at all alone in believing that. Why?

Does anybody lead by example anymore?

For years I’ve ranted about going all in, burning the bridges, sinking the ships, shredding the parachutes, being willing to lose it all to be successful. I’ve shared all the research I can find on this, and my own experience in five businesses of waking up at 3am in cold sweats wondering if we would make it.

Yet it’s still hard for people to believe that I actually lived at risk in any of these businesses. For some of them I didn’t, but for the ones that were most successful (including this one) I was at the most risk. That correlation between success and risk is not surprising to me, because when we don’t have a back door, we are more likely to be successful. Survival is a very strong instinct.

Risk and commitment go hand in hand and are fundamental to success.

So why don’t people believe me? I’d love your thoughts. My own two cents:

  1. We have apparently lost most if not all connections between what leaders say you should do and what they themselves actually do. We’re indoctrinated with the academic model where information goes from head to head, not life to life. The professor spews info and goes home.
  2. The “training” and “success” industries follow the academic model. I know a number of trainers who were hired to learn to impart tools and tactics for how to live life who never did any of what they taught. And I know success trainers who have never been successful. In many if not most cases, it’s not even expected.
  3. We’ve gotten use to separating the private and public lives of actors, politicians, big business CEOs and others as if who we are in public is magically different than who we are in private.
  4. “Experts” and “Gurus” have created images of themselves that are nearly messiah-like, where they can’t be seen to ever struggle or do dumb things. So they spout the “miracles”, “secrets”, and “5 easy steps” they used to make life so easy that they have no problems any more. We actually believe these people don’t struggle (they make more money when we believe that).

I struggle. I have bad days. I have to work at seeing everything as “fascinating!”. And I risked everything in a number of businesses when I truly believed it was worth doing. I’m not an expert, or a guru, and I’m not smart, I’m just relentless. It’s how successful business owners build businesses.

Business is Full of Beaver Dams

Struggle is Good. Embrace The Dams.

Traditional business plan thinking tells you that if you plan well enough, you’ll avoid all the “problems”. But usually it’s those “problems” that lead you to the best plan.

I’m not saying don’t plan, but I am saying don’t do very much of it in a vacuum, and don’t expect that it will keep you from hitting beaver dams on your way down the stream.

In fact, it’s the beaver dams that are much more likely to lead you to the things that will produce time and money for you than any amount of planning you do.

The average business goes through five to 15 iterations of lame products or services before they land on the thing that puts them on cruise control. And the only good way to find that groove is to go through all those bad attempts, not by planning.

One of Hewlett Packard’s first products in the late 1930’s was an automated bowling lane aisle violator. That lame product led them to a harmonic tuner, and after that beaver dam they decided to do an automated toilet flusher. Traditional business planners would have applied all of their collective “wisdom” to kindly putting HP out of its misery. But it’s those dumb products, and an unwavering commitment to finding good ones, that led HP to make such great contributions to modern technology.

Bill Hewlett understood that it wasn’t about how good their plan was, but how committed they were to the bad plan they had. Business is full of beaver dams and it’s those beaver dams that will cause us to turn right or left and find the best way downhill. Don’t create a highly detailed plan and slavishly follow it – you might miss the beaver dams that could take you to the promised land.

Instead figure out what your end goal is as a company (Hewlett said that for them it was “to make a contribution to society”), then be fundamentally committed to getting there. And use the beaver dams of business to help you figure it out.

We’re taught to avoid struggle of any kind, which is a really bad idea. Struggle helps us run a four minute mile, write a symphony, build a road and learn our ABCs. People who expend all their energy planning to avoid struggle miss all the opportunities to grow personally or build a great business.

Don’t go looking for beaver dams but don’t avoid them when you run into them. Embrace them, learn from them, figure out whether you have to go left, right, over, under or through them and use them to get to your ocean.

Expend all your energy avoiding them and you’ll hate them because they stood in the way of your great plan. Learn from them and they’ll be fond memories in the rear view mirror that pushed you in the right direction.

Embrace the beaver dams. Struggle is good if you use it to get where you want to go. It’s your choice.