The Myth / The Reality

It’s very easy to become obsessed with the supposed glamour of running a company instead of actually doing the work – the unglamorous, tedious, hair-pulling fucking work.

Over the past few days, all over my Facebook stream, I can see pictures of entrepreneurs looking successful, when I know for a fact that they are not successful at all. It’s weird, and it creates a strange broken mirror effect. But of course, it’s inevitable.

In 2004, I had just started podcasting, and was lucky enough that I ended up being one of the first podcasters in the world. Good timing and a decent radio voice had given me my big break. Not bad.

But what happened after that is far more interesting. I ended up quitting my job, focusing on doing my podcast full-time, and failed. I had accumulated a ton of credit card debt over a few years, gone through some RRSPs (Canadian 401k’s), and was at a pretty bad place after a while of doing this – pretty deep in debt for a 24 year old. It was really hard, and then suddenly, I had gotten a break while working at a homeless shelter, of all places. I got an email from my podcast company saying I had made something like $10,000 in two months.

“Holy crap!” I thought. I had never seen that kind of money in my life before. Ever. Suddenly, my life had turned around. From one day to the next, I was no longer in debt, and I wouldn’t have to start over. I had crossed the dip.

But up until that time, I was basically faking it til I made it. The exact same thing I accused people of, above, when I posted that on my Facebook wall a few days ago.

As soon as I posted it, the deluge of comments was crazy. I got a bunch of private messages. “I’m faking it right now!!! I’m miserable!!!” And then I got a bunch of questions asking me if my startup was doing alright.

Lucky for me, it was. I couldn’t tell them then, but our numbers were great, and I was announcing in the next two days that Breather had raised $6mm in venture capital from RRE Ventures (this is public now). But the crazy part is, from the perspective of all the people on the internet, failure and success basically look the same until that final moment when you discover the truth. Nobody knows the difference. We’re all trying our best to be the duck – looking super cool above water while paddling like crazy underneath.

But ducks were born to swim. Most of us have no idea what we’re fucking doing.

The main concern isn’t playing the game – I guess it’s natural, although I’m sure it can be lonely at times. The problem is that the endorphin rush of fake success kind of feels the same as real success, for a while. It’s why you and I post selfies every little while. Feels good to look good! Oh man, am I great.

Well, not really. You’re like everybody else. So remember to actually get the work done, not just impress others with photos of what internet celebrities you’re hanging out with. That’s how you actually get to enjoy it later. Or at least, that’s what I see on my Facebook feed.





7 responses to “The Myth / The Reality”

  1. Kyle Reed Avatar

    Exactly right Julien.
    For too long I thought if I played the part success would follow.
    But like anything else in life, if you don’t do the work you won’t be rewarded.

    Glad to see you back blogging.

  2. Bill Deys Avatar
    Bill Deys

    This is just stellar.

    What I do, day to day, is far from glamorous, But I’m damn successful at it, and some days it feels real rewarding to do a good job for my customers.

    It also allows me to do what I want in life, which can look pretty glamorous. But what’s never shared is the hours spent building this all up and the grind of daily production. Can’t count the number of people who make off side comments about how easy this, that or the other is but never comment on the hours I put in to earn it!

  3. Maria Avatar

    Very relevant. Just today I submitted a post on Women 2.0 about why working harder is better than work/life balance. Thanks for sharing and telling the truth.

  4. Tony Avatar

    What a great post. I always loved this blog and only found it a couple of years ago. I suppose you don’t have time to write much on the blog these days? That’s too bad. I miss your articles.

  5. Dave Delaney Avatar
    Dave Delaney

    Oh hey, I was just popping by to take a look. Was thinking about you today. Hope everything is going swimmingly at Breather.

    Perhaps a new post one day soon. Seems other commenters are asking the same. Later skater.

  6. Chris Burdge Avatar

    Hey Julian – just saw your post on Facebook about your 2013 Techcrunch interview (which was cool) and thought I’d see if you’ve written anything recently cuz I love your writing. And once again you didn’t disappoint, although it’s almost a year old.

    Anyway, as the producer of a social media conference I’ve seen lots of people maneuvering to get a photo with an “internet celebrity” and wondered what the celebs were thinking about it all.

  7. Larry Avatar

    PS: I went to a talk given, and had a bit of a conversation with Clayton M. Christensen some time ago. He most recently wrote,”Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice” It was a life altering experience in many ways. It might be worth a read, if you are so inclined.

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