Economically, you can think of a startup as a way to compress your whole working life into a few years. – Paul Graham
Have you heard the one about the awkward teenager that walks into a startup? I like to think I’m rarely the butt of jokes, but this one applies squarely to me. In my time out of school and in the startup world, I’ve had to learn (or rather, relearn) some core things about people and work that probably would have taken me much longer to figure out otherwise.
I recently celebrated my first anniversary with my company BitPay. I won’t claim that I have any novel insights after just one year, but this trial by fire (I think I can call it that) has shed new light on old principles, and I want to share it for all of the other awkward teenagers getting started in the workplace.
People Are People
I remember being very intimidated by the thought of working with “VPs of Marketing,” “Chief Financial Officers,” and “Executive Chairmen.” I was just a kid starting off at a fairly large (by startup standards) company.
My views changed when I began working. It turns out that people are just people, and the challenges of maintaining and steering the ship of a growing company often involve everyone down to the lowest-ranked.
This is also true of most challenges outside of a business environment. Though we’re trained in school to separate groups into “followers” and “authorities,” these are just categorizations. They’re only as true as we allow them to be. If we take responsibility and get things done, none of us have to go parading around or stooping low. Equality comes from value for value trading, and this is nowhere truer than in a startup environment.
You Know Nothing
Nothing brings ignorance to light like real work. I got by well in school without people questioning my knowledge or skills. As a result, I graduated without much of either that would be valuable to a business.
If this has taught me anything (besides making me work like the devil to gain new skills), it’s that perspective is everything. I had little idea of what I didn’t know when I came into this new environment. I’m still finding out. That’s a humbling insight, and it gives me a healthy respect for how far I have to go in my education.
The Only Thing That Matters Is Your Work
Rank doesn’t matter. Intention doesn’t matter. Hard work alone doesn’t matter. These are truths you learn pretty quickly in a company, and they can be liberating. Yes, you have to deal with people who sometimes can be difficult, but your ability to succeed is ultimately based on your ability to solve problems creatively.
The same is true of your life. You are responsible for how things turn out. Sure, you don’t have control of every event and turn of chance (no one does), but you have the ability to respond on your own terms and leave behind evidence of effort that matters. Parenting, friendships, personal health – all that matters is this purposeful work to create value, even under difficult circumstances.
These truths are simple, but experiencing them firsthand can change the way you look at things. That can boost your confidence in your own ability to take on challenges. In fact, I’d like to think that I’m past the awkward-teenager-in-a-startup phase. I don’t doubt that I’ll learn many more “life lessons” through the course of my career, but these few have given me a solid place to start.
I wouldn’t have had this experience if it wasn’t for Praxis. If you want to grow and learn in an entrepreneurial workplace, you should apply. Classes begin monthly, and we have great business partners looking for people like you.