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Firing my first person because of avoidable mistakes

The first time I fired someone was one of the hardest experiences of my life.

It didn’t make it easier that I had zero doubt that this was the best decision for the company and my team. It didn’t help that we had exhausted multiple measures to try and course correct.

Sometimes knowing something is right does nothing to make doing it easier.

So OK, it sucked. Obviously. You have to pretty messed up to not be affected by making this kind of decision.

But the emotional side isn’t really what I want to focus on here.

I think it’s probably more useful to walk you through the key mistakes I made during the entire three month process from making an offer to letting my team member go.


The Empty Parking Lot at the Synagogue

I walk into the Rosh Hashanah service. It’s the evening before, so admittedly not the high point of the High Holiday.

But the synagogue is mostly empty. The parking lot’s vast concrete scale a testament of a recent past, part I guess, a post-WWII resurgence of faith and community and part a remnant of a suburban growth that in this part of Baltimore County and for this community spoke of a kind of golden age.

Which is maybe the point. Suburban synagogues may physically be in the wrong place for a new generation.

Anyway, we’re here now.

So we enter the synagogue. Me a former outsider, likely to never be fully comfortable in this space, but surrounded by a family I love. My family.


Using Cognitive Dissonance to Hustle

If you’re in the startup world you’re probably familiar with the concept that ideas aren’t worth very much. Instead it’s all about execution.

You can dismiss the rhetoric as overly simplistic (and it is), but the basic idea that actions matter more than ideas has a lot going for it.

You see, it’s incredibly easy to dream about something and fall in love with the idea of doing it. Many people dream of being a professional athlete or of starting their own company. Few attempt it. Fewer still succeed.

Instead most of us focus too much on our internal conversations, finding ourselves locked inside a silent monologue about the countless what-ifs or should-haves in our lives. It’s a vicious spiral because the more we think like this, the less we actually do anything, and the more the what-ifs pile up.

You have to put ideas out there for them to gain substance, to get vetted, to attract energy.


Don’t Let Your Tea Get Cold

Don’t let your tea get cold.

Life is busy. You put your head down and charge into work. Hours pass. You’ve gotten work done sure, but you haven’t noticed the passage of time. You’ve failed to take deep breathes and crystallize a moment.

You probably are living inside your head and neglecting your body and its needs. You probably have prioritized tasks and outcomes over people and process.

You’ve let your tea get cold. Don’t.

Tea tastes better warm which means you’re more likely to drink it. And you can’t benefit from tea’s health benefits, its taste, its clarity if you don’t drink it.

What tea are you letting get cold?

Is your tea a gym membership that you never use? Is it the highest thing on your to-do list or the most difficult yet highest impact project? Is it the secret project that tickles your soul, the thing you most want to do but shy away from?

Okakura Kakuzo, the author of The Book of Tea called tea a “religion of the art of life.” Don’t shy away from your tea.

Tea is also ritual.

It’s about capturing the greatness of small things, of detail yet breadth. It’s about the pause before action, about setting right intention, about compounding awareness.

I often brew a pot of tea and forget to drink it. It’s not a total waste as the preparation itself is anchoring, yet my forgetfulness is a product of haste. It’s rooted, for me at least, in an artificial belief that I must always be doing and that the more action I take the more results I produce.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Over the long term the tendency to rush moment to moment will take its toll. Burnout is real. Trust me, I know. I worked 15 hours a day, 7 days a week for 3 years before burnout hit me and I could barely do anything for a week. Even before that crash though it was getting harder to be creative, to take joy in my work. It’s been a long slog back to productive balance when all I had to realize was that “a cup of tea would restore my normality” (from the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).


How to Create Leverage

In life (and business) we’re often dealing with finite resources. Scarcity exists and that means we have to get creative to achieve what we want.

One of the best (only) ways to do this is by creating leverage. Leverage is about maximizing impact for any given level of effort.

Yet people (and businesses) consistently underestimate the importance of leverage, even if we should know better.

So how can we unleash leverage? You can start by focusing on the following four areas.


Look by not looking

Have you ever misplaced your keys and not been able to find them? Does it always seem like it always happens when you can least afford the time and inconvenience? Of course you have, and of course it does.

I’m guessing your first reaction is the same as mine: drop everything and start searching frantically. You find your keys eventually but you’re off-balance, feel rushed, and probably still have 5 things to do before actually leaving. You’re still behind, and just as off-center.

That reaction, the search, the sub-optimal results extends well past keys. Good things often happen when you stop “caring” or reacting as much. Need to solve a difficult problem? Let it go. Want to find a new job or a new partner? Stop looking.