A case study in slow, steady progress.
- A food business.
- My stock portfolio.
- My career path.
- My startup.
Nearly every failure I have had in life has boiled down to one thing, impatience. The list above is only a short list of things I ended by being too impatient and not wanting to wait for things to happen organically.
I was serving tacos at a Farmer’s Market for extra money, and I started getting requests for catering gigs. I didn’t want to work too many of those without hiring other people, and due to impatience and not spacing things out, I ended up closing it even though I got additional offers to come back even years later because of how much people enjoyed the food.
My stock portfolio, nothing huge, I took a short-term 30% loss on because I wasn’t happy with it’s growth, so I went into more aggressive options investing with significantly more risk.
Looking back at how much I enjoy creativity and artistic practices I should have stuck to my original career path of an architect, but I wanted more salary sooner, so I switched to engineering, however, even then I ended up on a different path.
I had a startup where I was building a ride-sharing app. It was a little different than Uber but ultimately direct competition. Once Uber found billions in funding, I gave up because I didn’t have the patience to keep making it slowly while they were hiring hundreds of staff at a time.
Here’s the thing, this one thing has been my biggest weakness in my entire life. It took me most of my twenties to see it, understand it, and come to grips with it. If you’re young, it’s probably happening to you. This is what people without a path often feel like. They are in a huge hurry to get somewhere without a clue on where that is.
I’ve gotten better and you can to. For me what worked, was choosing a purpose. After working at so many small companies, failing in a couple different ways myself, I learned a lot and everywhere I turn I see a different reality. A reality that is surely different than what the magazines and websites will write about.
Take Frank Gehry for example. He’s as famous as an architect gets. He’s hired to do one-of-a-kind buildings and has about 20 of them under his belt that are internationally famous at this point. Frank designed his first residence at the age of 28, and he designed his first internationally recognized building in Bilbao, Spain at the age of 68, in 1997. Frank is now 91 (as of 2020) years old and still at it.
The important work, the work that we all want to do doesn’t have to fit into the timelines the majority of society has set. My problem was, just as yours likely is, this thought of retirement at 65. That to do that, I needed to be something significant by 30 years old. It’s just not that realistic.
In fact for those who really care about the work they do, retirement isn’t even a goal! Freedom to do work of their choosing, work that stands out, and most importantly work that matters is the goal! So what most people imagine as saving up enough money and investments to lay by the pool all day is for someone like us saving up enough money to be able to do our work without compromise, without worrying about the mortgage or the dinner table. It’s that simple.
Why did it take Frank until 68 to become famous? Well, he had to compete for years. And for half his career, half of his competition was more experienced then him. After that, his first large scale projects probably weren’t as great as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Eventually, he made something that resonated, and then it was off to the races, everyone wanted him.
The only thing I ever had patience in was the relationship with my wife. And that’s one of the best things that ever happened to me. Once I made that connection, I realized the most important part of being successful is commitment. Frank Gehry was committed to architecture for 40 years before his big payoff. He didn’t think about doing other work that paid the bills, he just kept honing his craft.
Commitment and success going hand in hand seems obvious, but so many people don’t realize what that means. They say, “I’m committed.” but if you ask them in a month, they are flustered, upset with progress and ready to quit on anything that is not going exactly as planned. They are measuring everything and if it’s not hitting some pre-set milestone they are quitting. True commitment is when you aren’t counting the days. In my marriage, I’m not measuring the money spent, the time lost, or anything else. I’m just participating doing the work, and putting in the effort.
“That’s easy to say for something like a relationship!” I’ve been screamed at before, “but in business when bills need to be paid, who can take it that easy?” Perhaps that’s the point. You rushed in and didn’t have everything lined up. Keeping your day job and lining up clients and slowly transitioning to full-time in the business was a possibility, but you likely weren’t committed to bringing something specific to the world, rather it was simply impatience about getting started. There is a huge difference.
If you’re going to count the time, you might as well stop and find out what you can really commit to. It takes real commitment to reach any significant goal or achievement. For me, it’s writing. I plan on continuing writing for people and small businesses to do their best until the day I die, or until my health reaches a point I’m no longer capable. I have other ideas as well, but the writing is the common commitment. Surely, even with varying interests, you have something you can use to keep a common thread through your ventures, don’t you?
To give a little perspective, look at Frank Gehry’s early work, David Cabin, 1958, Gehry was 29 years old when he designed this.
Now here is his work at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain 39 years later:
What did he have to do to be given the opportunity to develop that?
- Hone his artistic expression
- Gain building experience on increasing scales
- Become more reputable than most of his field
- Learn how to pitch an idea that people want to buy
- Build a network of people who know what he has to offer
- Grow his company to have a staff, since a project the size of the Guggenheim is impossible for a sole architect.
- Learn how to communicate clearly with engineers and manufacturers on constructing increasingly complex geometries
- Gain a clientele that was increasing accepting of his unorthodox style
All of these things take a lifetime, but since 1997 when Frank was given that opportunity to design the Guggenheim Museum, he’s been given many more since. Now, at 91 years old, he’s still doing incredible work.
All of my experiences show that patience is not only a virtue, but a necessity to doing any work that matters. Long-term is the only term that matters.
Now go out there and create consistently, but be patient for the results. It’s best to measure those by the decade.
None of this is Right is written by me, Brandon Donnelly. I believe that small business is the backbone of a healthy economy and democracy. Small business encourages competition through generosity, creativity, and skill. Small business provides more opportunity for workers to find a job that works for them. If you believe in small business, generosity, or creativity, my writings are for you.