A successful entrepreneur shares her thoughts on business success and failure.

The Nastiest Habit (That We All Have)


The Nastiest Habit On Facebook, everyone’s lives look happy. Including mine! I just went on a cruise–I have an amazing fiance. Whoosh Traffic just had its best day ever and it’s looking like we might hit a million-dollar revenue run rate by the end of the year. I have an awesome team–and yes, I just bought my first house!

So what is there to be sad about?

I don’t know, but I find I get sad anyway sometimes. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for it–it just happens. (Well–I can tell you that it happens more often when I eat bad food and spend too much time at the computer.)

But no one posts about that on Facebook. On Facebook, we all have perfect lives. We only post the good stuff.

I believe there’s a lesson to be learned here. It’s a tough one when everyone on Facebook is bright and cheery and all you want to do is stab something. That’s the worst time to learn it. But here it is anyway: Stop comparing yourself to everyone else.

Do you know that impulse doesn’t go away no matter how wealthy, successful, in love, or otherwise amazing you are? That you still compare yourself to others?

The issue is that Facebook posting (and other “life posting” outlets–even blogging!) tends to happen when we are happiest. Because after all, who wants to be the person on Facebook saying “Last night I cried myself to sleep”, or “Yesterday I was so depressed that I’m glad I don’t own a gun, because I probably wouldn’t be here any more if I did”?

Yeah. Not me! And probably not you either.

You Can’t “Success” Your Way Out

But here’s the thing I had to learn: You can’t “success” your way out of comparing yourself to others. It doesn’t matter how many speaking engagements you get if someone else has one you really covet. (Or even one you didn’t know about, but now covet because that person has it.) It doesn’t matter how many Twitter followers you have if someone else you admire has more (actually, I’m going to go out on a limb here and just say–it doesn’t matter how many Twitter followers you have, period.)

It doesn’t matter how many billions of dollars you have, because it’s likely that someone else still has more billions. And if you haven’t learned this lesson, and you are the richest person in the world, you will still be unhappy.

I was in a mastermind with a bunch of other popular bloggers. And most weeks, I’d hang up the phone and be so upset how one of those bloggers, Pat Flynn, was so successful. Finally I just emailed him and said, “How do you do this?” And I found out he’s a short sleeper–he only sleeps a few hours every night.

“Oh,” I thought. “I like my sleep.” Heck, I sleep 9+ hours every night. I will skip everything else, but my sleep time is sacred. And voila–my insecurities vanished. He’s more successful at blogging than I am not because I am a bad person, but because he has different values than I do. (Or because he’s Superman when it comes to sleep.) Either way–I was no longer sad about my inadequacy when it came to blogging.

Then I went to work for WP Engine. And got to work side by side with Jason Cohen, their CEO, who is also a great blogger. WP Engine is killing it right now. They’re growing faster than my hosting company did. “Damn,” I thought, “I must have really sucked at growing my business.” And the downward spiral arrived, ready for me to step on.

But then I really watched how Jason worked. And I realized I didn’t want that, at all. The guy is so driven that I often see him writing emails in the middle of the night. I’m not sure what sleep schedule he has, but I’d be willing to place bets that it’s worse than Pat Flynn’s. :) And I don’t think Jason is a short sleeper. He’s just motivated.

Making Your Own Choices

I remember doing that with my hosting company–getting phone calls at 3AM. My friends and family used to marvel that, with military precision, I could wake myself up and sound completely coherent within seconds on the phone. (After hiring an ex-military guy at my hosting company, I found out they actually train people in the military to do that!) I remember having to get up and drive to the datacenter in the middle of the night…sleeping on the couch in our office…and even switching to a 4+4 sleep schedule for a while. (More recently I found out that “early + late sleep” thing used to be common!)

I sold my hosting company, though, because after years of doing that, I was just burned out and exhausted. I still acutely remember how I felt when I sold my company. Mostly, I just wanted to go home and sleep. I’ve never told anyone this, I don’t think, but the night after I sold my business I woke up in a complete panic in the middle of the night. I had dreamed that someone had called and their server was down and I had to go in and fix it.

I checked my phone just to make sure. Nothing. Then I remembered that I had sold my business. “Whew!”, I thought, and then I can’t describe the feeling that happened next. It was like every emotion simultaneously. Relief that I had sold my business. But also a lot of guilt for wrecking my body during that time. I didn’t put myself first when I ran that company. I put my customers first, which meant happy customers, but I lived in a cage of stress and fear.

That’s why I decided to never run a hosting company again. I couldn’t trust myself to not end up that way. It’s my nature to put everyone else before myself, and that’s not always a healthy instinct. I will literally push myself to the point of complete exhaustion and mental breakdown to help someone else whom I care about. Probably not a great idea, but I’ve done it many times. My customers always rank up there on that list.

“So what,” I finally thought, “if Jason is doing better?” Remember, I didn’t want to do that! And good for him. They have a good niche–WordPress hosting. I love their team and have huge respect for Jason. But now, when I see him sending emails in the middle of the night, I remember: I chose not to do that. And somewhere, from deep within, I feel strength.

I Hate This Saying

I hate this saying: “No matter who you are, there’s always someone more successful than you.” I know I said it in so many words above, but it’s the kind of saying that makes me want to punch the person who said it in the face, and then prove that I can be more successful than whoever that “someone” is. (By the way, if there’s one trait you should look for in a successful entrepreneur, it’s that one.)

So–screw that saying. You can be the most successful person in the world–but the way to do it is to show your beautiful middle finger to Facebook postings or blog subscriber counts or whatever it is that is getting you down–and then just have the guts to ask those people how they got to be so damn successful. Chances are, you’re making a choice not to do whatever they did.

And you’ll find out one of two things–either you’ve been making bad choices, which are now within your power to change, or you’ve been making sane choices and they are insane. Either way is a better experience than stepping on the downward spiral. I know–I’ve been there.

Try it next time. Your instincts about how they got there are probably wrong…and you’ll be surprised at what you learn!

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I'm Erica Douglass.
After selling my online business at age 26 for over $1 million, I created this blog to help you grow your own business quickly.

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