How I went from speech therapy to speaking in front of 100 peopleMay 10, 2016
I want to talk about the way it feels to push yourself past something that you have recognized as the very limit of your abilities, the edge of what is possible for you.
There’s going to be moments when you will meet that wall in your professional skills, if you’re an artist or a designer or a writer — and there’s going to be moments when you will meet that wall in your business.
The true test of anyone on this earth is not whether they can begin a journey, it’s whether they can end it. You can’t just be a starter, you have to be a finisher too.
That’s where so many people fall down. That’s where so many businesses go off the tracks, where so many entrepreneurs give up and walk away.
And I see that happen a lot. I see it happen with founders and would-be businesspeople every single day. I get emails, and it’s always someone on the other end saying, "I can’t do it — it’s too hard."
If it feels too hard, it’s because it’s meant to. Accomplishing things has very little to do with relaxing and giving yourself some slack. It’s all about pushing through the limits. Identifying the walls, the barriers, and then f------ breaking them. Right now, this probably sounds pretty good. It sounds like it makes sense. But you’re asking yourself what those barriers look like. So let me open up.
I’ve been pretty open about my speech problems. I don’t feel much of a need to hide my flaws away and pretend I’ve made any kind of progress towards perfection. After all, perfection has never been one of my goals.
When I was a kid, when I was a teenager, I had a crushing speech problem. I couldn’t communicate with people. It was heart breaking. Every time I opened my mouth, I dreaded hearing someone say "What??" in that voice that so clearly stated that they couldn’t understand what the f--- I was saying. I was in speech therapy … and I hated it. I felt embarrassed and ashamed of the fact that I couldn’t communicate.
I never completely beat that. Today, when I talk to someone, I have to follow a few techniques and patterns I picked up over the years — I try to keep a single paperclip in my pocket so I can take it out and squeeze it, twist it and try to unravel it, as a way of taking my mind off my problem, relaxing, doing my best to actually talk and be understood.
Just ten years ago, breaking through that barrier wouldn’t have been possible. Or at least, it wouldn’t have seemed possible. Faced with the challenge of getting up and seeing a hundred people looking up at me, waiting to hear me, with no idea the struggle it took to say one single word, I would have cut and run. But just a few years ago, I became a speaker.
I wish there was some secret lifehack here that I could give you, like a listicle of the top ten ways to beat your own limitations like Elon Musk and Kobe Bryant. That is not the case.
The way I reached the point where I could function, and talk, and deliver a presentation on entrepreneurship to a hundred people — it was through trying and failing.
I would put myself out there as often as I could. I would take every opportunity to stand up and be heard, each time knowing that I was about to open myself up to ridicule and run the risk of being laughed at.
I would put myself out there because the only way to break your limits is to push against them, over and over again, and weaken them. No matter how long it takes.
And it can take years. For me, it was around 5–8 years of trying to put a crack in the wall and turn that crack into a fracture, and use that fracture to bringing it crumbling down. The same is likely to be true for you. Your limits are only going to be broken with constant assaults. And it’s not going to change overnight, and there’s no One Weird Trick. It’s hard.
I define an entrepreneur as anyone who seeks to reject the old paradigm of employment where your worth, value, and success is defined by a person who barely knows you. If you want to break out of that paradigm, you’re going to be doing it against your own limits, and against your own perceptions of what is possible for you.
I’ve seen so many different walls, that would-be entrepreneurs and established founders come up against. They can’t pitch clients, because they don’t have sales skills and they’re worried they’ll be laughed out of the room. They can’t build a product because they don’t have technical skills, they’re not developers or coders.
The first thing people try and do is look for a way around those limits. A way around, instead of a way through. If they don’t have the technical skills, they’ll post ludicrous f------ messages on startup Facebook groups and Quora stating that they’ve got the next million dollar idea and they want some poor sod to build it for free. That’s not breaking a limit.
They’ll try and market to their potential customers solely by email, as if a hundred cold messages to people you’ve never met could ever turn into a thriving business acquisition model. That’s not breaking a limit.
The way to break those limits is to learn new skills, and push yourself to try, fail and uncover data. The way to break those limits is to spend years focused on them. If you do not break those limits, I’ve got news for you.
You’re not going to make it.