Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.
That language is a bit stilted for our time, but the sentiment sounds like one of those rah-rah posters at the local gym, doesn’t it?
It’s from William Shakespeare—known more for plays and poetry than for psychology. But he obviously understood human nature. In 2022 language, the Bard might have expressed the thought more like this: “It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.”
When it comes to offering advice on overcoming obstacles, Kim Perell certainly has the requisite credibility. She lost her job during the dot-com crisis, then spent the next 20 years taking companies from $0 to $1 billion in annual sales. After being broke just ten years earlier, she sold her last company for $235 million. Today she’s founder and CEO of 100.co, using artificial intelligence to reinvent how consumer brands are created.
This mother of two sets of twins has been named one of AdAge’s Marketing Technology Trailblazers, and Entrepreneur of the Year by the National Association of Female Executives.
Her book is Jump: Dare to Do What Scares You in Business and Life.
Rodger Dean Duncan: People may have a number of reasons—and needs—for significant changes in their personal or professional lives. What are the different kinds of jumps you have identified?
Kim Perell: As someone who has jumped many times herself and has encouraged others to do so, I’ve noticed that there are 3 main reasons that motivate people to take big life changing leaps.
Reason #1: You are forced to change.
The Survival Jump. You’ve been fired, bankrupted, or had a life-changing event. This is less of a choice and more of an emergency exit. This is the type of JUMP I took when the company I worked for went bankrupt and I hit rock bottom. It felt like the worst thing that had ever happened to me. It was then that I summoned the courage to take a leap into entrepreneurship.
Reason #2: You want to change because you have a vision.
The Opportunity Jump. You want to change because you have a big dream you want to chase. You see a way to improve your life through bold action. You feel certain you are meant to do something bigger.
Reason #3: You’re considering a change because you’re stuck or feel unfulfilled.
The Stagnant Jump. You’ve reached a certain point in your career or life where you aren’t sure what to do next. You stay put because that feels easier than jumping into the unknown.
But, here’s a secret: your reason for jumping or type of jump doesn’t matter; the only thing that matters is that YOU have the courage to take the leap.
Duncan: You lost your job during the dot-com crisis, yet you decided to establish a digital business. Where did you find the courage to buck what was then conventional wisdom?
Perell: My courage was born out of my crystal-clear vision and conviction. Although the dot-com crisis was certainly a wake-up call, I still believed in the potential of a digital business. People assumed that when the bubble burst, the internet was dead too . . . but very soon afterward, it became more popular than ever. Everyone I knew was spending more and more time online; even my grandma had an AOL account! My gut told me that if I could muster up the courage to start my own business now—while everyone else was fleeing from digital startups—I had a shot at success.
Duncan: No one is immune to occasional failure of one kind or another. What have you found to be a helpful approach to learning positive lessons from failure?
Perell: I believe that failure is a necessary component of success. And, it’s been statistically proven that people who have failed before are more likely to succeed in their future ventures! Failure teaches you resilience. It gives you the gift of perspective, and it teaches what to avoid the next time you try. I’ve always thought about the risk of failure as a prerequisite for success. Without failure—or the risk of it—you don’t learn, you don’t grow and your chance of success declines. So, when failure inevitably happens, don’t only focus on the negative, embrace what you can learn from it.
Duncan: How can someone who’s uneasy about making a career change know that the time is right?
Perell: The truth is, you will never feel 100% ready or that the time is right when you’re gearing up for a career change. So, you have to listen to your gut and trust your instincts. A successful career change is different for everyone, so you should decide what your ideal job looks like to you. Once you’ve done that, you’ll feel more confident about making a change even if you don’t feel totally ready.
Duncan: How can people assess their chances of success in contemplating a jump?
Perell: Before you jump you should take stock of your strengths. Then make sure the career change you are looking to make utilizes your superpowers. Do you have specific expertise, education, a network of smart people, a supportive partner? Can you talk your way out of tight spots, or do you have a talent for predicting successful products? Before you leap, make a list of the things that will increase your chances of success before you dive into uncertainty.
Duncan: Begin with the end in mind is always good advice. How can this be applied to navigating a career move?
Perell: I believe that good planning begins at the end point, with the goal, and builds backward. Why? Because if you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t expect to get there. When making a career move, write down a clear vision for yourself that includes these three things:
- Where do you want to go in one year?
- What do you want to accomplish in one year?
- Who do you want to become in one year? This should be like a personal mission statement. It should be passionate but concise, just one paragraph.
Duncan: What are the most common excuses for resisting a career jump, and what’s your advice for getting past the excuses and moving on to success?
Perell: The most common excuses are usually centered around not having enough experience, “wrong” timing, and fear of failure.
A simple trick I use every time I find myself making an excuse is to ask myself the “real” reason why I can’t accomplish something. I write down my excuse on a piece of paper and then ask myself why. Am I afraid of failure, embarrassment, or rejection? Usually, my excuse stems from fear, anxiety, or self-doubt. Excuses are easy. They allow us to stay in our comfort zones. When you choose to delete your excuses, you’re giving yourself the gift of freedom to move forward without the weight of fear.
Duncan: You counsel people to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Explain what that means.
Perell: When we’re comfortable, we stand still. There’s no reason to move or adjust our position. When we’re uncomfortable, we know that the only way to improve our situation is to change.
If we want things to get better, it’s up to us to make them better. I have learned that being uncomfortable is a sign that I am growing and progressing. If I want to make a change in my life, comfort is not a good place for me to be. So, I’ve come to embrace change and the uncomfortable emotions that come with it.
Duncan: You advocate the “70% rule.” Exactly what is that, and how can it apply to decision-making?
Perell: The rule helps us understand risks and when to take them, since you may not feel totally “ready” for your next career move. But if you feel you have at least 70% of the skills needed, you should apply for the job you want or embrace the change you want to make. You will always learn new skills on the job. The truth is, you will never be 100% ready. If you are, you’re not setting the bar high enough. Believe in yourself, trust in your ability to learn on the go, and take the risk!
Duncan: What is the number one thing you can do that can increase your chances of success?
Perell: The people you surround yourself with will have the biggest impact on your success or failure.
You can’t surround yourself with negative people and expect to lead a positive life. Avoid the naysayers, the dream killers, and the skeptics.
There is no way to eradicate all negativity from your life, but you can limit it by controlling the number of energy vampires you spend time with. You need sounding boards, you need cheerleaders, you need truth-tellers and people who can talk you down from the scariest of ledges. We all need teammates to advise us, lift us up, and walk the path alongside us.
This column was first published by Forbes, where Dr. Duncan is a regular contributor.
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