When I was 19, I did a summer internship with a company called Young Entrepreneurs Across America. It was much more like a franchise than an internship though. The company provided training, a trusted brand-name, a supportive office-staff, payroll systems, and marketing materials, and the interns booked and produce house-painting jobs in the field.
It was an incredible experience. I got a taste of what it was like to hustle in the real world for the first time. I realized quickly that doing the bare minimum only worked in school. If I did the bare minimum in the real world, my customers wouldn’t pay me, my employees would quit, and I’d end up broke and homeless.
I had never been so invested in my own success. I made mistakes that literally cost me thousands of dollars, and I also made decisions that earned me thousands of dollars. I had skin in the game and it forced me to hold my actions to the highest practical standard.
I found myself sitting in class writing emails to potential hires, setting up interviews, responding to customers, designing new flyers, and doing everything but paying attention to the lecture. I had a real business to run! Customers and employees depended on me to keep promises I made. Thousands of dollars were actually at stake. I didn’t have time to be bothered with theoretical discussions about calculus and how to write a professional business plan.
I was already running a business. I was participating in the very thing that we studied from afar in class. I could touch the market with my hands. I could interact with it, change it, and bounce ideas off of it through my own effort while the rest of my classmates were viewing and analyzing it through a textbook.
The first year I did this, I came home late every night, exhausted and often covered in paint. It wasn’t glamorous work by any means. In fact, my roommates and friends often laughed at me because I looked like a dirty blue-collar worker. It was all in good fun, but in their minds, I was throwing in the towel early by dropping out of school and painting houses. I was giving up on bigger dreams to make a quick buck now.
In my mind, I was building a cathedral. I was slowly laying the foundation for a life filled with freedom and entrepreneurial success. This belief was reinforced regardless of how much paint I had on my hands every time I closed a new sale, shook a happy customer’s hand, and collected a check after a hard day’s work.
It wasn’t long before my friends were asking me for a job. Seriously. I hired two of them the next year.
This experience taught me a lot about entrepreneurship and business, but there’s one overarching lesson I took from it that shaped my life dramatically.
If you want to do something, you must start unprepared.
I was hired for this internship in November and I didn’t start until February. For those three months before I started, I had in my mind, “I’m going to run a painting business this summer.” I tried to wrap my head around what exactly it would entail, but I had trouble imagining it. I read through all the training materials and watched all the videos the company provided, but I still felt unprepared. It was all theory. I was reading about stories that I had never experienced firsthand. I was too far removed from the actual experience that all I could do was trust that my mentors knew what they were doing and dive in head first when the time came.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t prepare. Preparation is a good thing. But the mistake happens when preparation becomes more important than what you’re preparing for. Regardless of how much you prepare, when you walk into that very first sales call, you’ll be shaking in your boots unless you’ve done it before. No amount of role plays or rehearsals in front of a mirror will make you actually comfortable doing the real thing.
Simulations are just that: simulations. They cannot replace the objectivity of cold, hard reality. The only thing that makes you comfortable doing the real thing is prior experience doing that thing. After you’ve done it, theoretical preparation becomes much more valuable because you have a reference point. Then you can balance both.
Success is much less about the preparation and much more about a moment of decisiveness. We obsess over preparation because going into something unprepared elicits fear. The trick is accepting that this type of fear is an unavoidable fact of reality and embracing it. Then you can make a deliberate choice to put yourself on the spot, trusting your ability to act and react in the context of the situation.
Facebook live is a great example of this. Once you turn on the switch, you’ve made the deliberate choice to put yourself on the spot. All your preparation goes out the window and it’s just you, the camera, and your audience. The same goes for speaking in front of crowds, skydiving, and going into high-pressure (or low-pressure) sales calls. Nothing can replace that visceral feeling.
Decide. Buy in. Don’t feel prepared? That’s a good sign it’s time to start. You’ll figure out the rest as you go.
If you’re still not convinced, take it from The Avett Brothers: “Decide what to be and go be it.”