When I was in my early 20’s, I was relatively certain that I was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I was arrogant. I was self obsessed. I’d founded and sold a music business, and to my mind that made me a superstar. I was looking for something to do, and it seemed to make sense that I’d go and work for a tech company.
When I applied at Google, there was no hesitation, no moment of doubt. I didn’t even consider the possibility that I wouldn’t even land an interview.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. It left me dumbfounded. Not even an interview or a conversation. I applied again and again, over the years, looking to land a marketing role with the company. Again and again, I was knocked back. Somewhere along the line, I stopped trying, and I started blaming Google for never giving me a chance.
It was their loss, I decided. Theirs and only theirs. They needed me, more than I needed them. They were missing out on a superstar. I started to hate the company.
Looking back now, I can’t believe how entitled and conceited I was. Why would anyone have given a job to a kid with no formal qualifications, no alignment with the company and a shitty attitude?
Being young is often about making mistakes, and learning to live with them, and then growing older and learning to take responsibility for them. That’s what my career since has been about. Over the past few years, I’ve stopped focusing on trying to land a tech job, and I’ve enjoyed following my passions. I’ve also let the school of life kick the shit out of me, and take me down a peg or two.
Coming out, transitioning, and having to experience the raw agony of living fully out loud has a way of doing that to you.
That conceited kid feels like a lifetime ago. Being that person, doesn’t even feel familiar. But I know it’s a part of me, a part of some of my worst qualities, and a part of the entitlement I used to be prone to.
I don’t know where our entitlement comes from. I don’t know where we get the idea that we’re worth more than others, that we deserve more, are more, or will be more. But it’s an attitude I see in more than a few startup founders, in some of the entrepreneurs that I talk to. They almost act as though they’re entitled to winning.
I know this doesn’t apply to all founders. In fact, it doesn’t even apply to most of you. But it does apply to a little sliver of entitlement that a lot of us pick up without even knowing it — myself included — and it does apply to the vocal few who are building startups because their Mom told them they were unique and wonderful and deserved only the best.
If you believe that having a big idea, or being in a tech company is enough of a validation that it proves you’re the Next Big Thing, then you’re bound to run into problems. In startups, as in a professional career, as with any opportunity, you have to follow the words of the great Malcolm Tucker: get the fuck in, or fuck the fuck off. You can’t hang around waiting for the world to give you a big invitation to the grand stage, just because you think you’re owed a shot.
When you realize that shot just isn’t coming, it’s going to break you.
What does that look like, for a founder?
Let’s say you want to be an entrepreneur. You want to tell people you’re an entrepreneur. You want to be on top of the world, and on top of your to-do list, and be interviewed about productivity, and make a million, and change the world, and get funding, and meet Miranda Kerr, and take it to the top, and crush it.
And you know it’s going to be hard. You know it’s going to be hard because you’ve read the blog posts, and you’ve read the biographies and you’ve learned how shit the pathway is, and you think you’re ready to take on the challenge and struggle through.
You’re a dreamer. You’re a visionary. You’re a believer. You’re a would-be genius. You’re a future king of the valley.
It’s all a self-delusion.
The chances are, you’re not as hot as you think, and when that comes home to roost, it’s incredibly damaging to you. For you own good, and for the sake of your own resilience, you have to let go of the concept that you deserve to make it.
Which is not to say that you can’t be confident. You do have to believe in yourself, and you do have to have a little faith. But there’s a big difference between that, and between honestly or subconsciously thinking that the big break is coming because you deserve it. There’s a difference between expecting, and earning.
I’m coming to you from the angle of a young woman at the start of her road, who used to be an entitled asshole who thought they were at the end of it. I’ve been taught a few rough lessons by the world, and I’m sure I’ve got a lot more yet to come.
The thing is, nobody really owes you shit. You’re just like the rest of the pack, and there’s nothing that sets you apart, except for what you actually do.
If you can reach that point of self awareness, and start to accept that you’re not a special edition by default, you might be able to gain a little more understanding and build something special of your own.
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.