Idiot

There’s something to be said about trying your hand at an idea. Less about the thing itself and more about the response you get from others. In this interesting world of ours, though it’s a common preach to “follow your dreams!” the reality of doing so is rarely discussed (perhaps because so few do). Even worse, when you actually do, some of the responses you get from those around you are quite tepid. Often delivered as uncomfortable body language—oh, the confused faces!—more than audible discontent.

For the past two years, I’ve been chasing an idea around education. More specifically, I’ve been focused on developing a more fun and human process for teaching software developers how to write software. On Thursday of this week, the side-project turned business reached its second birthday. Over the past 24 months, I’ve encountered a number of ups and down as I slowly made the transition from enthused hobbyist to business owner. With things just starting to take shape, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what lies ahead. I’ve also been thinking quite a bit about all of the people who—either directly or indirectly—called me an idiot.

A strange phenomenon that accompanies the pursuit of your own idea is that nearly everyone you explain it to knows how to do it better than you do. Never mind their experience with the idea (or any business for that matter). Many people will, unsolicited, tell you why your version of an idea is wrong and what they’d do instead. Or, my personal favorite, that you should stop working on your idea and work on theirs (because it’s better, of course). Early on in my work, this used to bother me to no end. Even, on a few occasions, coming close to swaying me from my path.

My hands aren’t entirely clean. I can recall a few conversations where I’ve done the same to others. As time has passed, though, I’ve corrected this behavior. The reason is simple: when you bet on yourself, life gets bumpy. It’s hard enough to have the stones to pursue your idea, let alone keep it going in the face of adversity. To have other people openly (and regularly) give you shit about what you’re doing wrong or why you’re going to fail is, easily, one of the more difficult parts of pushing a business forward.

How I deal with this ultimately depends on the person and situation, but my default response has become to simply smile and nod. Let them dig their own grave. Something I’ve learned is that you can immediately pick out the fellow who’s on your level based on their preservation of comment. All of the sharpest business folks I know keep their mouth shut. They ask questions and give feedback if you request it, but they never tell you that you’re an idiot or that they know better. Why? The real players know how hard it is and likely have a hit list a mile long of people who told them that they were an idiot on their way up.

On a personal level, it’s important to remember: you are an idiot. That’s okay. You don’t have to know everything (nobody does). You can make things up as you go. The trick is to pay close attention to what you get wrong and learn from it. Always be turning the dial. Adjust. Bob and weave. If someone calls you an idiot, enjoy it. If you end up being successful one day, you can look back on all of those people as mile markers. Stakes in the ground that have made zero progress in their own life while you continue to forge ahead.

To all of the young idiots who can’t help but throw their brain weight at a problem: keep going. Success may never come or, if it does, may not look like what you dreamed. Don’t let that discourage you. People will come and go. Don’t let that discourage you. You’ll have money and you won’t have money. Don’t let that discourage you. It’s all cyclical and every moment, every person, every thing on this planet is fleeting. If you see something in front of you and can’t help but work toward making it come true, keep working. Ignore the fodder.

Be proud to call yourself an idiot. I am.