People got word that I was pursuing a new business. Friends, family, and plenty of acquaintances. They heard terms like organic gardening, permaculture, natural building, renewable energy, etc. Whatever term they heard, (and as soon as they understood a little about what I was talking about), invariably their response was, “Hey, yeah, you should talk to so-and-so, he’s in that business. He might be able to help you.” Or, “My cousin, she does that.” Everybody kept pointing out veterans and “experts”. I think they were trying to be encouraging. But to me it just seemed patronizing. It was like I had no authority or validity on my own. Or like I had arrived at a party that had already started and I was the last one there. I felt that way a lot during my teen years because I went to several different schools. It was the same deal every time. (Hold back your tears. I know. It was awful.) I arrived at the new school to find circles of friends, cliques, and boundaries already firmly established. I was the new kid and I had to find my place; make my place.
I was the new kid and I had to find my place; make my place.
Maybe you’ve had an interest in some particular field but you’ve just kept it simmering on the back burner for years. And then recently you decided, “Hey I’m gonna get serious about this thing and do it.” Maybe it was writing a novel. Maybe it was becoming a chef. Or a sculptor. Maybe it was breeding dogs. Or ostriches. Who knows. Whatever it was, as soon as you started to pursue it earnestly, I bet some of you felt that same feeling I just described – that showing-up-late-on-the-scene feeling. The party has already started, and you arrived late and alone, feeling out of place and very, very awkward.
I think that’s probably the way it is regardless what area you might be pursuing. Doubtless, there will always be someone (or hundreds of others) ahead of you. Let’s pick three of my interests – kettle bells, writing, and adventure racing. I arrive and guess what? The experts are already there in the room with their recognition and experience. But me, I’m still in the learning curve. I’m still standing there in the entrance of the room so-to-speak at the proverbial party, looking around, seeing who’s there, trying to figure out where I belong. Do I want to hit the dance floor or would I rather just have a seat in a quiet booth over here to the side til I figure out what the heck is going on?
“There’s already so much competition out there, so many people out there (the veterans, the experts) already doing this stuff, why would anybody buy what I am offering?”
It’s easy to feel intimidated or discouraged because it feels like you’re way behind. And if you’re trying to make money doing this beloved thing that you’re doing, it makes matters worse. It can effect your confidence deeply because you’re tempted to think, “There’s already so much competition, so many people out there already doing this stuff, why would anybody buy what I’m offering?”
But this defeatist talk won’t get us anywhere. My brother reminds me often that it’s just not true. The world population is at around 7+ billion people. The UN predicts that we’ll hit 8 billion at around 2025.
That’s a lot of people. So, he says, that means there are very few, if any, original ideas out there. Also for that familiar dose of reality, it’s difficult to get noticed in the crowd. However, there is a positive – there are a lot of people out there! And many of them want or need what you’re serving. There’s room for one more person like you and me offering what we’re offering. If the pool (or population) were much smaller, well, then, that would be a problem. Too much supply and not enough demand, right? Now not everything works that way. You might be pursuing a field that involves a very narrow interest group. For example, I saw online the other day an artist who builds steampunk clocks out of wood using a Shopbot, which is basically a computer-controlled CNC router. Now, granted, the clocks are awesome and really well-crafted. But his market is pretty narrow. I’m not sure if the population glut is going to help him. But in hundreds of other fields more people really does mean more opportunity – especially fields like energy, health care, and food.
So back to my high school days. I had an epiphany the other day. It was about longevity. I’ve been out of high school for 25 years now (I know, that’s a very long time for some of you!). Last week I hooked up with a couple of my buddies from high school to do a mud race together. Then we all went to the gym three times that week while one of our group was visiting home.
Do you know what I realized? The older we get, the more the playing field becomes level. When I was in high school I was the new kid, right? I showed up and there was so much rivalry and competition, so much jockeying for position. But now, especially when it comes to fitness, the ones who have been disciplined (even semi-disciplined like me) and stayed at it over the years are now established. The tough guys who seemed like such stiff competition years ago are almost laughable now! But, longevity relates to other things to, doesn’t it?. Not just fitness. As we age, we gain pounds but lose hair, maybe gain wealth but lose spouses, maybe lose jobs but gain wisdom. Life happens to everyone. My point is that this rivalry largely disappears the longer we’re around.
If you stay the course, barring some unpredictable terrible turn of events, you will be established in whatever you’re pursuing.
So my epiphany was that if I just remain steady and faithful in the fields in which I’m so passionate, before long there will be a certain equilibrium. There will come a point soon when I have lots of knowledge, lots of experience, lots of relationships and lots of loyalty, maybe more than the other guy next to me who’s pursuing and offering the same thing. It comes down to mileage and time. If you stay the course, barring some unpredictable terrible turn of events, you will be established in whatever you’re pursuing. That awkward feeling will fade with time. I remind myself (and you too) that I eventually found my place in school. Last week, 25 years later, I spent some great time with two genuine friends that I made in high school. Grounding just takes time. I won’t always be the new guy in this business. And neither will you in yours.