As entrepreneurs, we all swing for the fences. Sometimes we hit a grand slam, sometimes it’s a single or a double, and sometimes, we strike out. In fact, the only guarantee is that there is none. You read about $40 billion valuations, SnapChat turning down obscene amounts of money from Facebook, and we romanticize and daydream about the future. But there is one part of being an entrepreneur that win, lose or draw, one day we will all have to face. We probably don’t think about all too often: the transition.
In five years, are you likely to still be doing what you are doing now? More often than not, there is usually a transition at some point, and in that transition, we will need to look toward the future, even though our lives have been very invested in whatever we’ve done before. But how do we navigate change and set ourselves up for success?
I recently brought this question to a friend of mine, David Garrity of GVA Research LLC, who advises and invests in companies and has seen his share of success. But more importantly, he always finds that next great thing for his career when it is time to move on. I asked him how he has moved so gracefully between opportunities and always seemed to find success with them. I was expecting some sage words of wisdom that would make it all clear, which I did get (read on). What I wasn’t expecting was a quote from a movie from the bicentennial.
He told me about a movie, “The Gumball Rally,” a 1976 flick about a disparate group of drivers who take part in a secret and illegal cross country race (not unlike what it often feels like to run a company). In one particular scene, an Italian race car driver jumps into the car, and the first thing he does is rip off the rearview mirror. The other man in the car incredulously asks, “Why did you do that?” and he replies with an Italian accent that only the late, great Raul Julia could pull off: “What’s behind me is not important.”
And that was David’s secret to how he could take success and then turn around and be successful again. Or how he could walk away from something that didn’t pan out perfectly and not let it affect his next move. The prior outcome has no bearing on the future one. What’s behind you is not important.
I should have been satisfied with this. I’ve never been terribly good at leaving well enough alone. How, I asked, could what is behind us not be important? What’s behind is makes us who we are. But, after further conversation, I fully understood the sentiment behind Raul Julia in his role as the Italian driver. Raul was in the driver’s seat. He was going to win the race against all odds, and the only way he was going to do it was by looking ahead, not behind. Setting ourselves up for success, he explained, is to actually focus on the opportunity at hand. In the face of any transition we will always be judged more on what we do next than where we have been. What’s behind us is not important; being present is.
I had to agree that was pretty sound advice even if it was from an old movie. When I presented this to other friends and mentors, they too agreed. Clearly this is a well-known concept among the truly successful (though admittedly not everyone had heard of the movie).
So I challenge you to think about your last big win, or even big loss, and be honest with yourself. Have you allowed yourself to fully embrace your next opportunity, or are you still reliving old memories and old glories? Are you focusing all your attention on the now and all the future nows? At some point or another, we all need to drive like an Italian.
Tammy Leigh Kahn is a technology entrepreneur in Boston, MA. Tammy writes frequently on social media, small business, technology and entrepreneurship and shares her knowledge and advice with thousands via radio, Web seminars and live presentations. Tammy is currently Sr. Manager of Market Development at Constant Contact.
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