Earlier this week, I wrote about 500 or so words on my practice of focusing on the moments in our days as a way to create energy, ideas and pleasure. But, I accidentally deleted it. Yes, in a moment, it was gone.
Over the past several years I have spent a lot of time researching and exploring failure. You could say that I was employing an experiential style of research on failure for most of my life.
In fact, my oldest scar, which sits on the pad of the index finger of my left hand was my first data point.
I had just learned to walk and was stumbling around our small house in Fort Collins, Colorado. My mom, an unabashed hippie, had probably just finished making my macrobiotic lunch and had started to sew some (very hip, I'm sure) baby overalls. This being before lasers and Walmart, she was using a Singer sowing machine with a foot pedal and belt on the outside of the machine. Think Little House on the Praire style. (To make this hippie hick story even worse, at the time my father had a job miking and delivering goat's milk. Yes. Capital H hippies.)
As the story goes, I wandered over to see what my mom was doing, and with quizzical eyes reached up and touched the moving belt.
Pretty sure my mom screamed before I did. And as blood exploded out of my fingertip I can remember my mom freaking out, snatching me up and running to the bathroom to run my finger under some water stopping the bleeding.
(Yes, I was less than two years old, so I am making up most of these memories, but I do know that my mom has special mom powers which have been in full glory for years.)
Years later, now living in Mountain View, California, I was thirteen or fourteen and a pretty good soccer goalie (and defender). It was during a season that my father coached us, and we were doing alright.
On this particular day, I was watching the burners on the top of the stove turn from hot red to complete black with a simple turn of a dial. Red. Black. Red. Black. Red. Black.
I remember thinking to myself, I wonder if the burner is cold to the touch by the time it gets black. So I turned the burner on full Red.
And then turned it off. and waited. Black.
In retrospect, I would have probably tried to use a paper towel or something, but at the time, my hand was the only testing implement I had available. Black. Hand on burner. Seconds passed. Strange smell started to come from my hand. I believe it was the smell of burning flesh.
Oh shit, that really hurt. And, for the record, Recently Black on the burner is not cold to the touch. Just in case you were wondering.
I still carry a scar from that third degree burn on my left wrist, now situated between two tattoos.
How do these stories of self-mutilation matter?
Because failure cannot be understood if you don't experience it. And not in a “shoot, I got an A-” kinda way, but in a “I will carry the scar forever” kinda way.
What I have learned over the years both experiencing and researching failure is that the act of failure has no consequence, its the reaction to failure that has real weight.
I will never again touch a moving belt or a semi-hot burner, but the lesson that I survived the pain or the embarrassment. Just like shutting the doors on my first company or losing an investment has not scared me away from startup land.
We pay a real disservice to each other by dealing and discussing failure so flippantly. Failure has real gravitas, it can change how someone lives their life drastically. Yet, we love the rags to riches story. The Hollywood comeback.
We talk about supporting founders who are struggling and, perhaps, headed towards failure, but in truth, we prop up the apparent winners and let the losers slink out to the forest and die.
Failure isn't the end. It's a painful, shitty process, but its just that. A step.
When I got sober, a friend of mine said to me that the hardest part of sobriety wasn't being around alcohol and drugs, but forgetting the bad times. For that which we forget, we are doomed to repeat.
Every day, I look at my left hand with its jagged scar on the index finger and burn mark on my left wrist sitting between two tattoos, and smile.
For years I have struggled with the concept of “hiring only A players.”
After all, what the fuck is an “A player?” Is there a test? Is there a list of characteristics that outlines the specific nature of an A player?
On top of that, the concept of an “A player” extends beyond just the skill set into the ability of that employee to engage and comfortably integrate into a set company culture.
The famed Facebook and Google interviews don't always expose top notch employees. It certainly is a process that scares off a fair number of folks, but it doesn't guarantee that the new employee is that unique combination of skills, personality, drive and compassionate intelligence necessary for the perfect fit within your organization.
About eight months ago I started to recognize a commonality among the employees at my startup and others that clearing indicated “A player”-ness.
The CEO/Founder, with pride, showcased something awesome that the employee did.
Not really. What is awesome? How is it defined?
It's like porn. You know it when you see it.
For me, awesome is when I see or find out about something the employee did, and I say to myself, “man, that's awesome!”
I realized that the employees that I found myself saying that about where the ones that I was excited about. And the ones that I wasn't, well, my excitement waned.
So we instituted a new rule:
If we are hiring you because you are awesome, then you have 30 days to do something awesome. And awesome is simply defined as me (or your supervisor) thinking to him/herself, “man, that's awesome!” just once.
It has a real clarifying effect on our personnel and hiring discussions. We are clear when we hire folks that they have 30 days to do something awesome.
Now it's clear that our team is full of “A Players,” and we can easily define what our needs are and if our team is properly filling those needs.
Is it harder than a Google interview? Who knows. It certainly isn't easy. But The Rule of Awesome is clear and honest, and for most people that is more important.
While April 1 is the day that the tech world fills the world with jokes, it was the day that I stopped being one.
Back in 2006, on the March 31, I was sitting in my living room in Denver, Colorado. My living room didn't have much life in it. The blinds were closed, the tv always on. The trash was rarely emptied, and I rarely showered.
I was skinny (well as skinny as a fat man can be), and I had a pronounced limp. It was that limp that kept me on my couch for most of the day.
Well, maybe not the limp. It was more likely the piles of drugs and alcohol that covered my glass top coffee table.
I think about that day a lot because it was the day I decided to become normal. To be sober. It was the day that I broke the Curse that had chased me for most of my life. The Curse of Tomorrow.
And, on April 1, 2006, I chose life.
It was a conscious decision and not a forgone conclusion. But, I woke up on April 1, 2006 and realized that I wasn't ready to be finished. That today had become more important than tomorrow.
As an entrepreneur, I love being consumed by the vision of what the future holds. I thrive on my ability to see how things should work and my drive to make it reality. But, that constant belief that tomorrow will be better than today doesn't create the appropriate balance between our mental selves and our emotional selves.
We have short memories – the failures of yesterday fuel the successes of tomorrow. We have powerful drives – tomorrow must be better than yesterday. We have incredible fortitude – you may believe that what we are doing yesterday is adequate, but what you are doing tomorrow will amaze.
But we fear today.
For if today is ok, if today is full of magic, then there is no need for the dreamer. If today is fulfilling, there is no need for entrepreneurs.
So we fight against today. We look at it in disgust. We talk only about tomorrow. We dream only about tomorrow. We live in the future.
And by being under that curse, we break away from what is most important. Ourselves. We forget that we have the distinct need to just be; to just be in the world that surrounds us and helps us and supports us and lets us understand….us.
I understand that believing in tomorrow is easy for entrepreneurs. It's like our brains are set a day, a week, a year in advance and we struggle to engage with the world around us, with “normals,” with our friends and families that just don't understand our ways of thought. We default every conversation to our vision of the technology future by reductive discussion of the pedantic efforts of today.
It is no surprise that startups are full of hipsters riding the cutting edge.
Yet, in the midst of that mindset driven by the Curse of Tomorrow lives the beauty of today. Of the enormous force of taking a moment to look around and engage. To the simple pleasure of just sitting and absorbing the lights and sounds of today.
April First is a special day for me. It was the day that I learned that wanting to live–to live in the now–was the secret to making tomorrow perfect.
I think the sentence that got me was in Keller's email to the Downtown Project:
It’s my responsibility to make sure that Romotive is located where we are most likely to achieve this vision.
Most people who haven't started a company think that there are simple decision points in deciding where that company should reside:
Where do I want to live?
Where the money at?
But it's not that simple. What Keller did was right, he listened to his business. His business told him where the best place was for them to achieve their goals, and unfortunately, it wasn't Las Vegas.
Like dowsers, great CEO's have the ability to intrinsically listen to their companies, putting aside their egos and desires to do what is right for the business.
Even as they bury themselves with metrics and analytics and report to boards and investors, they continue to listen to that ache in their stomachs that tells them what actions to follow through with.
It's like porn; you know it when you see it.
Moving a company is hard. There are people that can't/won't move. The community you are leaving looks at you askance and wonders why. your investors often came onboard because of where you were located.
It's not you; it's me.
When I moved Graphicly to the Bay Area, I was pretty quiet about it. I didn't think it was a big deal, and I still have people that ask me why I moved from Boulder, especially because Boulder is seen as such a startup mecca.
It honestly had nothing to do with Boulder, much like Romotive's move has nothing to do with Las Vegas.
As founders, our only jobs are to put our companies in the best position to succeed. That means a focus on raising money, recruiting talent and articulating the vision of the business.
Mostly, it means listening to the business and doing what is best for it.
Kudos to Keller for listening, and more importantly, acting.
Last night, I was sitting in my backyard listening to the kids playing softball up the street amid the raindrops.
As my phone likes to do, it was all abuzz with tweets and what not about folks enjoying SXSW.
The vibration of my phone has always been unwelcome during a large event that I wasn't part of. I have had a classic case of FOMO for most of my life; much of which has been the cause of many an hour of being grounded as a kid.
My Fear Of Missing Out kept me out late, got me drunk, helped me evade the police and even got me a chance to kiss the girl of my dreams (and I was even awake!)
But, like any disease, over time it became the monster that I had to feed. I had to go out. I couldn't miss that party. If I stayed for just one more drink the sucky-ass night would become wonderful.
I was a slave to my FOMO. And, FOMO is a bitch of a master.
I had to figure out how to conquer it. There is no FOMO-Anonymous. No Jenny Craig for FOMO. In fact, by definition, to cure FOMO, you have to do it alone. It has to be about you.
And if FOMO was about a fear of not doing something, then the only way to face that fear was to just not do something.
To master the art of doing nothing.
Doing nothing is the antithesis of the American Way. We are doers! Fuck Yeah 'Murica!
As an entrepreneur it's even worse. We not only do — We do all of the time. Fuck Yeah Changin' the World!
Yet, as i started to explore the Optimization of Self, it became clear that success doesn't come from doing more and more, faster and faster, but actually from doing less.
Maybe Tim Ferriss is right. Maybe four hours is enough. Maybe.
As one realizes that success is driven from the creation of acceleration and force, not from constant motion, you realize that doing nothing is actually a positive. (Yes, I am pretending to know something about physics. I watched Niel DeGrasse Tyson on The Daily Show. Fuck Yeah, Science!).
If the rule is that bodies that are in motion stay in motion, then it would seem that rule should also apply to energy. And, if it applies to energy, then it also applies to thought. If you have ever spent hours in the dark hoping your brain would stop so you could go to sleep, you know what I mean.
So we move. and move. We confuse action for achievement. And in our constant state of motion, we feel that if we stop moving, while others continue to move, that we will “miss out.” I think its physics or some shit.
But imagine doing the opposite. Imagine stopping. Imagine doing nothing, if even for just a minute. What happens?
The world continues to spin. You continue to live. Your dog continues to ignore your best efforts to get her to come. (Stupid Taylor.)
But in that exact moment of realization that nothing happened what do you feel?
That's right. Not hungover. Not disappointed in yourself for spending money or time. Not annoyed at the amount of work you have to do.
And then a warmth that slowly builds from the recess of your chest, in and around your heart and explodes in a simple laugh deep in your throat as you realize that what you are feeling is happiness.
Happiness that you took a single moment to put yourself in front of everything. For one, goddamn moment, you were the most important thing in the whole friggin universe, because you did nothing but be.
“There is no greatness without a passion to be great, whether it's the aspiration of an athlete or an artist, a scientist, a parent, or a businessperson.” - Anthony Robbins
In the entrepreneurial ecosystem we hold passionate people above all others. We exalt the passionate ones as the leaders who will change the world, who will disrupt the world, who will bring that passion to the masses and make the world a better place.
Yet, a truly passionate person is close-minded, unable to listen to others and blinded by that passion to drive only actions that feed that passion.
Which means, yes, your passion is fake.
Strong and barely controllable emotion.
A state or outburst of such emotion.
Most people don't feel true passion. They are not stuck in a state of barely controlled emotions. Yet, because we speak so strongly (perhaps passionately) about the importance of passion, entrepreneurs have a tendency to feel a need to be passionate. To fake it, and faking it, like most things, leads down a path of opaqueness, where clarity is the most necessary element of success.
“Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Perhaps if passion is overkill, then enthusiasm is the answer?
No. Enthusiasm is about feeling joy for what you do. While important, is not a success factor, its not what drives purpose.
Wait, perhaps that's the answer: Purpose.
If passion is what you do; then purpose is what you are.
“Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” - Helen Keller
Purpose: The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.
We confuse passion for purpose, because passion is visual and exciting and leads to outbursts and angry posts and beautiful lovingly designed sites. It doesn't lead to changing the world.
That reality that lives deep inside us that can't be squelched. That thought that circulates in our brains over and over and just won't let us go. The truth and clarity of mission, of purpose is what differentiates the Entrepreneurs from the entrepreneurs; the Great from the good, and the real from the fake.
Your passion is fake, but my purpose is unquestionable.
I wrote this post a couple of years ago, and found it this am while looking for another post. Given the reaction to my post from yesterday, Just Stop, which I never expected, I thought it would be useful to repost.
To everyone that I spoke with, tweeted with or emailed me. Thank you. It is clear that there is a larger problem in our community around depression and all the darkness it brings. Let's continue the conversation.
Over the past week or so, I have had two friends burn out.
Like most professions people choose, entrepreneurship isnt all play time and money. Startups arent filled with foosball and Mac Pros.
We read about layoffs and think to ourselves “Well, its a startup. They arent making any money. I have no idea why they employed so many people. Whiles its horrible, its probably for the best.”
Or we read about the latest funding and think to ourselves “What? They got $5million? Its just a 'me too' company. They will never make any money.”
What most people dont understand if they havent been in a startup (even those that cover startups really dont get it), is that a startup’s culture always has a few key components (not success components necessarily, just that they exist).
A general belief that what the startup is focused on is unique, interesting or better than current offerings in the market place (the old better, faster, cheaper argument).
That startups have an end.
And at that end, there will be some sort of reward.
That working at a startup gives you a greater ability to have a bigger influence on the product, brand, business direction, whatever.
That you, the employee, can do whatever is placed in front of you, better than anyone else.
And while its easy to intellectualize the long hours and hard work to get to the end of the rainbow, most people dont understand how the startup lifestyle truly effects them emotionally and mentally.
You can get fired/laid off at any time.
Often decisions are made based on the money in the bank, or the expected out of case position, rather than on the true needs of the organization. Often, there is little determination of the effect less people have on overall workload.
A mistake can be magnified.
Because each person has a large affect on the outcome of the business, mistakes are magnified. Code something wrong? It could push back the next release. Push back the next release, and lose a big deal. Lose a big deal, and miss the numbers you expected. Miss the numbers and the world turns on you. Because most startups run extremely lean, it is imperative that each person is competent. Extremely competent.
All the best work can be for naught.
Do everything right, get the product out the door on time and under budget, make the greatest thing since sliced bread, and watch it wither on the vine. Sometimes, for no reason, a great idea/product just dies. Its a sad reality of the risk/reward game of startups.
All of this leads to high level of expectation and stress.
Which leads to burnout.
Successful entrepreneurs and long-time startup employees understand that burnout is part of the lifestyle they have chosen. Everyone burns out at some point.
So what do you do when you feel a burnout coming?
Most people dont. They work and work and work until they fizzle. Their production decreases and mistakes increase. Soon, they have been let go, and dont understand why.
Here are some early warning signs of burnout:
You are tired all the time. No matter how much you sleep, you cant seem to “catch up.”
You complain more than usual. Everyone is a moron. You are the only person that can get the job done.
You snap at friends and colleagues. Since they cant understand the workload you are under, or how unfair that workload is, you snap. You withdraw.
You start thinking about quitting. It has to be the company. There is a better job with less stress out there. I just made a bad choice of jobs.
You take little “breaks.” Today, I am going to nothing that pertains to my job. I know its Tuesday, and we have a release coming up, but I can catch up tomorrow.
When do you get home, you dont take care of personal business. Dude, I just worked for 12 hours straight. Why should I pay bills?
You wish you can, or you start, working from home more. There are less distractions (and people). I can work at my pace and I do a better job!
Often the signs of burnout are subtle, and the important thing to realize is that working at a startup is a continual ebb and flow of “completely burned out,” to “almost burned out” and back.
What do you do to make sure you dont completely burn out?
Pick a project that is just for you. Work it at your pace. Work it in your space. Don't “re-grout the tile” or “pull the storm windows.” Remember your passion. What got you going in the first place. Do that, but do it for you.
Take some time every day away from the office. I make sure it always take a lunch. 30-60min where the focus is on anything except work. My first boss told me, “The concept of a job is that there is work. When there is no work, there is no job.” 30-60min a day will not put you so far behind that it causes issue.
Laugh. A lot. There is nothing wrong about finding humor in your day. If its a quick trip to Reddit or a joke with a co-worker, make sure to laugh everyday.
Learn. A lot. Often, we get so caught up in our jobs, we forget that there is always a lot to learn. It doesnt have to be big. It just has to be something. Ask a co-worker a question. Look something up on Wikipedia. Try some different code.
Engage. The great thing about startups, is that the team is small enough that you can engage with most anyone. There is no reason to go at it alone. Ask a co-worker to review your work. Get involved in something outside your job. Find a team that you can add value to, and get on it. You can also engage outside the company via a blog, Twitter or some other social media outlet.
Last night, I turned my email off early and went to lay down. I pulled out my iPad to watch a bit of TV, in the midst of House of Lies, a push notification dinged.
I saw the words “Jody Sherman” and thought to myself, “what is that crazy dude up to now?”
Everything stopped. The world got quiet. My brain abuzz with activity about my day just froze.
How the fuck is this true? I didn't care how it happened, or why, but just that it did. I just cared about my friend and that he must have felt such pain.
And as I read all the amazing responses to his life on Facebook, Twitter, and on blogs wrote amazing posts) it seemed that while we all knew there was sadness, we attributed it to the roller coaster of being a founder.
My friends Sarah and Mark wrote more eloquently about his life than I ever can. I will be in forever debt to Paige Craig for introducing us. Thank you.
He is gone and that is crushing my heart.
I don't know the reasons around his death, or if it was by choice. I certainly don't want to imply something that I don't know, but that cat was one of the healthiest people I knew and people closer to him seem to be implying it was by choice. If it was, I wish I didn't understand the choice, but I do.
Every day of my life since I was twelve I have had to convince myself to stay alive. Some days its easy. Some days its hard. As someone who deals with being bipolar, suicidal thoughts are just a way of life. Just like days of intense love. Those are nice when they happen. They just rarely do.
Being a founder is hard. And not because the work is hard (but it is), or the rejection (that sucks). It's not that you are on a island trying to change the world (totally blows), or that everyone just doesn't understand (why should they), but because you are supposed be a Superman who fights against all. You are impervious to pain.
So we fake it. We party hard, we go to a million events. We smile and say “killin' it!” when asked about progress.
Funny enough, no one asked about us, only our companies, as if we have someone been absorbed into this larger organism and our humanity no longer matters.
About a year ago I was having real difficulty separating my identity from my company's. Graphicly was struggling. Yet, I was spending hours and hours weekly talking to founders that all felt that they are doing better than me. My standard suicidal thoughts started to be tinged with questions about my ability to achieve. I never question my ability. But I did.
I remember sitting in the dark staring at a wall questioning everything. The bad thoughts were screaming in my head, and it seemed that there was a simple solution. An easy way out.
And in the midst of the darkness that swirled around me two words floated to the top.
So I did. I started to think about my life and my choices. I realized that Micah the person no longer existed. He had been consumed by Micah the founder, mentor, entrepreneur. I realized that the “me” I loved no longer existed, and that they way–the only way–I could make all of this work was to just stop.
So I did. I put extracting myself as a primary concern. I became selfish. I became clear with myself as to what success was and how I defined it. I decided that the greatest gift I could give myself was myself. So I stopped.
And went to sleep.
Later when I woke I was equally sure of my decision as the night before, and I did what I am doing now. I wrote. I didn't check email. I didn't work. Just stopped and wrote.
Sleep well, Jody. I wish I had the opportunity to have this discussion with you. To tell you to just stop and realize how much you are loved because of you, not because of what you do or give, but just because of you.
About 8 months ago we shut down our offices in Boulder, CO.
I had moved out to California about a year prior, and as the lease came up in Boulder it was an easy decision to close the office.
But not for the reasons you think.
Graphicly has grown up over the past couple of years. We started as a company focused on building a marketplace for digital comics that allowed for sharing and discussion, and over the beginning of our life, as many startups do, we learned several hard lessons.
Yet, in the midst of that learning one truth continued to float to the top:
We wanted to change the world, and changing the world meant making decisions that hurt in the immediate but would lead to a clear path.
In building a marketplace of content there are inherent issues. Early on I explored if focusing on business model would bring us the lever to move the world. Sometimes in moving the world slightly the level is simple. I started to talk to innovate folks in other industries.
“Own your future.”
I was sitting in David Pakman's office in New York. David, as CEO of eMusic built a streaming, subscription service that leveraged licensed music and indie bands into a $70mm a year business.
Those three words rang in my brain. Living in the world of licensed content created a world where the license holder had all the power. We could not build a big business without their consent. Our lever just got longer.
Over the next few months I chatted with more and more folks. The comments were the same. Get out. You are fighting a pending ceiling.
In October of 2011, I was standing in my kitchen in Boulder. On the other side of the phone was Micah Laaker (Head of Product) and Dan Theurer (Head of Technology). They had just pitched me on the idea of dumping everything we had built over the last year or so, and extract just the tools that publishers cared about.
You want to change the world, lets help publishers understand and transverse the ebook world. It's a horribly messy and dark place. There are 11 file formats for Kindle, iBooks and Nook. Lets help them.
“You want to throw away everything? All that we built? All that we spent all that money on? Move beyond comics? You believe this is our lever?”
They both said “yes” in unison.
I remember sitting there for a couple of minutes. Fear and worry building in my chest. What if we were wrong?
Then I remembered that the two people on the other end of the phone were not only brilliant, passionate people, but my friends. I chose them to help me lead the company into the future. If I couldn't trust them at this exact moment, when could I?
I took a deep breath.
“Let's do it. I am not sure if I 100% believe in it, but I believe in the two of you. I have your back.”
Over the next several months we started building a SaaS tool for publishers that makes converting, distributing and promoting digital content faster, better and cheaper than any service on the planet.
Fast forward a few months into March of 2012. Why March? because in that month we did more revenue than all of 2011. By end of 2012 we had more than 6,000 customers. We ended 2011 with 300.
By September 2012, we had dove completely into our new lever, and started to see different ways to use it. And as the new business accelerated, we decided to make another huge shift.
We went completely virtual. By forcing us to use our tools remotely we could see what our customers saw and work faster to innovate.
So we closed our Boulder office, and we leaned into our lever.
Entrepreneurs have something in common with coal miners and gold prospectors.
We have all chosen occupations that are actively shortening our lifespans.
River miners crush fingers, toes and even teeth shoving aside huge boulders to reach the gleam beneath. “I’ve been buried under the water three times,” says Bernie McGrath, a prospector and former pipeline worker. “It’s a treacherous way to make money.” From: Smithsonian Magazine
We destroy our health, relationships and (some) sanity with an extremely small chance of success. We are chasing the gleam, and (some) are willing to almost die to get it.
Founders that work 24 hours a day, that outwork everyone, that put it all on the line for their companies are our heroes. We are taught that we should be living as close to the poverty line as possible (when Next Big Sound gave their Techstars Demo Day pitch, one of their lines that got the biggest laugh: “…we are young and cheap to keep alive.”)
But what if I told you that all these years we have been lied to? What if the concept of working yourself to the bone was an antiquated as the Model T, and as effective in a remake of Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift?
If effectiveness is doing the right things, efficiency is doing things right.
Think to when you wake up. What is the first thing you do? Is it 100% for you, or is it for someone else? Is it email? Do you make breakfast for your significant other?
If the first thing you do in the morning isn't 100% for you, selfishly, then the rest of your day will be spent not doing anything for you.
You know one of the reasons you are supposed to eat breakfast within 60 minutes of waking up? Because it tells your mind that you will be getting fed, and it settles down for the rest of the day. It doesn't freak out and think you are going to starve and therefore stores fat.
Find something that is yours, and yours alone. I set two alarms in the morning. One at 7am and one at 7:30am. I chose to sleep to the second one. Its small, but its for me. I want to sleep more, so I do. Once up, i eat breakfast, feed the animals, and then walk for 2 miles. Shower.
Then check my email.
By 9am, I have accomplished a couple of things, and my step count is ~5000, which is 50% of my daily goal, making it well within reach.
I start the day by making success an eventuality, not a possibility.
My production increases by at least 50% (measured in actual output). Quality increases. I make decisions more thoughtfully. My relationships with friends, coworkers, etc are improved because I am more focused and clear.
Everything carries an opportunity cost, and everything is a choice. When you decide to do something, that means you are not doing something else. Weigh the two decisions based on their potential, and chose the one with higher positive potential outcome.
It is impossible to say what one should say no to, that's personal. But what I can tell you is that no one will think you are a dick if you say no (as long as you are not a dick while saying it.)
Stop letting boulders fall on you while you chase the gleam.