I used to believe that I was a great public speaker. I prided myself on my ability to stand in front of a group of people and express an idea. I even was pretty sure that I was a solid story teller. I believed that with humor and interesting details, that I could take important concepts and wrap them inside of compelling details and that as I walked off the stage the applause I heard wasn’t polite, it was appreciative. Oh pride and the ease at which it whispers in our ears.
A few years ago, my friend Jeffrey Kalmikoff convinced Jeff Slobotski of Big Omaha to let me speak at the conference. It felt great to be included with folks like Jeffrey, Jason Fried, Ben Rattay and Gary Vaynerchuk, among others. As I have told before, the night before the conference, Jeffrey, Jason, Gary and I hung out in Gary’s room until late – really late, like 4 or 5 am – and talked about everything. Self-perceived as the junior guy in the room (after-all, you had Jeffrey - Threadless, Jason - 37signals, and Gary – WineLibrary, and then me – um, well, just me) I tried as best I could to glean as much knowledge as I could in-between the conversations around books that were going to be published (Threadless, 37Signals and Gary have all published books since), investments (or as Jason would say “I hate the words venture capital”) and other topics.
Since then, which is now almost 4 years ago, there was one statement that has stuck with me. I’m not sure who said it, or if I am squeezing together multiple statements into one, but for some reason, it sprang back into my thinking recently.
“It is more important to accept your limitations, than to learn your limits.”
And, watching those guys give amazing presentations (and frankly most of the presentations since at Big Omaha), I understood my own limitations, and, in many ways, have celebrated that knowledge.
I spend a lot of time with other entrepreneurs, and the marked difference I see between the ones that have had success (and therefore experience), and the ones just starting out, is that the newer entrepreneurs constantly are pushing the limits of their abilities.
It is this reality that makes failure so important. Failure isn’t about getting knocked down and knowing that we can get up again. It’s not about an entrepreneurial right of passage. It’s about understanding, and accepting our limitations.
Imagine if we celebrated the acceptance of limitation.
Sure, as mentors and coaches it’s our responsibility to not let people sell themselves short and as managers and CEO’s, its our duty to push our teammates to stretch themselves. But is it equality important for us to help them understand where their abilities and skills stop, and not expect so much out of them that they are in a continual state of failure.
Accepting what we cannot do is important, and in fact may be what separates the good from the great.