When is the last time you took a big chance, put a crazy idea out into the world, or did something nobody else around you was doing?
If you have to think for a moment before an answer pops into your head, this blog post is for you.
Nathan Kontny is a founder of two companies and the creator of the writing app Draft.
Shortly after releasing Draft, he was propositioned for an interview…
…by a ninth-grade student.
It was a simple proposition: Can he interview me over Skype or email for his blog. It would just be 5 questions. And he seemed to already have used my product: “Just used Draft. It is the coolest thing in the whole world. No more Google Docs for school projects. :)”
I’m not sure what you were like in ninth grade, but it never occurred to me that I was allowed to reach out to highly talented or skilled people to interview them and pick their brains.
That was a job for reporters and, you know, real journalists.
Many of us spend our financial journeys enclosed by what I call glass walls.
These are perceived barriers to what we can do or accomplish.
- I’ll never be able to make that much money.
- I’ll never be able to get a job like that.
- I won’t be able to learn that skill.
- I’ll never be able to save up that much money.
- I can’t walk up to them and have a conversation.
- I don’t have time to make dinner.
- I can’t pay cash for a car.
- I’ll never be able to get a house.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t real barriers to these pursuits, but often the biggest barrier is our own perception of how impossible the goal feels.
The secret to achieving a life that is different than our friends, colleagues, family, peers, or neighbors, is often simply doing things differently.
But that’s going to require recognizing which glass walls we’ve been bumping into, and how to break through them.
We may have to say no to things others say yes to.
We may have to attempt new things that those around us never would.
We may even have to reach out to people that we don’t feel like we’re allowed to reach out to.
Will it be uncomfortable?
Will we get made fun of?
Will we win any popularity contests for going against the grain?
Not at first.
But if all we want out of life is to be liked and never feel discomfort, then going with the crowd is probably our best bet.
Don’t raise our hand.
Don’t stick our neck out.
Don’t push back against anyone or anything.
We’ll be everyone’s favorite generic person whose name they can’t remember.
Shattering the Glass Walls
But if we’re looking for something different, there’s a different way to live.
Nathan Kontny again:
When I got my first job after college, I felt stuck. I used to be a Chemical Engineer who had fallen in love with making things on computers. And I was lucky enough to get a chance to work for a technology consulting company. But I didn’t get put into a position to make things on computers. I got put into a role where I was constantly taking meeting minutes and documenting requirements and test cases.
So I started sending emails to random people in the company. Not random people exactly. Random important people. I emailed partners. I’d email them new ideas I had that I thought [the company] could make money from. As I look back, they were crazy, half-baked ideas poorly thought out, and articulated even worse. But I got emails and phone calls back from these partners.
No one ever told me to stop.
Instead, I got a promotion to a team that would let me make software. I didn’t have to document requirements anymore. The door was unlocked.
Nathan reached out to top leaders in the company.
People he didn’t have a relationship with.
People who had more important things to do than field questions from junior employees jotting down meeting minutes.
But there was nothing stopping him from reaching out to them.
There were no rules or procedures that prevented him from sharing his crazy ideas with them.
Those were just perceived barriers – glass walls – that most others chose to abide by.
Nathan took a different approach and it got him different results.
What Glass Walls Are Holding You Back?
So what glass walls are you constantly running into?
You may not know right off the top of your head.
That’s what makes glass walls so tricky. They are mostly invisible.
It requires taking a step back and really understanding what you want to achieve, and what roadblocks – real or perceived – are standing in your way.
In my previous life as a web producer in a corporate environment, I would often get frustrated when we had different stakeholders demanding different features or functionality in the digital solution we were building.
Resolving those solutions was often the job of the project manager or the business manager, but I was the one responsible for designing the best solution.
Eventually, I discovered that I could go and have conversations with the different stakeholders myself.
I could talk to them about their desires and why they wanted certain features.
By doing that with each stakeholder, I was able to discover their underlying goals and often find a solution that met those goals, even though the feature we designed wasn’t exactly what they had asked for in team meetings.
By breaking through the glass walls that said…
- it’s not your job,
- it’s not your responsibility,
- you’re not allowed to call them,
- you’re not smart enough to have a conversation with them,
…I discovered that I was better able to create more compelling solutions that met their true desires.
Like Nathan Kontny, I had to discover that the walls that were holding me back were only perceived, not real.
Removing Glass Walls
Once you discover that there’s nothing stopping you from…
- reaching out to that person,
- spending time learning that new skill,
- ordering that cookbook,
- starting that podcast,
- skipping the take-out and saving that money,
- skipping Netflix and reading that book,
- skipping that book and calling your mom, (Hi mom!)
- or hundreds of other things,
…then it changes what you perceive to be truly impossible.
Like a random ninth-grade student who sent an email to the developer of a cool app he liked.
A ninth-grade student who, of course, got that interview.
Note: I’ve been using Draft as my primary writing app since 2013 and I love it. Having access to my writing on any device anywhere is a powerful benefit, and I find the interface more elegant than Google docs. Just give me a blank page and get out of my way.
If you like to write, give it a shot.
(This is not an advertisement and I have no relationship with Draft or Nathan Kontny – although maybe I should send him an email. 😉)