My Favorite Mistakes of 2012

This is the third part in the ongoing Mistakes Were Made series. Read the first and the second parts.

I’ve been lucky. In the past year, I can point to a lot more successes in my life than failures. OneBusAway came in second in two popular competitions, and Gatherball received some unexpected press mentions and so far has been well received by its users. I finally traveled to Africa, which was a dream of mine for a few years, and got to experience the utter craziness that is SXSW.

While I consider myself a lucky person, there are still a ton of mistakes that I make. Some of them are small and simple — mostly me being stupid or thoughtless. Others are larger and lead to resolutions for myself in the next year.

Positivity Is A Process

I’m not the most naturally positive person. It’s a struggle sometimes to look on the bright side of things. In my darker moments, I can have many automatic thoughts of bitterness or jealousy that I need to work with. It’s almost never external, but there have been many times I’ve looked at the successes of others and thought worse of myself, or watched some of the more spectacular startup failures of the past year and had my fair share of schadenfreude.

This isn’t the right way to think, I know, and I am a lot better at catching these thoughts and responding to them than I was a few years ago. But how do they affect my overall mood, or my thoughts about what strategies will and won’t work? Probably a lot more than I think — but unfortunately automatic thoughts aren’t something that I really can control outright, only react to. Changing dispositions is a much more difficult process, and may not be possible entirely.

As someone much smarter than me wrote, anger isn’t a winning strategy. So while I do much better than I have done in the past, it’s a lifelong process of improvement.

There’s Nothing Wrong With A Second Email

I don’t think anyone can say that I lack persistence. While there have been a few things in my life I’ve given up on, over the years I’ve probably spent too long pursuing a goal when I should have realized the goal was unachievable long before. This mostly takes internal persistence: it’s when persistence meets introversion that things become difficult.

Cold emails are very difficult for me. Reaching out and making sales pitches takes a lot of effort, more than it takes for others who are more outgoing or who have had experience with this type of sales process before. While I’m learning new tricks, and while there are tips that help in crafting an email that will end in a “yes”, it’s always difficult when you spend time to send an email and don’t get a response. When I don’t get a response, it’s difficult for me to think that sending another email would also not go unnoticed.

There’s the old quote that insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting a different result. Maybe my engineering brain takes that to heart a bit too much. There’s enough evidence that a second follow-up email does get results: we even do it in our private invites in Gatherball, and sometimes people who don’t follow the first invite email end up signing up on the second. So why is it difficult to do this in personal email?

My personal goals for 2013 include getting over my fear of the follow-up email. Sometimes no response from the first email doesn’t always spell rejection.

Tell The World

As part of a Cooking Club I’m a part of, I made my own salt from seawater. One month’s cooking challenge was to make a dish where everything used came from less than 100 miles from Seattle — including spices. Since I can’t cook without salt, I did a quick search for “make your own salt” and had a plan.

 Salt

I’ve been known for some strange experiments in the kitchen. However, this idea was strange enough for my wife to start telling her friends and posting on Facebook the idea that I was going to make my own salt.

Of course it’s strange — who makes their own salt? It was certainly a quite interesting story. But it wouldn’t have been as interesting a story if I had backed out, had I decided I wasn’t going to do this crazy thing. Once everyone knew, I was committed. I had to do it.

Being transparent commits you to doing what you say. Tell the world what you’re going to do, and everyone can help you make sure it happens. Perhaps I’ve kept silent about my problems with positivity for too long. It’s time to tell the world, and commit myself to doing something that’s needed to be done.

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