Three Types of Self-Starters

Me on the back of a Ranger's skidoo in Nunavut.

Me on the back of a Ranger's skidoo in Nunavut.

Three things recently happened in my life that helped show me a much clearer path towards self-fulfillment. At the same time, these events helped me come to terms with many of the things that happened over the past two years and learn how to move forward.

Two of these things are books. After reading Noam Wasserman's The Founder's Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup and Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, I can now better frame and contextualize the mistakes I've made, and at the same time better understand and accept myself. The third thing was spending two weeks embedded with the Canadian Military in the high Arctic, in the winter. That experience was deeply personal, humbling and, as Nigel would say, hard as fuck. I'm reminded of that hardness every time I think about biting down on that gigantic piece of frozen, fermented walrus meat, with its putrid juices being released into my mouth with every chomp. Ok enough of that. Back to the point. 

This has all gotten me thinking about what kind of self-starters exist out there. I've read plenty about opportunity-driven individuals versus mission-driven individuals. I've been pounded by both sides: with one self-help-y guru encouraging people to pursue opportunity or their own skill set as opposed to their passions, and some other self-help-y guru telling people to fuck others' definitions of success and pursue something you care about, after all it's your life. 

I don't think these are mutually exclusive pieces of advice. Rather, now, after spending a considerable amount of time reflecting on my own ambitions and capacity for grit and hustle, I think everyone just needs to understand and come to terms with what type of self-starter they are, if any. 

Firstly, yes, doing something you are good at, be it naturally or through considerable time, practice and study, is going to be rewarding and will likely lead to increased stability and self-confidence. This is important, no doubt. It takes a lot of energy and commitment along with consistency to become an expert in anything, if we even want to go down the proverbial rabbit hole of using such a term. Semantics aside, my point remains the same, getting good at something takes serious dedication and you don't want to waste all of that commitment, so make sure you pick something you find fulfilling. 

And therein lies the rub; fulfillment, and what it's derived from, means different things to different people. Self-starters, I've found anyway, can be lumped into three categories of fulfillment-drive: Os, Ms, and Gs, no pun intended. Os are opportunity-driven people. Ms are mission-driven people. And Gs are the elusive growth-driven people. I think it's important to figure out which one you are, because if you fool yourself into believing you are an O when you are really, deep down inside an M or a G, you may end up feeling hollow or miserable or unfulfilled in the long run. This can also have dire consequences for your own happiness as well as your colleagues', friends' and teammates'. 

Now I believe in our hungry world, Os, Ms and Gs will all eventually have to march towards each other to develop a model that is growth-oriented, sustainable and scalable (assuming this is their ultimate goal, which is generally the case amongst ambitious self-starters), but they each have different starting points, strengths and weaknesses. To drop a nerdy reference, they are like different types of Pokemon cards (I don't even remember how to play). 

Let's look at Os first.

Os are opportunity-driven people. This means that their primary motivation is derived from jumping onto (or into) an opportunity and doing what it takes to realize and grow that opportunity into a sustainable, scalable business. Os love the hustle because they have a chance at building a scalable business. The opportunity itself can be renting port-a-potties or cleaning industrial septic tanks or selling afro wigs; Os don't care what they do, as long as they can seize an opportunity, bring it to market, make money and scale. Actually, I shouldn't say that. Os do care what they do, very much so, but they don't have to be ethically, morally or intrinsically interested in the products and or services they are offering.

Os need to watch out for over exaggerating the market opportunity of their business, being too positive or bullish on their sales forecasts, and alienating other members of their team due to their own egos or way of seeing things. 

While Ms and Gs can also generally spot opportunity, they should not be swayed so easily into believing their are Os when they are not. If you care about how you grow something, the dynamics of your team and the work and value you produce, you may very well not a natural O, so don't be fooled. I've been fooled before into thinking that I "could be" an O if I wanted to because I can spot an opportunity I believe can grow into something great (and greatly profitable). However, I am no O. I care too much about the kind of value created from the work I choose to undertake.

Now let's look at Ms. 

I'm an M. I can say this with confidence. I care deeply in the type of value I produce and if I'm going to struggle to get something off the ground-- dedicate my everything towards growing a business or organization-- the function and products produced must be something I believe will make this world a better place.

At the same time, Ms must be careful to not let their drive for mission overshadow or hinder the sustainability and scalability of their business. People who pursue mission can sometimes become blinded by their passion, stubbornness, and lack of foresight into how to actually realize their mission instead of impulsively undertake random projects that seemingly "jive" with their mission. Similarly, it is paramount not to confuse mission-driven behaviour with passion-driven behaviour. 

Building anything is difficult, and when you care deeply about the impact of your product or service, you must be prepared for an even more treacherous road, not an smoother one. Growth and sustainability are vital towards reaching a mission and Ms should not forget this. Ms need to be able to shed their egos and refrain from seeking external validation for their work or self-assigned altruism (SJWs anyone?). 

Now onto the rarest of the bunch-- the Gs.

Gs are growth-driven people. Elusive, but definitely real, Gs do not require a stimulus to find fulfillment. This means that to a G, neither the opportunity nor mission matter much at all, rather, Gs must exist and operate within a dynamic environment. Gs can grow anything, be it a mission, opportunity, cause, even empathy or emotion. Whatever the organization needs to instil or grow, the G is the one to embrace that process wholeheartedly. Gs are dynamic, tend to be corky, adventurous people willing to try new things and motivate those people around them to be the same. They can operate fluidly with data as well as creative approaches, as long as they can work towards growing something. 

The Gs weaknesses are, again, environment. Because Gs exist to grow something, they require a highly dynamic, cooperative space with individuals (and or robots) they can work with to push boundaries and test strategies. In the same breath, Gs need a lot of space, personal and professional, as suffocating a G or throwing them in an stale environment will render them sad and useless.

If you are a G, know you need to seek out the right environment over any opportunity or mission. If you are not a G but find yourself working with a G, know that they are like a salt-water fish in a fish tank; they require certain conditions to thrive and these conditions must be maintained. Gs can work well, in theory, with Ms and Os, but they may struggle at the inception stage of any organization because the environment they need to be themselves and reach their own potential may not exist yet. 

Os and Ms are like Chinese fighting fish if placed in the same tank. They may fight, but not necessarily overtly, over where a organization is or should be going. Their values as people may be very much aligned, but their goals and intention with a company are likely to be different or even opposing. Os and Ms should only start a venture together if their vision completely aligns, and even then it's a risky move, as when the company needs to make difficult decisions or pivot, you may see competing approaches form (i.e. the "ripping effect"). 

Os, Ms and Gs need to respect each other and themselves. Part of this respect is figuring out which type you are and not trying to trick or cajole yourself or your teammates into believing you are something you are not. It is not always apparent which type you are and it may require some serious soul searching to find out. When I finally accepted myself as an M (and yes, there were plenty of signs all along) I had to figure out what that mission is and how I want to pursue it. Ms need to look for opportunities just as Os need to find a vision to pursue to fit their opportunities. Likewise, Gs need to understand that they are a bird of paradise-- fickle, environmentally-dependent, yet rare, and ultimately extremely valuable. 

Os, Ms and Gs each have incredible characteristics that make them excellent self-starters and no one is "better" than any other, especially when you can come to understand yourself. It's also important to remember that when I'm talking about Os, Ms and Gs, I mean this in a professional sense. An O who is extremely passionate about playing the guitar is not an M. Similarly, Ms are not driven by passion, but rather by purpose, just as Os are driven by opportunity that may have nothing to do with things they like to do. This is also key to understanding yourself and what inspires you to work hard and make sacrifices.

When people cautiously warn others to not simply follow their passions, and instead put passion behind what they do, they are by and large correct. Passions do not make great careers, not by themselves anyway. And yes, by all means put your passion behind what you pursue, be it mission, opportunity or growth. A passion is not a mission nor is it an opportunity, let's try not to confuse these. 

It took a lot of reading and introspection to point out my mistakes over the past two years. I realized, more than anything, I was not being true to myself. I was trying so hard to please others, so hard to live up to a constructed version of success, so hard to find happiness and build a team that was fundamentally flawed but I did not see it. The people were and still are amazing, brilliant individuals, but their skills overlap and the founding team had a big mix of Ms, Os, Gs and non-self-starters. Statistically and empirically, this spells trouble. Thanks Noam. 

Then there was the military. Living on base, in an airplane hanger in the middle of Nunavut in the winter, side-by-side with soldiers, learning what sacrifice means in real terms from real people, was deeply moving and humbling. That experience taught me how to embrace myself and accept that if I'm going to work tirelessly for something, the "something" in question has to have significant human-driven meaning to me.