A year of vulnerability

This year I learned to be vulnerable.

This year I started a business. In reality this is a relatively trivial exercise in form completion and credit card payment. As far as anniversaries go however, that was a year ago today.

This year I sold my first ever work under a brand that I developed. I built products and services. I wrote and delivered custom courses.

This year I hired and lost my first staff members.

This year I experienced the excruiating high of my first paid invoice and the crippling pain of missing out on a significant bid.

Many of these things I have come to do over and over again.

A time to celebrate

This year has been the most exciting and most terrifying of my life so far and today I raise a glass to that.

Not just to the success of a years survival but also to 12 months of personal and professional vulnerability.

I raise my glass to the dozens of mistakes I have made and the moments of darkness.

I raise it to the long pauses between beautiful victories, to the moments where I wondered if I was crazy or just a little different.

I raise it to the feeling that finally, after 12 months on this precarious road, I am finally starting to stand back and marvel at the view.

Learning to bounce

Founders around the world have written extensively about the personal darkness they have felt on their journey.

Every word of it is true.

What I have learned however is the there are three things that (for me) make this survivable.

  1. Good support from family and friends. People who will tell you that you’re crazy but will do anything they can to help you. People who will tell you when you’ve lost the plot. People who see you at your worst and stay.
  2. A network of people who are on their own startup path. Founders who have paid the tax in sweat and tears to build something. People who know the bumps in the road and can share their stories with you and provide empathy. Dreamers and doers, risk takers and fools, savants and serial schemers.
  3. The ability to bounce.

Bouncing for beginners

Whatever your background prior to starting a business, the first year seems to provide a brutal crash course in resilience.

Things that seem simple will be crushingly complex or bereaucratic. Things that you thought were certain will crumble to dust. Things that you took for granted will prove finite and rare.

You learn to bounce. It’s not an innate talent for most of us. It certainly isn’t for me.

You learn to see these obstacles, these unexpected issues and you learn to bounce back quickly.

You learn to see them, you take a breath and you take a step forwards when every fibre of your body is telling you to run.

You learn that everyday brings a chance to bounce and everytime you do it gets a little easier.

My year in mistakes

A celebration of vulnerability requires honesty. This year I made mistakes.

  1. I hired prematurely and hired good people for the wrong reasons.
  2. I expanded too quickly and underestimated the differences between Australia and New Zealand business cultures and administrative systems.
  3. I let my own confidence issues cast doubt over my abilities. I was slower and less assertive than I should have been. I listened too much and in the wrong places.
  4. I travelled too much.

Each of these mistakes cost me money and time but most of all they cost me focus. This year I understood for the first time what value focus held in my life and how hard it is to achieve great things without it.

I raise a glass to those mistakes and the lessons they have taught me.

The vulnerability of success

I am still standing. My company is still standing. My vulnerability comes from success as well as failure.

  1. This year we handled over 30 clients in 4 countries.
  2. We taught over 120 students how to develop secure web applications in our classes and all our students identified and exploited vulnerabilities as part of their classes.
  3. We developed a new software product that may change how we approach human-centric security as organisations and communities (and embarked on a mission to bring that to market). This alone is both exciting and humbling.
  4. We hired and worked with our first 3 apprentices and launched our first apprentice research project.
  5. We forged a network of alliances across the software and security industries in Australia and New Zealand to ensure that our small specialist firms could work together to achieve great things.

I raise a glass to these victories and the moments of excitement and validation they have bought. I raise it for the fear that comes with doing this all over again next year.

Finally, I raise a glass you

You might know me. You might be a client or a friend, a competitor or a supplier. We may have met at an event, a conference or on a project.

We may have never met, you may have found your way to this article by some other act of seredipity.

Either way, this last glass is for you.

Life is a complex mess of vulnerability that we each experience in our own way. Whatever bought you here and whatever path you are on, I wish you a year of learning and of bouncing. I wish you mistakes and missteps. I wish you profound victories and dreams that you feel brave enough to follow.

I hope you celebrate your year in vulnerability as I am today; The good, the bad and the unforeseen. If you are strange like me, I encourage you to find a way to share it with others.

I hope you celebrate your vulnerability so that we can all become a little bit stronger together.

This year has been the year I learned to be vulnerable.

Next year will be no different.

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