The Myth of Bootstrapping
I am issuing a challenge. The rules are simple:
In the modern vernacular, “I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps” means “I have improved my situation with no outside help” or “I am a self-made man or woman.” The reality is, it is physically impossible to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Like blowing on the sail of the boat you are standing on—you are not going anywhere.
Bootstrapping is a dangerous myth that only serves to isolate and harm owners and entrepreneurs. The act of pulling on your own bootstraps demonstrates that reality. Go ahead and try right now. Stand up, bend over and grab the back of your footwear, then pull as hard as you can. This can wait for 60 seconds.
What happened? Did all that effort levitate you off the ground? If so, please take a video and send it to me--we will make millions! I would wager that, at best, you were locked in a fight between your legs and your back and arms or, at worst, you were pulling yourself towards the ground.
The physical, and embarrassing, situation you found yourself in is an outward manifestation of a mental state that believes the bootstrapping myth. If you believe that you can improve your life, your business, or your relationships with no outside help, you will actually find yourself becoming smaller and being under a greater deal of self-made strain. By yourself you are actually less.
Less aware of your environment.
Less responsive to opportunities.
Inevitably, your vision becomes focused on the hard realities of the ground and not the vast opportunities around you.
The very nature of bootstrapping limits the many facets of our lives to only the skills, abilities, and energy we bring to it. If we insist on trying to be and do everything for our business, our business will only ever be as big as we are. While there are myths of the super men and women who “do it all”, we mere mortals are best served by understanding that the entity we are building will need, and likely already does, more than we have to offer.
By the way, congratulations on bringing into existence something that requires more than your skill set—you are awesome!
I have a handpicked team of people that makes our firm more than I ever could have on my own. You can check them out at thewhitelawoffice.com.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Like you, I have the ability to do what my team is doing, but I also technically have the ability to perform my own surgeries—there is a large gap between ability and competence. My purpose in writing this is to share how I built my team and how my primary job became building, investing in, and leading the team that makes up our firm—our business.
What was the first step? Accepting the reality that I was holding my firm back from what it could become by limiting its growth to my skills and abilities.
Remembering is fundamentally an act of imagination that requires us to tell a story about what happened to us.
As we remember past events, our imagination fills in gaps in our memory to tell a cohesive story.
Cohesive storytelling requires imagining an entire world within which the story makes sense.
The conceived world need not be real, it just must be consistent.
If the world is ill conceived, then the story fails to engage.
The act of remembering requires a cohesive world within which that memory makes sense.
The memory is reliant upon our perception of the world.
If we introduce an outside perspective into a memory it can cause a misconceived reality to fail due to inconsistency.
Nostalgia is a form of imagination.
A form where our memories exaggerate the story with great fondness
Traumatic events are also a form of storytelling--albeit horrible repetitive stories that our mind cannot let go of or attempts to cover up.
The act of storytelling can create healing and wholeness of past events because it moves us through the same mental processes of remembering.
A compelling story engages our imagination in the same way that remembering does.
The catharsis of a well told story can move us through the emotions of past loss and pain.
The elation of fictional love can allow us to imagine ourselves in a situation where we are loved for who we are.
The long struggle in one direction of fictional friends can inspire us to take on our own adventure with those closest to us.
Storytelling is good for not just the soul, but also our heart and mind.
May your next story move you towards healing and wholeness.
I read recently that we are in the modern golden age of epic storytelling.
As a closet nerd for much of my life, it is very cool when my secret passions become mainstream.
Cinema, books, video games, and tabletop gaming are experiencing a resurgence and unprecedented success in the mainstream markets.
Even at that, it is difficult to condition yourself to talk openly about your passions after decades of squirreling it away cause no one else cared... or they were secretly squirreling it away to cause they thought no one cared.
One of the by-products of my time away last October was getting re-engaged with story and narrative.
I remember as a kid hiding under the covers with a light reading adventure books long after lights out.
Do you remember "make your own adventure" books?
They were awesome!
I remember reading 800 pages in one day of a sci-fi story on summer vacation cause I just couldn't put the book down.
I remember reading the Lord of the Rings over Christmas break every year after graduating from undergrad.
I remember Jaime getting me books on CD to listen to on my way back and forth from law school.
I remember wanting to share in those stories with others, but feeling like I was isolated without common ground to begin a conversation.
Then last fall I stumbled on to a group of voice actors that live stream, for 3-4 hours at a time, their Dungeons and Dragons game.
I realized I just lost some of my conservative religious friends by just mentioning that game; trust me I was told the same thing in the '80s too, it just wasn't true.
Anyway, for those of you sticking around, I started listening to Critical Role's podcast from the beginning.
I listened to some 500 hours of content while driving, mowing, cleaning, and to the exclusion of watching any movies or TV.
I was enthralled with the story, not because it had non-standard fantasy tropes; in fact, it had all of the tropes that you would expect in a fantasy story.
No, I was enthralled because each character had autonomy and agency to control what would happen next (subject to the dice rolls of course).
The autonomy and agency gave rise to collaborative storytelling the like of which I had never experienced before.
It was compelling--I had to keep listening to know what was going to happen next.
And at episode 115 I sat on my weight bench in the basement and cried because of how the first campaign ended.
Heck, I get a little misty-eyed just thinking about it.
When was the last time a story did that for you?
It can remember good, even great stories that I return to time and time again, but I have not experienced anything like the power of collaborative storytelling before.
Thru listening to their game, if found a renewed love for narrative and a desire to experiment with it.
So, I did what I always do, jump in feet first and see what happens.
Best. Choice. Ever.
I currently run three games; one of which has 3 guys around my table and 5 via video chat.
I prepare for the way the story could branch, but I never know what they are going to do and mostly end up improvising as they make decisions.
So much laughter, so many "oh shit" moments, and so many great choices are foiled or come to fruition due to a roll of the dice.
2 hours have never flown by as fast as it does when leading one of those games.
But for all the fun, it is the story that keeps us talking about it afterward.
The players actively retell what happened in the last game for days after we finished.
And they plot and scheme about the next game on our Slack channel, that we had to set up to keep track of the game.
There is something about taking on a character that frees you from what you are in, to explore what could be.
Whether theater, writing, or playing some D&D, when you can step away from a problem and engage a whole set of non-consequential problems with creativity, and a bit of flair, sometimes you find creative solutions to the problems that have consequence.
Moreover, you find a place of belonging with like-minded/like-hearted co-adventurers.
The video below does a great job talking about that.
All of this very long post to say, it took a long time to feel comfortable in my own skin because part of what I needed to embrace was allowing my geek flag to fly.
It is okay to normalize the love of narrative.
It is very cool that people love sports, politics, business, etc.
I learn a lot of very cool stuff from those people.
But for me and my tribe of storytellers, we love the narrative and all of its endless possibilities.
If you ever want to to talk story, let me know.
It isn't weird, or at least no weirder than talking about sports - and they have a whole set of cable channels dedicated to that.
And if you ever feel like your alone in your love of narrative, I have a bit of advice: risk taking an adventure outside your doubts, you'll find out you aren't alone, and... roll for initiative!
(If you want to see some of the places we adventure to in our games, check out thebrotherswhite.com)
It is a new(ish) word that taps into an ancient, almost genetic need.
It is simply put the desire to be wanted.
Being wanted surpasses being needed.
Being wanted goes beyond being useful.
Being wanted doesn't mean you have to be talented enough, skilled enough, smart enough, attractive enough, or witty enough to fit in.
Being wanted is the desire that someone else has for us to be around without needing us to be useful to them.
Being wanted doesn't mean we can't be needed or useful.
But being wanted does mean that the desire to have us around isn't conditioned upon need, usefulness, talent, skill, intelligent, aesthetic, wit, or whatever we believe we must be to fit in.
It feels good to feel wanted.
To know that you are part of a tribe that says that first, before all other things, you are wanted.
But that is a rare feeling and rare environment to find ourselves; in a tribe of people who get and accept us for just who we are.
But they are out there.
You just have to get out and find them.
Come on, wanderer!
Wander a bit further with me.
P.S. If you are diagnosed with persistent ass-holery (1), you have my condolences, and (2) no tribe has to accept an asshole as they are... they just don't.
Seek a cure and get better, don't expect them to change to accept the smell.
I have found two things to be beneficial in my life.
1. Wandering without agenda.
2. Understanding what is expected out of a relationship.
As we used to say, have the DTR talk.
Determine the relationship.
So, given that I have taken to creating content that I hope will resonate with others, I am at the very least implicitly creating perceived relationships that need to have the DTR talk.
I am not a Spiritual Guru
Though I believe in God, but not really what people say about God.
I am not a Marriage Expert
Though I have been married for almost 20 years to someone who has withstood soul crushing lose and tear inducing joy with me.
I am not a Parenting Expert
Though I have two children that I believe in more than I have ever believed in anyone in my entire life.
I am not a Business Expert
Though I have grown a business 16x's more then its first year by believing firmly in reinvesting in your business, your people, your clients, and community.
I am not a Leadership Talking Head
Though I lead a team of amazing leaders who are trully trying to make a difference everyday.
I am not a Culture Building Genuis
Though I do believe that it is true that culture eats strategy for breakfast.
I am not a Moralist
Though I do believe we must be good to one another, because not being good just doesn't seem to work out well for anyone.
And while I am not those things, I will probably write, share, and create content about those things.
So, if you want to spend some time wandering with a guy who sometimes just wants to see what's over the next hill, you've come to right tribe.
Welcome fellow wander!
There is an efficient mechanic in storytelling that gathers a group of adventurers together without having to tell their backstories.
The storyteller will start the tale with the tried and true trope of, "You meet in a tavern."
The adventurers find themselves unceremoniously thrust together, seeking an adventure from a mysterious figure of, more than likely, questionable motive.
After which they set off to become a group of heroes we can root for.
Along the journey, they become friends and maybe even family.
A tribe of people moving in the same direction with the same purpose, enriching each other with their strengths and weaknesses.
While it is useful in storytelling, we rarely find our tribe so efficiently.
But isn't that what we hope to do?
Find a tribe that we can adventure with.
Share life with.
Move forward with great purpose and conviction.
Or, at the very least, feel that we are part of something more than ourselves.
The journey to find a tribe starts in the time before you meet at the tavern.
Finding a tribe starts with exploring new ideas, places, and people that are outside your current story.
Finding your tribe starts when you want it enough to leave what is to look for what can be.
The storytelling analogy is all well and good, but what about finding a group of people IRL (in real life).
It isn't complex, but as the old man said, "it dangerous to go alone...".
So here are some thoughts on finding your tribe.
The question is a simple one, "What are you searching for?"
Are you searching for a tribe outside of your career?
There are tribes of people that form around religious/spiritual ideas, political beliefs, social concerns, sportsball teams, hobbies, workouts, games, all kinds of interests.
What you are interested in is the first step to finding where you need to look for your tribe.
Do you, for some reason, like to run?
Ask your friends, search social media, or call your local shoe store or gym and ask if they know of any running groups.
Do you enjoy reading books and discussing ideas?
Look for a book club at your local bookstore or library.
Whatever it is you are interested in, it is more than likely someone else is too.
Think about the most logical place to look for people with similar interests, and start your search there.
Are you searching for a tribe to build your career?
Start by asking what you are good at.
What experience, skills, strengths, and insight can you bring to a team?
Then ask, what do you need to do to develop your skills, build strength, and refine your insight?
Identifying your abilities and then taking the time to refine them is essential to proving that you can make a difference inside of a company.
Next, ask what kind of business do you want to be a part of?
Do you want to be part of a fast-growing company that is focused on upward mobility?
Do you want to be part of a small team that is focused on a specific social initiative?
Is company culture important to you?
Is having an experienced leadership team important to you?
What are you looking for?
You might be looking for a team that encourages and rewards innovation while having a focus on a culture of servant leadership.
You might be looking for a team that makes you feel that your contributions are worthwhile and that you are solving a significant problem.
Whatever you are looking for in a tribe, make sure you understand what traits are the most meaningful to you.
Once you have identified the tribe you want to be a part of, pursue them.
If you can help them on their journey, prove it to them.
Show them how your strengths, skills, and abilities can meet an obvious need.
Or better yet, show them how you can meet a need that they aren't aware of yet.
Finding a tribe starts with understanding yourself and then conducting a search for the kind of people you want to grow with.
So traveler, are you up for an adventure?