The follow-up to his best-sellersThe Ultimate Bite-Sized Entrepreneur and Bring Your Worth, serial entrepreneur and business coach Damon Brown breaks down the four resources we all need to succeed: Focus, Agility, Time, and Energy. (You can learn your biggest strength right now for free at BuildFromNowQuiz.com.)
The challenge, he argues, is two-fold: We don’t recognize our biggest resource and the environment itself can overpower us because we don’t see our own power.
There are headwinds that push against us. They are invisible, pervasive, and constant. Like air. They wrap around us and try to hold us tight. They want our resources. They want our strength. They want to keep us where we are.
The headwinds are as man-made as Hurricane Katrina. The storm was happenstance. The slipshod levee system is what created the damage. The barriers were made for cheap to better line government pockets. They were considered less consequential because the breach threatened poor, minority communities the most. Leadership already knew about the levee danger when I lived in my New Orleans apartment, as I biked thorough the nearby, beautiful ninth ward, eating, drinking, and bonding with the local artist community who had been there since Napoleon’s troops stomped through.
This systemic neglect was a conscious choice. Certain people and their culturally rich resources held less value than other neighborhoods and their populations. Therefore, they were starved of additional resources, such as peace of mind. It remains expensive to be poor. As I lived there in the year leading up to Katrina, literally everyone I met damn well knew we were in danger. “We are in a soup bowl,” they’d tell me again and again. The French Quarter loomed as a raised lump in the middle. The upper-crust Garden District stood protected, too. The rest was f*cked. How much extra effort does it take to do to, well, anything, if you know you’re already f*cked?
Nature designed New Orleans. Systemic choices designed the headwinds.
These headwinds are formed by prejudice, guided with malice, and protected and maintained by systems. In Silicon Valley, they called it “pattern matching.” Walk into a venture capitalist investor office looking like a young, straight white male, both cocky and antisocial, wearing a well-worn hoodie and ripped jeans, and freshly dropped out of an Ivy League school.
As such, you look like you’re cut from the same cloth as Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and the late patron saint of Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs. You don’t need to keep explaining your reason for being. You don’t need to allocate your precious resources to proving why you belong in the room. You can just be the best at what you do — and walk into the room. That’s enough.
I founded my first startup in 2014 in San Diego, shortly after living as a tech journalist and author in Silicon Valley. It’s not an exaggeration to say I was one degree away from all the active black founders in San Francisco. This culture was small and rich. We’d meet informally every Wednesday at our favorite watering hole. My friends, colleagues, and I would meet to share stories, support each other, and seed potential collaborations for the future.
Since then, the number of black founders has grown considerably. Still, though, we get less than 2 percent of Silicon Valley investment. And that’s now. Not 10 years ago.
The pendulum swings from explaining your reason for being to proving you actually belong in the room beyond the scope of other’s limited view of you.
If you don’t match the pattern, if you don’t fit the culture, then you are paying a resource tax. It is invisible, pervasive, and constant. Like air.
When I say I bootstrapped my two startups (building them from scratch with no outside investment) and sold the second one at a profit, it means something different as a thirty-something African-American stay-at-home dad with two college degrees. I paid and still pay a resource tax — a cut taken right off the top, like FICA and Social Security — before I even show up.
It is remaining focused as people who look just like me are killed in front of their children on camera, their soul trapped eternally in a hashtag. It is adapting as the opportunities for myself and people like me narrow within an increasingly corrupt system. It is maximizing time as I untie emotional trauma passed down from generation to generation, cleansing my soul of unconscious biases to not cap my own two black and brown sons. It is finding energy as I fight against what others believe are my limitations simply because of who I culturally am.
Chances are, your 24 hours a day are not the same as mine.
We’re angry at 2020, not because it is a bad year, but because it has woken many of us up from a long slumber. We realize how autocratic our democracy really can be. We realize the system will automatically continue to chew up and spit out black and brown lives, even as we sleep peacefully in our own homes. We realize how quickly our financial security can be shredded to pieces, as if we’re sitting in the low end of a soup bowl.
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