The Startup of You: My 5 Takeaways

Every perfectionist should read this book.

For me, never messing up has always meant never being visible. Always afraid to try because it presented the possibility that I would fail – and failure is embarrassing (embarrassment is a perfectionist’s worst nightmare). So you end up motionless, stuck in a state of not failing but not doing anything either. Part of me knew that already, but the other part of me really woke up when I read this book. That’s what I mean when I say that every perfectionist should read this book. It will break you in the best possible way.

This book isn’t necessarily about turning perfectionists into risk-takers, but that’s why this post isn’t titled The Startup of You Cliff Notes. These are my personal takeaways from a book that I probably should have read a lot sooner.

Let me back up.

I was listlessly browsing Amazon Books when I couldn’t help but notice The Startup of You. The promise of the subtitle immediately appealed to me: “Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career.” This chance encounter happened at just the right time.

The weeks prior to finding this book, the question I had been wrestling with was “How do you know when to make your next move?” Your whole life, starting from infancy, is centered on preparing you for the next step. High school prepares you for college, college prepares you for either grad school or a career. A career prepares you for…wait. What comes next?

You were born an entrepreneur. That’s how the book starts.

I had always thought of entrepreneurship within the context of starting a business. What I had never considered was treating my career as a startup, and entrepreneurship as the vehicle by which I could advance it. I realized that doing well within the context of my 9-to-5 was no longer enough.  I would continue to sell myself short until I started to invest in myself.

At first it was difficult to boil down my thoughts on this book, but as I thought about it more, the one-off soundbites started to materialize into larger, more cohesive themes. I’ve listed out those themes below.

Takeaway 1 – Perfect Doesn’t Exist

Reid uses the term “permanent beta” to describe a mindset of perpetual adaptation. We are all works in progress, he says. Keeping your career in permanent beta forces you to acknowledge that you have bugs, that there’s new development to do on yourself, that you will need to adapt and evolve. But it’s still a mindset brimming with optimism because it celebrates the fact that you have the power to improve yourself.

Perfectionism is the depressive belief that I can reach a point at which I need no improvements. That perfect is a commodity that can be secured and enjoyed forever. Perfectionists, like myself, will continuously forego opportunities to put themselves out there because they’re waiting until they’re ready.

I’m not experienced enough yet.

I’m not smart enough. 

I’m not as good as ____.

There’s a line in one of my favorite hymns that I think is fitting here: if you tarry ’til you’re better, you will never come at all. Essentially, if you wait until you’re perfect, you won’t do it at all. The idea is that perfect doesn’t exist. What we should be striving for, rather than perfection, is growth.

Shifting your mindset to one of permanent beta is liberating because it allows you to acknowledge you have flaws, a license the perfectionist mindset does not afford. Acknowledging areas where you need to improve is the imperative step that comes before growth.

Identify areas for improvement and then improve. Seems so simple, but admitting that you have flaws can still be scary. I’ll just say this: I acknowledge that I have a problem with perfectionism, but it’s something I’m actively working to change. One way I’m actively working on that is by attempting to do one thing every day that could embarrass me – whether that’s sharing a joke I’m not sure will be funny or admitting I don’t understand something in a meeting, repeatedly making myself vulnerable is making me more OK with failure. And by being more OK with failure, I’m able to move forward, put myself out there, and try things that I never would have tried before.

Takeaway 2 – Failure Is Necessary

If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. 

For as long as I can remember, it has been normal to think of every possible thing that could go wrong. When evaluating a situation, my mind runs wild thinking of all the bad things that could result from it. This is one of those things that goes back to self-preservation, I think.

In the book, Reid talks about overestimating risk and underestimating reward. Our brains are just wired that way. In reality, he says, the risks are usually lower than you think and the potential rewards are usually much greater than you think.

Imagine yourself in this scenario.

It’s your first day with a new boss. Your branch has been in a bit of trouble recently, so this new boss was brought in to cut waste and get your branch back on track again. After a shaky meet-and-greet, your boss asks you for a rundown of your clients. Afraid of seeming inexperienced and eager to impress the new boss, you simply respond “you got it.” In reality, you have no idea what kind of rundown your boss is talking about or how you’re going to execute this task. You avoided the possibility of looking stupid by asking the question, but you missed an imperative opportunity to learn what your new boss expects of you.

Okay I didn’t make that up. It’s actually an episode of The Office, but it displays an important point. We are so afraid of looking stupid. 

I want to be done with hedging myself from failure. Done with protecting myself against mistakes. Done with avoiding potential embarrassment.

Instead of asking what could go wrong? I want to ask instead what could go right? I have a feeling that, the more I do, the more overall wins I’ll have.

Takeaway 3 – Imitation Is Fruitless

The Startup of You talks at length about each person’s competitive advantage, which Reid describes as “the interplay of three different, ever-changing forces: your assets, your aspirations/values, and the market realities.”

  • Your assets are what you have right now.
  • Your aspirations/values are your deepest wishes, ideas, goals, and vision for the future.
  • A market reality refers to the supply and demand for what you offer the marketplace relative to the competition.

It’s the assets that I want to focus on, because I was encouraged by the revelation that you can strengthen your unique set of assets by investing in yourself.

In the book, the first step to understanding your assets is to complete this sentence: “A company hires me over other professionals because…” You have talents and experience that are not only unique, but valuable. When there are millions of people with a similar skill-set competing for the same job, imitation gets you nowhere. You stand out or die.

I look to certain people as examples to follow. I think that’s wise. I also look to the competition so that I can stay relevant and in touch with where professionals in my industry are going. I think that’s also wise. The problem can become getting so focused on other people that I lose myself. If I only look at others, the best I will ever become is the second-best version of them, never the best version of myself.

Takeaway 4 – Fortune Favors the Bold

Almost every case of serendipity and opportunity involves someone doing something.

That’s one of my absolute favorite sentences in this book. Sure, sometimes wonderful things happen without having to seek them out. But really, opportunities don’t just fall in your lap. They’re most often the result of being alert to potential opportunity and acting on it.

The best way to ensure that good things happen in your career is to try to make a lot of things happen in your career.

By doing something, you increase the odds that fortune will find you. Keep in mind though, you’re also increasing the chances that it will not.

Rejection is a big worry here. What if I put myself out there and I get turned down? You know what. I just have to answer myself by saying I probably will get turned down, and it will probably hurt. But do that enough times, and you’re more likely to get accepted than if you had done nothing.

Just do something.

Takeaway 5 – Safety Is Temporary

Things change at such an overwhelming rate that to stay motionless is to take yourself out of the game altogether. Professionals become irrelevant far faster than they used to, which led Reid to declare that “without frequent, contained risk taking, you are setting yourself up for a major dislocation at some point in the future.”

This is the side of investing in yourself that isn’t always talked about – the side that describes what happens if you don’t. 

Investing in yourself sets you apart. It introduces you to more opportunities. It helps you become a smarter risk-taker. But neglect it, and it can cause irreparable damage to your career.

Resting on what you know feels safe, but it’s a false sense of security.

Adapt or die.

Closing Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, I applaud you. This was probably much more than you bargained for. While writing this, I found myself stopping repeatedly to find the perfect word to say. Every time I did this, I made a conscious effort to just keep writing. 

It was painful.

But I don’t think I would have finished this post otherwise. I’m sure there are flubs (perfect doesn’t exist, Kammie), but I think the reward outweighed the risk here.

I shared a piece of myself with you, and that was the goal.