Just jump

My friend Ryan Frankel is publishing a book, and he asked me to write an excerpt for it.  I made some edits for this blog, but I thought I’d share it.

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When I was in college in Gainesville, FL, on the weekends my friends and I would visit a nearby rock quarry that was filled with water. Picture a limestone, man-made lake surrounded with high cliffs, with alligators lurking lazily in the waters below (all freshwater in FL has alligators in it!) The highest point of the quarry was about 50 feet above the water, and our weekend activity was to hang out at the top of that cliff, drink too much, and dare eachother to jump in. Occasionally someone did.

The day I jumped is seared in my mind, as an out-of-body experience.  One where I watching myself as an observer. A mist had settled over the water so you couldn’t see the surface, the air was thick with humidity so you were perpetually perspiring, the sky gray with low clouds. Frogs and alligators croaked, cicades were so loud you had to shout at someone next to you, the smell of damp earth was pungent, and the air was cool on my skin. I don’t know what compelled me to jump. I was relaxing comfortably on a blanket listening to my friends prattle on about nothing important, and suddenly there I was, standing at the edge of the cliff, trying to see the water through the mist, listening to the alligators I could not see, and hearing nothing other than my blood thrashing in my ears. And without thinking about what I would land on, I jumped.

The way down was exhilarating as a 50 foot freefall takes longer than you’d think. The water was hard and cold, and I’ve never swam faster to the shore than I did that day for fear of alligators. I wasn’t hurt in any way, other than stinging body parts from the impact of the water. By the time I got back to my blanket, I was breathing hard, trembling with adrenaline, and felt more alive than I had in a long time.  My friends thought I was crazy (I was), but every time we went back there, I jumped again and again. And I dreamed about jumping when we weren’t there. To this day I dream about going back there and jumping into the mist to the sound of the unseen alligators croaking their warnings beneath me.  I’m honestly not sure I’d have the courage to jump again, but I dream about it.

Entrepreneurs do this every time they start a company. They fundamentally understand the risks of ‘jumping’ into a startup, but they don’t dwell on it, or they would never do it. They have confidence in themselves that they’ll figure it out during their freefall, and they ignore the sounds of alligators croaking their warnings. They have that level of “crazy” one needs to jump without knowing what they’re going to land on.

For those of you thinking of becoming an entrepreneur, there are no guarantees.  You could fail.  The odds are stacked against you.  You have you enjoy operating with extreme uncertainty, high stress, very few clear answers, wearing every hat, with little to no income…  but if you think too hard about all that, then you’ll never do it.  The best guidance is to just jump and figure the rest out on the way down.

And for those of us that work with entrepreneurs, that exhilaration rubs off on us.  We bask in their adrenaline and they help us feel alive.  When they jump, we get to help them create something, to author our own future, to expand our own skill sets, to participate in the blanket party at the top of the cliff and hope no one lands on an alligator.  They take the risks, they create jobs, they change our realities, and the rest of us soak it up.  Every day I am thankful I get to work closely with entrepreneurs, I salute their bravery and hope that I can be there for them when they get hurt.  Founders, I salute you.