Three Important Life Lessons I Learned in My First Three Weeks at a Startup


I never imagined I would join a software company. Literally, the thought never crossed my mind. Even if you had asked me two months ago, I would have laughed. The opportunity came to me, and I joined Relode, a startup software company in Brentwood, Tennessee.

I had researched and written a lot in school, but I had never written on business or marketing. Then, I got a text from Joe Christopher, a friend of mine and one of Relode's founders. He asked me to write a single blog entry, and then his offer turned into a full-time job. I didn't see the opportunity coming, but I'm glad it did. 

The team is great, and the job itself is great. I'm learning a lot every day - more than I can absorb, in fact.

Here are three life lessons I've (re)learned in my first three weeks at Relode. These are lessons from a startup, but they translate into everyday life. You may have already learned these, but if you're like me, you need an occasional reminder about important life lessons.

1. Risk is necessary for growth.

No matter how great the team, joining a startup is always risky. I took a risk by joining Relode - the kind of risk Anne Kreamer addressed in her recent Harvard Business Review article, "Not Taking Risks Is the Riskiest Career Move of All." She noted that as people, we structure our risks based on past successes and our networks. She says that taking risks in life, especially career risks, is important in order to move forward. The reason we stop ourselves "boils down to the fact that as human beings, we are wired to resist giving up the known for the unknown." She suggests that the difficulty comes from thinking in extremes, instead of small steps: "None of us tolerates ambiguity well — particularly when the losses and gains underpin our livelihoods or the projected long-term happiness of our families."

I'm the Creative Content Director for Relode, which offers a modern way to find and organize job candidates, so I think about hiring all the time now. When employers look for job candidates (or an employee looks for a new job), the candidates have to risk something to move forward with employment.

Calculated and strategic risk is necessary for individuals and for companies to move the ball down the field in life and in business. If you want to grow, find a risk worth taking, then run hard and don't look back. (I did that with Relode, and I'm glad I took the risk.) Even if the endeavor fails, at least you risked something and learned from it.

2. People will come and go; don't sweat it, embrace it.

During my first three weeks at Relode, four people in our office left the building. The ones sitting all around me. They were interns, contract workers and subleasers who left - it was the end of the semester or the contract was up or new office space was ready. Everyone anticipated their departure. Everyone, except me. The people all around me were leaving, it seemed, but their leaving simply never came up until they were almost gone. I didn't know what was going on and thought,

Is this how startup life works? People just come and go? 

I was tempted to hold back and over-analyze how to invest myself. I've learned this lesson before, but this was an abrasive reminder.

Then, I decided to embrace the ambiguity and relax. That’s how startups can be—interns come and go, new connections are flying around, and potential clients even come and go.

The world of a startup (or Startupland, as Mikkel Svane puts it) is a microcosm of the hyper-mobility of the American populous as a whole. According to a recent Gallup survey, American citizens move around in the U.S. more than any other nationals in the world. The reason we have the ability to move around a lot is partly because of our massive highway system. The survey shows that 24 percent of American adults moved within country from 2011-2012, compared to the eight percent worldwide average (139 countries surveyed). We're on the move, and people are moving all around us.

In a startup, just like in life, people come and go. That doesn't mean we should be cold and distant. No! It means the opposite: invest now while you can, while you have the chance to add value to those around you.

And watch out – those around you just might add value to your life too.

That is, if you don't sweat it, if let them in, even if only for a short time. In our day and age, life is just like that. People come and go, so embrace it, don't sweat it.

3. Your personality matters if you want to add value to others.

You can't really add value to those around you without fully embracing your personality. Your personality is a combination of your life experiences, your humor, your friends, the movies you've watched, the music you like, and your unique abilities, skills and background. If you want to add something, especially value, to your workplace (or even just to your friends), you must embrace your personality. You're unique and that's a good thing.

When I came onboard at Relode, I joined a team of non-writers. They even told me, "No one here can write." (I found out that's not entirely true, since people like Jen have been known to untangled their thoughts at the end of a pen a time or two.) No one has my exact training or background, no one has read the books I've read, and no one sees the world as I see it. I'm the only one who can bring my particular gifts, knowledge and skill to the team.

Our CEO, Matt Tant, could find someone taller, darker, more handsome, and even more talented than me, but that person wouldn't be me. Only I'm me and only you're you. Sounds like something Dr. Suess would say, which means it must be true.

Okay, he did say it: "Today you are you! There is no one alive that is you-er than you!"

My team adds immense value to my life and I have unique value to offer them. Together, as unique persons, we have an opportunity to build something that could change the way the world hires.

You're a unique person, and the more you embrace that truth, the more you will add value to those around you.

So here's a three-step challenge, a practical take-away, if you will.

  1. Identify the value-adding personality trait you've kept hidden from the world.
  2. Give it away to everyone around you for an entire day in measurable ways.
  3. Watch how people respond to you.

I'm confident you'll be glad you took the challenge. It's important lessons like these - risking, letting people come and go, and embracing your personality - that help in every sphere of existence - personal, business or otherwise.

What important life lessons have you learned in starting something new?

Leave your comments below. If we get five comments, I just may blog about them.

For a "mindful" perspective on life from a startup entrepreneur, Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer, shares valuable insights on his blog, Leostartup.com.


Chad Harrington is the Director of Creative Content at Relode.com.

Cover Photo: Unsplash / Galymzhan Abdugalimov