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In Looking for a Job, Or Starting a Company, Stop Burying Your Gold

Ego can strengthen our resolve and make us unstoppable. Ego can also undermine our flexibility and flexibility is strength as well.

Say you invent a physical fitness device that helps people do a perfect pushup.

And you brand it The Perfect Pushup. Build a fitness business around it called Perfect Fitness.

At least some of your credentials for working in the fitness business include being a former Navy SEAL and, before that, a top competitive rower at the U.S. Naval Academy.

But you don’t want to mention that you’ve been a Navy SEAL to promote your business—not even when it, and you—are on the verge of financial ruin.

What’s that about?

I recently asked that question of Alden Mills, my guest on the Disrupt Yourself Podcast, and, as you may have surmised, a former Navy SEAL, champion rower, inventor of The Perfect Pushup and Founder of Perfect Fitness. As a serial entrepreneur, he’s since founded a second company, Fetch Fuel Pet Food, moved his family to Spain and written a book: Be Unstoppable: The Eight Essential Actions to Succeed at Anything.

We were talking about ego and its pros and cons in business and entrepreneurship and maybe even life in general.

Mills says, “Ego is with you for the rest of your life and [you need to] be sensitive to that fact, and asking yourself the question, ‘Is my ego talking? Do I really need to do this? If I don’t care, if I’m not being judged by anybody, would I be doing the same thing?’ I find myself constantly asking myself those questions….Because sometime ego is a really good thing but a lot of times it can be our Achilles heel.”

I’m curious, and I imagine many are, about what exactly Navy SEALs do. It always looks pretty impressive in the movies, and I think, ego aside, the experience would make a pretty good marketing tool for fitness gear. But Mills hesitated to use it.

“The whole Navy SEAL element is about being a quiet professional. It’s not about walking in to a room full of people and saying, ‘Hey, look at me. I’m a Navy SEAL.’ And it’s really trained in you, from the time you show up. They’ll ask you a question in training, ‘Hey, who’s a Rambo in here?’ And if you remember the old Sylvester Stallone movies called Rambo who, you know, was this special operations guy who went and did missions all by himself. They’d always get somebody raising their hand…. ‘Okay, you’re the first to leave.’ Because they don’t want Rambos; they want people that are these quiet professionals that put the ego aside and link arms and go do things together as a team. And the idea of going out and doing self-promotion was a very difficult task.”

Mills is justly protective of his military service and the ethos it embodies. He wanted to succeed in business without having to trade on that. There’s a little bit of ego involved in humility too. And the situation was such that he couldn’t afford to be shy or silent. He needed to use his gold.

Perfect Fitness was facing bankruptcy. He gathered 37 of his closest friends and family, some of them investors and hedge fund managers. This was his pitch: “Hey everybody, I know I raised a million and a half dollars and I know I spent a million four hundred and seventy five thousand dollars on ways not to launch a product, but I’ve got this next product; I’m sure it’s going to work. And could we just put in another couple hundred grand?”

The response?

“It’s over. You don’t even have enough to pay the manufacturer, the accountants and the lawyers. Go get a job; you’re starting to embarrass yourself.”

 

This is where a healthy ego helps. And a strong will, will enough to be unstoppable. Mills said to himself. “You know what? I don’t care what these experts say; I know this product’s going to work. I’m going to give this everything I got.” The Perfect Pushup started being marketed as developed by a Navy SEAL and

“Two years later we had done almost $100,000,000 in sales.”

 

Military service should be worth something; it should be worth at least as much as other kinds of educational and professional expertise that we use to promote our innovations, products and businesses. Learning to put aside ego and link arms with our teammates to accomplish important objectives is a great success lesson to learn, wherever it is learned.

But as Mills’ experience shows, we need to put our very best stories to work for us. Not in a proudly egotistical way, but without a self-sabotaging degree of humility either.

We wrestle with our ego again and again. Learning when to put ourselves forward and when to stand back. Discerning when it’s time to double-down on our strategy and when it’s time to pull the plug on a flat-lining effort.

Mills explains, “The Perfect Fitness story has lots of twists and turns and the second time we were looking at bankruptcy was after we’d already done over $100,000,000 in sales. 2009 comes along and the lights shut off at retail. We had to really make a pivot on what we were doing.”

It wasn’t what Mills wanted to do but it was what he had to do. He battled with his ego in that situation as well, but eventually realized that insisting on pursuing the course he envisioned in the current economic climate would lead to disaster. The pivot was made, the company was saved.

Ego can strengthen our resolve and make us unstoppable. Ego can also undermine our flexibility and flexibility is strength as well. It’s important but not always easy to know when to stand steady and when to bend. Listen here to learn more from Alden Mills about flexibility, strength, ego and how to do the perfect pushup.

 

Whitney Johnson is one of the world’s leading management thinkers (Thinkers50), author of the critically acclaimed Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work and host of the Disrupt Yourself Podcast. You can sign up for her newsletter here.

 

Originally published at LinkedIn

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