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You Don’t Have To Follow Everyone, You Can Change Lanes

I did a lot of swimming at one point in my life and one thing always plagued me, maybe what was going on in the next lane was better for me.

Swimming is a very repetitive and solo endurance sport, you have to complete countless laps in a pool before even starting to feel like you’re moving forward somewhat gracefully using one of the accepted styles. In a competitive setting, you’re designated to different lanes based on what stroke you’re trying to master and how fast you’re able to accomplish a lap and you end up with 8–10 other wannabe dolphins racing after each other’s feet for hour’s on end.

One other noticeable (but not talked about) characteristic of competitive swimming is that there is no collective ambition to just swimming “well”. You either cut effortlessly through the water like Mark Spitz or you find another pool on the other side of town with colorful kids slides and floating ducks. In short, there are no other lane’s except the ones flowing towards the Olympics and even if that’s an honorable goal, it’s not for everyone.

This is a pretty similar equation to most startup communities; a lot of isolated drudgeries and the occasional meetup but all, swimming in the “same lane” after the same goal.

Swimming lanes are similar to the systems put in place by the organizations that continue to structure the early stages of startups. Capital & accelerator establishments push solely for blockbusters and (often) foster an unhealthy and over competitive environment for those that are, just out to create a sustainable business.

Why does every startup have to plan an “exit” to some global behemoth if they don’t want to be rejected disgracefully by guardians at the temple entrance?

What’s wrong with a straightforward and manageable venture that serves an admirable purpose, completely satisfies customers, has room for loads of innovation, produces unwavering steady growth and makes their founders (and colleagues) happy every day?

Nothing. And that’s the point. How many people have stopped swimming altogether because they were discriminately discouraged to continue? How many of them could have a continued to swim and even teach others if they hadn’t been pushed beyond their limits and suffered burnout? And how many pursued through unimaginable sacrifices only to encounter defeat (or injury) and carry those scars for the rest of their lives?

Too many in my view. A healthy system should promote variety and encourage alternatives based on the founders genuine aptitudes and aspirations, not the objectives of those standing on the sidelines.

Some praiseworthy ventures that spring to mind (owners please be indulgent with my qualifications) are HarvestDelectable & Todoist. I’m pretty sure that if we asked any of these founders if they aspired early on to all the appendage associated with global stardom they’d probably say no and to me, that is pretty respectful.

There is no path out there to follow except your own and sometimes switching lanes is the best way to get some perspective on your true motivations and, happiness.