If you've ever heard of me before, it was probably in the context of entrepreneurship. Most people who come to know me, know me first as the founder of Thrive Themes.
If I appear on a podcast or on stage, I'm usually presented as an expert in bootstrapping businesses (i.e. building successful businesses on a minimal budget, with no outside funding).
Of course, I'm grateful for the success I've had as a business owner and I'm grateful that people seek out my opinion and expertise. I consider it a great priviledge and don't take it for granted.
However, I've noticed that there's a strange distortion that takes place, here. Because of the way people get to know me, they often develop a view of who I am that is - from my perspective - bizarre.
That's why we made this video and blog post for ikario. The idea here is simply this: to get a more realistic picture of my backstory and correct this distortion.
And why does that matter?
Because if you understand the true story, you're more likely to succeed in your own pursuits, than if you believe in the distorted view.
Midas Touch & Innate Talent
Tell me if this sounds right:
"Shane has successfully built multiple businesses & he's this marketing expert guy. He must have some special talents, thanks to which he manages to succeed again and again."
This is how I'd summarize the distorted view I see people have of me.
I don't blame anyone of having such a view. When you encounter someone online, you don't know much about them. It makes sense to form a simple story that explains who they are and how they got to where they are.
In my case, the simplest story for the thing you see is: talent & a Midas touch.
From my perspective, nothing could be further from the truth. The full story is, of course, far more complicated. And it involves a frankly shocking amount of failure...
The Many Obstacles
The story that I see when I look back at my life can be best summarized as a long series of struggles.
When I went to school, I struggled with bad grades, I struggled to pay attention and I struggled to fit in. As a teenager, I struggled with depression and loneliness. I struggled to find work. I dropped out of university and then I struggled as an entrepreneur.
I do not have a Midas touch. If I have any talent, it is that I manage to make most mistakes only once.
I do make most mistakes at least once. And that's often painful. But I make an effort not to make the same mistakes twice.
And by sheer process of elimination, this leads to the modicum of success I've had.
Inside & Out
Life is a struggle, not just for me. I don't mean to imply that my struggle makes me special or different. But as I said: the strange thing is that many people who get to know my now seem to assume that for me, everything is smooth sailing.
Starting a business is always going to be difficult. I don't know anyone who's succeeded as an entrepreneur without overcoming some serious obstacles (and I know many entrepreneurs).
Like many people, much of what I suffered from was internal. I had a cripplingly low sense of self worth and I had very little trust in myself. Until my 20s, my life experience basically told me that I was a failure. At everything. In every way that mattered.
This view of myself and all the baggage that came with it, took a long time to change.
There was one exception: martial arts. I took up Kung Fu training in my teens and it was something that I seemed to do relatively well at. I latched on to it and became an obsessive martial arts trainee for many years.
My experience with martial arts gave me the confidence that I could master things when I applied myself intensely enough. I started transferring this confidence to other areas of my life.
The "I'm a failure at everything" belief slowly got replaced with the belief: "if I do this for long enoug and I do it hard enoug, I will eventually do it well enough."
The Hidden Blessing
Much later, I realized the hidden blessing in this development: because of my life experience, I never expected to be good at anything. I never expected anything to come easy.
On the contrary, I expected that it would require an extraordinary effort for me to even be halfway competent at something that was effortless for most people.
As a result of this, struggles, mistakes and failures didn't discourage me.
If I make a series of mistakes and utterly fail at something I set out to do, that's not surprising to me. That's just a Tuesday.
As it turns out, this is an attitude that is highly conducive to doing difficult, ambitious things.
Another aspect of the "innate talent" idea is that maybe, my personality or my genetics or whatever are just especially suited for entrepreneurial success.
Here again, the messy, realtime story of my life suggests something else.
I have many tendencies that, on the outset, seem to spell disaster for an aspiring entrepreneur.
I have a strong perfectionst tendency, which leads me to feel like nothing is ever good enough, which makes me set standards unrealistically high and which is one of the most common causes of procrastination.
I also tend to be obsessive. I can fall down a rabbit hole and spend far too much time focusing on some myopic detail, regardless of whether its actually constructive or useful.
I'm also a scatterbrain, with chaos and noise in my mind that used to be reflected in my highly chaotic and messy living environment.
To top it all off, I used to be socially inept. I had great difficulties socializing, understanding the nuances of social signals and generally just connecting with people. Since so much of business is about who you know, this can be highly detrimental to success.
But note how I describe these traits now. I have these tendencies, yes. And I used to have a messy environment and I used to struggle socially.
Thanks to my new worldview of "if I try hard enough, I will enventually succeed", I learnt how to transform these seemingly innate traits. Not just to control them or manage them, but to turn them into advantages.
I learnt to channel my perfectionism and restrict it to certain times and areas of business. I deploy my perfectionism to fine tune the details of a UI design, but I don't let it run rampant through all areas of my life and wreck my ability to get things finished. And so perfectionism turned into attention to detail.
Similarly, I learnt to control and make use of my obsessiveness, I taught my brain structured and ordely thinking and I learnt to be very deliberate and proactive in my social life and pay close attention to people when I interact with them.
I think that many natural traits can be advantageous or disadvantageous - it just depends on how we use them.
What My Story Means for You
Earlier, I stated that understanding my story can make you more likely to succeed. Here's why:
If you believe a simple story like "Shane (or any other successful person) is successful because of innate talent and luck", you'll be easily discouraged. If you think that it takes some special talent to succeed and that successful people succeed at everything, all the time, you're bound to give up when you yourself experience difficulties and failure.
The simple story suggests that if you make mistakes and if things don't come easy to you, maybe you're just not made of the right stuff. Maybe you're just not like those successful people.
I hope that my story can show you that I'm not like those successful people, either.
You wouldn't have to rewind the clock very far before you'd see a version of me who doesn't seem likely to succeed in any way.
If you want to build a life of freedom, accomplishment and meaning. Keep failing. Just make sure you keep failing forward.