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As the Founder and CEO of PK4 Media, there are times when I let failure frustrate me for longer periods than it should. Over the years I have learned to keep sources of inspiration nearby to avoid going down a rabbit hole.
Early on at PK4, one of my favorite employees moved on for a great career opportunity. I was extremely proud of her. On her last day, she gave me a framed picture of an excerpt from a famous Theodore Roosevelt speech he delivered in 1910 referred to as The Man In The Arena. This speech below hangs over my desk to this day:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Before I launched my current venture, I worked for other people. In fact, I was an integral player in three acquisitions that made other people rich. Eventually I realized I was the one doing all the work, while the rewards ultimately went to others. That recognition led directly to my decision to start PK4 Media.
When I launched PK4 Media I became the proverbial Man In The Arena, and took on all the risk that comes with it. This included monetary risk as I self-funded. Equally as scary, was the risk of being labeled a failure by my peers, old co-workers, and even my family. Initially, it was difficult to tune-out the naysayers snickering in the cheap seats. As I look back, I realize it was quite interesting how as a new CEO I vehemently believed in myself and simultaneously had a voice in my head doubting whether I had the talent and guts to be the less than 10% of startups that make it.
My background was in digital advertising and PK4 was the first media company to launch omni-channel advertising capabilities. The premise was that an advertising campaign should be holistic and provide a seamless customer journey across all devices and channels.
My friends and mentors loved the concept and were impressed with our proprietary XPS technology, but they were skeptical that Chief Marketing Officers were ready to bet their budget – hence their careers – on a concept not yet widely accepted in practice.
This was 2009 and while digital advertising was exploding, television was still the king and any Internet or mobile efforts were secondary and often done by different divisions or agencies in silos.
To some degree the naysayers were right. I absolutely failed at various points since launching PK4. For one thing, I wanted to be liked by my employees. I did not want to be “that boss.” Predictably, that led to me being too soft and either the work would suffer, or I would have step in late in the game to make sure it met the standards that I pitched to the client and that I pridefully believe we must deliver.
I learned my lesson, or so I thought. I over-corrected. I became demanding and rigid, and of course that did not work either. Hard-nosed Tom wasn’t who I was. It went against my character. Ultimately, I found the right balance through trial and error.
I’ve failed plenty and lost some clients along the way. At the time, those setbacks felt as if they were life and death. And they just might have been.
Over the last nine years, I have learned that I am not the critic. I learned to love being The Man In The Arena, “Marred by dust and sweat and blood,” and I continue to dare greatly. It has paid off because our omni-channel approach is now omnipresent. I have turned down multiple buy-out offers and I’m right where I want to be, doing what I love, failures and all.
The question is, do you want to work for someone else your whole life, and be the critic who is simply watching? Or would you rather be in the arena, someone who bets on themselves and takes charge of their own destiny?
To be that person, you must thicken your skin because when you fail you will feel embarrassment. All the people who laughed or doubted will come out in full force to say, “I told you so.” You may want to crawl under a rock.
But once you step into that arena, I promise you, you will find you have strength you didn’t know you had. You’ll get up from the mat more determined and resolute than ever before.
When you reach the point where you’re ready to look back on your life, will you be proud of what you did with your time? The person in the arena is a leader, a warrior, and an entrepreneur. I’d rather take the big risk for a big reward than to metaphorically suffer death by a thousand cuts on the sideline. What about you?
December 13, 2018 at 07:01PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs