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You know how you can turn lemons into lemonade? Well, I try to do similar alchemy whenever I have an uncomfortable life experience. Except instead of making sugar water, I try to squeeze out a useful lesson (…and newsletter content).
Given this has been an especially strange week in startup land, I found myself drawing on three life experiences in particular that I now happily share with you.
Without further ado, what I learned from:
- Working at a Disney water park
- “Attending” the Army’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape school
- Spending my childhood in airports
GOOD THINGS COME IN THREES
“Let me check,” at Disney World
I have a judgment-worthy confession: I grew up in Walt Disney World’s planned community of Celebration, Florida. Yes, it’s weird, but that’s the subject of another newsletter.
Because Celebration was next to (you guessed it) Disney World, one summer, I got a job there.
I was qualified to ring up trinkets at a store within Disney’s water park, Blizzard Beach. Now, I didn’t stay very long (bless the scheduling woman who had to deal with teenagers like me), but I vividly remember one part of the training.
A manager told me that when a “guest” – Disney’s term for customer, which is brilliant branding – asks for something that you know the store doesn’t have, you still say, “Let me go in the back and check, just to be sure.”
Then, you walk into the back room, count to 30, and walk back out to inform the guest, “I’m so sorry, but we really are out.”
I think about that lesson all the time because people just want to be heard. Yes, ideally, you do have the Mickey water skiing statue; but when you don’t, demonstrate that you care. Yes, it’s performative, but we’re all just humans wanting attention.
Picking bad instead of worse
I have no way to smoothly transition from Disney to the Army’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school, so I’m just going to jump in.
I was sent to SERE school while I was in the Army. During the 3-week course, the Army takes its most sadistic tendencies out on students – mostly special operations soldiers and the occasional pilot. There’s “learning to eat plants” and the like, but the main event is a simulated prisoner-of-war camp where you stay for a few days as a fake prisoner (not a “guest”).
At one point, an instructor explained that survival is about knowing that your choices are often between “bad” and “worse” and that your only job is to pick “bad.” If you get frustrated that you aren’t picking “good,” you’ll get demoralized and, I guess, eventually, die.
Anyway, my days are very cushy now. I drink oat milk lattes and the only masochist I encounter is my son. But as a leader, it’s calming to remember that, sometimes, the choice is between bad and worse.
My dad is a pilot. Sidenote: He claims he too went to a SERE-like school when he served in the Dutch Air Force, but he “went to SERE school” in Holland and, I kid you not, says he got to eat stroopwafels there. So it doesn’t sound the same.
Anyway, as a kid, I spent a lot of time in airports because my family could fly for free on my dad’s airline, but only if there was space for our whole family. And really, there never was. Much time was spent on the floor, eating Cheese Its, waiting for the next plane.
Even as an adult, I notice how quickly I descend into mental chaos at an airport if I don’t have regular status updates. I refresh websites furiously even though I know it doesn’t matter.
But oh how I love the gate agent who says, “Here’s our update and I will give you another update in 15 minutes.” As humans, we crave predictability. We want to know what’s going to happen even if we don’t have control over it.
I think about those communicative agents every time my company is going through something hard. Then, I set up a communications plan and attempt to keep my team regularly updated, so they too can feel a sense of structure.
Here ends the trio
This was admittedly an odd trio of experiences from which to draw lessons but I hope you can take something with you. I also hope you are not counting to 30 in a stockroom, stuck at an airport, or even worse, currently in SERE School.
What I’m reading/watching
This week, nothing! I have an Ethena offsite and soon, I’ll be at the Transform conference (anyone else going?!). I’ll be joined by our VP of People Melanie Naranjo and Head of Sales Tess Manning in the Meeting pod section on Tuesday/Wednesday, 10:30am-5pm. Come say hi – especially if you’re in the mood to network, share ideas, and ask questions.
Until next time,
CEO & Co-founder, Ethena