I’ve recently found myself digging into the rabbit hole of “mimetic theory” and the work of philosopher Rene Girard.
Girard was a professor at Stanford and was a big influence on a few Silicon Valley luminaries. I was vaguely familiar with his work, but after reading Luke Burgis’s (excellent) book Wanting, I have a new appreciation for how desire is created.
Mimetic theory is a lot unpack. We won’t be going into the full details today. But I do want to share a related story that could be helpful.
In 2019, I had the pleasure of finally visiting my personal business mecca; Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, MI.
Long time readers know I’m a big fan of the business(es) and founder Ari Weinzweig.
Ari was one of the first super successful entrepreneurs I came across who was relentlessly real. You see, a lot of “thought leaders” talk about past struggles. But you’ll rarely hear them address in real time what they’re working on or where their business could do better.
Part of this is the practically-necessary, almost-delusional optimism of any entrepreneur. But nonetheless, it can leave you feeling pretty lonely.
In fact, after my first few years of studying every business book I could get my hands-on, I was pretty bummed about how I was doing. Sure, MFF was having pretty unprecedented success in our corner of the industry. Overall, we were doing great work. And we were getting lots of fitness and mainstream media attention.
But I knew I wasn’t always delivering as a leader. And I knew our culture had some issues. So instead of basking in the fruits of our labor and reveling in our success, I kept comparing myself to the business books: the stories of businesses with amazing cultures and TED- speaker founders where everyone was happy all the time every second of every day.
And I felt like shit about myself.
So finding Ari’s talks on YouTube in 2015 was powerful. Although we wouldn’t meet for several more years, he gave me a great gift: he made me feel less alone.
Now flash forward to the time I felt lowest about myself (and MFF).
It was while visiting Zingerman’s in 2019.
I went to take their (excellent!) course on “Training the Trainer.” It was great, we’ve since hired them to do this training for the Unicorn Society.
And visiting the many businesses in the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses? Awesome!
I remember sitting in their (so cool!) coffee shop the morning after the seminar. I watched several Zingerman’s employees pull up chairs with copies of Ari’s books in hand. And I eavesdropped on what appeared to be a semi-informal work session on how Zingerman’s could do an even better job of living up to their values.
And for a brief moment, I was so defeated I felt ready to close MFF.
I mean… Zingerman’s was like a CITY.
Sure, they’d been at it for 30 years. Admirably, they stressed this in the workshop, as overwhelmed-defeated is probably a semi-common reaction. But still.
What was wrong with me?
Why couldn’t I figure out how to make MFF a city?
Why wasn’t I a good enough leader to inspire my employees to start their own business underneath the MFF brand?
Why wasn’t I good enough to develop my employees so they’d have the chops to succeed with their own businesses?
The obvious answer was, of course, that I suck. So perhaps I needed to shut down MFF, move to Ann Arbor, and apply to slice deli meats so I can learn from people who are clearly way smarter than I am?
It felt that way!
I can’t say I ever REALLY wanted to shutter MFF. But I really was feeling shitty about myself.
Did I think MFF had more potential? Sure.
Do I still think MFF (and BFU and any other business I co-own) has more potential? Sure.
But there is ZERO value in feeling defeated. And it wasn’t helpful to compare myself against Zingerman’s: a business started more than 20 years before mine, in a completely different industry, in a different part of the country.
Now there IS value in being inspired by what they’ve created. To look for ideas that spark my passion and get me excited about the future we can create. But that’s not how I felt that snowy day in March.
Here’s why I’m sharing this with you…
If you’re reading this it means two things:
1) You probably own a training gym.
2) You give a shit about having an awesome business.
And that means it’s possible that you too sometimes compare yourself to other businesses and feel defeated. Maybe you’ve even done that with MFF.
If so, that’s ok. It’s ok to feel feelings. It’s ok to want more.
AND I’d love to gently nudge you to leverage that energy towards creating the business you want.
Using models for inspiration can serve a place in your development.
But comparison can be the thief of joy.
And you’re on your own awesome journey.
And to paraphrase Mikhail Baryshnikov, you’ll be best served focusing on dancing better than yourself.
PS Want some guidance and inspiration without the “feeling shitty about yourself” part?
Here are four ways to get more BFU in your life: