Food for thought: Success is in the eyes of the beholder

I’m 31 years old. Since I was a kid my mother tells me that I always had a curiosity and passion to build, invent, love, make music, and make friends. She reminded me of the time I tried to build a small boat from scratch. How I designed it on paper (I still remember it looked more like an airboat — which was probably appropriate being that I was from Florida), built the frame with plywood, and then sealed it with fiberglass coating. Too bad it sunk quickly once we placed it in the canal near my childhood home! About 2 years ago, I had the pleasure of spending a substantial amount of time with my mother — yep at 30 years old I was bunking up with my mom and during those several months she shared so many stories that started to bring the puzzle pieces together.

I must note that I had practically been on the road for the past 13 years and had not spent this much time with her since I was a child. Her stories answered questions like why can’t I stop thinking of ideas and always wanting to start or build things?  Or why can’t I hold down a “real” job? Why did I spend my 20’s starting companies that only led to misery, frustration, and financial instability? Why I left home at 17 years old to explore the new and unknown? Why was I never able to be like so many of my friends and loved ones who were totally comfortable with adhering to status quo? Her stories and companionship surfaced so many memories, both inspiring and challenging. It was one of the most valuable times of my life.

Its special how as we get older and we begin to look back at our past, while experiencing our present, how much clarity and growth one encounters. I was brought up by an ex-hippie, Cuban immigrant, ex-monk, musician, psychologist in a father and an amazing artist, musician, dreamer, entrepreneur, Filipino immigrant, incredibly loving mother. And let me tell you, the apple does NOT fall far from the tree. As I get older the answers to the questions that I have been asking about myself for so long, seem to not be as far as they used to be. And I have come to realize that, for myself, sometimes the answer is a resounding “its ok not to know the answer Jorge”. As an entrepreneur and head of sales at a startup, I oftentimes have to remind myself of this very concept: its ok not to know the answer. My team and I will do our best, follow the path we believe is correct and learn along the way.

When I was 12 or 13 years old I had finally learned how to play the guitar from my parents — they both play — and I picked it up by observing them perform and a few guitar lessons. This new found passion led me to do what any entrepreneur would do: I started a rock band. I don’t remember much of Cobain’s Veins (my first band, named after the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana) other than how awful we were and the logo, which was painted on the bass drum of our set.

You see that was the first of many bands I started and was part of over the years. As time progressed I started to realize the elements that were really important in a band. Things like, how important a solid drummer was, practice, and the power of discipline. Of course, at the moment I was unaware of what was happening: each band I started, had a greater chance of succeeding, not because the talent was better or the song selection, yet because I was already aware of what NOT to and what to be aware of. Many times as young entrepreneurs, we are so eager to build something based on a great idea think we have — and often times the ideas are wonderful. What you realize through “failures” is that it is only through them that you truly become ready to succeed. It is only through getting burned that you are aware that the fire is painful. As entrepreneur you realize how important the fundamentals are, yet these lessons are only learned through challenges.

During the evening of August 24th 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit Miami, FL and destroyed the home I grow up in; while my mother, father, and I were in it. We almost lost our lives that evening. I was 11 years old and this was the first time life didn’t make a lot of sense and completely threw my awareness for a roller-coaster ride. Shortly after, I had experienced a very close family member struggle with health problems, which completely threw me for a loop. Needless to say, these were challenging moments for my family and I. As I moved into my teenage years I struggled with many questions around many topics about life and it’s meaning. Unfortunately, I spent more time trying to find answers to my questions rather than focusing on my studies during my middle and high school years. This posed a challenge when I got to college. It was one of the first challenges that I had to face on my own as a young adult which was related to my developing the habits necessary to succeed in my “career life”. Because I had not performed up to my expectations, pre-college; I was now determined to win. I realized that it was important for me to focus on the task at hand: doing my very best every day, every class, and every opportunity I had to learn. Before I knew it I had made it through 6 years of higher education, completed graduate school, yet most importantly found the canvas to the art that I would be dedicating the next 10 years of my life to: entrepreneurship.

As I mentioned above, the 10 years that preceded my graduation of college had been very personally challenging, yet again, what I was not aware of was the growth that I’d been incurring. I had blindly overcome many challenges, a lot of which sit at the core of our humanity and emotional framework. The same challenges we all confront at some point in our lives. These challenges come with different names and have different faces. As an entrepreneur, you will be confronted with some of the most painful challenges you have ever faced while building or operating your business. I can promise you this; your character will be exposed to yourself and perhaps others. Your ability to overcome in a healthy and compassionate manner will determine your success. What does it matter if you make a million dollars yet loose your soul, health, and spirit in the process?

Two years ago I left everything I had in New York City and moved to San Francisco, CA to start yet another company. I was so determined to succeed. I had been accepted to a well known technology incubator and had assembled a talented team and was willing to lose it all. And I thought that as long as I pushed my hardest and didn’t let anything stand in my way, whether it be health, money, etc; I was going to win this time. Well, the startup didn’t work again, and I was left a broken man.

Last summer, I met an incredible young lady on the Caltrain that at first I was just attracted to physically. As I began to spend time with her I started developing romantic feelings towards her. She began sharing stories of her life and I quickly became aware that she was not in a position to have a romantic relationship with me or probably anyone else. Months past and before I knew it, I fell in love with her. It made no sense, and till this day, I can’t tell you how I fell in love with a woman that I had only known for a few months and was just a friend. I believe that one of the most profound aspects of this woman was how she made me feel. It was a feeling that I traced back to my college girlfriend a decade before. Yet, unlike back then, I was aware of the possible outcomes and the risk I would be taking by continuing to spend time with her. And just like the timing was off back then in college, it was not in my favor this time around either. The matters of the heart can be as illogical, if not more, as being an entrepreneur often times is.

However, I think the lesson here was that in the same way that I could not just force my startup business to win, love is something that cant be forced, it just has to happen; and timing is everything. Your co-founders have to be bought in and ready to go to war. The employees you hire have to love the mission independent of your motivational speeches or personal passion. You really can only pass the baton and hope that it makes it to the finish line. Sometimes we want to build a business so bad that we ignore the warning signs and continue to try to build the wrong business. I have personally looked back and thanked life for not allowing many of my businesses to succeed, get funded, etc. There is nothing worse than having to go to war with the wrong co-founders, at the wrong time, in the wrong space. Sometimes failure was the healthiest outcome.

I believe that there is a absolutely truth that exists whether you are trying to build a business, love, or be happy in life: don’t lose yourself. When I began focusing on my health and on just being happy irrespective of business, it’s crazy how the opportunities started unfolding, startup projects started working, and personal awareness began to blossom again.

Happiness is a decision that we make everyday regardless of circumstances. I believe that the pursuit of financial success is a road that all who desire it should absolutely pursue. Yet I do believe that no matter how financially successful you become it is a peace inside, achievement of love, and acceptance of the journey that makes it all worth it.

Startups will fail. Hearts are meant to be broken. Love will be given irrespective of reciprocation. Storms will tear down homes. Families structures will change, loved ones will pass, and life will confuse the hell out of you and make you question everything — perhaps perceptually. However, this is life. And as my father once told me, once you accept that it will be difficult and imperfect, it gets a lot easier, and you may have just succeed.