Practice makes perfect, right?
Most things in life get easier with experience. Take lifting weights or running, for example. With a little dedication and practice, anyone can become better at these activities.
But some things in life aren’t meant to be easy. You can do them a million times, and they remain just as difficult. Being a founder and CEO has a unique way of showing you more of these situations than you ever imagined before.
And at some point, you realize this: Some things don’t ever get easier. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t necessary.
In my teens and early 20s, I was an avid runner. My running journey began when I joined the track team in high school. I had never run before like this, but I wanted to try something new that year.
I hated running at first. Frankly, I wasn’t very good at it. But if you know me, you know how incredibly stubborn I can be; I don’t like to give up. So I kept at it anyway.
I decided the only way to become better was to practice a lot. So I ran every day. Sometimes I’d go for a three-mile jog. Other times I’d run six. But while the distances varied, one thing remained constant: I never skipped a day.
My family and friends thought I was a maniac to go running every morning at 5 am (even on vacations). But I was obsessed.
**Running became a ritual of release for me. It got me through a ton of tough times and hard places. **At the time, if you asked me what I would do if I couldn’t run anymore, I would’ve told you I’d rather not live.
However, unlike most avid runners, I had never run a marathon before. I had a great reason why: I didn’t want to get injured. All my marathon-running friends ended up injured in some way or another.
And I was in this for the long haul — I wanted to be able to run for the rest of my life. Risking this in a marathon just wasn’t worth it in my eyes. But my stance on this matter would soon be swayed.
I got invited to watch my ex-boyfriend’s friend run a marathon. It was the first time I had ever been to one. And I was in absolute awe!
Seeing each runner get through the race with nothing left but sheer will power was incredible. It was exhilarating and inspiring… so much so that I wanted to give it a shot! I thought, “If thousands of people can do it, why can’t I?”
So the next day, I hit the ground running with training sessions.
Now, you probably think I’m about to say that I went on to successfully compete in dozens of marathons and kept shattering my personal records. I wish this were the case.
Two weeks from commencing training, I found myself unable to walk. I injured my knee so severely that I had no choice but to stop running for a couple of weeks. Once it healed, I tried running again. But I couldn’t hold up.
Each attempt to start again resulted in another injury. Over. And over. Eventually, running became unsustainable. My body was fighting back against my ambitions, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
I was out of commission before I ever got to compete. I was devastated. I felt like I lost a huge part of my identity. And nothing filled the void; I felt empty. Everything seemed hopeless and grey.
Sometimes, pivoting is the only path forward
After a few months of recovery, I tried to replace running with other intense cardio activities. Unfortunately, they all ended in more injuries. But I didn’t want to give up. I couldn’t.
Exercising every morning is the only thing that keeps me sane. If running or other cardio activities couldn’t be my outlet anymore, I needed to find another one. Fortunately, it seemed like fate was already working on it.
By this point, I had been going to the same gym for over five years. Among the regulars was an old man who came in to lift weights. Each morning, we’d greet each other as he passed my treadmill on the way to the weight room.
Sometimes, we’d have a quick chat. And unsurprisingly, one of his favorite conversation staples was the topic of lifting weights. _“Stop running and start lifting,” _he’d often urge.
Of course, he knew I was obsessed with running — he saw me on the treadmill for the last 2,000 days, after all! But he insisted on weightlifting. He claimed that running too much would wear a woman’s bones out over time. In contrast, lifting was a powerful way to stay fit, lean, and young.
Usually, I’d just brush off his advice and stick to running. But now, here I was, unable to run. Luckily, this old man never gave up on trying to convince me. The next time I came to the gym, he found out I was injured and said, “Are you going to listen to me now and start lifting?”
I decided it was finally time to take his advice.
When I first started lifting weights, I had no idea what I was doing. So I turned to every autodidact’s favorite tool: Google.
I spent hours researching, reading, and going down many rabbit holes. But reading about something only gets you so far. Sure, maybe I was exercising my brain, but that wasn’t the point. I still didn’t know my way around a barbell.
To turn this knowledge into output, I had to actually hit the gym. So I did. Day by day, week by week, I made weightlifting my new routine. Although, old habits die hard; sometimes I’d find myself instinctively walking to the treadmill before redirecting myself to the weight room. Give me a break! It was usually 5 am.
Every day presented a new learning curve. The weight room became my laboratory. I experimented with new movements, tried out different weights and machines, and tested various rep ranges. Some things worked. Others didn’t. It was (and still is) a process of trial and error.
It’s been two years since I started, and I’m still becoming better every day. I’m no Arnold Schwarzenegger (yet), but each day gets easier — both mentally and physically.
The same is true for a lot of other things in life. Whether it’s cooking, writing, or coding, they all get easier with a little bit of dedication and a whole lot of practice.
But as a founder, I’ve realized that some things in life never get easier no matter how much practice you put in.
Recently, I fired an employee. It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make for the company. He wasn’t just any employee, either; he was one of the first hires I ever made. He joined TruStory when it was nothing but an idea.
He saw the company’s vision and decided he wanted to help make it a reality. And here I was now, forcing everyone to say goodbye to this person who made that bold leap. Just writing this makes me feel a little sick to my stomach.
I’ve fired three people in the past year alone. And no matter how many times I have to do it, it never gets easier.
As a founder, you get flooded with an array of horrible emotions when you fire someone. It feels selfish, wrong, and unfair.
Above all else, you feel like it’s all your fault.
But the reality is that none of these are true. For anyone out there wrestling with these feelings, firing someone isn’t selfish, wrong, unfair, or your fault.
As a CEO, my primary duty is to do what’s right for the company and team in the long run. If I keep someone around who could harm the company’s mission, then I’m clearly not fulfilling my responsibilities as CEO. Plain and simple.
I want to build the best team in the world. But to do this, I have to face the pain of firing people. It sucks and feels inhumane. But that’s life.
The hard thing about hard things
Firing someone is never an overnight decision. Usually, you know it’s coming several weeks or even months in advance. Sometimes, you can salvage the situation. But the sad truth is: Most of the times, you can’t. As someone wiser than me once said, “The minute the thought of firing someone enters your head, it’s already too late.”
In this case, the thought of firing him arose weeks ago. Of course, I tried to do everything I could to avoid that. I communicated the problem to him and we started a performance improvement plan.
And for a while there, things were starting to look up! He pulled out of his funk for the first few weeks. I became relieved and thought we would be able to work through the problems at hand. But this progress didn’t last long. Eventually, he returned to his baseline performance.
This is where things got even harder. I grew tense because I knew he was trying his goddamn hardest to make things work. He knew I was aware of his efforts. But unfortunately, we both also knew that, deep down, it just wasn’t working.
After six weeks of fluctuating performance, I decided it was time to make the final call. Keeping him around was making me resentful, and I needed to end it. So I decided that Friday would be the day I’d let him go.
I wasn’t exactly sure about how I would broach the topic, but luckily, I had a call scheduled with my CEO coach that Wednesday. (Side Note: Having a CEO coach is hands-down one of the best decisions I made early on in this journey of building TruStory. I’ll cover this more in the future.)
During my CEO coaching calls, we usually discuss whatever is on my mind. I think you can guess what was occupying my thoughts during that Wednesday session.
It only took a few seconds into the call for my coach to know I was going through a lot. He could hear the sadness in my voice. Over the next hour, we got to the crux of the matter:
Even though I knew this was the right decision, I was plagued with feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and guilt.
I was feeling uncertain about whether it’s the right time to do this or not. I was feeling anxious about having the conversation. And I was feeling guilty for not being able to make him successful in his role.
These emotions were destroying me. I couldn’t help but put myself in my employee’s shoes and feel bad for him. I also happen to be all too familiar with what it’s like to be fired; I’ve been fired three times in my life.
The last thing I ever want to do is put someone else through that.
But feeling bad wasn’t going to get him or me anywhere. I needed to use my empathy towards him to empower myself, not destroy myself. What does this mean?
I’ve felt the pain of being fired. It hurts. It’s demeaning. It’s absolutely awful. But looking back on those experiences made me realize something else: they were some of the best lessons I’ve ever learned in my life.
They were opportunities to fix my flaws. They taught me how to persevere in the face of rejection. I learned how to turn failure into success. And most importantly, I learned that being fired doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.
What if I could transform my own experiences of being fired into life-long lessons that I can pass on to others — including the person I was firing?
Well, that’s exactly what I did.
Now, I’m not going to dress up the situation and act like it was all sunshine and rainbows due to this epiphany.
During our last conversation, I laid out everything to him that I just told you. And he didn’t exactly leave TruStory’s office for the last time with a big smile on his face. For the record, neither did I that day.
But my hope is that, down the line, I hope he realizes this was for the better. Holding him up at TruStory and having him work on things he wasn’t passionate about wasn’t doing him any favors.
I want him to find something he actually enjoys and can flourish at. While getting fired may sting now, I hope he eventually looks back on all of this as the first step towards something greater.
Firing someone is a hard predicament to deal with. And it never gets easier. But sometimes, it’s necessary.
Many things in life are like this. You can either hide from them or face them head-on. The ball is in your court.