On resilience. Lessons from a veteran paper cup salesman.

Resilience is fundamentally a denial.

It’s a denial of the idea that it’s over, and that you’re dreams aren’t really going to happen.

Most people have never heard of Ray Kroc, though his vision has affected billions and there are very, very few people in the world who would fail to recognize his trademark.

Because, unlike Campbell’s or Dell, his company has someone else’s name.

Ray was 52 when he landed in San Bernardino to investigate a small business run by two brothers who had mastered the art of logistics. He marveled at their ability to attract droves of customers to their location for their relatively inexpensive mass manufactured product.

It was the 1950’s and most people Ray’s age were retiring. He’d spent 17 years selling paper cups, and then moved into his own business selling mixing machines for milkshakes. In his own words, he “was a veteran of the business wars by that time.”

On the topic of personal growth and progress, Ray famously said, “When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot.” And he believed that he was still very green - fresh and full of energy. The best work of his life was yet to come, as absurd as people would take that comment from a 52 year old even now, in 2013.

When faced with a reluctance by the brothers to expand their business through a national franchise model, he simply offered to buy the business from them, netting them each $1 million after taxes, a fortune at the time. He also kept their name on the door and their trademark golden arches. In 1961, Ray purchased his second company: McDonald’s.

Though I am only 24, I have seen some pretty stark successes and mistakes both in my career and that of my friends in the startup world. Stories like Ray’s remind us that the best is yet to come. Fundamentally, how we interpret the future is our decision and ours alone, as Ray so clearly demonstrated.

Perhaps that is the key to resilience itself: an ardent internal belief that the future will trump the past. Because it must. Why else to continue creating? We are humans. As such, we are meant to create. Creating something less awesome would be so boring. Why do that? If you are to continue, you have to believe that the future holds not just milestones, but greater milestones.

When I look back at Ministry of Supply, my prior and first professional startup, I see sexy press and a Kickstarter world record. I see driven individuals making things happen, seeking to fulfill their dream of building something real and meaningful - and succeeding. I also see newbie mistakes I will do my level-best to avoid in the future. I see lessons. I see pain. I see growth. I now see a business that my friend seems to truly enjoy growing. There’s something beautiful about that. And yet, I have to move on. Though I still own shares in the company and will always be a founder, it’s just not my kid anymore.

The biggest asset we all have is time. I am two years into my career. I have the incredible privilege of working on some extremely meaningful creative projects until next fall, when I’m headed off to a grad school that is unparalleled in my areas of interest: design and startups.

As crazy (or not) as it may sound, I refuse to believe that the best is behind me. That’s been an irrational fear that I’ve had. And yet - it couldn’t be further from the truth. Whenever it gets dark and I find myself alone, in the quiet of my own mind, jumping back to and getting stuck in the past, I just have to point to Ray Kroc and echo his sentiment. We decide the future.

Resilience is a denial. And I deny that my past exceeds my future. How could the foundation stand taller than the building itself?

Or as the rock legend, BTO, put it, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”


Now read this

On Practice

My high school jazz band had 3 drummers, me included. And mostly, all we did was sit around waiting for the ‘good’ songs, namely, latin or funk. Those songs were peppy, exciting, and full of room to improvise and show off. Then came the... Continue →