Sometimes you’re not ready to understand an idea. It needs to sit there in the back of your brain, simmering – waiting for some new inspiration to give it life. That was true for me before I came to adopt a mindset of continuous self-improvement.
You’ve heard me allude to that mindset before with maxims like: think like a scientist, progress over perfection, clarity comes with action, design your life, and more. Those ideas all stem from my core belief that we can, as human beings, continuously improve ourselves, our work, and our lives if we choose to do so.
That belief was formed over time with little lessons here and there – by family, friends, mentors, and even pop culture.
There was one moment a few years ago, however, where it all clicked into place, bringing me – and my career – a real sense of clarity.
To explain that, I need to back up and tell you about my favorite band: Coldplay.
Coldplay, the British pop-rock band, formed in 1996. Since then, they’ve released 8 studio albums, earned 7 Grammy wins and 30 nominations.
I’ve seen Coldplay live and listened to every album countless times.
Their most recent album, Everyday Life, was just what I needed during the pandemic. Check it out.
In 2015, Coldplay released their seventh studio album, A Head Full of Dreams. When I got an email that there was an extended interview about the new album’s debut, I immediately started watching, eager to hear stories about their creative process.
During the interview, it comes up that, of the albums they’ve made together, this is one of the band’s favorites. Which prompts the interviewer to ask, almost jokingly: “do you have a least favorite album?”
Chris Martin pauses and replies: “I’m under no obligation to tell you which one of our third albums is my least favorite.” The audience laughs.
He’s referring to X&Y, which came out in 2005. And, for a moment, his comment broke my brain. I was shocked because, actually, it’s one of my all-time favorite albums by any artist.
One reason? I feel it marks a shift in the kind of music they made.
Go back and listen to their first album, Parachutes (2000), and even their second album, A Rush Of Blood to the Head (2002), and you’ll find something acoustic and intimate.
X&Y marks a moment of experimentation. There are new instruments, new vocal techniques, new sounds, new colors in their album art – a growing confidence in their creative abilities.
That’s what makes it special – to me, at least.
Without the experiments Coldplay ran with X&Y, I would argue that 2008’s Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends – the Grammy award-winning album of the year – wouldn’t be possible.
Similarly, Mylo Xyloto (2011), Coldplay’s fifth album, is a masterpiece. It’s big and explosive and colorful. And, I can’t see how they could go from Parachutes to Mylo Xyloto without navigating a creative path that led them through X&Y.
With X&Y, they dared to reinvent themselves and try something new. One experiment led to the next, leading them somewhere they could never have expected.
That’s when my philosophy of continuous self-improvement became clear.
There’s a line I can draw through each of their albums – but, that’s not how it looks up close. That line probably wasn’t intentional. It’s just the nature of growth.
To see it, you need to step back and recognize two things:
First, that the things we gain from an experience aren’t always visible or tangible – but they stick with you, even if it’s just unconsciously filed away for later.
Second, that every experience – even the ones we don’t like, aren’t proud of, or wish had gone differently – provides an opportunity for growth.
Creating X&Y stretched Coldplay’s abilities, planting seeds for something later.
You – and the stage your business is in right now – are planting seeds too. With every sale, every setback, every new customer, every experiment, you’re stretching the boundaries of what you thought was possible.
You won’t always know how those lessons will show up, but they will.
Think back to an early business experience you wish had gone differently – maybe an unsuccessful elevator pitch, or an unsatisfied customer, or a soured business relationship.
You might look back on it with regret – and it’s ok to start there.
But, I challenge you to look back on it with love and gratitude.
ONE MORE THING
Starting and growing a business is not a straight line.
It can feel messy – it zigs and zags, it starts and stops. It can feel frustrating even for the most seasoned business owners. And, that’s ok.
It’s also an exciting challenge. It’s going to stretch you. You’re going to learn a lot – not just about business, but about yourself.
And, that’s why it’s worth it.