10 Things I Learned From EXECUTE
Wow, we actually did it.
We created an ultra high-end retreat for six entrepreneurs by playing around with the question, “What would the ultimate retreat look like?”
We lived in an eight bedroom mansion for a week. We had a private chef, a team of super talented interns, and a cleaning crew.
Pam Slim, Andy Drish, Noah Kagen, and Karol Gajda all taught our participants some of their very best stuff. All of them except for one actually flew in or drove in to have face time with our participants.
Six other entrepreneur friends flew in on the last day to hear pitches from our participants in an event that we called “Koala Tank.” It was like Shark Tank, but more loving, supportive and even a little cuddly.
We pushed the limits of our participants with hands-on exercises that put them out of their comfort zone.
And everyone walked away a different human being with a massive support system to carry them forward into 2014.
I wish I could say there were things that didn’t go well, but we really couldn’t have made a smoother event if we tried.
In this moment, I’m so proud of our team. Kyle, Nicky and I couldn’t have done it without the massive efforts of Nathan Coury, Taran Emmert, Alexis Holland and Taye Renteria. Thank you so much.
There are a ton of lessons that I learned from running my first retreat. Here are the 10 key takeaways that stuck out the most.
1. Don’t Quit When It Gets Hard
We almost cancelled EXECUTE multiple times. The idea originated in July when Kyle and I were in San Francisco for Pam Slim’s creativeLIVE event.
The months after that were spent in numerous meetings, trying to turn an idea into reality. Finding a suitable mansion took a lot of work. Writing the sales page took a lot of work. And actually putting our idea out to the world took a lot of balls.
Just a week or so before launching our final sales page, we strongly considered canceling it. If we launched it and no one showed up, we would each be out no less than $5000.
But then we asked ourselves, “What’s the worst that could possibly happen?” We decided that even if no one showed up, we would make the best of living in a mansion together for ten days.
During the retreat we shared numerous stories all throughout the week. Every night we had something called Story Time where we shared stories over tea in the living room or in the hot tub under the stars. One theme that came up were stories about the times when we wanted to quit and we didn’t.
It seemed like everyone had a story of success that almost never happened because they almost quit right before the finish line.
And EXECUTE was almost one of those stories that never happened.
2. Stop Worshiping Busy
Ask most people how they are doing and they’ll say something like, “I’m so busy right now” or “things are crazy around here, no time to talk.”
Then they will get back to catching up on their Facebook News Feed or reading blog posts on how to be more productive.
We worship busy because that’s what working for somebody else taught us. In Corporate America when someone asks you how you’re doing, you’re almost obliged to say that you’re busy.
Otherwise they give you more work or ding you on your performance rating for not being more proactive. You never hear someone say, “Oh, I’m great. I’ll just be chillin in my office today.”
At Execute Mansion, we didn’t worship busy. We just got things done.
When people were running low on energy we’d have a ten minute dance party or take a walk around the neighborhood.
We took time to eat three meals a day together and away from our laptops. Most of us worked out every day whether it was a morning bootcamp or a couple of laps in the pool.
And if someone didn’t feel like participating in an exercise, we let them nap or meditate or do whatever they wanted to do.
The one thing we didn’t do is force people to work all day. We didn’t feel any pressure to constantly be pushing, for the sake of looking more productive.
Nothing about the word “busy” makes me feel good. It makes me a little anxious just saying.
Instead I always ask myself, “How can this be easy?”
Then I get shit done from a place of flow and ease.
3. Come Back To Your Why
We created a framework for our participants for getting things done. We called it the Execute Compass.
Each of the four directions had a major theme to support you in doing your best work.
First and foremost was the direction of North, which signified your Why.
Your Why is the reason for doing the work you do. Your Why is your favorite client, your former self who used to be in so much pain, or the group of people who you are called to served.
Without a Why, all the money in the world won’t feel satisfying. Without a Why, it will be easier to give up when the going gets tough.
My Why are the men who email me telling me they’ve never had sex with a woman and they are worried that it’s too late. My Why is the suicidal, depressed, lonely teenager that was once me. My Why are the emails I get from readers who’ve made massive shifts in their lives without even getting on the phone with me.
When I get frustrated or tired, my Why is what keeps me moving. My Why is my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. My Why is my calling.
What’s your Why?
4. Don’t Allow Any Inside Jokes
Something strange happened in the first couple of days at EXECUTE. We started sharing everything with our participants. Even the not so pretty stuff.
We shared our doubts and fears about the retreat. We shared that we were making up the schedule as the week progressed. Some of us shared things that we’ve never shared in a group before.
Common sense would tell you not to do this. Management gurus would tell you to withhold information to appear more powerful and put together than you really are.
But we didn’t. We just shared everything.
And by the end of the week we were family.
At one point I said something in a hushed voice and Kyle turned to me and said, “There are no inside jokes here.” That felt really great to hear and it cemented this way of leadership for me.
Maybe this isn’t the best approach, but I prefer to pull people up to my level than to pretend that there are even any levels at all.
5. Professionalism Means Getting Shit Done
In not going to lie, I hardly wear clothes when I work. I talk about sex at least half of the day. And I really don’t care about what people think about me.
So going into the retreat, we were a little worried about “being professional.” After all, these people were paying $5000 a piece to be there. We all felt a strong sense of responsibility to show up in the best way possible.
Nicky and I have worked all over the world together. And we work in what’s most comfortable.
So on the first day as we got ready for breakfast, I noticed something really strange. I said, “Whoa dude, we’re both putting on pants. Weird.”
As the week progressed though, we all got a little more comfortable. Less clothes, less formalities, and less pretending to be someone who we weren’t.
We didn’t stop leading though.
We had a private discussion around professionalism on one of the first days. I asked Kyle and Nicky what they thought being professional was. One of them said, “It’s getting shit done. That’s all.”
I like that definition a lot better than wearing fancy shirts and shoes and pretending to laugh at someone’s jokes because they’re higher up in the company than you.
6. Take Time To Integrate
We didn’t lift a finger for two days straight after the Executors left for the airport on Sunday.
We caught up on sleep, laid out by the pool, and made family dinners together.
Pam Slim’s husband was talking to Kyle about this concept and he shared some wisdom from Navajo tradition.
After their healing ceremonies, which are seven days long, they take four days to rest. They liken the healing ceremony to planting seeds and the four days after to the time needed to let the seeds grow.
I’ve noticed that any time after a deeply spiritual experience (Burning Man, David Deida intensives, etc.) I need ample time to integrate. Sometimes I’ll sleep for 12-14 hours for a couple of days and I’ll have all sorts of wild dreams.
That’s the time your mind and body needs for integration. You don’t get stronger when you’re working out. You get stronger in the rest periods in between workouts.
Similarly, after an intense experience like a seven day retreat, don’t feel bad if you need time to rest and integrate. It’s just part of getting stronger.
7. You Don’t Need Alcohol To Open Up
Most entrepreneur retreats are something like Spring Break for adults.
I can’t think of one that I went to that didn’t involve heavy drinking every night. I’ve made some of my most important business connections while taking multiple tequila shots to the face at SXSW, Awesomeness Fest, Skip Winter, and World Domination Summit.
But we wanted to create a different kind of retreat. One where you actually get massive amounts of work done. So we decided that Execute Mansion would be an alcohol free zone until Saturday night for our farewell celebration.
We were a little worried that people wouldn’t be as open or as comfortable without alcohol. But on the first night I facilitated an Authentic Relating Games practice that got us just as deep without needing any social lubricants.
Without alcohol people were more present for their process. They weren’t able to numb out at the end of the day or use a glass of wine to relax. They had to sit with whatever they were feeling and process it fully.
Halfway through the week we were amazed at how close everyone had gotten, despite not dancing on tables or playing multiple rounds of beer pong.
Noah Kagen came out on Wednesday and we were talking about the budget for our event. I think we shocked him a little when we said there was no alcohol.
Yes, a group of entrepreneurs managed to function without alcohol for a whole week.
Granted, we did have a celebration on Saturday night that looked something like Burning Man meets House Party 2. But at least we earned it.
8. You’ll Stick To Your Budget If You Have One
From the moment we started accruing expenses, Kyle kept a master budget in real time to keep us on track. It’s nice to have a lawyer on the team.
When we needed to spend money on something, we checked to see if we were still within budget.
For example, our food budget was $3100 and we ended up spending $3098. We spent over a third of that in the first two days and had to change the location of our grocery runs from Sprouts to Costco. If we just winged it and didn’t plan for a set amount, I’m sure we would have went way over.
And having a budget means we actually made a little bit of money, which is unheard of for most first time events.
Our goal was to at least break even while flawlessly executing an unforgettable event and we did just that. Win.
9. Teaching Is The Highest Form Of Learning
I’ve studied copywriting for a couple years now. I’ve written sales pages before as exercises. But actually working on someone else’s business side by side with them made me step up considerably.
Someone said during the week that when they learn something new, they try and teach it to someone in the next 24 hours.
Looking back, I’ve actually done that several times after retreats or intensives. I’ve given my brother or close friends a full download right afterwards and it’s helped with retaining the information.
If there’s something you’re not that strong at, start teaching it to someone a couple of steps behind you. You’ll be amazed at how fast you step up your game.
10. If Something Works, Keep Doing It
EXECUTE was a resounding success in every way.
In our post-mortem meetings, the three of us discussed in great detail how everything went. Then we talked about the future of EXECUTE.
We discussed if we even wanted to do it again and if so where and when it would be.
After some deliberating we landed on an agreement.
EXECUTE will be a biannual event, with the next one in Portland, OR in mid-July.
Here we go again.