Working in the Mundane

Setting Proper Expectations

My wife and I will celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary this year.

Back then, we went to an Anglican church and our pastor gave us a piece of feedback just before we got married that Ashley and I probably bring up with each other at least once a month. It was this simple truth: Most of our relationship will be pretty boring.

Meaning, we’ll live our lives together doing dishes, eating, cleaning the house, and running errands. He called it “living in the mundane,” and a goal for our marriage is to actually figure out how to thrive and be comfortable in the mundane. That advice has saved us countless hours of fights because I think we might otherwise expect our marriage (especially early on) to be “mountaintop” moments that are always fun and to always have engaging conversation. Our pastor helped us recognize that living in the mundane is actually helpful and good because it allows us to rest, both as individuals and as a couple, and it takes away a lot of pressure.

Passing It On

This past week, I was with a bunch of students who came to visit GAN for an hour. They’re all in an undergraduate entrepreneurship class. I usually start those discussions by asking why each of the students actually wants to start a company immediately after finishing college. Their answers usually have something to do with not having a boss, wanting flexibility, or how much fun it will be to run a company.

And as I’m sitting there, all I want to tell them is one thing that I know probably won’t get through:

Most of what you do at a startup will be boring.

Why I want to share this so badly is that most students leaving school believe that a startup will allow them to live the life they have right now (in college). And I would argue that most “grown-ups” believe the same thing about startups. That they are always fun, exciting, and high-energy. And all I want to say—over and over—is, “Most of what you do at a startup will be boring.” A majority of your time will be spent responding to email, doing payroll, handling conflict, and solving minor problems. Another way to say it is: You’ll be working in the mundane.

There is this great study from the Harvard Business Review that shows an almost direct correlation between those people who can delay gratification and people who have long-term success in their life. When I think about working in the mundane, what we’re really saying is that we are delaying fun, exciting, high-energy activities because we believe that working in the mundane is actually the right thing for our companies.

Why I think this is so important is that having the right expectations, just like our marriages, will allow us to have a healthy respect for why we are doing what we’re doing. So many people join startups and companies believing that they’re always going to be fun and interesting. Instead, if we expect our jobs will require us to be consistently in the minutiae, it’s not going to be a surprise when we’re actually in the minutiae.