How To Overcome Your Fatal Flaw

Trevor Owens has a flaw. So do you. Owens' flaw has held him back for much of his life; instead of letting that continue, he decided to correct the problem as much as he could and where he can't fix it, to change what he can so that his flaw has less of an effect on his life. Here's how he did that.

Photo by Steven Depolo.

One thing I've been thinking about recently is fatal flaws. Basically, what's that one thing that is going to hold you back (perhaps systematically) from achieving your goals. For most people (and for me), this is a deep seated & recurring problem they've dealt with for a while. It could be caused by the way they were brought up, your personality, your physiology or a combination of the three.

The first step

How can I turn this flaw into an advantage and how can I overcome or minimise the disadvantages?

For me, my whole life I've struggled waking up early and in general, having a consistent sleep schedule. It's partly psychological. Growing up I used to loathe the weekends when my dad would wake me up at 7am to do house work and help with the family business. I remember lying in bed and covering my head with a pillow, groaning, "can I just sleep for 5 more minutes?" When my dad would travel for business nothing would make me happier than sleeping in on weekends.

And it's part physiological. Five years ago through a sleep study I found out that I have severe sleep apnea, waking up every 3 minutes and falling back asleep without remembering. That's a total of 180 times during an 8-hour sleep session. I get only 1 minute of stage 4 deep sleep a night when 30 minutes is the norm (FYI - stage 4 is when your body repairs deep body tissue & organs). Now I sleep with a CPAP, and while it's completely changed my life, it's not a total fix. I still need about 1-2 more hours of sleep than most people I know and it's easy for me to fall asleep without remembering, even with multiple alarms.

As an advantage this has helped me in two ways:

  • It's given me an affinity for the working late and hanging out at night. The "night crew" always knows each other. I've made some of my best relationships through partying out until dawn.
  • It's made it difficult to have internships and jobs. For this reason I've always spent my summer reading, building websites and I've opted to start my own companies instead of working for someone else.

So why bother to change?

In all honesty, I could go on without changing this and be pretty happy and effective at what I do. But there's a couple specific reasons why it's an advantage for me to change.

One thing I've learned from my dad is the importance of being the first person to show up. As a startup founder & CEO, motivating your team and delegating responsibility is your job. 80 per cent of leadership is leading by example, which is just another way of saying being first.

Next, I've noticed that that mentality of waking up early is a powerful one. It sets the tone for my day; I'm early for meetings and I'm more relaxed. When I start my day behind schedule by simply hitting the snooze button, the rest of my day seems to run behind schedule.

Lastly, many successful people are available first thing in the morning but not during the day. My friend Peter Boyce started a group called Early Founders where he gets together a bunch aspiring entrepreneurs to have breakfast with one successful entrepreneur. He learned that he could get the most interesting guests for his event to commit to doing something in the morning.

How I've corrected this problem before

Almost anything can be achieved with enough discipline and routine. When I was studying in Beijing, I used the time zone change to wake up every morning at 7am, run/workout, and be in class by 8am. It worked great for the first 10 days, but one night out with my classmates sent me back to my old schedule. I've later read that doing something consistently for two weeks will make it a habit. In my experience I've found this to be fairly true.

How I'm going to correct it now

I've always remembered the saying, "if you want to clean your apartment, invite your friends over". It's more motivating when you have a social-orientated deadline/accountability. Surely, setting up an early meeting with someone you respect is a means to waking up early. So my goal is to do this starting off once per week, then slowly increase to twice per week, three times, etc. As long as I can make steady progress and keep my goals clear, I expect to be OK.

I'm also going to consciously keep my stress level lower, consume less caffeine, etc. But the focus here is starting off gradual yet being consistent.

Want to help me accomplish my goal? Let's get together for breakfast, you know where to find me.

How to Overcome Your Fatal Flaw [Trevor Owens]

Trevor Owens is the Founder of Lean Startup Machine, "The Metrics-Driven Startup Competition." They help founders identify the largest risks in their business model through hands-on mentorship and their framework of tools.


    My fatal flaw is depression and lack of direction... Been holding me back for a long time and could be physiological or psychological :(

    Same here, depression and lack of direction. Knowing I'm now where I want to be in life and not knowing where I want to go... Karaoke has got me meeting new folks, but it's also messed my sleep schedule and low carb diet w all the beer... :-)

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