A Sample Size of One

May 31, 2013

sample size of oneSometimes the sample size needed to make the best or right decision is one. You.

If you are deciding to get married, you will get advice—some of which is sought, some of which is not. Friends and family may tell you to spend more time with your would-be fiancé or take a break for a month or more, or do a background check, or recommend that you live together first. They may make judgments based on a single comment or some body language. Or they may ask great questions, like, “Does he/she bring out the best in you?” and “When do you feel uncomfortable with him/her?” and “Does he/she make you laugh, and does he/she laugh at your jokes?” But nobody will be able to tell you definitively if you are making the right decision for you…because they’re not you. Nobody’s insights can compare with your “in-there” experience and knowledge of self.

Having a child is no different. Others will weigh in on whether you’re ready and right for parenthood, they can fill your head with all the challenges and wonders, and, using all kinds of data points, they can make projections, some of which will be undoubtedly come true. But their experience of parenthood won’t be yours. Yours will be your own. And the decisions regarding parenthood should be yours, too. The only sample size that matters is one.

(By the way, the most worthwhile piece of advice I received, with regard to having kids, was to get them to 11 lbs. so they will sleep through the night.)

Just as it’s impossible to really know what it will be like for you to be married or have a child, it’s impossible to know what it will like to be as a CEO. Again it really is a sample size of one. Only you will know if it’s right for you, and you likely won’t really know until you’ve experienced and grown into the role. The way I experienced the role was different than my business partner, and it’s been different for each of my clients. Each person brings themselves into this role because to use someone else’s playbook immediately disqualifies you as a leader. Leaders must know themselves and lead from that knowledge of self.

You must rely on knowledge of self not just for beginnings or “firsts,” but for when to end or call it quits. Temptations are ever-present. For entrepreneurs, private equity funds or investment bankers often provide these temptations. I have rarely seen an entrepreneur happy without a company to run. And yet it is unbelievable how tempting investment bankers make life without those responsibilities sound.

There are some things that you can’t know–no matter how much data is available, no matter how many experts have been consulted, no matter how well someone knows you or the situation, no matter how persuasive the arguments (or investment bankers)–until you’ve experienced it for yourself. Some things you alone must decide. And, in these situations, make sure the decision—whether it’s to begin something or to end it–feels right and best to you.

Sometimes the sample size needed is just one.


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