Erik Michielsen was always impressed by his colleagues and associates at boutique research firm ABI Research. Though they weren't as glitzy and renowned as Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, these everyday professionals still had wisdom to share and a story to tell.
So the marketing expert branched out on his own, intent on sharing the experience and expertise of his most inspiring peers and former workers in a video series. Documented and chronicled through a years-long process during which Michielsen met with subjects, interviewed them as they grew and then spliced the videos into short segments on specific topics. The end product was his website, Capture Your Flag, which features a free online video library.
The idea is for viewers to follow the interviewees' professional (and, in some cases, personal) journeys, relating to their experiences and learning from the up-and-coming leaders, who Michielsen vets based on their passion and purpose at work, sincerity, commitment and momentum. It's a concept Michielsen coined "Near Peer Learning"—that is, learning from people that are inspiring and provocative, but don’t follow the traditional narrative of success.
“We’re lost in a culture that waits until you’ve made it, whatever that means, before you can share your story with the world,” he says. “I wanted to unlock those stories, I wanted people to understand that we are surrounded by so many wonderful people’s stories.”
In a cutthroat business world that often demands an obsession with achievement in exchange for success, the Capture Your Flag series questions what that really means for individuals.
"They look back and they're 40 and they say, 'I've been working my tail off and following these rules all my life, but I'm not happy,'" Michielsen says. "We try and avoid that by sharing these stories, by giving people some experiences they can compare and contrast against their own selves."
A seasoned member of the business world and now an entrepreneur himself, Michielsen says there are a few standout takeaways from his interviews that have stuck with him. These important tidbits transcend industries to outline the hallmarks of a successful person.
Put yourself in uncomfortable situations
“You'll find yourself more comfortable than you ever imagined once you've done it. And once you've done it, foreign becomes not-so-foreign... You'd be surprised what happens,” Michielsen says. “Yes, you'll get hurt sometimes. But more often than that, you'll learn how to live more fully. It's not being fearless, it's just understanding that it's OK to be putting yourself in uncomfortable situations… That's how life really unfolds.”
Persevere and be persistent
“None of this happens overnight. It never happens overnight. Never,” Michielsen says. “We celebrate these stories of success across industries—Steve Jobs is one that was really in the public eye in 2011, and Jobs' story took 35 or 40 years to unfold. He's a smart guy, but it was all incremental steps. There were only a couple big leaps in that entire story… We just don't realize that.”
Don't fake happiness—it's impossible
“You can fake something when you meet somebody, when you meet them once or twice. But really, if you're unhappy, or if someone's broken, it's going to come out,” Michielsen says.
“We don't have all the answers, there's no playbook for life or career," adds Michielsen. "And I think it's OK to understand that life holds a lot of unhappy moments... There are going to be the ups and the downs, and that doesn't mean we have to make these really big decisions, changes."
It's easy to get discouraged or thrown off course when you lose a client or a big deal falls through, but what Michielsen tries to stress is that those failures are part of the course. Instead of allowing yourself to be consumed by financial pressures, for example, focus instead on figuring out why you're in business in the first place.
“I think that's really a self-awareness of how do you define meaningfulness, how do you define fulfillment, how do you define and measure success? That's a question I ask everybody" says Michielsen. "It's just better understanding yourself. You don't deserve anything less than to be happy. Maybe that comes through money, maybe that comes through relationships, maybe that comes through experiences—it's different for everybody—but what's not is that you deserve the right to have a smile on your face. That's something that a lot of people forget.”
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