Joel T. Sanders
The Next Chapter of Now
Updated: Feb 16, 2020
How Surrendering to the Moment Built Momentum
A year ago, my career was in a shambles—or so it appeared to my then narrow-focus of how I thought my life should go.
I had spent the better part of two years (and a significant portion of my net worth) on an app that was going nowhere. Ironically, the name of the app—The Moon—only served to mock how stuck we were.
In March of 2019, my business partner decided to exit the company and our lone investor pulled his funds.
I was left with an app that takes 30 to 40 seconds just to open. Which is also ironic, since the intention of the app is to assist people in taking consistent action on their goals (if only my actions list in this app would open, maybe I'd actually do something!)
Starting Over From (Almost) Zero
I decided that I was terrible at planning my life, but that Life seemed to do a brilliant job of planning my life.
Intent on continuing to carry the torch (I actually believed that we were close to a workable solution on the app), I decided to put all dev work on hold and view the Moon project with fresh eyes.
I asked myself, "If I were starting from zero, with only an idea, what would I do?"
Around the same time, I came across this Entrepreneur's Toolkit by Techstars, the famous tech incubator based in Boulder, Colorado. Techstars smartly recommends engaging with target customers as early as possible in the entrepreneurial journey.
Years ago, before starting on our Moon project, my partner and I built a prototype following Google Venture's Design Sprint model. But Techstars' template recommends a much more informal, broad-based approach to customer research that's a few steps prior to the prototyping phase. And that's a step that my partner and I never engaged in.
Since our app was targeted at people who invest in their own personal and professional development, I decided to interview a minimum of fifteen people about their goals.
The Surrender Experiment
I started every interview with the question, "What are the top two goals in your life right now, and why are they important to you?"
What ensued were fifteen of the deepest and most sincere conversations I've ever had in my life. With the trust of strict confidentiality, people shared their money, family, career, and personal goals. They also shared their deepest vulnerabilities (struggles with alcohol and weight, fears about being a fraud, an inability to become pregnant).
At the end, in nearly every case, a palpable sense of peace pervaded the air. Truth had been spoken...candidly and openly. And yet, all I did was ask questions and take notes, going wherever my curiosity led me in the conversation.
In one conversation, a friend and entrepreneur I admire told me about Michael Singer's book The Surrender Experiment, saying that it was one of the top three books he had ever read, and had been impacting his life tremendously.
Of course, I bought the book...and devoured it. Michael Singer, the author, describes the story of his life, and how at an early age he decided to surrender to whatever Life asked of him. The story that ensues—from backwoods hippie to Fortune 500 CEO—is nothing short of stunning.
The short version is that he stopped trying to plan and control everything in his life, because he did such a poor job of it. Life, on the other hand, seemed to be brilliant at planning his life.
That's when I decided that I, too, was terrible and planning my life. In fact, it seemed that the more I tried to control every aspect of my experience through goal-setting and action plans, the more those goals seemed to evade me (including building an app for goal setting and action planning!).
Going Full-On "Woo-Woo"
And yet, Life itself seemed to hold the key—if only I would be present to what life was asking.
So I decided to quit trying to achieve my own plans, and simply show up for whatever life was asking of me, in the moment that it was asking it. Whatever was being asked, whether it came from another person or circumstance, I would be present to it and perform my absolute best on the thing being asked.
And that's when, out of the blue, things started happening. A friend asked me to help him run his new startup as COO. Unable to afford me on a full-time basis, he asked if I could assist on a part-time basis as a sort of "outsourced COO." It turns out, I could.
My friend's business happens to be based in Puerto Rico, and he asked if I would move to San Juan, at least temporarily, as things got off the ground.
It turns out that Angelika (my wife) and I have had the goal to spend winters "somewhere on a warm beach" for more than 10 years. And Puerto Rico has been a prime candidate for the last 3 or 4 years.
At the time all of this was happening, the lease on our Boulder, Colorado apartment was up for renewal in November, right as the winter was getting into full swing. How convenient.
Soon thereafter, another friend asked if I would help him build and launch a product for baseball fans, and a third (someone I interviewed), if I would assist her with her company's operations.
Mohammed Mostafa (my business partner at Momentum Ops) came from an unrequested introduction from a mutual friend (is it a coincidence that "Mo," the name Mohammed goes by, and Momentum seem to go so well together?).
Angelika pointed out the other day that the original name we proposed for the failed Moon app was, "Momentum," which was something that had escaped me.
There are dozens (hundreds?) of other nuances and coincidences in all of this "surrendering" that's been going on in my life. The bottom line is that I'm writing this post from my porch overlooking the Atlantic ocean in San Juan, living a life that only Life could have brought to me. I know, it all sounds overly "woo-woo" and, well, hippie-like.
So be it.