Episode 49: Alex Lieberman (@businessbarista) opens up about his innate need to compare himself to other founders, namely his co-founder at Morning Brew. The lesson here is realizing that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and that we are often comparing ourselves to the best version of others, but not seeing the lowlights that go unseen.
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Alex Lieberman (@businessbarista)
Jesse Pujji (@jspujji)
Alex Lieberman:What's up, everyone? Welcome back to another episode ofThe Crazy Ones. This is Alex, and I am coming to you with aFounder's Journal-style episode where I monologue for anywhere between five and 15 minutes about a topic that is very present in my day-to-day of running different businesses. Today I'm gonna be talking about why the grass isn't always greener, and I'm gonna start with a story. So let's hop into it. What's up, everyone? I'm Alex Lieberman.
Jesse Pujji:Yo, this is Jesse Pujji.
Alex Lieberman:And this isThe Crazy Ones. For the majority of Morning Brew history—and we've been around now for eight years—I would say at various points I was jealous of my co-founder and I drew a lot of comparison to my co-founder. It's almost like, there's the saying of, it doesn't matter how much money you have if your brother-in-law has a dollar more or a house that's worth a dollar more; you're not gonna feel satisfied because you're always drawing comparison. That similar type of mentality plagued me while running Morning Brew.
I've talked a lot about in the past how I feel so grateful for my partner, Austin, and I do, and also how he has been so vital to the business. We complemented each other so incredibly well in terms of our skill sets. But I think as a function, honestly, of my own experiences when I was younger growing up, not feeling worthy enough, not feeling like a part of the group, I have found myself to be plagued by comparison throughout my life. And while in the last year I think I have grown a lot in trying to be more driven by intrinsic motivation, I think external comparison still creeps into my life.
So I just wanna describe what some of these thoughts have been throughout the course of Morning Brew’s journey. And my goal in doing this is one, for you to realize, whether you're running a business, starting a business, have co-founders, that it is okay to have thoughts that you don't feel great about or you don't feel proud about it. And it's more what you choose to do with those thoughts that's most important. And yeah, so hopefully this resonates with you.
I would say, over the course of Morning Brew’s history, I felt very confident about a few abilities of mine. I felt very confident about my ability to build great relationships with people, with employees, with investors, with potential advertisers. I felt great about my ability to story-tell and sell. I truly believed that if you put me in a room with a CMO or someone who ran marketing at a business, if they were interested in getting in front of the audience that Morning Brew had, I had almost an irrational amount of confidence that I would be able to close a deal.
I also had a ton of confidence around my taste for content and being able to train great content writers and my ability to organically grow an audience. I always leaned on my creative brain to come up with smart and high-leverage ways to grow an audience without paying a dollar for it. The interesting thing, though, is while I feel confident about all of those things, the majority of my brain space, at times in the history of running Morning Brew, was plagued by comparison to my co-founder Austin, about the things that he had and things that I felt like I didn't have.
I always felt that Austin was more analytical. I always felt like Austin was more focused. I always felt like Austin was better at prioritizing the most important things and being able to take a ton of noise and different things going on in the business, and condense them and synthesize them into truly what was most important. I always felt like Austin was better at thinking strategically. And I had this kind of ego for a while of like, I had to be very involved in strategy because I had my own insecurity around, am I strategic? And then, when I thought to myself, oh, I'm not strategic enough, that felt like a really icky, bad thing, because I felt like I was like the salesman or the salesman guy at Morning Brew who wasn't thoughtful or couldn't critically think well.
And obviously all of this is very ironic, right? Because it was such a beautiful thing that Austin and I partnered together, because the things that he was exceptional at, like I said, like being laser focused, being deeply analytical, being a truly unemotional and objective decision-maker, my strong suits, my zone of genius: storytelling, creative thinking, seeing the best in people, those were totally different things. Yet my brain would fixate at times on the things that I didn't have.
And so this just brings me to a broader principle that can be expanded far outside of just managing a business with a co-founder, but really any part of our professional or personal careers. And you know, I always think back to the old adage, which is “the grass is always greener.” And if you think about that in the context of the professional world, there's so many examples of that. Visionaries in business wanna be operators. I would consider myself a visionary. I would consider Austin an operator. I always wanna be more like an operator. And then on the flip side, there's so many operators that I've talked to who wanna be visionaries. And then you have agency founders that wanna be direct-to-consumer founders, software founders that want to be media founders, media founders that wanna be software founders.
And so I've thought more deeply about, why is this? Why do we compare? I believe it's because we want what we can’t have because we are creatures of comparison. Why are we creatures of comparison? Because comparison is a survival tool. It is something that is deeply coded into our lizard brains, because it allowed us to know how we were ranked in the pack for hundreds of thousands of years. But the issue with comparison today is we're not competing for bison anymore. We're not sitting at the very bottom of Maslow's hierarchy where we're trying to survive. We are now in, let's call it an elevated state of the pyramid, where it's around self-actualization and professional growth—things that our predecessors didn't have the luxury of thinking about. So instead of competing for bison, we're competing for likes, we're competing for DMs, we're competing for social status, we're competing for career success.
Now add on top of that, add on top of just our hard-coded desire to compare, add in social media and the internet. And platforms like Twitter and Instagram and TikTok have only accelerated our need to compare. But when you think about it, they're broken tools for self-evaluation. We only ever see the best in the people that we compare ourselves to. We see a founder's best success. We see a VC's best investment. We see an Instagram influencer's best angle. When I compare myself to Austin, I see the best of what he's able to do.
And what that means, because we're only able to see parts of people's best: It means the grass isn't actually greener. The grass is brown, and the grass is brown just like the grass that you're standing on. Like I said in the beginning, you don't fight the feeling of comparison. It's natural; it's nothing to be ashamed of. And you are not your thoughts. But it is a flawed model of the world. You need to understand that what you tell yourself when you compare is flawed. And you need to understand that what you do with your feelings and the thoughts that you have around comparison is what actually matters.
So what I'd love for you to do is revisit this podcast episode, revisit this content, save it, bookmark it, and consume it anytime you feel the off-present comparison creep. If you're feeling it right now, hopefully this is providing you some relief. But inevitably, you, me, all of us are going to feel the need to compare in the future. And I hope you come back to one thing: I hope you trust your gut. I hope you stay within your zone of genius, the few things that make you uniquely good at what you do and the things you love doing. And I hope you stay the course, because as I said, the grass isn't actually greener. The grass you stand on is just like the grass that you wish you could stand on.
As always, thank you so much for listening toThe Crazy Ones, and specifically this episode that is aFounders Journal-style monologue. And if there are any topics you want me or my co-host Jesse to talk about in the future, shoot us an email at email@example.com. Thanks for listening, everyone.