Debra Swersky
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Black Or White

It’s Friday, which means that I weigh myself today. For the past 10-something years I’ve woken up, worked out, and weighed myself. It’s a routine. My first thought on Friday mornings has always been: “Did I gain or lose weight this week?” Gain or lose. My mind is trained to think/hope/wish “lose.” The obvious factors are against me: (1) I’m a female. (2) I live in America. (3) I had gained “a lot” and lost “a lot” of weight before (in college, duh). And, (4) When it comes to weight there are “rare” occurrences where gaining weight is considered “good.” But, I digress. Every Friday I get on the scale, take a deep breath, cross my fingers, and look at the number. Somehow, despite my sometimes numberphobic mind, I have an aptitude for remembering the number from last Friday and can immediately tell you if I’ve gained or lost weight. (Note the language: gained or lost.)

The routine of the same question and same “I’m about to weigh myself” rituals for 10-something years is important. But then… Headspace. In one of my more recent sessions there was a note about the things that we do on a daily basis and how we don’t necessarily apply the same sense of curiosity to them as we do the new and different things that we do. There it was… my subtle revelation.

For the past 10-something years my mind was thinking the same thing every week: gain or lose. I was doing to the same rituals every week: [No, I will not delineate my craziness for you here]. I was behaving the same way week-over-week. I was not being curious and therefore was stuck asking myself the same black or white question every Friday: Did I gain or lose?

Did I need to gain or lose? What about “maintain” or “sustain”? Could my answer be gray?

Hello, out-of-whack Friday… What other black-or-white questions have I been asking myself? (Um… Tons.) Give or Take. Fixed or Growth mindsets. You may have even read my thought process!

And then there was one unexplored black or white question: “Are you building or selling?” (SCVNGR, 2009). Let’s put it this way, I didn’t apply to a job at SCVNGR to write code (i.e. build the product), nor was I making cold calls and selling. My response had to be black or white. My future employment was on the line. If I didn’t answer “build” or “sell” I was out… as in not hired… as in not “mission critical” to my new cash-strapped-startup employer. So, I built (wrote, really, text message based scavenger hunts) and I learned how to sell the experience. I embraced what has come to feel a whole lot like “gray.”

Together, at SCVNGR, we built and sold… never one without the other. It’s one lesson that I keep with me and that continues to fuel my business-life: “Everyone learns how to sell. Everyone.” From engineering to finance to marketing to sales. As the company grows and scales everyone (everyone!) needs to embrace gray.

So… what did I learn here? Life is gray. Business is gray. Black or white questions exist to get you thinking about gray. It’s not about gaining or losing; or giving or taking; or building or selling… it’s about “thriving.” So… what does “thriving” look like? Hello, Curiosity!

Debra Swersky