Seven years into my first business, I burned out. I felt bored and tired. I questioned why I had chosen this business and industry. I wasn’t energized to solve problems. It was very unlike me.
And surprisingly, it had nothing to do with business performance. We had just sold a minority interest and I had “freedom” money. Ampush was crushing it: 80% of unicorn startups were our customers and we were responsible for half a billion dollars of ad spend each year.
It didn’t matter though. I felt numb. I remember very distinctly waking up each morning, canceling every meeting before noon. Barely getting to the office and then leaving as soon as I had my last meeting. My wife was confused and concerned.
My mentor suggested hiring a coach and doing innerwork because it was clear I had lost perspective.
I did. And it was life changing.
My coach Dave Kashen introduced me to one of the most life-changing concepts I call the X Factor: a unique set of skills where you should spend 80% of your time because they are a combination of natural talents where you excel and MOST importantly, where you derive energy.
Using it transformed my professional life, so I’m going to break it down so you can transform yours too:
Before I dive into finding your X-Factor, let’s first understand the four realms we all operate in:
Weakness: I suck at documentation. As important as I know it is, I find it hard to slow down, write things out fully and ensure the details are well understood.
Comfort: I'm a decent project manager. I can check when things are due, follow up with people and carry a clipboard, if I must.
Strength: I'm really good at making a financial model and analyzing the numbers with logic.
X Factor: Sales and Business Development. I LOVE hopping on the phone, sharing a persuasive story, getting to know someone else and their challenges and of course, making the register ring.
How I found my X Factor
The funny thing about X Factors is that they’re usually blindspots for people. It’s like telling a fish that’s been swimming in water its entire life that it’s good at swimming. Likewise when people tell me I’m good at speaking I say “oh, I am?”
The best way to find your X Factor is to talk to friends and family. Ask them to reflect back to you what they think you’re uniquely good at. Write them all down and find common themes in what they say. That’s your X Factor.
The entrepreneurial danger
The distinction between Strength and X Factor is important. You're good at work that’s in your realm of Strength, but it depletes your energy. When you operate in your X Factor, the work gives you energy.
Pause there for a quick sec. The X Factor GIVES you energy. So when you find it and dial it in you become unstoppable. Work no longer takes energy. It’s a magical feeling.
For me, writing this newsletter gets me excited; teaching is one of my X-Factors.
Oftentimes as entrepreneurs, we know to push ourselves out of our comfort zone because we aspire to achieve big goals. But we get stuck in our realm of strength because we obsess over the details.
Why? Because entrepreneurship is unique in that the founder is accountable for everything. What do we tell ourselves when we start a company? “It's all on me. I got to get it all done. I have to make sure the invoices are going out. I have to make sure that the floor is swept.”
Think about the adages on Twitter/X: “You've got to do everything.”
But when you’re not expressing your X Factor, you deplete your energy and rob your company of the unique skills that only you can bring. This leads to burnout.
When I co-founded GrowthAssistant two years ago, I almost fell into this trap again…
On the first of every month, we run the credit cards on file for our customers. On this particular month, a huge number of them failed. Whereas old Jesse would jump into solution mode and immediately begin solving the problem, by the time I found out, my co-founder (who’s even more diligent than I am) was already on it. That’s when I caught myself and realized that someone else could have ownership of that stuff, the stuff that’s not my X Factor.
Finding your X Factor
When people ask me for help in career transitions or when they’re burned out, I recommend they do an X Factor Analysis.
To do an X Factor Analysis, simply write down each task after you complete it. Then evaluate whether your excitement level rose, fell, or was flat as a result of it.
For each task that lowers your energy, come up with a plan to avoid doing it in the future. Can you eliminate the task? Can you delegate it to someone else?
The X Factor is based on The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Dethmer, Chapman, and Klemp. If you want to dive deeper into this work, reply to this email and I’ll send you some other helpful resources.
Keep track of your X Factor
Oftentimes when someone who is burning out or feeling frustrated does this exercise, they realize that 70 percent of the things they're doing drains them.
What burnt me out was spending only 20 percent of my time expressing my X Factor. So I'm like, “Oh gosh, I'm just tired. My energy has been depleted over a long period of time.”
The big challenge: committing to your X Factor
The last part of this work – the hardest part – is to commit to being in your X Factor 80 percent of the time.
It’s the hardest because it’ll make you feel guilty at first.
“What if the ball drops in a place that's not my X Factor? Do I just sit there saying, I'm only committed to working in my X Factor areas?"
That’s exactly how I felt, and why it took me so long to snap myself out of the habit.
The truth is you always have to flex a little bit, but you should always try to delegate tasks that deplete your energy ASAP.
The birth of Gateway X
This stuff is hard. Like really hard. I had been at Ampush for 7+ years before I discovered my X Factor, so by the time I tried to reorganize my life around it, I couldn’t. There was a ton of inertia at the business.
When I was designing what I wanted to do after Ampush (ie Gateway X), I intentionally built the company around my X Factors. The whole organization and my role in it is literally designed to maximize the time I spend on my X Factors. I can launch new business ideas with CEOs, but once the businesses start gaining traction, I don’t need to be as involved in the day-to-day operations.
My hope for you is that you can learn something from my story and design your ideal life (both professional and personal) around your X Factors. If you can do it successfully, it’s truly life-changing.