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Having too much on my plate made it fall and kept me hungry for long

How working on many ideas at the same time drove me to failure

Published on: 08 May 2023 by Chetan Mittal

Last modified on: 09 May 2023

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Having too much on my plate made it fall and kept me hungry for long

In 1998 I was one of the students studying in the very first batch of “Bachelors in Computer Applications”, popularly known as BCA, started by Punjab Technical University.

The course became very famous as it was neither BA/BSc nor an engineering degree BTech/BE, but it was a mix of these. I studied:

  • Business Management
  • Accounting
  • Operating Systems
  • Digital Circuits
  • Web Development (HTML/CSS)
  • Communication
  • and many other topics

This degree was the seed in shaping my professional career as an entrepreneur and a software geek. But it also built my persona of “Jack of all trades” which later on turned me into a failure.

One of my good friends during this course advised me, “Chetan, you shouldn’t try to learn and do too many things at a single time”.

I didn’t put any weight on his advice then, however, I remembered it when I failed miserably in 2018.

I was a merit student in school and also participated in sports such as Gymnastics, Basketball, and Hockey. I even represented my school in state-level basketball tournaments. And, I was focused on a single task at a time.

Before joining this degree course, BCA, I got myself admitted to a local government degree college in my native city, for a BSc degree.

Someone in this BSc class was discussing this new to-be-launched degree course BCA and shared an entrance form with me. To apply for BCA I had to sit in an entrance exam. The topics for the entrance exam were English, Maths, General Knowledge, etc.

Focus does Wonders

I locked myself up in my room for 7 days and just did 3 things — study, eat, and sleep. I ended up having 63rd rank at all India level in the entrance exam.

In 2000, I finished my BCA degree course and went to Australia to study Masters in Software Engineering.

Life was tough in Australia. I had to work part-time to earn my living and then also study to finish my degree. I did many odd jobs as an international student:

  • Dishwashing (I was doing dishes in a restaurant in Colonial Stadium when the first indoor cricket match was being played between Australia and the West Indies and creating history).
  • Bathroom and floor cleaning (Crown Casino)
  • Fruit Picking (Apples and Pears at 3 different farms in Shepparton, Victoria)
  • Store Filler at Coles Flinders Street Melbourne (midnight 12 am to 6 am shift). I also faced discrimination the first time when some Oz bloke called me colored and abused me really badly verbally.
  • Taxi Driving (Yellow Cabs and Black Cabs) — 3 am to 3 pm shift.
  • Debt Collections
  • Customer Service (Government Job but casual and temporary) — Vicroads Sunshine

In July 2001 I applied for my Australian Permanent Residency and quit my Masters degree to get a job in IT as I already knew computers from top to bottom so I didn’t want to waste another 6 months studying the same topics and doing odd jobs.

I got my PR in August 2001 and the next month 9/11 happened. I was jobless and lived off the money I received from my father for tuition fees to cover the last semester of the Masters degree which I never studied.

I was so focused to get a job in IT that I started applying for a job in the software industry. For 5 months continuously every day, the routine was to make a list of job openings from the classifieds section of “The Australian” newspaper, go to my Uni Library, and email my resume.

I ended up with a QA job and then was promoted to Java Consultant after 3 months of my joining.

Losing Focus is the First Step to Decline

In 2004 I quit my job, prepared for GMAT, and joined a full-time MBA program at 'MtEliza Executive School of Business' and finished only till Graduate Diploma.

Here, it was when I started to lose my focus, became lazy, started overthinking too much, and started to have failures. I failed an exam for the first time in my life, I fell down while running and injured my knee badly, I couldn’t speak, while giving a presentation, for the first time in my life, and I started overspending which made me get into debt.

I don’t know what happened then, maybe it wasn’t the time for me to be studying again and rather was the time to stick to my job. Anyways.

In 2005 I left Australia for good and came back to India with an empty mind not knowing what to do. I thought I have 3 degrees and getting a job in India will be easy, but, Indian IT companies only fall for either IIT degrees or US degrees and I had none. So I thought of getting my hands dirty and started a small “Outsourced Software Development” business.

I failed and closed this business in February 2006, and went back to Australia thinking there I can at least make a living by doing any odd job. This was the first business failure of my life. I had somewhat a couple of projects to work on from freelancer, odesk, etc. but my office maintenance was more than the income I received from these projects.

From April 2006 to August 2006, I sold home security devices visiting door-to-door in the suburbs of Sydney.

I felt like a dead man walking.

Focus brought me back to life

In July 2006 I prepared a list of software companies in India using Ruby on Rails technology and built a demo project to showcase my software programming skills for my job application.

I applied to many companies, including Vinsol, Patni, and others. In October 2006 I came back to India for good again and joined Vinsol to work on Ruby on Rails projects.

From October 2006 till December 2009, I worked on many projects related to Ruby on Rails. This time period was good. I got married and became a father to a son.

Losing Focus generates Confusion and builds Fear — The Second Step to Decline

In 2010, the entrepreneur bug bit me hard, really hard, that till today, 09/05/2023, I have failed many times, and for me failing has become synonymous with entrepreneurship.

Feb 2010 to Mar 2013 — My first company, having more than 6 people working for me, closed as I couldn’t compete with other businesses selling the same product at a lesser price than me. However, the real reasons for failure were a) I was confused about which business to start and started this but was inexperienced as I never sold packaged software products b) I started distributing multiple products thinking in fear that what if this product stops selling, thus more products will bring more sales, and got capital blocked in non-selling inventory. If I would have had started this company in software development or had focused only on distributing a single product then this business would have never failed.

Apr 2013 to Mar 2015 — I applied to many job openings for software engineer, CTO, etc. but who hires a failure? And, on top, I just had 1 month’s money left to survive. I reluctantly joined my uncle’s cashew manufacturing business in Mangalore to oversee its operations. There I developed a software application in Ruby on Rails to manage different cashew grades and also implemented ERPNext to manage different job work units. I also started my own small trading business and failed miserably as I couldn’t manage both the job and the business. I even lost a good amount of money to a broker who cheated on the pretext of delivering goods but never delivered after encashing the cheque in advance.

Apr 2015 to Oct 2018 — I opened a cafe in Punjab selling South Indian Filter Coffee, and within 1 year I scaled the number to 6 cafes. However, along with this I manufactured and sold steel door frames, provided home interior and exterior services, promoted a cashew conference, provided pre-fab building services, started a shared warehousing startup, and started an online global agri brokerage startup. During this period I had too much on my plate that it fell down and kept me hungry for a long time. I lost all my assets, I didn’t know which business to do, and I lost my software development skills too.

Stay Focused to Succeed

In November 2018 I realized the problem I was in. I realized that I made my plate very heavy by doing too many things at a single time. I figured out the reasons:

  • Failure made me confused and lose my focus
  • Failure made me scared and lose my confidence
  • Fear made me start and do multiple things at a single time thinking what if this one will fail then?

Nov 2018 to Today — I built an Appsumo clone in Ruby on Rails to gain back my software development skills and bagged one consulting project to work on. I focused only on one task, one product, and one business. Though I got dragged into the same too-much-on-my-plate mindset a few times in this period too, however, the time frame I stayed in this mindset was short and losses were minimal and tolerable.

If you want to know a little more about what single ideas/goals/tasks I focused on during the period from Nov 2018 then you can read my daily dose, “Multiple ideas, which one to pick?”.

How Do I Focus?

How do I focus on a single idea/goal/task?

  • First, I surrender to the superpower thinking whatever idea or goal I am working on will never fail as GOD will take care of it and I just have to put my effort into it
  • Second, I follow a self-designed pattern or system called GPSRED. G = Goal, P = Plan, S = Schedule, R = Routine, E = Effort, D = Done.
  • And third, the most important is to remember and follow the above two. And, that’s it these 2 things help me focus.

Also, a few more things I follow are:

  • I stay minimal — I have considered Derek Sivers as my Guru in this like an Eklavya
  • Be productive and stay healthy — I have put these in my routine
  • Focus on 1X — 1 Idea, 1 Goal, 1 Milestone, and 1 Task.

What Next?

This time from Apr 2023 I am going on all in with 1X. I will just focus on a single idea, create a single goal from this idea, divide the goal into different milestones to achieve at different time periods, and work on a single task at a time.

Sometimes I might wander but surrendering to the superpower will become my strength. My target is to earn my living expenses by working on just a single idea before I run out of my savings.

Now that I will be documenting my journey to success, by focusing on 1X, on social media, newsletter, and short blog which I call daily doses, you can follow me on my Twitter and Linkedin, and can also subscribe to my newsletter by filling up the form below.

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