holding space

In building a business, deep thoughts, inspiration, learning, motivation by Jay Clouse

When I started in undergrad at Ohio State, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life (does any 19 year old?) so I joined their Undecided program, which they call “Exploration.”

I remember having a discussion with my Exploration Advisor (shout out to Stephanie) who told me, “Exploration isn’t a magic bean. Being in this program won’t figure it out for you — you have to try things and see what you think of them.”

It was because of Stephanie that I tried my hand at journalism. And it was because of the journalism program that I had time to try a pitch competition with the Entrepreneurship Organization.

I realized early on that I rarely entered into an experience with full clarity. But through the experience, I’d learn things I liked, things I didn’t like, and prune my idea of what I wanted through that emergence.

The same has held true to this day. When I have an inkling I’ll enjoy something, I try it. Through that experience, I look to amplify the aspects I enjoyed, and eliminate the aspects I didn’t — whether that’s through the current work or new work.

With my first business, Tixers, I realized I loved having autonomy and building products. I also realized that I hated being on call for urgent customer service needs 24/7.

So, I traded the removal of 24/7 customer service for some of my autonomy, and went to CrossChx to focus on building products. I really enjoyed that, but realized that I missed my autonomy. So, I traded the safety of a paycheck for more autonomy and the ability to build my own products with Unreal Collective.

Four years ago, I wouldn’t have known all of this about myself and been able to create Unreal Collecive in this form. It was only through exploration and emergence that I find myself enjoying just about every element of my work.

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One of the best methods of exploration is simply “holding space.” This is a phrase my buddy Zach used a lot that I didn’t really understand or appreciate until recently.

Holding space can be described as purposeful underutilization. It’s the intentional not booking of all of your time so that you have discretionary time to put into exploration of projects or ideas.

If your time is totally booked with things you don’t totally enjoy and you want to try something new, there’s just no way to do it without making the extreme choice to cut loose and start from zero.

When you hold space, you give yourself the ability to prototype or pilot ideas and collect the data you need to make informed decisions about how you want to spend your time.

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This was a long one, so I want to reiterate the two takeaways:

  1. Try things to get real data about how you feel about them instead of believing you can think and reason your way into guessing how you’ll feel
  2. Consider holding space to give yourself the flexibility to try things in small ways without needing to make huge changes to collect that same information

The downside of holding space is that you are eating the opportunity cost for selling that time or putting it elsewhere. It’s up to you to decide if the opportunity cost of selling your time is higher than the opportunity cost of learning how you truly want to spend it.


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