7:30 am. First period. Sixth grade. 

I walked down the hall of Bonnette Junior High School, viola case in tow, hoping nobody would see me carrying it before I could stash it away in my locker. Though I desperately wanted to play percussion in the school’s marching band (much cooler), my mom had other ideas. So, the orchestra it was.

When I tell you I hated playing in the orchestra, I mean, I hated playing in the orchestra.  It was so uncool. But even so, I loved music. Several years later, diploma finally in hand, I ditched the Pachelbel to assemble my very own pop-punk band. We were called Perfect Balance and in my mind, we had finally achieved that cool factor I’d been seeking since sixth grade. For two years, we covered plenty of Blink 182, Good Charlotte, and Green Day, and even wrote a few original songs about real life—girls, breakups, and beers—and clamored to play any venue that would book us.

My ultimate dream for Perfect Balance was to head to SoCal and join the Warped Tour. I saw us improving with every gig, I saw my people in the crowd with each show—and I saw our checks getting a little bigger over time, too. I could see it happening: Slowly, gradually, we were moving up the pop-punk mountain. (Warped Tour, here we come.)

Experiencing all that growth felt good. After all, growth of any kind is part of the journey from good to great. But what happens when you actually get to the top?

What I didn’t understand until later is that when you reach the highest heights of any mountain, that is the time to celebrate. But here’s the thing about being at the top of the mountain: The air is pretty thin up there. There’s not much oxygen, without which, your brain starts to suffer certain effects.

Both physically and metaphorically, when the air gets that thin, you can start to feel depression kick in, or you may engage in some risky decision-making. If you’re not careful—in other words, if you get complacent—all that joy you feel at the top can send you reeling back down the mountain again.

So, what about my career as a rock star, ascending toward the pinnacle of the pop-punk mountain? The air got thinner, for sure. And I definitely made some risky decisions. But fortunately, I met a wise mountain guide during my sophomore year of college who set me straight.

That all-knowing sherpa was a girl I’d known since high school, who I was pretty eager to impress. Studying together in the library, this girl—who I had, up to this point, believed to be a fan of my musical prowess—told me my band sucked. And that I should do something with my life that mattered. Ouch.

Her words hit me like a boulder, sending me careening down the mountain I’d been working so hard to climb. While my ego was bruised, it was the tough love I needed to hear.

This crushing blow to my music career was actually an opportunity; it inspired me, and after landing at the bottom of pop-punk mountain, I saw an even bigger, more exciting mountain in front of me—in fact, it was so large I couldn’t even see the top. But I sensed I was ready to climb.

This new mountain had everything to do with wanting to impress my cute study buddy. I was committed to winning her over by doing something that mattered. So I quit the band that very day, pawned my equipment, and started what would become the Digital Growth Institute.

Exponential Growth and the Journey from Good to Great

I like this story for a few reasons—one of which is admitting to you my past life as a burgeoning rock star. But more importantly, it highlights the distinction between growth and exponential growth.

Here’s the difference: If growth is simply a journey from good to great, it’s the result of a single trip up one mountain. Exponential growth, on the other hand, takes time and work—and a lifetime of trips up and down a never-ending mountain range.

Copy of 15. Cave of Complacency

Don’t let this discourage you though. This is when you reach in and locate your why; your reason for forging ahead when you’re climbing yet another mountain. This will keep you from succumbing to the siren song of the Cave of Complacency, urging you to allow yourself to get comfortable where you are.

These Cave of Complacency sirens sing a sweet tune—a respite from the chaos of change and growth. But much like Odysseus’s sirens, these sirens offer a false sense of security. They’ve lulled many to complacent stagnation in their time. But the world outside the Cave of Complacency doesn’t stop changing. We must continue to push for growth and innovation to continue our ascent toward exponential growth.

Climbing Mt. Mutatio to the Apex of Awareness

Before you go further, I have to admit something to you: You’re not climbing any old mountain on your journey toward exponential growth. You’re climbing Mt. Mutatio.

Mutatio is Latin for change. It symbolizes a journey of letting go of your past to claim something even better. And any type of change in your life points you toward what I call the Apex of Awareness, one of the most transformative places you’ll ever find yourself, right atop Mt. Mutatio.

Copy of 16. Mt. Mutatio

At the Apex of Awareness, you can see in all directions. You can review your past clearly. You can see your future goals and the work it will take to bring them to fruition. You can stop and explore the present moment for what it is, seeing where you are and where you have yet to go.

Every journey of exponential growth starts with your first few steps up the mountain; up to the Apex of Awareness. But if you remain rooted in legacy and fail to change or transform along your journey, you’ll never make it to the top where you gain full awareness of where you’ve been and where you need to go next.

Copy of 18. Learn Think Do Review

The Next Step: The Territory of Transformation

What comes after the Apex of Awareness? You can see what’s ahead of you—and on our journey, what’s ahead is the Territory of Transformation. This is where you realize your exponential growth; where you’ve finally achieved the goals you identified at the top of Mt. Mutatio.

Here’s the thing: When you reach the Apex of Awareness and see the Territory of Transformation ahead of you, you’re only halfway to your goal. Sure, you see it clearly for the first time, but you still have to do the work to get there.

To get to the Territory of Transformation, you have to identify your goal. After all, without defining a goal—a destination—there’s no clarity about where you’re headed. These goals provide purpose, meaning, and direction.

In other words, your goals are your compass—they help you find your way as you work to achieve exponential growth. When you make the trip up a mountain of growth, you can survey the transformative treasure waiting for you on the other side. But you can only see these at each mountain’s peak, and by reviewing where you’ve been. That’s how you can shift your focus, apply what you’ve learned, and work towards your goal. It takes a lifetime of reviewing, learning, and thinking—and awareness that there are still a few roadblocks to overcome as you make your descent, or you could wind up trapped, back in a Cave of Complacency…

Watch Your Step On Your Descent: The Four Fires of Fear

The first roadblock on your descent? The Four Fires of Fear. Fear can be paralyzing. Often, people do everything they can to avoid confronting their fear. That’s why it’s best to be prepared; to know what’s coming so you can identify these potential fears and overcome them.

Copy of 19. Four Fires

Fear of the Unknown

Fear of the Unknown creeps in when we don’t know precisely what steps we need to take next. This is actually nothing more than FEAR:

  • False
  • Evidence
  • Appearing
  • Real

But as philosopher Seneca once wrote:

“It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has the unexpected happened? How often has the expected never come to pass? And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering? You will suffer soon enough, when it arrives; so, look forward meanwhile to better things.”

We can overcome this fear by rewriting our past tragedies as transformational triumphs—to write a new script about the future we want to create.

Fear of Change

When we start to let go of old beliefs, habits, and behaviors, Fear of Change creeps in. We’ve been clinging so tightly to the familiar that we don’t always see that these old ways just may be the very thing to trap us in the Cave of Complacency.

One thing about change though: We can’t stop it, no matter how we try. Take it from Michelle Toll, a financial brand leader with over 25 years of experience:

“Just when you think things cannot possibly move faster, they do. The internet will continue to iterate in both unpredictable and predictable ways. The physics of financial and economic elements of global markets, investing, banking, currencies of all types, and technology will make certain that disruptive wobble is the new norm. The real challenge will be to ensure talent keeps pace and existing organizations continue to adapt.”

To combat the Fear of Change, detach from the “doing” of your work. What is the unique value you provide? It takes reflection, but this knowledge will help you embrace change, instead of running from it.

Fear of Failure

The banking and financial services industries are notoriously risk averse. And from an early age, we’re taught to view failure as a negative, starting with our A-F grading system. We work hard to avoid the shame we’ve learned to associate with failure. It feels like losing—but it doesn’t have to.

As Nelson Mandela once said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.”  And as Thomas Edison stated, “I have not failed 10,000 times—I've successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work."

Adopting this attitude toward failure is easier said than done. We don’t hear many high-flying CEOs talking openly about their failures. But without addressing—and embracing—failure, our approach to our work becomes too safe. We become afraid to step out of our comfort zone and innovate.

We should feel free to make mistakes—and then learn from them. It takes changing the narrative around failure, removing the negative stigma and perceived threats, instead making failure the fertile soil from which new growth can spring anew.

Fear of Success

Fear of Success might just burn the hottest of the Four Fires of Fear. It certainly can be the most destructive, which is why it’s wise to stay vigilant. What does Fear of Success look like?

You might recognize it as holding back from sharing an idea or trying something new—because you’re scared of what will transpire if everything goes according to plan.

You might recognize it as lowering the bar or settling for mediocrity instead of stretching to achieve what you know to be possible.

Those who fail to stretch themselves will fail to grow, so it’s important to continually build the muscle of adaptability and put out the flames of the Fear of Success whenever they start to spark.

What’s Next?

The journey toward exponential growth starts with you. I challenge you to identify which of the Four Fires burns brightest in you and confront it head-on.

Face your fears rather than run from them. Now is the time to commit to walking through each of the Four Fires with courage and confidence. Yes, fire can burn you. But it can also be the thing to cleanse and purify you along your journey, rising like a phoenix from the ashes.

Don’t let thoughts of how hard it’s going to be to climb your particular mountain overwhelm you or keep you from the transformative treasures that await you. Take the step. Walk through fire. And emerge from it all to claim your bigger, better, brighter future.