Troy Carter has a saying: “you can’t fall off the floor.”
His career has seen its share of peaks and troughs. From a struggling artist to a struggling manager of other artists, he started as a kid from Philadelphia who saw Will Smith as a mentor, went on to manage the likes of Eve and Lady Gaga on their respective ascents to fame, and transformed himself into a renowned venture / tech investor.
He told Guy Raz on “How I Built This” that “you can’t fall off the floor,” more than once as he recounted his life story. For every glorious summit (excluding where he currently is), there was a trauma inducing decline on the other side. From his wife and mother-in-law pawning their wedding rings to keep their house, to his biggest clients telling him they were moving on to other managers, he experienced some major, major setbacks.
“…you know, I never, you know, considered suicide but I know why people do.”
Why are stories of failure so fascinating? Why is this one of my favorite “How I Built This” episodes?
Is his failure only interesting because he “made it?” Does it only matter because we all want some of the lightning from his bottle, whereas we couldn’t care less about the failures of (insert deadbeat acquaintance of your choice)?
If you haven’t “made it,” how do you separate insane from genius? Where’s the line between deadbeat and “just haven’t made it, yet?”
One problem is that we tend to focus on only two types of failure: failing on the way to the top, and failing on the way from the top. We tend to avoid talking futile deadbeat failure unless it’s as a cautionary tale.
I’ll offer my opinion, but I think it’s based on why I like the “you can’t fall from the floor” quote so much.
If there’s a floor, then there’s a ceiling. If we can tell a story about getting up off the floor, then there must be something worth pursuing.
If there’s a ceiling, then we can also fall back to the floor. Hubris and humility are real too.
These are well trodden aspects of the human condition. There’s drama in the phoenix rising from the ashes, and there’s drama in Icarus burning his wings. These are tales as old as time.
Deadbeats aren’t interesting because there’s simply no real story to tell. It’s all Eeyore-ing and kicking the dirt on the floor. If there’s a ceiling, they don’t bother to care, because it’s unobtainable anyway.
Young Troy Carter had grit. He believed in a story and that it just couldn’t ever get worse than that. He was starting from the floor, but always looking up.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the “How I Built This” series, it’s that we shouldn’t be so exclusively interested in the headline details of these stories so much as the processes they capture.
Everybody has a floor, and it has to serve as a metaphor within their life. The deadbeat’s floor is too literal. The deadbeat’s floor is a story-less prison. But in the hands of the Troy Carter’s of the world, it’s where imagination and the narrative come from. The floor is the baseline you just have to innovate from, because there is no other option.
And lest we forget, the ceiling is real too. Once you’re up, you’ll need to learn how to stay up, which requires a different type of story. That means continuous learning at the never-ending risk of failure.
“You can’t fall from the floor.”
All the worthwhile business books in the world can be summarized by that quote.