71. Leading through Wild Confidence and Low Self Esteem with Joe Parker

March 29, 2023

71. Leading through Wild Confidence and Low Self Esteem with Joe Parker
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In this episode, Brock speaks with Joe Parker. Joe is a former Army officer worked as the head of capital markets at USAA, a product manager at Amazon and now is the COO at positive some of venture stage investment fund. In this conversation, we talk about how you can lead from the front by willing to get dirty and how that drives retention and greater buy in from your employees. We talk about the business of the military and the unique challenges it faces when it comes to developing the people who run it, and why many high achievers choose to exit. We also discuss the shortcuts to finding what you're good at, whether you're the right person to change the world, and finding the jobs that align with those key features of who you are.

Episode Resources:

Positive Sum


(02:36) - Joe's introduction and how the Army was and wasn't what he thought it would be (09:40) - What suffering in the dirt means as a leader (15:10) - Why timing and tenure is weighted heavier in the military (20:27) - How to take Amazon's ability to find and promote great talent back to the Army (24:51) - Who are the shareholders of the military and how does that drive outcomes (36:02) - Measuring success both in, out, and exiting the service (41:10) - Joe's desire to surround himself and work with entrepreneurial people (44:13) - Identifying what we're good at in life (51:28) - Getting into Venture Capital, specifically working at Positive Sum (57:32) - Unpredictability in work and the world and finding obsessiveness (01:07:39) - Joe's long term goals

The Scuttlebutt Podcast - The podcast for service members and veterans building a life outside the military.

The Scuttlebutt Podcast features discussions on lifestyle, careers, business, and resources for service members. Show host, Brock Briggs, talks with a special guest from the community committed to helping military members build a successful life, inside and outside the service.

Get a weekly episode breakdown, a sneak peek of the next episode and other resources in your inbox for free at ⁠https://scuttlebutt.substack.com/⁠.

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Brock Briggs  0:00  

Hello and welcome to the Scuttlebutt podcast, the show for vets that are hungry for knowledge. I'm your host, Brock Briggs. And each week, I bring you a conversation with an interesting vet to find out what we can learn from them. This week, I'm talking with Joe Parker. Joe is a former Army officer, worked as the head of capital markets at USAA, a product manager at Amazon and now is the COO at Positive Sum, a venture stage investment fund. In this conversation, we talk about how you can lead from the front by willing to get dirty and how that drives retention and greater buy in from your employees. 

We talk about the business of the military and the unique challenges it faces when it comes to developing the people who run it and why many high achievers choose to exit. We also discuss the shortcuts to finding what you're good at, whether you're the right person to change the world and finding the jobs that align with those key features of who you are. Need to apologize in advance for some of the differences in audio quality you'll hear in the first half of the show. I had to re record many of my responses to Joe due to some spotty internet that interfered with the audio quality and it was quite the undertaking to do so. But this conversation was very well worth it. If these podcasts are just not enough for you, you're beating down the door for more information from me and interesting veterans in the world. I've got the answer for you. 

I don't have all the answers, but I have the answer to this. Every Saturday, I read a free weekly newsletter, got summaries of episodes with new takes and follow up information. It's got links to episode transcripts, content recommendations, the occasional meme. A couple weeks back, I presented some research that I did here in grad school about veteran disability groups and how the priority group one or veterans with disabilities greater than 50% has risen three times as fast as the total veteran population over the last 20 years. Interesting content that you might find intriguing. You can find that all at scuttlebuttpodcast.co. Please enjoy this conversation with Joe Parker.

Brock Briggs 

Joe, I appreciate you joining me today. You have a wide reaching background. And I believe each part will be important to our conversation today. Can you take two to three minutes and get us up to speed about your time in the army and how you got here today?

Joe Parker  2:36  

Sure. So I'm an Air Force brat. Everybody in my family has been in the military. So I knew I was going to eventually be in the military. The only weird thing is I picked the army which everybody that was Air Force or Navy my family made fun of relentlessly. So I started the journey at TCU and ROTC. I played football, I did ROTC, I didn't have a social life that I went from there into the military. I moved all over the place. I trained Iraqis how to disarm bombs, did all kinds of fun stuff. And I kind of figured out that I wanted to eventually leave the army like and start my journey into the civilian world. 

And so I left the army, completed an MBA program at University of Texas at Dallas, went from there to USAA, which is a large insurance company. I'm sure a lot of military people know exactly what USAA is. And I worked in several different parts of USAA, eventually ending up in investments. And then I went from investments as a product manager to being a product management executive at Amazon. Pretty sure you've heard of that, too. So I was running the product over Amazon Seller Support. And then I saw this amazing opportunity in venture capital, which is really where sort of my heart is in venture capital and working for Positive Sum as their Chief Operating Officer. And that's where I am today.

Brock Briggs  4:04  

You obviously didn't stay in the army, which may be an indicator of how your feelings were for it, at least at the time. You've also shared some strong words about the transition process, which we'll get into. Was the army everything that you thought it would be?

Joe Parker  4:18  

I am built for the Army. I'm built to suffer in the dirt with other people. And for that I loved it. I think probably my first alarm signal for the army itself was I met my first general officer as almost brand new second lieutenant. And I remember thinking like, oh, no, I might be smarter than this person. And that was frightening to me because I was like I'm pretty sure I'm going to be a general I mean because he doesn't have all the confidence of, who doesn't have the crazy confidence like a second lieutenant. But I started seeing things in the military which are very much if you want to rise to the top or you want to help make decisions and create policy and really drive the army forward, you obviously have to be at a very senior rank. 

And to get to a very senior rank, it's literally time like nobody ever comes by and says, you know what, Joe? You're kicking, you're killing it right now as Lieutenant. Let's promote you early. Below the zone, promotions happen, but they're really more accidental, like, they're like, oh, we don't have enough signal captains. So let's promote some random people below the zone to signal captain to fill some table of organization at the Pentagon. So it's not really a talent based rise to the top. And that's true of anyplace. I mean, in corporate America, it's the same way as well. It's not always based on talent. But I would argue that in corporate America or on the outside or whatever, you have much more control over your destiny because you can walk away or change positions or you can practice and try new things. 

And so once I figured that out with the army, it's really just okay, Joe, if you want to make policy, make decisions, whatever, you gotta wait 15 years. And all you have to wait 15 years, you have to get lucky on a few assignments. There's only so many battalion command jobs, there's only so many brigade command jobs and you have to get selected for those. And the type of competition for those positions often is not within your control. Like there's a lot of luck. There's a lot of what they're looking for those positions. And so I didn't want to wait around. And I mean, I'm probably not going to live forever. There's no evidence yet that says I won't, but I kind of needed to call my own shot. And I couldn't do that in the military. 

And also, I noticed a tendency in the military: we can't help ourselves when you're part of a large bureaucracy, if it's Amazon or USAA or the FBI or the military, you start becoming assimilated into whatever that culture is. And so what I also noticed is at the top levels of the military, those that I interacted with, well, super capable, amazing men and women doing great jobs and serving their country. They weren't particularly clever. They weren't as innovative because they're more there to perpetuate a system that exists versus redesigning it and creating what needs to happen. I mean, think about how we run the military. 

I always joke about West Point or the army where we have 15 formations a day, we have 15 formations a day in the army. Why do we do it? Because back when we had a draft army, we needed to constantly count people because people would leave. Well, now everybody that works. Everybody, every enlisted soldier in the army, this is pretty amazing, can read and write often have a college degree. So why did we run the army sort of like they don't like we run it as if they were still, you know, farmers that we drafted? So yeah, all that more, kind of drove me to the civilian world.

Brock Briggs  7:57  

I think you highlighted one of the biggest challenges with high performers within the military. You are extremely limited and upside advancement to promotion cycles and external factors outside of your control. For those that want to either perform at a grade above the rest or willing to put in more, it isn't exactly rewarding of that in terms of more pay or other rewards. And the rest, at least in the enlisted world, if you're willing to stick it out, you can do that almost indefinitely without really driving to succeed.

Joe Parker  8:27  

Well, that's why my heart goes out to. I do, obviously, I have many compatriots that are serving in very senior positions, particularly in the army, that are very good at what they do. And they have stayed in and they have suffered and they have persevered. And for them, my heart goes out to them. But it's a bureaucracy. You know, it's designed, it's a thing that's designed to do what it does, which is enforce the will of the United States. Like I always think it's funny, all the different programs, we have everything else. 

And at least from my time in service, it was quickly. I quickly realized like, oh, you got to be really good at some pretty icky work in the army like because at the end of it all, is a soldier with a gun or a knife. And clawing for something, safety, security, ending a threat, whatever you want to do. Yeah, when you think about that way, it's a lot less glamorous than it should be. It's not meant to be glamorous. It's a very messy, brutal world. Particularly at the end, where you have the soldier with a gun.

Brock Briggs  9:40  

Earlier you mentioned that you were built to suffer in the dirt. What does that mean exactly?

Joe Parker  9:46  

For me, it means I'm a very simple person. I have a very simple philosophy. I have a fairly simple life. And I think many people try to create themselves into more than they are. And for me, I know what I'm good at. I'm good at being, I'm a very good role player. I step up and lead when I need to. I can only lead by example, like I would never ask somebody to do something I wasn't willing to do myself. And when I say I'm in the dirt, I mean, I'm in the dirt. Like when I was in the military, I'd be out there pounding pickets with any specialist in the army just because that's what I do. I can only lead that way. And I meant more like I do not have a hands off leadership style. I suffer with my people because life is about suffering. That's a good thing: embrace the suck, as they would say in the army.

Brock Briggs  10:39  

Is that the best leadership style suited for the army do you think?

Joe Parker  10:44  

I think it's best suited for everything. Sacrificial leadership, is we're all selfish. I mean, I'm not going to sit here and say like, I'm an amazing, holier than that person. I'm not at all. But I do think I'm a fairly good sacrificial leader, meaning I don't, what's the great like cutting it? Like, I'll tell you the one time the army ever did something for me just because I was an officer, like, let me go first. Because everything else in the army always went second, which it should be. We were boarding the plane back from R&R. So it's a course run by the Air Force. We were boarding a plane back to Kuwait. So I could go back to Mosul. And they're like, some version of like, officers load first. 

And I was like, I couldn't do it. It made me physically ill because I know it's not the way. It's not the way I think. I'm very bad at that. So I'm very good at sacrificial leadership. Does it serve you well in the army? Absolutely. Does it help you get promoted? Not necessarily, but you will have better results than everybody else, you'll have better PT tests, you'll have better shooting, you'll be better in the field, morale will be higher, you'll have lower attrition, like people reenlist to work with a leader like that. They just will. You'll have better NCOs, who wants to be embarrassed by a lieutenant or a captain, nobody wants to be embarrassed by Lieutenant. The easiest way to embarrass a senior enlisted soldier is to outlead them, outcompete them, outsuffer them in some cases. 

And so those people will flee from you, like bad performers will flee from an environment like that because they'll be exposed. Because what they're used to doing is they're used to seeing a leader that says that they lead sacrificially, but for sure takes care of themselves, the whole I got mine mentality. It's the only way I know how to be. So it's not even fair for me to say like, I selected that. I didn't select. That's just who I am. It's the reason why I played football at TCU wasn't because I was the best athlete. I was probably one of the worst in the history of any football program in the history of mankind. But because I knew how to suffer and lead and work my way through things, I was able to play for four years, poorly. But I was there.

Brock Briggs  13:02  

It's a shame because people that choose to lead in that way have a wider aperture on the organization and their own future prospects, which leads them out of the service. And therefore drives turnover, as you mentioned. When you were exiting, was that your consensus?

Joe Parker  13:20  

That’s easy. When I left, they flew me to Baghdad and I had to meet with one of the commanding generals because they were that hard up for captains at the time, not for me, they were just like we needed. I had to fly down there asked for two things. So I wanted to re branch to the infantry. And I wanted to spend a year like at a Dallas map station so that my wife could be you know, she could try her career out and see how she was doing as a brand new accountant. And I were held, I'll never forget the email going out to Army HR, you know, to whatever it is the like, to me, the world's easiest requesters, 2 billion captains, like it's not a big deal. And I just couldn't get it done. 

I remember thinking like if a general can't like, put some just, I didn't ask for like 10 years or something. And this is when people could rebrand really easily. I don't know how it is now obviously. I just remember how ineffectual that general officer was within this bureaucracy. Because he didn't care. I mean to them, they're like, they'll cycle me out or cycle me in. And so does the army work like a giant centrifuge and spin out super talented people that have ambition? Absolutely. Because the military is not, you need a certain kind of ambition to be successful in or not successful, a certain kind of ambition to advance in the military. 

And that ambition has to be laser focused on promotion and figuring out the levers that get you promoted and the levers that get you promoted in the military are very different for super ambitious people that are going to be successful in the civilian side. Primarily, it is a function of like, are you willing to wait. And if you're willing to wait, then you're probably going to do a lot better than somebody like me who's not willing to wait. I don't want to.

Brock Briggs  15:10  

And that waiting is a brutal game for someone who's trying to move quickly. At least in the Navy, your promotion is tied to not only a test, but an evaluation. And with those, even something as little as your arrival date to a certain unit can be the difference of a different letter on your Eval. I remember at my first duty station, I remember showing up as a solo arrival, wasn't anybody else in my group because I got there alone.

I had like an individual check in with my E-6 at the time before going to another school. There was a group of four people who arrived a couple of weeks after me and they got a lower evaluation score, even though we had all done nothing by that point. And that actually led to me getting promoted in the next cycle on that and they didn't. That element of tenure stretches out to if you're an E-5, who's been up for promotion, six times, unless you're an extremely low performer, leadership will automatically rank you higher, despite performance. The timing issues were always a net positive for me. But in hindsight, it exposes an extremely flawed system.

Joe Parker  16:16  

Right. Because there's no governor on that. So they'll say like, hey, it's Joe's turn to get the top lock ranking out of all the captains or majors because you know, it's Joe's turn and you just became a major. So I'm not going to give you a top lock. Because you know, it's too early, not because your performance or whatever, yeah, that's ramp. It happens. To be frank, this is not me saying I'm not down in the military. I had it. I wouldn't be who I am without the army. I'm a huge supporter. Again, I have lots. I know lots of amazing people that are still in the army. What I will say is this is prevalent everywhere. And it's a symptom of weak leadership and weak accountability and weak incentives. 

And you can find that at any company that you go to. Some places do really well, like an Amazon is excellent at identifying talent, and figuring out who needs to be on the bus and who needs to be off the bus. And they're relentless about that. The Army just isn't it's not incentivized. The army is a numbers game, like you just need humans. Like at some point, you're like, I just need humans to hold things and move things in. And the Navy's a little bit different, I think, obviously, because you have tests and things. But I would argue like, the more popular or the more seemingly popular the services, the more testing and evaluation, you're going to see, the less popular the less evaluation, you'll see. Because it's not a numbers like that point. They just need a party. 

Like always think about in the Navy, how miserable would the job be, like chipping paint. Like, somebody's gotta do that, right? Somebody’s gotta like chip rust or something because boats are always in a state of entropy. There's breaking, they're constantly breaking and I had a friend that was with me at OBC that had moved to the army. And one time I was joking, I said something like, I don't know, oh, it must have been great to be on that boat or something insane. Who knows? And he's like, great. Imagine yourself locked in this building that we're in this two storey building for six months. And every once in a while the water randomly literally their water generator, machine, whatever makes freshwater just breaks randomly. 

Or, you know, one soldier does something horrible and breaks the system. So you have all these systems that are constantly breaking. And then there's definitely jobs that are more like who wouldn't want to like be in the signal sack shack we're going on computers or it or something versus like, you know, on the deck somewhere painting, like, obviously, there's a class system there within the Navy. And so when you look at it that way, you mix in an officer that doesn't want to be in charge that or an enlisted person that doesn't want to be in charge of that function because it's already looked at kind of downward, like, oh, you're this you're just the deck game, you just ship painting, you know, carry all the heavy stuff around and like and the boat, the boat rests on your shoulders. But nobody acts like that because you're replaceable, like who can't ship paint. That's what they think. 

And of course, they think that and there's functions like that in corporate America and in the military. So yeah, if you get a bad leader running those divisions or running those functions, everyone's gonna hate their job. Everybody's gonna want to quit. You're gonna have constant churn. Nobody will be able to connect the importance of painting something all the way back to having a great strong Navy that can take on anybody in the world, like, who wouldn't be miserable. I don't know where I was going with that, but I could be king of the paint chippers.

Brock Briggs  19:44  

I'd have happily join underneath you.

Joe Parker  19:49  

I could make that job into something. I'd have the best painted boat in the Navy. But that mentality that I just expressed is very few and far between. And the thing is like all the goodness in life comes from being able to embrace that type of misery. Like everybody thinks the best job is, you know, in IT or on the computer. But that's the easiest one for me to replace fire. It's the most expensive like the one like the real interesting people or people that can figure out how to take the most important jobs like that keep the boat afloat and then make that into like the best part of the job.

Brock Briggs  20:27  

You said that Amazon does a good job of finding great talent promoting them and sorting through the different types of people. If we were to go back to the army with what you learned at Amazon, how would you implement that?

Joe Parker  20:41  

Well, I don't know. Honestly, I don't think I could bring much back. I mean, because the way the reason why it works so out of place at Amazon is just like the military already speaking a common language. In Amazon, it's through the lens of the Amazon. Leadership principles is how people talk to each other and communicate. I think there's very similar things in the Army, for sure. But the difference is, you're answering back to a shareholder or you're answering that to a bottom line cost or to a customer. I mean, like, you could get bad feedback. 

And so at a place like Amazon, if you have somebody that's just in the wrong spot, like you've hired somebody that doesn't belong, and the performance isn't there, and you've you've tried a couple of you've taken a couple of stabs at how can I make this person or help this person be more effective, that's a whole nother discussion, performance management. But at a place like Amazon, they will not let you get they will not let you as a leader tolerate poor performance, they see it as unfair to the other employees on your team. They see it as unfair to you as a leader, because you have to, you have to face the results of bad performance. And they see it as unfair to the customer. Because they look at it as a customer that wants to use an Amazon product is ultimately going to get a worse product. 

And they see it as unfair to the shareholder or the bottom line of the company. And so they have a lot of systems and mechanisms in place to make sure that they hire leaders that are willing to performance manage, which is really difficult to find because it only only crazy sociopaths like telling people they're not doing their job, most people don't want to have that conversation. So you try to find those non sociopathic leaders. And then the other is, there isn't a single job at Amazon that isn't important. Like Well, let me rephrase it. So it's not triple negatives. Every job at Amazon is important. Everything is important. Everything matters, otherwise, we wouldn't do it. And so when you when you when you think about the world in that lens and you look at something like what's the what's chipping the paint

Amazon probably like customer service, like who wants to take a call from somebody that didn't get didn't have a good experience getting a package or somebody lost money on a sale or something like that. Nobody wants to take that call. And so oftentimes at a place like Amazon, you'll find the best leaders in those organizations, you'll find the best at motivating employees that kind of thing back the ones that try that understand how miserable that job can be. And try to make it as best as it can be. But it's still, you know, chipping paint, like it's still chipping paint. But I find it the opposite in the military, the military tends to say like, what's our worst job? Well, let's make sure we put our worst leaders there. We put our worst funding. I always asked me what's the easiest job like what's the easiest job in the military? 

And I think a lot of people outside the military will for sure. Say something like, I don't know, Joe, like admin or something. You know, I worry like, but it's for sure. Not Navy Seal or Ranger and I'm like, no, the easiest job in the friggin world is being a seal. I mean, you have unlimited funding. Everybody that's there wanting to be there. Everybody is there. Well, I think we're willing to die to have that seal that chair at the desk. So everybody, everybody has a common goal, a super narrow mission. Like you're not going to find seals chipping paint ever, because that's not their mission. And they wouldn't do it. They would hold their nose up to it. They're overfunded. They have all the best people. There's a spree decor to be there. So imagine leading that team super easy. Everybody's happy to be there. 

I mean, obviously there's problems people get upset everything but it's not going to be we didn't have the best equipment. The worst jobs in the army are like, go work in a warehouse, broken forklifts, broken soldiers, broken leaders. It's a tough environment. And it perpetuates itself. You know because you have that, you create this cycle of bad performance in a place like Amazon, they would flip it on its head. They would look so if you over perform in Amazon, so they would take my results and they'd say, hey, Joe, you did really well. Oh, why did you do so well? And why didn't you tell us that? Like, remember, we were making goals at the beginning of the year. Now we're in the middle of the year, why are you beating your goals so well? Did you sandbag this goal or the opposite? 

They've come back to you, if you have really bad performance. They say like, hey, your performance is terrible. What did you learn? Like, what did you not know when you set this goal? Because we think you're smart and you would have set a realistic goal. And the answer is often like, well, the reason why I'm super successful is something completely out of my control, just I got lucky. And the reason why I'm wildly unsuccessful, could be something wildly out of my control. And I'm just unlucky. And a place like Amazon tries to understand that the military is never going to do that, you know, the machine.

Brock Briggs  25:41  

How much of the differences between say Amazon and the army or any other military branch are driven by who the shareholders are? At Amazon, we have like the literal shareholders who are looking for business results in performance on certain metrics. The military shareholders are the American people and are much more disconnected from that. And despite being beholden to a budget, it really isn't a business.

Joe Parker  26:08  

I disagree. I think it's absolutely isn't business. And I don't mean that in some cheeky, like, the industrial war complex. No, I mean, there's all system metrics, like if you just look at the army 1000s of hours go into reporting, understanding readiness understanding where we're positioned globally, where the I don't know, the five choke points on the planet that the Navy needs to keep their eye on, like all these different things. There's I think, I actually do think the army and the military in general have very well defined, well crafted mission. But I do think it's really interesting to explore the question, well, who does everybody serve? So at Amazon, like at Amazon, clearly I serve me, right? Well, because I'm Joe, the employee. 

And I'm like, it's cool to say like, well, I serve the shareholder, whatever. No, I'm trying to maximize whatever my paycheck could be, whatever my promotion potentially could be or my lifestyle, like, I don't want to work 70 hours a week or whatever. I want to maximize. So everybody has their kind of, I don't know what you call like your big red bow. But then yeah, let's zoom up to the corporate level or zoom out to the corporate level. And you look at Amazon. I feel like it was kind of serving Jeff Bezos and Jeff Bezos. I don't know if Jeff really cares about the shareholder. I mean, he does because he owns a lot of stock. He is the shareholder. 

I think the thing that he was looking for was more, is Joe serving the customer? Like, because in his mind, if people don't want to buy things from Amazon, it all breaks anyway. It's all broken, like we can have. I can run the greatest product team in the history of Amazon. But if nobody's going to use my product and nobody wants to buy it, then what's the point? Like what are we all doing this for? So ultimately, it comes back to a survival thing and a growth thing. So then you shift over to the military, you think, well, who's serving what in the military? And that's a really eclectic and strange question. So you say, well, we serve the people of the United States, like kind of, I think everything else, I got to think about what I did in the military, what was I doing? Oh, I was serving the people around me, mostly. 

So I told you, I'm a sacrificial leader. I'm not trying to wear that as a brag, although it sounds like I'm bragging. I meant more like, I tried to serve the people around me the most, the soldiers, my fellow officers, whatever, because there were some really tough things that we had to go through. And that was the most important thing to me. But I also felt like I was serving this machine, like this system where you would, you know, submit reports, but we don't like the way the report looks. So can you kind of shade this number a little bit change this outcome. And so I think I honestly think that I don't know, it's a government apparatus, like the generals are trying to stay in their chairs for as long as they can. And they're trying to prepare themselves for their board seat when they leave the military because they're serving themselves. 

I don't think they do it, because they're evil people. I probably would do the same thing. Because they have families to feed they have careers in there to think about they they probably are thinking about the soldiers and the people around them as well. But when you put your thumb on the scale, you're probably going to put it on the scale for you. So I guess I'm trying to perpetuate that general officer's career, which is highly politicized at that level. So those generals are probably trying to figure out what's the best answer I can give to my other super senior officers and my civilian counterpart, that's an elected official? 

Like what do I need to say, what do I need to do to support this thing so that I get my funding that I keep my chair, that the people that I need to be promoted or promoted? So yeah, I think that's where you tip now we're into conspiracy land and the industrial military complex. How'd you get me here? My long way of saying is, there is no shareholder. I agree. The right answer would be the American people or the Constitution or something, which I think is mostly true, actually. I'd say like, I don't know, 85 to 90% true. But yeah, but then it's just like regular business, everybody's kind of in it for themselves, looking out for them.

Brock Briggs  30:14  

You've talked with me about certain ranks and individuals that struggle with their transition more than others. How do you think that the incentives and thoughts about who we serve changes as we exit service?

Joe Parker  30:26  

Yeah, I think the way I would put it is the civilian world is like, it's like reentering reality. And the military is, for better, for worse, it can be a really friendly place for somebody trying to figure out their life or trying to build or develop skill sets, whatever. But oftentimes, the things that you think you start, you start creating this kind of like knee against the machine mentality, when you're in the military, you're like, oh, when I get out of the military, it won't be that way anymore. I'll be out of the machine. And I'll be super successful and how do you know you're going to be successful? It's because most of the people that develop this sort of me against the machine mentality are really good, really good soldiers or officers or whatever. 

And so they think like, once I hit the civilian world, people want to pay a lot of money for my skill set. Like because I have this amazing skill set. It's a leadership skill, or I've learned, like, the best part about soldiers or Airmen, or whatever people that have been in the military is you can throw them any problem, and they'll work on it. And they'll work through it and they'll figure it out. They're the ultimate figuring things out. They don't know anything. Like the army is beautiful. Like, they never expected me know anything, nothing. They just be like, hey, Joe, you're a brand new captain, can you be in charge of all the logistics for northern Iraq? And my answer is like, of course, I can do that. Because why not? I'm me. 

And so that's the type of person that's leaving the military. They're leaving the military with that amazing sort of bravado or confidence that you that has served them well and will continue to serve them well. But then you hit the ice cold water. Nobody knows who you are, nobody cares who you are. Nobody understands your resume. It sounds good. And they're super respectful of your service. But they're like, how do I know that you can actually run a team of people that settled total losses every day at my insurance company? The answer is you don't have a lot of evidence of that. So you either have to figure out how to communicate that. Or you have to, you have to land a good break, or go work at a company that understands that. And so the higher up in the rank structure you are. 

So like, if you're a colonel leaving the military, the more painful it is for that transition, if you didn't prepare because a lot of a lot of senior ranks within the military, like I think about senior listening and senior officer, when you're in the military, everybody knows you're good because of the thing you have in your sleeve. Or if they don't think you're good, it doesn't really matter. Because of the thing you wear on your sleeve or on your collar like they're like you have, you are who you are because of the rank. You're almost secondary to your rank, like people they see your oak leaf before they see your face. Like that's how we treat and the civilian world is very different. Because there are people Nobody wears ring. And so you don't really know who you're talking to all the time. 

And conversely, you may have worn the oak leaf in the military or the stripes. Like if you're in the Navy, I think when you get out, nobody knows who you are. Nobody cares who you are. All they see is like you did some amorphous job for the last 20 years. And that's a very harsh awakening. Couple that with it being extremely lonely, like I was telling you earlier, compared to the military, the civilian world is transactional. It's cold and it's lonely. Nobody, there's no group suffering. Nobody can reminisce about the deployment that you've had or whatever and everybody goes home at the end of the day. Everybody has their own life and everything else. Nobody gathers to talk about work. And that's one of the amazing things about the military is people still do that. So if you're not prepared for those two things, it's going to be a very humbling and choppy transition. And that's why you see a lot of junior enlisted and officers run as fast as they came back to the military.

Brock Briggs  34:14  

It's interesting, I talk to a lot of people in the transition space just in kind of a mentoring capacity and you talk to people and they parrot this thing that we're taught is that we can do anything exactly what you're describing, like we can, oh, we've never done something before, but we're ready to tackle it. And there's a really hard time explaining that when it comes to a job because an employer doesn't want to hear that you can do anything. They want to know how you can do the job that they're giving you. Your job role is already defined. It's not like this big, like you said, an amorphous thing that is just floating out there that we just need to somehow dig in and solve. It's already laid out for you.

Joe Parker  34:58  

Yeah, and then just the regular, the results are different too. So in the military, you can kind of escape bad results by PCSing or you can kind of wait things out or results don't matter the way that they do in the civilian world. It's all a results driven thing. How many widgets did you sell? How much did it cost you to sell those things? And so if you're not able to understand that and perform, it gets really tough. The military is all about being in a machine that controls your destiny, which is not a bad thing. 

It's like, listen, we'll give you a really good retirement. But you have to be willing to move all over the world, we kind of won't fire you ever. We may make you kind of hanging out where you are for a long time. But the trade off is, if you don't have a lot of personal ambition, that's okay, you can be here for a while. In the civilian world, if you don't have a lot of personal ambition, you are going to have a tough time. I think you're gonna have a tough time controlling your destiny if you try to run it that way.

Brock Briggs  36:02  

For those who maybe get out or are wanting to get out that do want that control of their own destiny back in their lives, how do you think that we ought to measure success? And this may be best off answered by how do you measure your own success since exit?

Joe Parker  36:20  

Yeah, well, I think my version of success is changed many times. I continue to update it. I think that you have to be very deliberate about writing down what your goals are or what you think your goals are. And then you have to reevaluate those things. So I'll give an example. Like if your goal is I want to make a ton of money, like I just want to make a lot of money, like that's a fine goal. Like, I've had that goal historically. It's probably changed a lot as I've had kids and a wife and you start realizing that times really, really, really valuable and it's how do you cross those two things together. So one, you have to set really good really definable goals for what you expect. Like if you're leaving the military, that'd be my first question, which is like, I don't know. I have soldiers come to me all the time. 

They're like AC mechanics, which is a great career. By the way, I'm not knocking the career, but they would do like AC repair. And they would say something like, there's a company that's offering $150,000 a year to do something. This is like 2006. And I would always tell like, hey, you send me your first, you send me a page stub that shows that or an offer sheet? I'll give you $100. I never had to pay $100. Because there's this kind of like, there's reality meeting fantasy. And yeah, there's a lot of that when you transition out of the military. And so I think having a good understanding of how you're going to define your reality, like what your goals are. What are your actual tangible skill sets? Where do you want to be in 10 years? And not like in a career, but in life in general? Do you want to be married? Do you want to have kids? Do you want a house? 

And then you can trickle into things like jobs. Like, is there a title that you really want? Is there a field you want to be in? Lke, if you want to be, I didn't even know what a product manager was when I was in the army. And I had no idea. I don't even know what a product manager was until like 2014. And then I was a product management executive at Amazon. It was crazy even say, it in 2018 or 19, I can't remember what it sounds like. Either way, like, I'm saying like, you can't you also can't know things you don't know. That's a really stupid way of putting it. But that's how I think of life is like, what are the things that you don't know? 

And how do you leave room for those things and the careers that don't exist, that you may be a part of? Like every career I've had post military, outside of my first couple of jobs, they were all in things that didn't exist, like ETFs weren't really a thing, outside of like Blackrock or something. And I launched products in ETFs. So really goals, really good, really good understanding what you bring to the table, what interests you like, you should have a list of things that interests you and then figure out what kind of person you are. Figure out if you're a person that is entrepreneurial, super curious and very comfortable with ambiguity because you will hate the military if you have those three things. 

But if you're not really questioning why you're leaving the military and not in a negative way, because it's hard to be, you will end up in a newer version of the army. But with a lot less stability if you don't have those three things and not having those three things is perfectly fine. You'll still be successful, you'll still be happy. But it's just you have to face reality. Because if you don't like ambiguity, stay in the military because this is an ambiguous world. And it's frightening.

Brock Briggs  39:59  

That's such a common phrase that's used amongst people that are getting out is oh, I'm getting out of the army or whatever branch because it's kind of like a cool thing to say, like, it's this thing that like, oh, I don't like authority or I don't like being told what to do. And it's like, you're gonna go out and you're gonna need to get a job. And it's much less safe. Like the army can't just fire you for no reason. You're always going to have a job as long as you continue to show up and don't do anything particularly harmful, not the case in the civilian world.

Joe Parker  40:36  

Yeah, and the army doesn't know how to talk to those people. Anyway, half of the people that stayed in the military when I was an officer and we really needed people to stay. They would stay because I would have that kind of conversation with them. Say, what kind of person are you? Like, where do you? What are you really looking for? Are you getting out of the army to stick it to the army? And the answer was almost always like, yeah, I want to show them. I’m like, you're not going to show anybody because the Army goes marching along. It doesn't, it will forget you five minutes after you're gone if not sooner and yeah, I agree.

Brock Briggs  41:10  

Would you have considered yourself to have that sort of entrepreneurial, live in an ambiguous world kind of mentality?

Joe Parker  41:21  

I'm like, the lowest rung of the ladder. I think, 

Brock Briggs  

Got a little slice of it. 

Joe Parker 

Yeah, I'm really good at hearing good ideas and executing on good ideas. And so my sort of sweet spot over time, I think, has been work for really entrepreneurial, really smart people that can be which has its own set of difficulties, like they can be very mercurial. And I've been lucky that I've had really, really fantastic leaders since I got out of the military and completely by luck or God's grace or whatever you want to call it. But I'm very good at hearing their thoughts and executing and implementing on those things and dealing with the constant churn and change in direction and shifts and pivots that come from really smart people with good ideas. 

Like I knew that in the military, my favorite job in the military was always XO. I loved being the XO. I was the XO like the day I walked into the army, they're like, you get to be an XO. I mean, I don't know anything. And I love that job because I'm really good at giving bad news, which is all the XO does. Because when you're in charge, you don't want to get bad news. You want to get the other guy to get better. Because what's the point of being in charge if you have to get bad news. So they get me to give the bad news, which I'm good at. And I'm good at kind of holding people accountable, like making sure trains run and things happen and people are loved on. 

I mean, like, I spend a lot of time loving on people. Loving on people is my favorite thing to do. Like I spent all my time like how can I love on these people, love meeting the good and the bad, like love on them, like I love my kids. I really care. I'm a very empathetic person for somebody that doesn't sound very empathetic. But yes, if you're one rung below me and you're a person that doesn't, that's not particularly introspective. And you're kind of along for the ride, which a lot of people are along for the ride, there's nothing wrong. A ton of people at Amazon were along for the ride. And now the rides over for them like they're off the ride because Amazon just had a ton of layoffs. 

And it's interesting to see how they react to that. I've been laid off before it wasn't. It was uncomfortable. But I of course worried because I'm a human, but I didn’t worry very long. Because I kind of know what I'm good at. And I know what I can do. And I know how to deploy that skill set. So I can hold on very lightly to my jobs. So I don't have to lose sleep over them. But if you're along for the ride, it's better to be on the safest ride ever if you're going to ride along. In the civilian world, it's difficult to be just to let other people sort of manage your career for you. And hope that you get the promotion or hope that you know you don't get laid off for a cost cutting reason or something. It's very difficult.

Brock Briggs  44:13  

Do you have any ideas about how we can best come to terms with or identify and then come to terms with the things that we're really good at in life? I think a lot of people, you work in VC, there are a lot of people that are aspiring entrepreneurs, but the reality is, is 99% of the people don't have what it takes to be doing that. And I think that your identification was of like what you were really good at. It was interesting to me because a lot of people like oh, I want to be the CEO. I want to be the boss. I want to do this. But what you pointed out was like, oh, no, no, like I'm good at this like and this is the lane that I can thrive in. And I think that pushing aside like our true talents and callings, it's kind of a disservice and may even set us back and our careers post military.

Joe Parker  45:07  

I mean, there's the classic ways where you can take like, I forget what they're called, like EQ tests or something or you can take, like Myers Briggs and I forget the other one that does the emotional quotient part of it. I think some people say they're very much like astrology kind of like hearing like, that's me like I am a Virgo or whatever. I think there's some truth to that. But I do think you get a couple of broad strokes out of it. Like I think you get, I don't know I always end up as like, I will always be an introvert for example. I think I'm an introvert. I'm pretty sure I am. Some people know that they're introvert. And some people know that. I'm an extrovert. A lot of people know, they're introverted. A lot of people like those broad things you know about yourself. 

So that should clue you into some things. If you're an introvert, it's going to be very difficult for you to work in a place like sales and sales is a revenue generating part of the company. And so that's why you see, a lot of salespeople are paid the most. And, you know, they're promoted very quickly if they can run sales teams, etc. And so but if you're an introvert, either need to overcome that and know that that's a known problem. And battle your way through it or you got to settle on a space that's more comfortable for you. Because I think the most critical thing you can do is work in a career or a skill set that will punish you in a growth standpoint because we should all suffer for our craft and our work. If it's too easy, you're being disrupted and you just don't know it. So you gotta suffer for your craft a little bit. 

But must know what those proclivities or what you want your craft to be. And I don't know if there's a test that can tell you that some of it so for me, it was a lot of process. It was just like straight line that you can apply to everybody's life. It's like, well, Joe was in the cherries and because that's always the place he was going to be. If you could build a time machine and you could talk to anybody that knew me in eighth grade, they would have laughed. I mean, they wouldn't have even like they would have, there's a 0% chance anybody would have said that I would play football one or play football at TCU. There was a 0% chance. Nobody in eighth grade would have said that. And they all knew pretty well. If you go to like high school 0% chance anybody would ever say I would work in a place that involves a lot of finance and accounting. So I do all day long. I do like finance and accounting stuff. Like my wife would tell you, she probably still says there’s 0% chance. 

And she's an amazing CPA. But I'm saying that I'm here because a lot of it was process of elimination. Like I worked at a gas station down the road from where I sit right now in San Antonio. They gave me a shirt that say Chris on it because they didn't want to pay so they named Joe on and so everybody called me Chris and I didn't respond very well. So I'm pretty sure they all thought it was dumb. But to be fair, maybe I was. I worked at the chevron where you know, the guy, you know, one of the guys was missing some fingers and I swept all day and I cleaned bathrooms and I went, this isn't for me. Not in a bad way. It's just like, I don't want to be like that 55 year old over there. This is kind of what they do. And but he's perfectly happy, which is I learned very early, like my happiness isn't somebody else's happiness, we have very different versions of happiness. 

And so it wasn't for me. And then I worked construction in the summer, like in San Antonio, Texas, underneath buildings, pulling our rebar, ripping out pans, whatever on top of my head. And I went for sure isn't for me. It's hourly work. And it was difficult. And it wasn't fun. But again, people build whole lives around that. And I'm not arguing that they're any better or worse than I am. That's not how I look at like, but I'm slowly eliminating things. And then when I was in the military is like, oh, I don't want to do this. I want like we all have those moments where like, we're in a job where we can either see ourselves doing this for a long time or rising in the ranks of it or we're like we need to change this up. And so for me, the biggest thing was like, I want to work in investments, I want to work in finance and accounting.

And I don't have a resume that supports that. And I'm going to get out of the military in 2008 when nobody's hiring anybody. That's me now and here I am today. That's not a good plan, right? It's a terrible plan. But I had a plan. My plan was like, I'm gonna go get my MBA. So I went and I did my MBA and that's what I like, I rebranded my whole resume before I even knew what rebranded meant. And I worked really hard and it was uncomfortable and I do calculus and everything I didn't want to do, but I did it anyway because I knew what I wanted to do. And that's where I ended up at USAA working in different parts of the company trying to figure out what I wanted to be because I didn't know. If you'd asked me then what venture capital was or would have been able to tell you and I had no idea it would have sounded like like something Disney did if you pay them a lot of money you go on the venture capital, right. 

So I think a lot of it is figuring out in broad strokes where you want to go, figuring out the small incremental steps that are going to help rebrand your resume or get your shots on goals so you can at least understand what that universe is.And then at some point, getting over your, what's the word that we always used an Amazon? It was imposter syndrome. Everybody that Amazon thinks they're an impostor, except for me because I have wild confidence. Impostor syndrome is real and exists for military people. It's fake because you end up in a room with people. And they're all talking about crazy stuff like, IRR and NPV or whatever, if you're in finance or something. And being able to ignore that feeling of impostor syndrome, like for me, it always go like, well, I don't know, two years ago, somebody tried to kill me a mozal. So I think I'm going to be okay. And then realizing that everybody in that room has had some version of that. So being able to control those steps, I think are critical.

Brock Briggs  51:02  

You may consider yourself low on the entrepreneurial risk spectrum. But I think that that willingness to fail and like try a lot of different things is extremely important to figuring out what your thing really is.

Joe Parker  51:19  

Yup. And I don't know how to do it any other way. But if you're entrepreneurial and you're stuck in the military or in a job, that's an opportunity, it's going to be brutal for you.

Brock Briggs  51:28  

How did you come to be in your position at Positive Sum? I would love to hear how you've landed there and what you guys are building there.

Joe Parker  51:37  

I think one lesson anybody can take away is I hate there's a lot of these phrases like, take care of your network, maintain your network. I think somebody told me once like, think of your network, like plants. So like you're a plant on my network and I gotta go water you're rolling. So I was doing is I guess, blow a call on to you or talk to you or something. I've always hated that visual because I'm very bad at being transactional, like I am. Genuinely, I can't. It's hard for me not to be all in. When it comes to people, it's a curse. But I do spend a lot of time figuring out who I think is special in my life, who has done something for me that didn't necessarily know they did something for me, like I think a lot of people have given me breaks, but they didn't even know they were giving me breaks. 

And I want to remind them that they gave me that break. But I spent a lot of time figuring out who my favorite, I don't know, 50-100 people. There's an upper limit to that. You can't have 1000 people that are special to you. And I spent a lot of time interacting with and maintaining and viciously taking care of my relationships here. Because I don't know what the next thing will be. Meaning like, I have no idea like I can't apply for a job that I don't know exists. And I can't learn something that I am unaware of. And so and it's not transactional, like I don't, it's not me calling a friendly guy, like, have you heard anything good. But what works for Joe today? It's not that at all, it's more I'm top of mind if they see something and they think of something and it could be something as innocuous as a hilarious news story. 

Or it could be a life changing moment. And so that's how I ended up in Amazon. That's how I ended up in the job that I had prior to Amazon USA. That's how I ended up with the career I had in the military. So I was so, my company commander in the military got selected for the worst mission that nobody volunteered for orders military transition teams. So that was the Army's exit strategy for Iraq. They're like, we're going to take a grab bag of senior enlisted and officers, take eight of them and embed them with Iraqi Army units and basically, stymie their careers a little bit. Because where are the good colonels gonna go? Are they gonna go on the Mitzie mission? Are they gonna go be brigade commanders? The answer is like, of course, they're going to be brigade commanders. So you get really kind of shaky senior leadership in those roles. 

But I volunteered to go and I'll never forget calling up the branch manager because my boss Jack Level, who I love dearly, he got picked for that. He got picked for that job. And in my head, I was like, I can't let that guy go alone. I've been his XO for like, several years, I just got promoted to captain like. He's gonna be terrible at that without me. So I called the branch managers like I want to go to they're like good news. Nobody wants this job. So that's how I ended up there. And but it led to other things like it led to other opportunities that I didn't know existed. And that's how I ended up the Positive Sum, Patrick and Sam, who are the principals at the firm, they posted for an operations role and somebody from my network reached out to me and said, hey, you should apply for this thing. 

Now. I just randomly apply for I was like, if I can get it like to me, it's like a little bit of buying a lottery ticket. I thought my resume looked good enough where I might get a callback. But you know, you never know these things. And I've met Patrick before very briefly because we ran in the same circles for investments. But yeah, I interviewed well for it. I feel like I'm always on a probate. I'm a year into it. I always feel like I'm on probation. Like I every day I wake up like, am I doing enough to reward them for picking me? Like anybody that picks anybody that bets on me? Like I all I care all I can think about I obsess over, am I returning on that bet? Because I always feel that I'm a bet, like because I'm some random dude from the army that used to dig holes on the construction site. And so that'll never leave me. No matter how successful I am like, so yeah. That's how I ended up at Positive Sum. I applied.

Brock Briggs  55:57  

Turns out, you have to do that to get jobs these days. He called you unpredictable on Twitter. And that is pretty accurate so far, but it's interesting to me that he said that, but still hired you.

Joe Parker  56:13  

I'll push back, let me hopefully pass you're gonna hear but I'll push back on Patrick here and say, I'm extraordinarily predictable. Like I promise you this is not intended, but even yesterday, so I gotta get to church. I sit in the same spot in my Bible study class. I started two years ago, wearing the same clothes every week, every Sunday I wear the same clothes. And it's because I'm trying, like, I want everybody to know how predictable I am. Like I enjoy the predictability in life. Like I want to be like, you know, the Nile River Delta, like a flood, sometimes I don't flood. It is driven all season. But I think when he says unpredictable is I enjoy irony. And I enjoy the vagaries of life, the unfairness of life. And I like pointing those things out. Maybe that's where he's getting stability from. But man I deliver. That's what I think like my predictability, I will deliver. That's where I strive to be predictable.

Brock Briggs  57:19  

Yeah, I'm not exactly sure what the context was meant. But that was all he said. So that's what I think

Joe Parker  57:24  

Listen, that's it, I take that as a compliment. And so when he says I'm unpredictable.

Brock Briggs  57:32  

Really live it outside the labor. If you enjoy being predictable, how does that play out into your role at Positive Sum? You're inherently playing in a world and it's your entire job revolving around something that is perhaps the most unpredictable thing. Or is it that you need to be predictable in your personal life so you can handle the unpredictableness of the state of early stage businesses?

Joe Parker  58:01  

No, I think the way I would look at it is there's only so much you control in life, like there's only so much you can control life, you can't control most things. But you can't control like, like, if you look at the military, right place, right time, right uniform, those are the things you can control. And if you can do that in the military and I would argue in the rest of life, you will be above average, just by doing that small little thing. Right place, right time, right uniform, maybe right attitude will push you right over the top. Running the business part is incredibly predictable, meaning taking care of the people that work a Positive Sum, I see it as my role. Making sure that trains run on time statements, that the actual running and functioning the business should be wildly predictable. 

The way founders can talk to us, the way investors can talk to us, that should be wildly predictable. Like I want to be stability in an unstable environment. Like the more unstable the world gets, the more predictable and stable I will become like that's my, I mean we can go find some radio of me asking for a helicopter in Iraq and you'll be like, oh, look, you sound really predictable and stable. That's my natural, like, it's my proclivity like when the world is kind of going upside down, I desire to be more predictable because I think it's a service to others. I don't feel that way. But I'm going to be that way. And as far as like, your comments on the venture being unpredictable or something, which I agree with, there are certain facets of it that are unpredictable. 

One thing that I think is very certain is how well you understand the person that you're investing in or the person that you're hiring and getting to know that person as quickly as possible. That will drive most success in life or in a portfolio or something like that because you want to invest in a founder that is working and that is doing their life's work. That's how important the problem is there. So I mean, like, it matters that much, then we can look at it from the outside and say, why would somebody care about I don't know, traffic lights that much. There are people that are devoting really smart people, crazy people that are devoting their lives to things like traffic signals. And they're going to change the world in their own small way. 

And so finding those people where you can invest in their life's work or you can work with those people or just having in your life. Having obsessive people in your life is very, it changes you like it changes you greatly. And we all have those people in our lives, we've all met them, we've met the person that has had a life changing experience. And they want to tell you about it or we've met the person that's like trying to solve one unique problem and it's putting all their work into it, those kinds of people are very few and far between. And those are the types of people that you end up wanting to invest in a ride along with or anyway. I don't know if I answered your question. But I'm super predictable when it comes to running a business because it needs to be stable. Like the employees need it, I need it. Patrick needs it you know, people need to be able to like I that the exact opposite is chaos and I can support that. I'm an Army guy. Order

Brock Briggs  1:01:12  

I agree with what you're saying about hanging out with obsessive people. For some people, it's really off putting when people are just so dialed in on one thing, but 

Joe Parker 

Why do you think it's off putting? 

Brock Briggs

Because I think that the world teaches us to be well rounded. And I think that's bullshit. If you want non normal outcomes, that's what it takes. If you want to be like, every day, Joe Schmo nine to five, you are born, you die and you worked an average job, then you probably want to be well rounded. You know, you want to be safe and you just want to do normal normal guy stuff. 

But if you want to achieve something that is larger than you, whether that's maybe revolutionary, maybe it's going to Mars, maybe it's changing the way traffic lights, work, you know, any one of those things, if you want something like that, you've got to be obsessed with it more than everybody else is which sometimes that requires a lot. Like I don't know what the bar and get into obsessive traffic light world. Maybe that's not, that bar isn't very high. But there's some theories.

Joe Parker  1:02:33  

I agree kind of. I think the real reason is because we're human. And we do not like it is much more fun to be negative than positive. And so when we run into a starry eyed people that want to change the world, it's way easier for us to say like, here are the 10 reasons why you're stupid. But yeah, because we're we're one, we have two things going on at the same time in our brains. Part one of our brain is saying, like, I just heard something that sounds crazy to me. I must now tell that person they're crazy. And not only that, I'm gonna look around the room and see who agrees with me and staying closer together with those people. So we can kind of gang up on one person. 

And the other is I strongly believe, maybe it's subliminal, but it's going on that part too. That is you kind of hope they don't change the world or they don't succeed. Because what does that mean for you? It means that you're not good enough to change the world or you have a different focus or something. And so the theory is happiness. There's either a finite number of happiness or an infinite amount of happiness. And most people, I suspect, don't realize that they think there's a finite amount, meaning like if somebody else is doing well, the only way for me to do well is to tear that person down.

Brock Briggs  1:04:04  

As if it was zero sum

Joe Parker  1:04:06  

You’re right because you think like there's only X number of happiness in the world. If I have 10% of it, the only way I can grow that number is to take it from somewhere else. And I do think most people inadvertently believe that I don't think they think about it, but I think they think that way. I think that a big shift in terms of your own happiness is your ability to allow good things happening to people you may not like or good things not having to use to understand that a requirement for me to be happy or satisfied or just you know, life's going well, in general. I don't need to rob that from somebody else. I can control that. Like I get to decide that. 

And so I think when people hear ideas from I don't know n of one people, people that are strange or mercurial or think that they're right on something they're very doggone. Yes, we're all aware of math, we all know that most of those things are probably going to fail. But wouldn't it be fun to be the person that thinks what if it was successful? And does it hurt me if that person tries? And if it doesn't, then why am I spending so much time tearing the idea down? Maybe I should say like, not only that, but like, here's another thing you could do or yes and do that thing. I think most people live in that world where they hear something and the first thing is, I want to tear it down.

Brock Briggs  1:05:29  

I think that that's exactly right. I agree with both of those points. And I think, to expand on that second point that you made, I think that when people hear from people that have that larger than life ambition, it makes them realize it's not just that they want to tear it down because it's about happiness. I think that it's more so that it's making them realize that they wish that they had that amount of ambition, that it makes them smaller because they're like, wow, I don't feel that passionate about anything. 

Joe Parker 


Brock Briggs

And I think that that hurts some people.

Joe Parker  1:06:08  

Huh, I don't understand people that don't have a lot of passions. I have a lot of passions. I think understanding why you're here, understanding what you want to accomplish. What is right look like for you? How much control you have over your own destiny? Like I think those are questions people don't like to think through because it's uncomfortable. Like what if you are in charge of what you do? That's a problem for most people because then you can't externalize things. You can't say like, well, if only bla bla bla had happened, I would be blah, blah, blah. Like that's the story most people tell ourselves, but the reality is, you want to control as much as you can control, even if the outcome bet on yourself as much as you can.

Brock Briggs  1:06:49  

I think that you can immediately sort those people into one or the other by asking them. It's usually some variation of like, hey, what are you doing to achieve your goal? And then the left side will say, oh, well, I'm waiting for this to happen. Or, you know, this is in my way. And the other people are saying, I'm doing this, this, this, it's very internal locus of control. I'm in charge of the outcome, not on yourself, as you say.

Joe Parker  1:07:23  

I agree. Sometimes it doesn't work, though. That's the downside. But hey, listen, it's what I tell my wife all the time. Worst case scenario, I'll be dead in forty years. So it's fine. It'll work itself out one way or the other, it's going to work itself out.

Brock Briggs  1:07:39  

To bring this back to you, what are you trying to accomplish?

Joe Parker  1:07:44  

What am I trying to accomplish? I want to help run one of the best venture capital firms. Like I just want, I don't know what that means yet. I think that I'm still thinking through what that means. Like I want to be part of the next wave of amazing or phenomenal ideas that I think will help answer a lot of society's toughest problems, everything from I don't know, energy to health care to how we live our lives. I mean, I guess that's my professional side, what I would like to accomplish, you know, build an amazing team, talk to more and more amazing people, push myself. I think I gotta find my next big personal challenge. Like something that makes me uncomfortable, but hands me new skill set. I think that's important to constantly fight entropy. There's two types of entropy. There's like what you do.

So I've been in the gym a lot because I'm like, I want to get as strong as I was when I played football. So I'm finding entropy that way. Then there's the mental, the mental condition of being comfortable. Like, I'm constantly thinking about, where should I be finding comfort? Like, I don't want to be comfortable. Why am I supposed to be uncomfortable? And if you're comfortable, it's not a good sign to me. It's not, it's either you're approaching or nearing death or you're approaching some kind of you're going to be overturned, disrupted, potentially. So I think about that a lot, not obsessively. 

And then my next big goals are always around my family, like what am I doing to serve my family and my kids, my community? Where am I coasting on the hard work that other people have done before me? Where am I not putting that hard work in? Yeah. I want to teach my kids to think and reason, think and reason. Those are the ultimate of not being along for the ride is to understand why you're doing the things you do every day you do them. And I think I know those things. I think I know why I get up in the morning and do the things that I do. And I want to make sure that my kids think about that too.

Brock Briggs  1:09:56  

If we had to take away one thing from Joe Parker today and implement it in our lives today that would better all of us, what do you think that would be?

Joe Parker  1:10:09  

I think it's an I go back to my original point, what is your ethos? Like, figure out what your ethos is, why you are who you are? And what does that mean? And do you like that? Like, hold the mirror up to yourself? Don't be afraid, look into the dark corners of your life. And ask yourself, is this acceptable to me? And once you start doing that, you'll find it easier to have tough conversations with employees or maybe even employers. You'll have the courage to overturn things in your life. Like, it could be something as simple as eating better, exercising, which are really hard to do. Like people don't like looking in the dark corners or life. They don't like to admit what they eat after seven o'clock. 

So could you imagine people having to admit other bad things that they have in their life? But yeah, that's how you reach real change, real meaningful change. And also, I think it makes life a lot more interesting. Last thing, I told this to Patrick in my interview and it's the best I have to describe me, wild confidence, super low self esteem. That has been the engine that has powered me. Like, I refuse to think that there aren't things that I can't do. But the low self esteem keeps that confidence in check. Because I do it every day, I think about would somebody be proud that they hired me? Or would they be like, how do we get rid of Joe? Like, I think about that a lot. It's probably too low self esteem. It's something I think about.

Brock Briggs  1:11:43  

A former guest I had on here said that a good dose of impostor syndrome is actually a really good thing. It helps keep the ego low, keeps us performing and keeps us showing up every day. 

Joe Parker  1:11:57  

Yeah, that's it. Other than that, nobody should do anything I've done. My life is a testament to all the wrong things.

Brock Briggs  1:12:08  

We just got to forge our own way. 

Joe Parker 

That's right. 

Brock Briggs  

Joe, I really appreciate this conversation. I'm super thankful you agreed to do this. One final thing. Is there anything that myself and or the listeners could do to be useful to you?

Joe Parker  1:12:24  

I mean, shoot. So if there's something you're obsessed about and you're building something and you're what we would call, like you're trying to work on your life's work, you can always send me an email joe@psum.vc And you can, I may not agree with you, but I love hearing about it. It's part of the reason why we work in venture capital. It's exciting to hear those stories. Yeah. 

Brock Briggs


Joe Parker  

Go out and conquer

Brock Briggs  1:12:53  

Awesome. I really appreciate it, Joe. Thank you so much.