One thing that will make you an invincible entrepreneur
Entrepreneurship often gets likened to a roller coaster, with highs of joy, and lows of dread. I’ve found that to be accurate in my short career as an entrepreneur. There is no silver bullet that makes it easier. Everyone’s problems are unique and everyone’s mistakes are one’s own. But there is a framework that can make the journey’s lows feel more bearable. If entrepreneurship is an operating system, stoicism is the driver that alleviates the most suffering.
“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness — all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil… “ ― Marcus Aurelius
A big part of business is dealing with people; there’s no way around it. You’ll be dealing with co-founders, management, boards, investors, lawyers, press and customers. There will be countless interactions, and all of them important; some of them even critical. People will be the biggest reason for entrepreneurial lows, so it’s important to know how to deal with them. There are plenty of good books that try explain how to get the most out of interactions but they often miss the biggest lesson. You can’t control other people. You can’t expect them to behave in the way you want them to. So you have to be ready to get insulted, fooled, ridiculed and mistreated. It’s going to happen — a lot. You have the power not to get offended. To look beyond resentment and anger. It’s not easy; it has to be practiced. It begins with not getting annoyed by the minor offenses of strangers and leads to grace in dealing with the worst actions by the people you depend on.
Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.” ― Marcus Aurelius,
One thing you’re bound to feel as an entrepreneur is a need for a sense of control. You’ll feel the need to control every aspect of your business: the staff, the product, the PR, and the marketing. A good entrepreneur will always do the best he/she can out of every situation, but at some point you’ll have to take a step back. Tasks will be handed to other people, the product either works or it doesn’t and you can’t control how others view your company. To be an entrepreneur is to be comfortable with randomness.
You have to be fatalistic about the past since you cannot change it. You can only learn from it and move on. But you also have to be somewhat fatalistic about the future. Sure, planning is great (check out my post on planning), but it can only do so much against an infinite spectrum of possibilities. At some point you have to let go; you have to let the future unravel in whatever manner it wants to. Let the chips fall where they may.
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will. ” ― Epictetus
“A smooth sea has never made a skilled sailor“ ― Franklin D. Roosevelt
Knowledge is easy, anyone can acquire it. The hard part is transforming knowledge into action; transforming wisdom to practice. To take it one step further means to test that practice in its most extreme context. It’s easy to be a stoic if nothing ever challenges you. Never facing adversity or hardship is like playing tennis without the net.
To some extent, our natural capabilities as stoics are genetic (future post on the neuroscience of stoicism coming), so how much virtue we can expect in any given situation is individual. With that said, being an entrepreneur is the stoic equivalent of standing in front of a pitching machine without a helmet or a bat. With the right perspective, you won’t only accept adversity, you’ll come to love it.
If stoicism is practice, entrepreneurship is a framework that will challenge you — a lot.
“Difficulty strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” ― Seneca.
Dealing with a lack of resources
“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” — Epictetus
The Stoics had quite a lot to say about resources and their insignificance. Granted, they were aiming at individual resources, but sometimes as an entrepreneur, individual frugality is a reality. On a personal level, it will be helpful to get comfortable with the lack of material and monetary possession.
But, it is also true, that entrepreneurship itself is a practice of frugality. Harvard Business School teaches that “entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled”. This is my favorite definition since it encapsulates so much that we all recognize. Entrepreneurship isn’t about spending a huge amounts of capital to force people into using your thing. It’s about creating wanted value for people, no matter what.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” ― Marcus Aurelius
As I mentioned before, entrepreneurship is obstacles. Quite a lot of them. So finding a way to be proactive and act gracefully is important. Otherwise, you’re bound to get overwhelmed and burned out. You can’t let every problem get to you because that’s too much for most to handle emotionally. You can’t let anything get in the way, because that will severely shorten the career of whatever you’re trying to accomplish. The key is to act in the manner most appropriate to improve the situation.
Positive action is either rational or intuitive (which is more appropriate is contextual). Being ready for adversity means having a better chance of acting either rationally or intuitively. But, if you’re not ready to face adversity you’ll act erratically and worsen the situation.