As an entrepreneur, my experience in getting ideas off the ground is that the process always provisions a solid dollop of struggle. The idea and its process arch back over themselves asking some difficult questions of their orchestrator. This has led me to question whether we find ourselves or create ourselves in meandering through the early execution phases of new ideas? Uncomfortable challenges, when overcome, over extended periods of time seem to spew out a different or augmented person. A potentially wiser, hardened, more capable individual. Is this process an unfolding of what already existed or the “manufacturing” of something new within? My experience is that entrepreneurship provisions an “existential compression” of sorts that pressurizes and stresses all our faculties. Without it we express or create less of ourselves. While uncomfortable, its where happiness resides from plain sight. Its gotten me to wonder if the idea serves the entrepreneur as much as the entrepreneur the idea.
My longstanding mental model was simply that the process of trying to get something new accepted in the world had to go through some kind of stress test as a rite of passage. In effect, if you are in the entrepreneurial business you are in the struggle business. A touch macabre and extreme. Its a dangerous assertion and one which I have now become to realize is a dysfunctional thought embedded within a misguided mental model. I have tacitly assumed that the idea and the process drives the struggle, imparting it’s effects onto the entrepreneur. By deciding to venture outside of formal employment and attempt to establish something new in the world you need to consume the effects of the process. In effect, the entrepreneur serves the idea.
I have started to augment my view on the issue. What if the idea simultaneously serves the entrepreneur? I continue to believe that the idea and process offer inherent challenge, but offer the idea owner or entrepreneur something significantly more important. The ability to get put through the “ringer”. By this I mean an existential funnel that ratchets up the challenge quotient while getting us to operate just or beyond our intellectual, psychological and emotional frontier. This never-ending problem-solving endeavor that effectively feeds itself. One challenge sews the seed for the next. Ironically, progress the very thing you are after adds more challenge. Your commitments ratchet up faster than your ability to resource up. You are under-resourced, over-committed, financially stretched, seemingly optioned out and fearful. You ask questions like why am I doing this, what was I thinking at the time of commencement, is it possible to overcome these challenges?
Your inner critic has a field day. It reminds you of your foolishness and your ability to have not thought things through. You are trading your most valuable asset, time, on ideas that potentially only make sense within the confines of your own reality detached mind. Added to this, the inevitable “relativity” dissonance to deal with. People around you who seem to have made materially better decisions. Their growing salaries are paid every month and their yearly bonuses seem every larger, while you go for months without income. Your personal balance sheet is leveraged to the hilt for some idea. This state of heightened anxiety makes calm, detached and rational decision making immensely hard. This is not an overly pleasant experience or what perusing dreams should feel like. Seen only from the idea dominating the entrepreneur perspective our ability to frame or re-frame struggle is limited to common clinches – Nothing comes easy, soldier on, hang in there, winners never quit etc. These don’t help much and especially at 2 am in the morning, lying on your back staring at the ceiling quietly managing another “that’s it I’m fucked” anxiety attack.
This approach removes options, specifically the ability to notice or comprehend and value the endogenous adaptations taking place within. Outside of any progress, the process quietly and slowly delivers something almost unnoticeable to the participants. It’s something beyond functional skill e.g. deepening your insights into how processes work, how to use a new piece of software, better understanding of marketing mechanisms, articulating your value proposition in clearer ways etc. The sequence of problem-solving, coping, “sticking with it” both hardens you and offer up more of you. You start to realize that despite the discomfort you are able to function. You notice more, do more, engage more and achieve more. Your relationship with discomfort starts to change.
You start to develop what I call meta-skills. I see these as abstraction skills built off a deepening personal consciousness. Unlike marketing, finance or planning skills, meta-skills are far subtler. They play out in the nuance – awareness of more variables, improved clarity, increased rate of learning, the ability to stay calm, to notice what times of the day are best suited for certain work types, when not to make decisions, managing anger, staying focused on larger objectives, deconstructing anxiety, being aware of and intermediating conflicting internal options, growing awareness of how you sabotage your time and energy etc. They seem best described or captured in what they result in – heightened capacity, awareness and hardiness.
Your absolute capacity to do more work grows or deepens. You have more coping, problem-solving and resoluteness than you had last year. Problems begin to look more malleable. You start to notice how they are pieced together and that there are a few more options available. To be clear the seriousness of the risks remains but you engage them with more refinement. The anxiety remains but has a touch less power or lasts 5 fewer minutes. You approach challenges with more acceptance of not only their existence but your willingness to solve them. You are more hardened in your outlook. You expect more from yourself and others. You are not the same person you were 2 years prior.
Is this augmentation of your capacity, awareness and resoluteness a function of a change in your mindset or something far more fundamental? Has the process engaged or squeezed out a latent set of skills that have been lying dormant due to lack of necessity? Nothing hitherto has required their mobilization. Am I expressing a more refined and found version of myself? As an alternative, have I simply learned a new set of skills, notwithstanding their inexplicable nature needed to simply survive. This Darwinian type logic is akin to an adaptation or a making of a new self. There pre-existed a propensity to both learn and adapt made manifest by the pressure to have to. I am not sure how to figure it out or if it even matters. A friend of mine showed me a model that I have simplified as a mechanism to make sense of this. In this context, your psychological, intellectual and emotional quotients have reconfigured in some small, but noticeable way. I am proposing that in so doing, your awareness, capacity, and robustness enlarges.
So back to the initial question. I am currently sitting with the following conclusion. The journey through the existential start -up funnel expresses more of us. While in its grasp, we learn new functional skills but discover meta skills. Both are derived and accelerated from the need to adapt while under pressure. I see functional skills as learned and improved through practice. I see meta skills derived from experience but sensed through awareness. Pressure accompanied by action emits a small light that enables us to over-arch back over our experience and glimpse something about ourselves within it. To this extent, we discover something within. The idea serves the entrepreneur.
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