As an entrepreneur you are constantly fighting the grips of Fear, Doubt and Failure. It is a natural part of being on a journey that is low on data and high on uncertainty. I wanted to share the learnings from the CEO Bootcamp, the first day we discussed the 5 mistakes CEOs make and how to deal with them. We were made to deal with our Fear and Failure thoughts during the second day of the CEO bootcamp. I have written about being Fearless, and my role model there was my Father. God I miss him! He was always fearless in everything he did sometimes foolishly so but never ruthless or mean. So the fundamental question that you should ask yourself is why are you fearful, Entrepreneurs and Startup Founders are typically impatient with the status quo, pathologically optimistic and the ones who challenge and inspire because they want to make the world better. That is a pretty lofty goal to go after and we wonder why are we scared? I think being scared is natural part of the journey of an entrepreneur. The next logical question is ok, how do we deal with it? There were 3 questions that were posted to all the participants:
What are you afraid of?
What are you afraid of?
What are you afraid of?
it is not a trick, you have to dig deep to find out what you are really afraid of, the superficial narrative that is on the top of your head is not the only answer, there are layers of fear. We fear failure and therefore we fear uncertainty. Uncertainty is painful, uncertainty undermines our sense of safety, uncertainty fuels our expectations of infallibility and luck exacerbates the uncertainty. Did you see that? getting lucky actually makes the problem worse.
As part of the exercise, all of us in the bootcamp were asked to pick from a stack of sayings, passages and excerpts from various books, poems and works. I picked two of them I will write about the one that really made me break down for a later day, the other passage that spoke to me was by John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom. Here is the passage:
The Presence of Fear
The best story I know about the presence of fear is an old story from India about a man condemned to spend the night in a cell with a poisonous snake. If he made the slightest movement, the snake would kill him. All night the man stood petrified in the corner of the cell, afraid even to breath for fear of alerting the snake. As the first light of dawn reached into the cell, he could make out the shape of the snake in the other corner. He was deeply relieved not to have alerted it. Then as the light of dawn increased further and became really bright, he saw that it was not a snake but an old rope lying in the corner of the cell. The moral of the story suggests that there are harmless things, like that old rope, lying around in many of the rooms of our minds. Our anxiousness then works on them until we convert them into monsters that hold us imprisoned and petrified in small rooms in our lives.
As an entrepreneur you have to embrace the uncertainty, how do you make an ally of our fears, doubt and uncertainty? There were a couple of strategies discusses, the most of us in the group shared that planning and acting on our fear was the first step, some suggested creating a plan of action or planning activity. If there is one thing that is true about business plan is that they are all usually wrong, but the the planning activity itself is immensely useful. Jerry Colona our fearless leader and facilitator suggested that we should treat our planning exercise as a chance to be curious and inventive, have an open mind about the possible paths and be open to take the cross road that comes along the way. In addition to the above activity, we just need to accept reality without giving up on the wish to change the status quo and understand the nature of change and impermanence. If there is one thing that is certain is that everything changes constantly.
Brad Feld participated in the bootcamp as a peer as he has been an entrepreneur and has gone through all the challenges that the other CEOs in the group are going through in their journey. Brad shared a very interesting thought process, he said that in the early days of his career there was always something f#$ked up happend everyday and he would deal with it, as this got old pretty fast, he got into a mindset that when he started the day he would rub his hands, smile and start thinking “So, what fucked up thing am I going to deal with today?” and he actually got giddy with anticipation as the day wore down and by 4pm he had not encountered anything fucked up he would have a smile on his face. This is an excellent coping strategy, just being open to the ebbs and flows of the day and embracing the uncertainty is the natural passage.
Coming back to the state of my mind. What are I afraid of? Well, the strongest fear I have now is Startup Iceland 2014. As usual everyone who wants to participate waits till the last minute to buy the tickets and it more or less throws all our planning into a disarray. Without knowing how many people are going to attend we cannot arrange the correct hall size, book the right number of hotel rooms etc etc Do me a favor and reduce a little uncertainty for a brother and buy your tickets now? Or write me a note if you need help with travel arrangements to Iceland we have a fantastic team that is helping us coordinate Flight and Hotels for all the guests who are coming for the event.