It feels odd to be making a public admission of the fact that I’m much more comfortable dealing with challenges, obstacles and ‘near impossible’ situations today than ever before. It’s easier to be admitting this is entirely because of my entrepreneurial journey of 5 years.
The entrepreneurial journey is not too dissimilar from a mountain climbing expedition. Each mountain you climb gives you a high (pun intended). But being on top of one mountain also provides you a clearer view of the next taller one looming ahead, reminding you of the long and arduous journey before you. However, every mountain scaled provides its own unique thrill, leaving you with a sense of achievement. It also brings with it much humility and appreciation of having achieved success against many odds. In some strange way, it brings you closer to yourself and you start appreciating and understanding life better. Part of this new understanding of life helps you challenge certain life lessons you had learnt, due to the new experiences entrepreneurship has taught you.
Here are 5 Life Lessons, my entrepreneurial journey has encouraged me to unlearn:
- Life is about ‘give & TAKE’
From a very early age; I had come to believe that life was about give and take. Almost as if to have me unlearn what I had grown up believing, entrepreneurship taught me the value of giving. Making timely supplier payments and salary transfers, happily dipping into one’s public provident fund balances. Coaching people with the same passion a day after a novice staff member, you had personally coached, left you for a few thousand rupees more. Offering solutions to clients knowing there wasn’t a dime to be made… Giving can be extremely rewarding - to oneself in the immediate term and to your business and for your ‘higher self’, in the long run. Giving sincerely and wholeheartedly finally helps you amass a fortune called ‘goodwill’. It can’t be touched or felt but its effects sure can be. Like the several candidates who aspire to fill in the position that fell vacant, or the team member who offered to defer her salary payout because she was aware that a client payment had been delayed…Receiving ‘goodwill’ can be a more emotional experience than most Bollywood tear jerkers. “Givers get lucky,” suggests Adam Grant in his book ‘Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.’ Grant presents evidence in his book that givers dominate both the top and bottom of the success ladder.
- Accept what comes your way – it is your ‘fate’
For many years I took umbrage to this very ‘convenient’ term – fate. “I did my best but fate had it such,” I would often lament. Entrepreneurship had something else to teach me. It made me thick-skinned in many situations and yet extremely sensitive at other times. It seemed contradictory until I realised that I had undergone a core change. I had in fact become sensitive to things that mattered and could selectively ignore things (and people) that didn’t matter. I realised everything is about choices we make. We are never unhappy – we choose to be unhappy. But equally we have the choice to be happy. Focusing energies in unproductive areas is a luxury few entrepreneurs can afford. Maybe that’s why one doesn’t see a bunch of entrepreneurs huddling around a coffee machine discussing organisational politics. They would rather spend the time, striking a deal or discussing changing trends and how they may gear for these. They choose to be happy – because they know there is much to be done and it takes the right drive and state of mind to achieve the ‘near impossible’.
- All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (and maybe Jill a dull girl)
I may have subscribed to that when I was ‘made’ to work long hours and complete ‘tasks’ against deadlines. However, when your passion is your work, it remains not work but feels like playing a favourite game. So more work of this kind would only make Jack or Jill or anyone else in their place, brighter and happier instead of duller. Entrepreneurship has taught me there are only a few hours you get to indulge in the 24-hour 7-day work-week. That indulgence is occupied by tasks such as sleep and family time etc. I say this because you start feeling you are on borrowed time of your stakeholders – your teams, your investors and of your own expectations and goals. Does that make it sound like entrepreneurs are all about work and no fun? It shouldn’t, because that’s not how they are. Just that they value time and learn to prioritise better. Their first priority is to make a workday longer (by cutting out unwanted tasks and activities) and a second priority is to make the most of the time available. The stakes are high – measuring up to ones own expectations. At the end of each day, it’s hard to stare at the mirror and lie about how good and productive the day has been. It’s a bit like that, when you are your own boss!
- Keep trying till you achieve success
Growing up, I would divide my time and effort democratically across all subjects and assignments. Soon, I would realise that the ones that I didn’t fully relate to took far longer, even at the cost of the learning opportunities other subjects and assignments could have provided me. As an entrepreneur, I learnt that not giving up meant something entirely different from what I had believed all along. Accepting failure, learning from it and moving on to do something else or doing the same thing differently was not so bad after all. I learnt it was certainly better than ‘spending good time after bad’. Entrepreneurs, by nature are risk takers and possess the maturity to understand not all bets will strike the bull’s eye. They move on, clean the dust off and address the next opportunity or challenge with greater energy and passion. They opt not to lose much time or effort in brooding over what is lost or seeking to salvage what is worth less than the effort put into the salvaging operation.
- You live in society and perception is all that matters
Perception matters – that’s what we have grown up hearing. We also heard the story of the charming prince whose arrow shot the eye of the rotating fish as he looked at the reflection of the fish in a water pool. And we took to the story to be a mere epical exaggeration. But as an entrepreneur, I realised the extraordinary powers I had of being able to ignore background noises as I continued working on the task at hand. Voices of naysayers, pseudo-supporters, ‘experts’ and of the many other detractors became silent background sounds – the ‘sounds of silence’, to borrow a classic lyric. The passion of the entrepreneur can cause more tailwind than the headwinds the combined set of such background noise creators can generate. I can quite understand now, how the prince only saw the eye of the fish, while the unstill water and the moving fish would have distracted others.
Entrepreneurship teaches you a lot, but these 5 lessons I had to unlearn. The unlearning leaves a lasting influence that can make one quite ‘unrecognisable’. They make one feel as if reborn and ready to face the world with a new and different sense of confidence. They, however, also leave one feeling like an alert and thirsty student, looking for more life lessons to learn or to challenge.