Building a business takes quite a while; building one that is valuable, self-sustaining, and likely to last takes even longer. The process is always
Building a business takes quite a while; building one that is valuable, self-sustaining, and likely to last takes even longer. The process is always painful, with plenty of bumps in the road, skinned knees, hurt feelings, and disappointments galore. But it’s not without its charms, psychic and economic rewards, and other satisfactions – not the least of which is that you think you’re working for yourself.
You’re not. The truth is that, especially in a startup, you’re working for all kinds of other people as well. That daily reality is both the amazing benefit and the agonizing burden of entrepreneurship. You’re rolling the dice every day for yourself, your family and friends, your investors, and your team. That’s a lot of responsibility and not something that you get to “leave at the office” when and if you go home each evening.
But when you look back over the years and each of those adventures, whether you met with great success or abject failure, there’s one thing that no one can take away from you — the experience that you lived with, lived through, and will remember for the rest of your life. It’s the part of the process that we never really value enough and appreciate while we’re going through it, because we’re so focused on our immediate concerns –with head down and tunnel vision. You need to take some time to share and savor the startup experience while you’re living it, because you’re unlikely to get a second chance.
A startup is all about those singular sensations, those indelible sets of impressions and the often overwhelming emotions that help to create and form the lifelong connections that you make with the people who were there at your side. The folks who weathered the storms and shared the celebrations, and who became far more like a family than simply friends or employees. Not your immediate family, and certainly not the current First Family, but a tight-knit group bound by a shared purpose, a willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed, and unbreakable cross-commitments.
Make time and room for these people.
They’re the people who knew not just the pride of hard-fought accomplishments, but also the sheer joy that is shared by a team of talented individuals coming together to build something of beauty and value. Something that eventually becomes bigger and more important than any of them, but which would never have existed without the care, kindness, and sacrifices of each and every one of them.
And when I say “joy”, it’s almost biblical — not merely happiness or “so fun” as the morons today are fond of saying. I’m talking about a much more important feeling, which isn’t based on the day-to-day events, the immediate situation, or last week’s big “win.” If you’ve been there, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about and, if not, words alone will never do justice to the longevity and the power of the experience. As they say in New Orleans about jazz: if I have to explain it to you, you’ll never understand.
This is a serious and purposeful joy — not a playful one. The kind of joy that’s drawn from a longer-term view combining a substantial sense of responsibility, some pride in what you’re building, and some expectation that what you build will matter and hopefully make a difference in people’s lives beyond your own. It’s the exhilarating anticipation that you’re on the cusp of something great. That’s the real joy: a combination of passion, creation and enthusiasm.
And you know in your heart that these experiences would all be largely meaningless without the ability to share them every day with your peers and partners who are right there in the midst of the madness with you. Say what you will, I assure you that you’ll have feelings for these folks that you’ll never have for many others down the line. It’s only your first time once.
Years and even decades later, if you’re fortunate enough to remain in touch, to nourish and retain those early relationships, and to share the sacred stories, the dim recollections, and the complete fabrications that always creep into oral histories, you’ll comprehend the persistent and magnetic grasp and continued importance of the culture you built together as well as the business itself. The war stories and tales of old – true or not – preserve the culture and allow you to transfer it to new businesses and new people, and to preserve and protect it for generations to come.
And, much like our real families, it’s a powerful force and feeling that we struggle to embrace and to escape at the same time because of how it continues long after we leave the nest or the business. Far too many people today waste their lives in jobs they tolerate or despise and in joyless, toxic environments where no one smiles, energy and passion are sucked away, and silent suffering is the order of the day. Every day is Mudville, Casey isn’t coming through, and there’s no joy to be found.
So, as you set out on a new year, ask yourself whether you’re in a place you should be, surrounded by people you admire and respect, doing something important to make a difference, in a supportive environment where passion, initiative and excitement are valued rather than shunned or regarded as embarrassing. If you’re not, do yourself a big favor and find something else to do.
We act as though comfort and luxury are the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.
Published on: Jan 14, 2020
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