Stories from the GRIT – How can one develop entrepreneurial resilience?

In these unprecedented times of (using the word unprecedented) uncertainty, many of us are feeling rudderless and are adrift in the vast emptiness of the unknown ocean that lies around us… Many of us have never experienced such a type of existential-crisis before, where virtually all aspects of the human psyche have been stretched, tested and stress-tested.

In the past few months, I have had a huge upsurge in bookings for the Entrepreneur Mentor in Residence (EMiR) initiative. I have found interacting with various LBS cohorts very insightful, presenting me with remarkable opportunities to view the repercussions of the pandemic through the eyes of a 21-year-old management graduate/alumnus AND through the eyes of a 50-year-old Sloan/EMBA graduate/alumnus; both cohorts at different stages in their lives and careers;  and unsurprisingly – both comparing the Corporate Career that awaits them post their graduation vs. Options in Entrepreneurship

I use these sessions to learn unique perspectives and contribute (in whatever little way I can) to cognitive intervention by sharing some of my own experiences – the lessons, the failings, the traps and the self-taught/discovered methods to overcome that fear before taking the leap of faith. The one single question that stands out (either directly or indirectly) in all these mentoring sessions is –

“How do you develop the entrepreneurial resilience required to survive in chaos?”

During various moments of the first few months of 2020, I was reminded of my first leap of faith in 2008 – from the comforts of the corporate world into the wild world of entrepreneurship without a safety net – the ensuing months led to several moments of that sinking feeling in the stomach during the freefall, the despair of not thinking it through, the absence of an experienced mentor to provide direction, the lack of a dress-rehearsal before the inevitability, and the sheer helplessness of it all… the stinging pain.

Pain is the greatest teacher

Over the course of several failures with various ventures in my initial days, I realised that while pain is inevitable, the associated suffering is optional. Our minds are powerful enough to create their own heaven or hell in the face of carnage. However, as humans, we tend to suffer more often in imagination than in reality (with the exception of the frontline professionals and their families – please forgive my usage of this quote).

As Nietzsche once said – “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how”. For example, millions of unfortunate humans went through the unimaginable atrocities in wars and concentration camps, yet hoped to stay on despite all the carnage around them. They had a “why” – a purpose, a will that was stronger than everything negative around them.

By regulating our thinking, and also how we approach our thinking; we can change our emotional responses to situations i.e. the extent to which we suffer (or not), our level of anxiety, pressure and stress, and in turn, our experience of the level of agony borne in the process.

It’s all about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.

Can entrepreneurial resilience be developed?

Yes, it can. Read on.

By anyone?

Not unless they unlearn the concept of hope that we have been taught all along.

How?

By practising misfortune, yet retaining a realistic outlook of the outcome and retaining a moral compass of the right and wrong along the way.

What?! Isn’t that counter-intuitive to what we have been taught all along? Be positive… Look at the positive side… Hope for the best… Things can’t go wrong… The universe… Positivity etc etc.

Have you ever tried telling that to a (genuine) entrepreneur without being scoffed at? Some of the unflattering, defining characteristics of an entrepreneur are as follows: risk-taker, paranoid, delusional, dreamer, provocative who hates status quo, impatient, willing to fail, willing to go through trauma, one who can’t fit into a standard organisation mould etc… OK, you get the point.

The life spent in pursuit of happiness, while dodging misery, not only excludes the fundamental scope of life’s varied experiences, but also prevents growth.

What balderdash is this? Am unsure where this is heading…

Alright, I suppose this is where we introduce the concept of Stoicism and how it can be used to develop resilience.

Enter Stoicism.

Stoics called this practice “premeditatio malorum”

premeditatio malorum? What is it? Some sort of Harry Potter mumbo jumbo?

Yes, something similar.

Is it a spell, like expecto patronum?

Yes my darling; it’s a great way for you to conjure your Patronus to defend yourself against the dark side of entrepreneurship; and is a potent antidote to entrepreneur’s The-One-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named’s (The Market, in Muggle-speak) avada kedavra.

Oh! You mean spells such as ‘cave inimicum’ or ‘protego totalum’

Yes, totally. premeditatio malorum loosely translates to “the pre-meditation of evils” to develop resilience (entrepreneurial or otherwise).

Fundamentally, by imagining, articulating and rehearsing worst-case scenarios, you can be more prepared emotionally, financially, mentally, tactically (and philosophically) to encounter them (even if they never actually happen) and even during the so-called “good times”. Stoics welcomed tough times – they saw their life as training for moments such as the one we are in now, where character, resilience and courage are tested. They had a belief in something greater than themselves with a degree of selflessness.

Hang on a second, isn’t this what corporate risk management is all about?

Yes, sort of. But knowing of it, is not the same as practising it. The objective is to train your resilience muscle by training yourself not to be surprised, but to be ready.

The only difference is – that you are shifting the focus onto your entrepreneurial status, followed by the aspects it impacts viz. your personal life, your personal relationships, your priorities and most importantly, your own ego.

So, what does this look like in practice?

If you take out some time from your “busy” schedule and jot down your worst fears, and create action plans to mitigate them, you would be able to approach the problem in a different vein. Using a standard risk management dashboard helps – something like the below:

Ego? What’s that? I don’t have one…

Entrepreneurs need a very healthy ego to succeed. But drawing a line between ego, and over-confidence is what premeditatio malorum is all about. John F. Kennedy once famously said “we go to the moon… not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” The more audacious the goal, the more you need your ego to stay true to the vision and persevere through failure.

However, ego and arrogance are two different things – as different as chalk and cheese. Arrogance leads you to look at situations from the perspective of “success at any cost” and that is disastrous – for everyone.

So, what is the perfect marriage then?

Ego and humility.

Ego and humility?

Yes, as an entrepreneur, learn to welcome hard times by introducing “premeditatio malorum” in your daily life. You tend to become more self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses and the amount of efforts certain activities take. As an entrepreneur, by regularly and consciously observing your mind during these sessions of “premeditatio malorum”, you will encounter some interesting epiphanies such as the impossibility of controlling certain outside events or people and accepting them with grace instead.

Entrepreneurs should contemplate practising gratitude

There is so much within the practice of Stoicism that can offer the emotional healing and the peace of mind as humanity grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and entrepreneurs suffer even more. An exercise I often recommend is gratitude. When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive in these times — to breathe, to think differently, to enjoy working, to do what you love, to build resilience.

Without gratitude, it is very easy to reverse our outward-looking, capacious self into an inward-looking collapsing star which crumbles under the slightest external stimuli. Your real resumé is just a catalogue of all your suffering.

lumos – Parting thought (as an entrepreneur or otherwise)

“Of course, it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” ― Albus Dumbledore

#TheZymurgistDiaries #GrowthMindset #Leadership #EntrepreneurialMindset #EntrepreneurialChallenges #covid19times

See more from this series here.


About the author: 24x Founder, 3x Success, 2x VCExit, 19x Failure, 100x Resilient, 14x Sectors, 6x Continents, $2+bn deals originated and advised.

Chennakeshav Adya (Keshav) is an eclectic value creator for mid-sized firms and PE/VC funds on Fund-raising, M&A, growth, corporate strategy and deal-making (currently, as co-founder of Adan Corporate). He is a resourceful entrepreneur with 20+ years of global experience in building businesses from a concept and growing global teams from 2 to 200+.

A deca-lingual, multi-talented zymurgist, Keshav is skilled at using the founder’s mentality and thrives in uncertainty and chaos, directing teams through the “Unknown” in the initial 1-2 years of setting up any type of new venture.

As an Entrepreneur Mentor in Residence (EMiR), Keshav is associated with London Business School’s experiential entrepreneurship activities supporting students and alumni who are interested in pursuing a career in entrepreneurship, whether launching or growing their own ventures.

PS: As a part of the Movember movement, Keshav is raising money towards raising awareness of men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer, and men’s suicide. Suicide in men, as most of us do not know, is the LEADING cause of death among men under 45. That number should feel horrifying because it is horrifying.

The money raised by the Movember movement will help make a tangible difference to the lives of others, through the world’s most promising cancer research and mental health support programs that support adults and their families battling and surviving mental health problems.

Link to donate: https://uk.movember.com/mospace/10132933 . Thank you.

#mentalhealth #prostratecancer #suicide #cancer #movember

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