It takes a long time to be an overnight success. It’s very important how your tell yourself and others the “story so far” of your entrepreneurial journey.
I had a long conversation today with a startup CEO who has been bootstrapping since 2004. It was enjoyable and energizing–I always enjoy talking to folks trying to create something new. We talked about a lot of things that he had tried that hadn’t worked (I was able to recall a few of my own less successful strategies as well, once I put my mind to it). It can take a long time to be an overnight success. That means it’s very important how your tell yourself and others the “story so far” of your entrepreneurial journey.
Stubbornness is the Energy of Fools
As we were wrapping up I told him that I had one concern. He had referred to himself as “stubborn” several times. This may be accurate–or what his wife calls him–but it’s not a positive quality. A stubborn person does the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. The Germans say that “stubbornness is the energy of fools.”
Persevering and Continuing to Experiment
I suggested a better phrase might be “persevering and continuing to experiment.” I think it makes a difference in your own outlook how you tell “…the story so far.”
You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend or not”
O’Donnell’s Law of History: There are no true stories.
Story-tellers are in the iron grip of readers’ expectations. Stories have beginnings, middles, ends, heroes, villains, clarity, resolution. Life has none of those things, so any story gets to be a story (especially if it’s a good story) by edging away from what really happened (which we don’t know in anywhere near enough detail anyway) towards what makes a good story. Historians exist to wrestle with the story temptation the way Laocoon wrestled with the snakes.
James J. O’Donnell in “What’s Your Law (Edge.org)”
I think it’s an argument that all experience is ineffable. But I think the counterargument is that stories are how we process meaning and can therefore transmit useful and actionable approximations of history that prepares listeners for (more) effective action.
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2. Never give up. Almost nothing works the first time it’s attempted. Just because what you’re doing does not seem to be working, doesn’t mean it won’t work. It just means that it might not work the way you’re doing it. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and you wouldn’t have an opportunity.
“…successful entrepreneurs can’t be convinced that any other startup has their troubles, because they constantly compare the triumphant launch parties and revisionist histories of successful companies to their own daily struggles.” — Glenn Kelman
The challenge with overnight success in a startup–like many other things in life–is that you need to integrate many different inputs, your own hopes and fears among them, and negotiate a working consensus with your co-founders to be successful.
Persevering vs. Tenacious
Update June 27, Ray Salemi suggests in the comments that the word I wanted to use was “tenacious.”
I learned the word from a Peanuts cartoon where Lucy keeps telling Linus he is stubborn and Linus insists he is tenacious (“Tenacity is what carried George Washington through Valley Forge,” says Linus.)
Tenacious has a sense of steadfast holding on, retaining what you already have, with an implication of obstinacy. A defense can be tenacious, but start-ups have to play offense: they have to end up somewhere distant from where they started to thrive. Washington kept the Continental Army viable at Valley Forge, but he renewed their hope–and their vital re-enlistments–by persevering in crossing the Delaware and overwhelming the Hessian garrison at Trenton.
American Heritage Dictionary defines “persevere” as
To persist in or remain constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement.
Webster’s Revised Unabridged says
“To persist in any business or enterprise undertaken; to pursue steadily any project or course begun; to maintain a purpose in spite of counter influences, opposition, or discouragement; not to give or abandon what is undertaken.”
Photo Credit: Karl-Ludwig Poggemann: look downstairs into stairwell whirl