In the summer of 2004 I lost my innocence. I saw war first-hand as a foot soldier on a presidential campaign.
Sleep, social life, family and personal comfort were irrelevant. Only victory mattered. By any means necessary.
It was an unlovely slog, and soon my only motivation was to wake up on Wednesday, Nov. 3, and be done with the whole mess. Whether this was “objectively” true, my attitude guaranteed the outcome.
Often we treat the hardships of startup life as a badge of honor. When we say we’re “slaving away,” or “grinding it out,” we get exactly what we expect.
Instead treating business as an extension of ourselves, we see our startups as some sort of faceless villain intent on robbing us of time, draining our energy and money, and ruining relationships. But startups are just ideas. If you treat your startup as a dance partner, the picture changes very quickly.
The choice is yours.
Language is reality
The words we use are a reflection of our universe.
“[F]or any ‘thing’ or concept to exist, we must distinguish between it and a not-that-thing or concept,” says Marty Lefkoe. ”Our most important tool for making distinctions and creating our reality is language.” Whether spoken or imagined, our perceptions form the bounds of our existence. This is known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.
Edward Sapir wrote:
Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of a particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. The fact of the matter is that their “real world” is to a large extent unconsciously built up in the language habits of the group. . . . We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation.
We are what we think as much as we are what we say.
The language of entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship lends itself to metaphor because its processes and products are largely unseen. This is especially true in technology startups, which skew heavily male.
Entrepreneurial metaphors are quite aggressive. Success is defined as “crushing it,” “killing it,” “wrecking shop,” or “dominating.” Startups survive when they “eat what they kill.”
Launching a successful startup is an “all-in” endeavor. But defining startup life in military terms is self-defeating. It’s a mental image that will prepare you for failure.
War is zero sum
A war is zero sum. Even the victor must sustain heavy loss of life and sacrifice precious treasure to defeat the other side. “Victory” in combat is often just the start of a long and drawn out occupation.
Is this what you want for your business?
Why entrepreneurship is a dance
I was at a bar with a friend when I described the process of building Moonshot as a struggle between my ambitions and the slow pace of building any new business. She quickly corrected me and told me I was “dancing with it.”
I like that explanation much better. I’ve used it ever since, and visualize my own growth in terms of a dance for the following reasons.
Dance is something beautiful and inspiring to watch. Dance is about navigating through space while keeping a beat, acknowledging other dancers. Style, rhythm and precision all matter. And dance is fun!
Fighting is ugly. No one wants to join you when you’re fighting.
Dance is about partnership
Dance is about partnership. Even when a dance style has a lead partner, it calls for understanding and compassion. Dance brings out the best in your partner.
War is adversarial. It’s dehumanizing.
Entrepreneurship is a dance with yourself
The journey of entrepreneurship is about finding harmony and balance with our loudest critic. Because no one is in charge, and no one wants you to fail, we are our own harshest critic.
If you declare war on yourself, you’re guaranteed to lose.
If you imagine entrepreneurship as a dance with yourself–with your resistance, uncertainty and fear–you create something of beauty and encourage others to participate in your success.
The next time you feel overwhelmed, stressed or agitated, don’t declare way. Turn up the music loud and ask yourself to dance.
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