The Eternal Groundless of the Entrepreneur

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Thomas Hood — Walking on Air

The caption for this post was inspired by this quote from Pema Chodron:

“ … it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality …”

I was asked recently by a friend who is also an entrepreneur: “How do you get rid of the uncertainty?”

My answer: You don’t.

Uncertainty is to the entrepreneur what the sky is to the bird, the water is to the fish, the plains to a lion. We need it. It sustains us. It keeps us moving towards the edge of things; to the great beyond that propels all adventurers and artists.

But we are not birds, fish or lions. We are humans. And we have this highly evolved minds that are designed to keep us alive, productive and happy.

But how …

First, we must understand it’s not the uncertainty that causes suffering. It is the expectation that there shouldn’t be uncertainty that causes suffering. When we accept the uncertainty and embrace it, the suffering is greatly dissipated. But we can make the suffering worse.

Here’s how …

  • Ignore biology. sums it up nicely with this mantra: “don’t trust a tired mind.” Yes, we need to work hard and put in the time. But hustling and grinding (insert your favorite bro start-up term) too much, too often will make you short-sighted, irritable, fuzzy headed and in constant search of stimulation. It will make you stupid. It will dull whatever creative edge you have with your knowledge, skills, ideas.
  • Unhealthy behaviors. Coping mechanisms are part of our ancient programming to keep us alive. However, for many entrepreneurs, coping is often a justification for unhealthy behavior. Too much processed foods (which pretty much all foods that sell on speed are). Too much alcohol consumption. Too much caffeine. Too much Netflix binging. And not enough brain food, movement. And almost always not enough stillness and silence. Not controlling what we put into our bodies contributes to the biological part of us that fears uncertainty.
  • Over-dramatizing the facts. When we spin out from the fear of uncertainty, it feels like danger and death. So we use the language of danger and death to express this fear. We use the language of panic, urgency. Which adds fuel to the mind that something is wrong. This causes us to go into primal state and take a defensive posture. It’s nearly impossible to be an effective entrepreneur when our minds are clouded with fear hormones and we are in hunker-and-hide mode. This is why survivalists teach you to take an inventory of assets immediately.
  • Not enough systems of discipline. Jocko Willink makes the profound observation “discipline equals freedom.” My modification to that is that systems of discipline equal freedom. I strongly believe entrepreneurs need their own systems of discipline (also called “practices”) in the most mission-critical aspects of their lives. For me, this is faith, physical health, knowledge, mastery of mind, creativity and relationships. In the business, we have systems of discipline for sales pipeline, marketing, client delivery and experience, ops, finance, culture. To be clear, these aren’t someone else’s systems. You can learn from others but following someone else’s formula just breeds more uncertainty. Take the time to make your own systems of discipline.

When we examine each of these four areas, we will see the pervasive influence of the ego mind. Attempting to eliminate uncertainty is most certainly a futile attempt by the ego to take control and eliminate the feeling of danger. But when we listen to the ego, we contribute to the illusion of certainty. And to the illusion that the ego is right. Entrepreneurs are artists. Ego kills art because it needs rules, stability, order. It needs to be safe. Art needs freedom.

When we listen to our biology, master our power of choice, get real about our assets and establish our own systems of discipline, uncertainty becomes our natural habitat. Where we swim, fly, run like we belong there. Because we do.

Written by

When you show someone their soul, you set them free. Co-founder of branding firm Root + River. Speaker, writer based in Austin. @fosterthinking on Twitter/IG

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