Entrepreneurial terror is like a tsunami. When it hits, it captures all your attention, leaving nothing for other matters.
And when the 50-foot waves come, it's impossible to learn. So you need to figure out--ahead of time--how to surf when you're on more manageable two-foot waves. It'll help you know what to do when the big ones come.
But if entrepreneurial terror strikes you unprepared, there is one technique you can use to keep your balance and prevent yourself from being carried away into the throes of despair.
It is the same strategy that has helped special forces operatives like Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell survive under circumstances almost too horrendous to contemplate.
In June 2005 Marcus Luttrell was part of a four-man SEAL team dropped into a remote area of Afghanistan to capture or kill Mohammad Ismail, a Taliban leader thought to be closely allied with Al Qaeda.
The mission quickly went horribly awry. The team was attacked by dozens of Taliban fighters armed with machine guns, rocket propelled grenade launchers, and mortars. Luttrell's three comrades were killed and he was alone in deeply-hostile territory with multiple fractures, gunshot wounds, and a broken back.
Somehow he clambered down a steep ravine, crossed a river, and hid for several hours till friendly villagers found him, sheltered him, and eventually returned him to U.S. forces.
Certainly Luttrell's predicament was more dire than the one faced by the fictional entrepreneur in my last column. But entrepreneurs can learn from Luttrell's experience and how he managed to survive; when reporters later quizzed him, he attributed it to his SEAL training.
In his book Lone Survivor, Luttrell describes SEAL training culminating in a brutal "hell week." In it, candidates swim for miles and then roll in the sand and run for miles with the abrasive sand in their boots and clothes rubbing them raw. They carry heavy loads under fire with live bullets. They are underwater with full scuba gear when an instructor grabs their air hoses and ties knots in them. They have to reach behind them and untie those knots in a hurry if they want to breathe. They do push-ups, row backwards through choppy waters using their hands as paddles, run into icy ocean in full combat gear, and grab food and eat it on the run. And they do this day after day with virtually no sleep.
Luttrell observed something during his training. It was this insight that saved his life. It is this same insight that will prevent entrepreneurial terror from sweeping you away.
Luttrell noted that, during hell week, if any candidate thought, "Oh my god I still have several days of this to go through," that candidate dropped out. The ones who survived were the ones who relentlessly focused on one thing and one thing only--taking the next step.
As one of the infamous instructors shouted, "The body can take damn near anything. It's the mind that needs training!"
In Afghanistan, when he was badly-wounded, marooned behind enemy lines with his position unknown, and slim hopes of rescue, Luttrell's training took over, and he thought only of putting one foot ahead of the other. And he traveled miles to eventual safety. He was awarded a Navy Cross for his part and one of his fallen comrades received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
That is what you have to do when attacked by entrepreneurial terror, too. Ruthlessly focus on what is under your control and the next step you need to take in your action plan. It may succeed. It may not succeed. You do not know. Waste no time thinking about the outcome.
Put all your emotional energy into the actions that you can take. It is not easy. But do it anyway because it is what will save you.
In future columns, I will give you longer-term strategies to ensure that you and entrepreneurial terror become strangers.