Entrepreneurship is hard, both physically and emotionally. Fatigue, doubt, stress, despair--along the way, every entrepreneur struggles with those feelings.
So how are entrepreneurs willing to face the physical and emotional ups and downs?
They keep doing one simple thing that unsuccessful people do not--or will not--do.
To illustrate the point, here's a great story from Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, the founder of The Next Web. (Boris was also my source for the extremely popular "10 Phrases Great Speakers Never Say.")
Last weekend I went skiing in Alagna, Italy. On our first day I skied about two hours, mostly on piste. On the second day we met our ski guide, who asked us if we were fit and able and willing to walk up the mountain a bit for a really great run. Of course we were!
My fellow skiers all had skis that could be fitted with skins, but mine couldn't and I didn't want to ski on a different pair so I asked the guide what my options were. He suggested snowshoes, which I could fit under my ski boots and which looked a bit like tennis rackets. I asked if there was a downside to that option and he smiled and said, "Well, it is about 30 percent more tiring to climb up a mountain with those things."
Being in good condition and, well, a bit stubborn, I figured I'd give it a shot.
About an hour later we arrived at the highest lift station and started our ascent. The guide graciously offered to bind my skis to his backpack so I could focus on the walk. I thanked him and he said, "Don't worry, I'm just doing it for myself. I don't want to see you exhausted by the time we get up there and then have to carry you down."
A nice confidence boost, thanks.
My friends started joking about how I shouldn't worry and they would wait for me at the summit for an hour or two until I got there. And then they started walking while I was still fiddling with my snowshoes. Our Italian guide was in front and our friend Raymond Landgraaf from Otro Elements, who lives in the area, was in the back, to make sure we all made it up the mountain.
After 20 minutes I was exhausted. It was incredibly warm in the sun and out of the wind, the snowshoes were heavy and unwieldy, the path was too small and steep, and I kept slipping every few steps. I looked up and noticed my friends were now small dots in the distance and the summit didn't look any closer. I turned around and looked back and it seemed I had covered only a tiny distance.
I stopped to catch my breath and started cursing myself. Out loud.
At some point I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up to see Raymond standing next to me. He asked how I was doing, and still out of breath and with my heart racing, I pointed at the skiers in front of us, and the summit above that, and, under my breath, said, "Impossible! Too heavy! (Forget) this!"
Raymond just smiled, grabbed my shoulders, looked me straight in the eyes, and said:
Boris, you are going about this all wrong. The mountain doesn't care about you, but it also isn't against you. You have to accept the circumstances, not fight them. Don't look at the summit, or those skiers, or even think about your snowshoes. Look around you. It is beautiful here. Stop fighting what you can't change. Focus on your breathing, on your heart rate, on your next step, and on finding your rhythm. Once you find your rhythm you can do anything.
I'm not sure what happened but I listened to what he said and something clicked. I turned around, took a few breaths and then took a step forward. Then I inhaled and took two more steps. After a few more steps I focused on my poles and how I was moving them. Eventually I felt myself getting calmer and I felt my heart rate lowering. My movements started feeling more secure and logical. Almost effortless.
Well, not effortless, but not exhausting either.
As I found my rhythm I started thinking about my life and how what Raymond said made so much sense.
In two or three sentences he had described what it is like to be an entrepreneur. When you start a business you set a goal at the beginning and you keep that goal in the back of your mind. But from that moment on you focus on taking small steps. And you keep taking the next step and then the one after that.
You don't get distracted or demotivated by what others say or do. You just focus on finding a rhythm and taking the next step that gets you closer to your goal. And after making small steps for a long enough period you suddenly look back at your life and realize all those small steps led to something, and your goal is suddenly a lot closer.
I know this. That is what I do every day.
As I was thinking about all of that my world was now nothing more than my rhythm, and my view was restricted to my snowshoes and the 30 centimeters in front of me where I was going to take my next step.
Then something unexpected happened. I noticed the back of a pair of skis. I had caught up with one of my friends and was passing him. I remember he said something as I passed but I didn't really hear him and didn't reply because I was too focused on taking my next step. And then the next.
And the next.
Some time later the same thing happened again. I noticed skis, passed another skier, and just kept on walking. Then, after passing several skiers I saw someone standing still on the path. I looked up and saw the Italian guide standing there, on the summit, with a huge smile on his face. I smiled back at him, raised my right index finger in the air and asked, "First?"
The guide pointed back at my friends peeling the skins off their skies about 20 meters down the slope. Then I noticed Raymond walking up to me with an even bigger smile on his face. He said, "Oh man, what a sight! You found your rhythm! You went up that mountain like a freight truck!"
He gave me a bear hug and I found myself overwhelmed with joy and almost crying from happiness.
Now, I didn't win a race or even beat my friends to that mountaintop. They had most probably just stopped close to the summit and I had passed them without noticing we were already there.
I didn't even carry my own skis.
But all of that didn't matter to me. What mattered was that I found my rhythm and learned an important lesson that can be applied not only on a steep mountain but also to daily life--whether you are an entrepreneur or just someone trying to accomplish a task that seems daunting.
The one simple thing that entrepreneurs do that unsuccessful people do not--or will not--do? They know their goal, they find their rhythm, and they keep taking one step at a time until they get there.
It all seems so logical.
But sometimes you need to be reminded of those simple truths, preferably on a sunny and snow-covered mountain in Italy.