In these rapidly changing times, certain bits of wisdom have taken a greater importance than when they were created. Here are three of my favorite adages to guide you on your entrepreneurial journey.
"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." - Heraclitus
Each time we cross a river, whether wide or narrow, tumultuous or calm, we are changed by the experience. At the same time, what was once crushingly difficult may become leisurely incremental. The opportunities in entrepreneurship will never be the same as they are today. For we will be different, and the world will be different.
In May 2012, I co-founded my first company mining bitcoins. Back then, each bitcoin was only $11 a piece. I built the machines and my co-founder ran the company. We started with $20,000 that I ceaselessly harassed my parents for because I had just read "The Fountainhead" and bitcoin rang oh so true to me.
When the bitcoin markets spiked to $1,200 a pop, I should have cashed out for a cool million. A few days before Thanksgiving, my co-founder called me. It turns out he had been margin trading with our bitcoins and had lost all of them. Over the next few months, as the river drained, I found myself anchored to the tickers. I tried to do better at what my co-founder had failed to do and struggled to recover my investment through trading.
But the time had passed and with it the opportunity. Nothing was the same except for the future that bitcoin promised. At the same time, I had also changed. I gained the courage to trust myself and my intuition. I knew I would have to build my own company on my own terms.
As the speed of technology and science accelerates, this adage will become only more true. The best entrepreneurs today must maintain a fluid identity of what is possible and what is opportune. And at the end of the day, take what you have learned from your crossing and move on as a renewed being.
"Character is what you do when nobody is watching." - John Wooden
When I first read this quotation, I was in high school, getting ready for my first track season. In one word, it means "integrity." We are first and foremost beholden to ourselves, and we are each the foundation onto which we seek to build. During track, what that meant was giving it 100 percent every single workout, especially the solo runs during the weekends and off-season. As an entrepreneur, it means dedication to my field of expertise. I've spent many nights retracing the footpath of researchers and entrepreneurs. I've spent many weekends understanding the journeys of the greats and soon-to-be greats, like Musk and Tononi.
As someone who doesn't have a Ph.D. nor an entrepreneurial upbringing, I often feel that I am unqualified. Yet as I pour into my 10,000 hours, my character becomes more and more real. As I grow into myself, there is little difference in my conscious state from when I am in public to when I am alone.
In many ways, this quote is the difference between "fake it until you make it" and "fake it until you become it." And once you "become it," your image and identity become one. You are constantly performing, without any cognitive dissonance, and without any reliance on foreign energy or self-deception of what you are capable of. When you are the same person on stage as in the back room, there is nothing that anyone can say about you that will shock you, nor will you be afraid or ashamed of tough decisions you will have to make.
You are powerful when you are unified.
"Do not speak badly of yourself, for the warrior that is inside you hears your words and is lessened by them." - David Gemmell
Every time we speak poorly of ourselves, our perception of who we are is affected. Every time we talk about ourselves negatively (whether it's true or not), our identity is shifted toward that reality.
Statements like "I'm not a good public speaker" or "I can't design another version of this" only harm your potential to grow. Even if the statement is true (which is almost never is), materializing it into words makes it that much more real.
Self-importance comes with belief in one's ability, which is critical for growth and leadership. Embrace this truism as you would your resilience as a fighter. Too often capable entrepreneurs hold onto the habits of their environment (the same habits that have made them so capable) and never reach their potential.
This piece of wisdom is possibly even more powerful when applied to team-building. When it comes to criticism, focus on the work and not the person delivering the work. In the same way that you should not speak badly of yourself, you should never speak badly of your teammates, regardless of their performance.
The difference between "you did an unacceptable job" and "this work is unacceptable" may seem insubstantial, but to the brain and the wiring of the self, it creates a world of difference. When the inevitable feelings of insufficiency emerge (which is the precursor for growth), the former statement entangles the negativity to the individual's sense of self. In the latter, it's tied to the work. If your teammates are on the same page, then they will not take the failure as evidence for their inability, but as a challenge for growth.