Friday, June 26, 2009

The Ride :: The Diary of a Young Entrepreneur # 2 Burnt Fingers

May 28, 2009

Burnt Fingers

As a child you are constantly reminded that if you play too close to the fire, you will get burned. "Don't touch the hot pan/fire/stove/bbq", you'll get burned. Now as curious children, what do we do? Of course we get too close to the hot object and attempt to do the forbidden. We reach our chubby little fingers out when no one is looking, and promptly get burned. We then cry, get slathered with burn cream, and move on to find the next adventure, with our new burn marks to show off in the sandbox.

Fast forward 25 years and we are still doing the same thing. Except this time around, no one is there to lovingly apply burn cream. Now your investors are threatening you, your staff are questioning you, and your parents are worried it's all going to go up in smoke and you'll have to move back in. This leaves us in a bit of al quandary. If we don't get too close to the fire, if we don't take risks, then we risk living out our professional lives in the doldrums. But for most of us, every time we get burned we get a little more cautious. Now I am 29, still young enough to be bold and take risks, but too old to not be fully calculating the risks before I take them. Worse, with every risk I take that doesn't come off, I learn from it, but I also become just a little more risk adverse. That is not a good trait as a budding entrepreneur. Or is it? What about all the risks I've taken that have worked out? What about the biggest risk of all which is starting out on your own in the first place? Why do I brush those successes aside so quickly? Why do we only dissect our mistakes and failures?

This leads me onto a much larger and more complex topic. Mistakes and failures. They go hand in hand with burnt fingers and risk takers. Now we all know that if we don't make mistakes we don't learn. Many of us, even if we are told, will have to go on and make the mistake on our own anyway. Just like when our Mom told us not to touch the hot stove, your mentor/investor/boss will inevitably warn you of certain pitfalls that will befall you on your road to success. Some we will listen to and take guidance on, while others we will pretend to listen to and then go and do what we want. This is just part of life. I have recently come to terms with the fact that failure is a huge part of this whole experience. Does it make me a failure? No. Will I feel like a big fat failure? Yes. 100%, yes. But that must be the difference between the people who burn their fingers and then never stand close to the fire again and those who get burned put the burn cream on and continue on.

I never realised how much resiliency one needs when starting a company. That may seem like an obvious trait, alongside passion and sel-belief, but for most of us this is not innate. For most of us, resiliency is a learned trait. When you are young and playing a sport or piano or chess or whatever the hell our parents shove us overachieving kids into, the going gets tough, what do you want to do? Quit. I can still hear myself saying, "I don't want to sail anymore", "I hate the piano", "I want to quit volleyball for tennis". Do our parents let us? No What do they tell us? "Corre, it's too easy just to quit and walk away." "Once you become a quitter, you can never go back." Or my personal favorite, "Once a quitter, always a quitter." So what do we do? We give it another chance and the once we feel as though we've given whatever activity it is enough time to understand that you are walking away for solid reasons, our parents let us "quit." Although they don't call it quitting then, as you are just putting more focus on to whatever activity you happen to be excelling in and will inevitably become the next child genius in. I believe it's the same in business. A good leader knows when to stick through the tough times, and also when to walk away to pursue another path.

However, it's the resiliency in you that will inevitably get you through the tough times. It will be your parents/coach/older sister's voice in the back of your head telling you that quitting when the times get tough is for losers adn that you did not get to where you are by being a quitter. Hmmm.... I seem to have veered wildly off my original topic of burnt fingers, but that's alright. It's all relevant somehow.

So what have I learned this week? I have learned that burnt fingers are like the scars I have from childhood. They show that I pushed the boundaries, and always wanted more. They are the invisible scars all young entrepreneurs and professional wear and I am now understanding should wear with pride. They are not the scars of failures; in fact they are not even close. Rather, they are like the notches on your bed post. The more you have, the more around the block you have been. And if you have been around the block a few times, I bet you are damn good at what you do. They are the markings of experience and wisdom and hopefully mean that you have had and are still on, quite a ride.

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