Embrace The Struggle

If you listen to enough social media, you start to think that starting a business is so simple that it’s a no-brainer. After all, on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter, you can find story after story about someone who 3D-printed some widget, or bought some items overseas and sold them on Amazon, and made a fortune overnight from that alone.

And, if true, those stories are great. I personally love to read about genuine success stories. But the key to remember is that, while those stories are in fact awesome, in reality they’re rare. Really rare. And most of the ‘overnight successes’ you read about are actually the result of a whole bunch of failures in the past. This idea worked! Great! But it only did because the person who came up with it failed a bunch of times before.

The Struggle

Ben Horowitz talks about this in The Hard Thing About Hard Things, and he calls it The Struggle. As he defines it, the struggle is what happens when your startup or business hits that first ‘wall’, the first time you realize that not only is this not going to be easy, and not only is it going to be hard, it’s going to be F*CKING HARD.

This is the time when you realize that the company isn’t on a straight trajectory to the moon, that your product/service/widget/whatever may in fact not be the greatest thing since sliced bread, that your employees may have doubts about the company….and you have doubts about yourself.

But, as Horowitz points out, in a sense this may be the most valuable time for both your company and you. As he puts it, this time ‘separates the women from the girls’. And he’s right.

From The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Some points from the book to remember about The Struggle:

  • Don’t put it all on your shoulders – as Horowitz describes it, you can leverage a massive amount of support just by being honest with the right people. If your company has employees, hold a meeting and explain what’s up, as openly and honestly as you can. If you’re the only one around, reach out to mentors, partners, anyone who can offer real insight and assistance. You don’t have to go it alone, and you’ll be amazed at what people can do if they just know the situation.
  • There’s always a move – The Struggle sure seems bleak when you’re in it, and it’s a natural reaction to see things as hopeless when your back is against the wall. But this is isn’t a boardgame. You don’t have to just play by the usual rules (except maybe for the ones that involve the law or the IRS), and there are always options if you stay open to them.
  • Hang on and see what happens – There’s a great line in an episode of The Office where Michael Scott is negotiating with the CFO of his former company (Dunder Mifflin), who’s suggested that Michael can’t last much longer in his own business. But after enumerating both issues at Dunder Mifflin and the personal risks that the CFO is facing, Michael says “I don’t think I have to wait out Dunder Mifflin – I think I just have to wait out you.” And that approach works in many ways. Sometimes, if you can just stay in the game, new opportunities will present themselves. Keep fighting, and keep your eyes and ears open.
  • Don’t take it personally – As Horowitz says, there’s a really good chance that your actions played a huge role in getting yourself into whatever predicament you find yourself in. But guess what? You probably have good ideas too, and you’re probably not completely hopeless. And it’s not the last time you’ll make a mistake. We all do. The key is to keep moving.

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