Being an entrepreneur is hard. No one really denies that, nor should they. But for most, when we hear such a declaration, almost by default, our thoughts move to the stereotypes of entrepreneurial hardship: the risks you take; the unending challenge of convincing others of the worth of your idea; the belief that you must always be on, capable, even prescient – you know the list. But stop for as moment. Look at the pattern.
All of those automatic thoughts and our typical impressions of the entrepreneurial journey are about one – one mythical superhero, one summit conqueror. Each is largely external, too. Yet, it’s an internal burden that’s the greater challenge of all: Avoiding becoming your own biggest problem by concluding you need to fit the spandex suit and wear the superhero cape. Entrepreneurship is not heroic. It’s human. And forgetting that isn’t just dangerous, it’s common. It’s also a habit easier to break than you might think.
The Truth About the Entrepreneurial Adventure
The most common image we associate with entrepreneurs is of them planting their victory flag atop the summit – the proverbial peak of bringing to life a revolutionary new product, the pinnacle of coming to dominate a market, or the media crowning of a brilliant maverick. But again, entrepreneurs, even and especially the most successful ones, are more human than heroic. Which means they’re fallible. It’s that fallibility that, ignored or overlooked, leads to the trouble.
In many ways, entrepreneurs are the ‘adventurers’ of the work world, akin to adventures of the great outdoors – the free solo climber seeking to be the first to ascend the rock wall others deem unconquerable, or the intrepid skier looking to cross the uncrossed tundra where others dared not go. When the best complete these feats, they often get the sole credit, as if they simply pointed to the pinnacle, and strolled there one afternoon all by themselves. Never ever have they done it alone.
More than just not soloing, they falter, often. And sometimes they fail. The faltering and failing obviously can keep them from the summit, but unaddressed, it can lead to much worse, circumstances where their own ability to rebound or save themselves slips from their grasp. Their humanness eclipses their heroism. That’s why the best adventurers build in an “out date,” a means of reminding themselves of their own humanity and more fundamental, of their need for other humans to help them succeed. A good entrepreneur should have an out date too.
How Adventurers – and Entrepreneurs – Actually Ensure Their Success
In his book The Adventurer’s Son, extreme sport expert Roman Dial describes an out date as “the day we adventurers request a loved one, friend, or some other responsible person to initiate a search to find us, should they not have heard from us by then.” As Dial explains, while the tale of summiting alone is alluring, smart adventurers, that is, those who get to stand on the summit repeatedly, are careful not to get sucked too far into the adventurer-as-hero image, or attempt to write their own headline prematurely. Instead, from the very start, they consciously build in reality checks, not because they plan to fail, but because things happen, often things one can’t handle all by one’s lonesome. Think of an out date as a conscious deferral to others you trust to help ‘find yourself’ when you get off course.
As Dial describes it, an outdate is interconnected to a larger willingness to let others share the jobs of leading and strategizing, of ideating and executing (and not just the rescuing). “Besides an outdate,” he writes, the most successful adventurers “provide our destination and route descriptions; the color of our shelter, pack, raft, and clothing; and any general information that would aid in the search for us.” More, Dial makes clear that his ultimate choices in any and all those things, from route to gear, are based on the guidance and expertise of others. Many others, in fact, are in it with him from the start, not just tacked on at the end and only if something goes wrong. It’s clear he sees his mission and quest as shared, and not the solo adventure we assume. The adventurer who becomes legend for his or her repeated success, Dial says, much like the truly successful entrepreneur, strives to be responsible to themselves and their actions by sharing the responsibility, and the lead, with others. Turns out the solo legends are actually teams.
Whatever you chose to call it, try the habit of an out date. It just might be the very thing you need to arrive together – with your team, your customers, your partners, and everyone else who makes a venture successful – at that summit you seek.