Pain and Risk in Business

On pain

Building and running a business is like the mythological hero’s journey depicted by the ancient Greek. It is the path out of a place or state of doubt, complacency or comfort after overcoming a series of challenges that lead you to greatness, growth and hopefully a legacy (even though modern business schools sell it as one big imitation game where a pot of gold awaits at the end). Like those worthy tales we’ve heard so many times, the entrepreneur’s journey too is filled with traps, battles and challenges that must be overcome. 

As human beings we are wired to reject that which brings pain because we think it endangers our survival. So we never start our journey and, instead, we “wait it out.” What a way to live your life! For those that actually take the courageous step and leave their cave of comfort to face what the outside world has to offer, risk and pain await. Still, they do it. And they win. Because they know that risk and pain are a natural part of the journey.

“Growing pains” is not just an expression, it’s a real thing. When we embark on the entrepreneur’s journey, we break bones and accumulate scars as we remove or restructure painfully old patterns and metamorphose into the new version of ourselves. The caterpillar endures great pains (it basically dies) before spreading its wings and reaching great heights. The process is no different for us.

We must accept pain as part of our process of building a legacy with our businesses. Avoiding pain is a futile and inefficient strategy. It only works for those who want to remain dormant.

But pain does not equal suffering! While you have no choice but to feel pain because of your neural wiring and your emotional disposition, suffering is a choice. To dwell on past decisions and on things that could have been is not a natural necessity. An apple tree does not know of such a thing. It does not look back or focus on that which is broken. Nature focuses resources on that which is intact and can grow. Someone who loses an arm can choose between focusing on what they’ve lost, or on what remains. If you focus on the lost arm, you suffer loss. If you focus on the remaining one, you activate resilience and growth and your remaining arm becomes stronger. Soon you can do more than you were able to do when you still had the other arm.

On risk

Apart from pain, we also deal with risk. There is no gain, there is no adventure and there is no legacy without risk taking. But how much risk is too much risk? How little is too little? Entrepreneurs who immediately jump out of a window (figuratively speaking), are not worthy of our admiration. They are courageous, but also ignorant. The ones who use the window to look through and lean a little bit outside, curious and cautious, are the ones who win the long game, because they stay in the game and embrace INCREMENTAL GROWTH – slow but steady, natural growth. In nature, nothing grows faster than it needs to. Everything takes its natural time. Businesses should too.

When we bite off more than we can chew, we break the system. This is why my definition of zone of growth is the area between comfort and “death”. “Outside the box” is not precise enough because there is also death outside the box. But right in between, there where our efficiency lies dormant, is the zone of growth. When you build your business, run it like a marathon, not a sprint. Prepare by incrementally increasing your distance (goals), get to know your physique (staff, clients, operations), your stamina (are you pushing too hard, too fast?) and your reaction to the system you are in. 

Founders who only focus on money, who have websites that are better than the products they sell on it, who over-promise and under-deliver, who risk home and family or financial ruin to scale fast are all victims of false risk assessments. They lose sight of exit strategies, they do zero proactive planning and, alas, become a failed hero – the least attractive story ever told.

Develop a mindset that accepts pain and risk as natural and helpful devices for growth, and that deflects suffering as an unnecessary choice. Then you will be equipped with the right kind of courage to be the hero we all want to hear and read about.


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