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Archive for the “Suffering” Category

Donna-colfer-cycle-of-sufferingFriedrich Nietsche famously said that to live was to suffer.  As  small businessmen and women, most of us have had to learn to work through personal business suffering and I believe it is a specific and important resource that can be and needs to be absorbed and creatively integrated into every entrepreneur’s psyche for success.

We entrepreneurs and small business folk have increasingly come to understand the role of failure, even multiple failure, in our success.  Entrepreneurial failure has even become a “back-door” brag for some.  (Note FailCon, a series of conferences where successful tech movers and shakers now share stories of their defeats.)

But the real value of failure is not that it may lead to entrepreneurial success, happiness, and freedom, though it can and does.  No.  The real gift of failure is learning the creativity, freedom, and centering that is released by any act of authentic suffering which underlies the many failures of most of us—of business, of strategy, of leadership, of faith, etc.  It is a lonely and autodidactic process.

British-born cross-cultural expert and essayist Pico Iyer wrote a lovely piece in the NY Times Review last year (September 7, 2013) titled The Value of Suffering.  He says the following:

“Wise men in every tradition tell us that suffering brings clarity, illumination; for the Buddha, suffering is the first rule of life, and insofar as some of it arises from our own wrongheadedness—our cherishing of self—we have the cure for it within….I once met a Zen-trained painter in Japan, in his 90s, who told me that suffering is a privilege, it moves us toward thinking about essential things and shakes us out of shortsighted complacency: when he was a boy, he said it was believed you should pay for suffering, it proves such a hidden blessing.”

logo(Jess Bruder of Inc. Magazine also wrote an excellent article (September, Inc. Magazine, 2013) about this subject called The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship.  Here’s a link, if interested.)

I am not a masochist.  (Well, maybe I am…but that’s between me and my therapist.)  There is nothing fundamentally ennobling about failure.  Sometimes it’s just a bummer we need to quickly shake from our sandals.  But what suffering does is deepen our beings to levels transcending failure.  Levels that open us to the New—to soulfulness, to creativity, to richer human and scientific truth and, dare I say it, to God.  Indeed, suffering shakes our, perhaps necessary yet limiting, hubris, and, more, rearranges the very molecules of our personal capitalist process.  One might say all of human progress is in man’s cumulative ability to somehow keep failing “up.”

We entrepreneurs are not in charge of our suffering.  It may tip-toe in on the little cat’s feet of loneliness and inner-emptiness.  Or with all the bombast and humiliation of a public bankruptcy.  But our specific experiences of suffering (and failure is the most prominent form of it for the entrepreneur) also release true primordial passions that are the essence of business creativity.

The_Wizard_of_Oz_Bert_Lahr_1939The hardest thing for most of us is to find the courage to muddle through our morasses of suffering, to a quiet sea of new beginnings.  I’ve always thought simple courage, the courage to persist, was the key quality for most of us who attempt to create a business.

We live in a balkanized world, increasingly without intrinsic societal institutions for creating value.  One of the great gifts open to the entrepreneur in such an anomic society is to create her/his own center of of cultural meaning and personal value in a business entity.  But it takes willingness to suffer.  It takes soul courage.

As The Cowardly Lion sings in the movie of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, “What makes a king out of a slave?  Courage!”  Indeed.  Thank you, L. Frank Baum.

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bt-sufferingFriedrich Nietzsche said that to live is to suffer.  To say that is neither a morose nor a self-pitying statement.  It is a clear-eyed, direct statement of simple truth.  Loss is the simple law of life in an impermanent and ever-changing world.

For me, entrepreneurship is a useful process and strategy for dealing with suffering.  It is a customized, personal way to create a structure for meaning and a framework for surviving suffering successfully in a world increasingly without universal verities or the moorings of faith.

When I was a younger man I tried many things in a search for truth and my own center.  I studied philosophy and even considered becoming a minister.  I sought solace in the ersatz truths of addiction and sex.  I also chanted with the Buddhists three times a day for a year and a half.

Although Buddhism was not the answer for me, I took many useful bits of wisdom from it.  One of those bits was the Buddhist concept of suffering.  In Buddhism, suffering is the prime tenet of life.  Buddhists have prayers that thank God for their trials, not their benefactions.  (“Out of the rankest darkness of the pond comes the beautiful lotus blossom.”)  Suffering is a privilege that jolts us out of our complacency and self-seeking, our separation from God.  It is not dissimilar to the clarifying Christian concept of sin.  Experiencing and overcoming suffering is a gift, an instrument for developing real self-cherishment.

buddha.statue_2The entrepreneur’s greatest form of suffering is fear of failure.  And failure itself.  Three out of four entrepreneurial ventures will fail and Shikhar Ghosh of Harvard states that 95% of start-ups fall short of their projections.  (Harvard Business Review, 12:00 PM, 8/23/13, Gretchen Gavett)  That is core entrepreneurial suffering.  (The penultimate sufferings are the constant anxieties of those many everyday setbacks we all face, like not making payroll, the IRS, Obamacare, losing clients, friction with partners, growing competition, etc.  And, of course, that general frisson of fear most of us wake up with every morning as we rise to try to slay these assorted dragons.)

John Gartner, a practicing psychologist and teacher at Johns Hopkins University, recently put out a book called The Hypomanic Edge.  It posits that hypomania, which reflects a radically-driven and innovative temperament, is endemic to America’s national character and its unique form of entrepreneurship.  He hypothesizes that the American national character was created by immigration.  He says, “We’re a  self-selected population…Immigrants have unusual ambition, energy, drive, and risk tolerance, which lets them take a chance on moving for a better opportunity.  These are biologically based temperament traits.  If you seed an entire continent with them, you’re going to get a nation of entrepreneurs.”   Gartner notes hypomanics (entrepreneurs) are at much higher risk for depression (suffering) than the general population.  (“The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship”, Inc. Magazine, Sept. 9, 2013)

khalilTo choose entrepreneurship is to choose some degree of specific pain.  To embrace creative enterprise is to accept an amount of salubrious suffering and its close kin, failure.  It’s a non-financial cost of entrepreneurship.  It is something I certainly need to acknowledge to stay honest and growing, both commercially and spiritually.  It’s important in separating my self-worth from my net worth.

I find many of my business colleagues “closet sufferers.”  I think it is important to come out of that closet, both to ourselves, our friends, and even in public sometimes.  Hopefully with humor, grace, and self-compassion.

Khalil Gibran said, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”  Thank you, Khalil.

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