The Myth of Sisyphus starring the hopeful entrepreneur

One of the hard parts about entrepreneurship is the lack of acknowledgement and appreciation when starting out. No one really knows what you are doing. A few people may know the hypothesis behind what you are trying to accomplish but for most unproven ideas they start their life as just that – an unproven hypothesis.

If you are a bricklayer building a house your work is very linear. The more you put in the more you get out. The goal of your work is to build a structure. The more hours you spend laying bricks the closer you get to reaching that goal. This is relatively easy to comprehend both for yourself and the people around you. You may find the work boring, but you can see you are getting closer to your goal and so can the people around you. Keep working you are almost there.

Now enter the core of entrepreneurship – prove the unproven hypothesis. This is where work gets anything but linear. The myth of Sisyphus describes meaningless work and therefore isn’t in its original meaning a good description of entrepreneurship, but with a few alterations the picture of one pushing a big rock to the top of a mountain, actually depicts entrepreneurship rather well.

First of all we need more rocks. You may have somewhat of an idea that your end goal should be a rock on top of a mountain, but exactly which rock is not all that apparent – so enter more rocks. You now run from rock to rock trying to push them uphill, spending all your energy pushing one rock only to see another roll back down the mountain, you then sprint to recover this and with herculean effort makes good progress with this one.

Now strolling around comes your good friend whom of course needs pictures for his Instagram profile. He takes a snapshot of you pushing a rock uphill. This of course somewhat shows you are working hard, but it does not show the full truth. It does not show the other rocks, all your sprints and efforts to keep them moving in the right direction. It does not show whether you are halfway, just getting started or near the end goal – and honestly you do not even know that. Your friends can show some sympathy towards your work, but they will never know the full story.

Then one day you can see a summit. You must be getting close now – all your work must have payed of. With endless nights of all out effort you get the rock you are pushing to the summit. You have looked forward to this day for so long and is ready to explode with relief – but then. The rock rolls over the summit and down on the other side. Everything goes downhill and eventually you find yourself in an even lower valley with a steeper hill to climb on the other side. What you thought was the summit was only a small step on the way. You almost had time to celebrate what you thought was your victory, only to find out – it wasn’t. You still have a long way to go – presumably – you don’t really know. You can’t see the summit, you know somewhat the direction, but whether it will take you a day, a year or you’ll never reach the top – you don’t really know. You just have to keep pushing your rocks in the direction you believe in and hope that some day it will all pay off.

This is entrepreneurship. One long education in delayed gratification. You spend all your energy on work you can’t be sure to ever return anything. You can work hard, you can work smart – but in the end you still need a good topping of luck sprinkled on top. You can do everything “right” with the best of intentions and still end up failing or do everything “wrong” with the worst of intentions and still end up succeeding – no one really knows.

This is the beauty of entrepreneurship and the reason why it is a crash course in life it self. Life is full of randomness and adversity, there is no panel of judges keeping score and giving you prices for good effort. Good, bad, lazy effort there is no score. All you can do is live in the moment move towards your goals and enjoy the journey.

 

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Awareness in daily living

Almost no matter who you are daily living can be both mundane and boring. Even if I wanted I can’t change that. But I do believe there is value to be had and perhaps I can make a little change in the way you go about your day which will make them seem a little more worth your time.

The thought about writing this post actually came about several months ago watching my then roommate doing the dishes. I have since observed other do somewhat the same.

Awareness can sound very spiritual and fluffy and to some people it might be just that, but in the context I will use it here it’s neither. It is more in the realm of being present. I am quite sure that whoever you are there are times when awareness comes very natural. Usually this is doing things we enjoy such as playing with friends or working on something we love. Making love could and should be an example of this – but most people are way more in their head than their body, thinking about whether they perform, how they look, “does he really like me”, “will she see me again” etc. that they perform the most enjoyable physical act without actually being present in their physical body.

Then how does making love tie into doing the dishes? I’ll get to that.

Unless you’re a Prince(please drop a comment if you are), then you probably have to do with quite mundane tasks in your life. They are tasks that needs to be done but aren’t all that enjoyable. This could be as mentioned earlier doing the dishes. Then why will awareness and doing the dishes ever merge into something beautiful? Beautiful might be overselling it, but they can actually meet and have a nice pleasant conversation.

Doing the dishes from a standpoint of “this is a dull task that involves putting water on plates and brushing a bit” not only makes it more annoying but also makes your end result sloppy. If you do it that way you miss the end result which is actually making the dishes clean. Thats what I observed with previous roommates. They just splattered some water on each plate, knife and fork, rubbed a bit with a brush and then dried them. This often left the dishes with stains that then ended in the dish towel – then you have a dirty dish towel and semi dirty dishes – good job!

The “goal” of much meditation is to bring more focus and awareness into your life. Be more present. Doing mundane tasks is an obvious chance for doing this. Being more aware means being more clear about the objective. When you do the dishes you make sure you do a good job, you do the dishes in order to make them clean. You do not do it as a strange act of splashing a bit of water on things in your sink. You shouldn’t necessarily enjoy it, but you should be present enough to know the objective of your task and do a good job of it.

If your mind is 10 different places and none of them are with your physical body doing the dishes you end up doing a very bad job, maybe dropping plates or glasses. This is exactly the same as with making love without being present – you can’t enjoy the experience if you’re not actually there. You’ll end up doing a bad “job” and perhaps even setting yourself up for anxiety next time around.

Of course this won’t suddenly turn mundane tasks into pleasurable experiences and sometimes you’ll just be in too much of a hurry to do anything other than storm through them. But just once in a while try to be a little more present while shaving, doing the dishes or cleaning. Even though it is mundane tasks there is still satisfaction to be had from doing a good job rather than a sloppy one.

Perhaps in time you’ll end up being a “artist of the mundane”.

Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman!

I’ve had this book on my shelf for quite some while. I actually started reading it while in Dublin on a business trip some 6-8 months ago – got very amused by it, but at the time I was in the midst of two other books so had to leave it for some while and finish the others first.

A few weeks ago I picked it up again – and what a book! It is very much on course to be the best and most entertaining book I have read all year. There are some hard contenders in the pipeline but in terms of overall entertainment- and take-away-value I think this book is hard to beat.

I think I can describe Mr. Feynman pretty accurately with just one sentence:

The oldest and most knowledgeable child who ever lived

The full title of the book is: Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) and especially the subtitle sure does describe Mr. Feynman accurately. His way of looking at the world is just so incredibly inspiring. He really sees the world through the eyes of a newborn child. He can’t encounter anything without having to know how it works. This thirst for knowing how and why things work inspire you to look differently at the world.

He underlines the importance of this several times throughout the book and especially in regards to education. At one point he joins a special advanced biology class, having no prior specific knowledge about biology. He gets a paper assigned which he reads and then has to give a presentation about in front of the class. It’s a paper about muscles, extensors and flexors which uses a cat as an example – there is one problem however; he can’t figure out where they’re located in relation to nerves or the cat itself for that matter. So he finds a “map of the cat” as he calls it and starts his presentation by outlining where all extensors, flexors and nerves are located on the cat. The class interrupts him and says: “Stop, stop – we know that already!” To which he answers:

Oh! – you do? Then no wonder I can catch up with you so fast after you’ve had 4 years of biology.

They has wasted time learning and trying to remember facts that they could have looked up in maximum two minutes time… This analogy is just so important! Why waste your time learning things that you can look up in two minutes? Why not save your precious memory space for knowledge that can actually help you understand both problems and the world in general. Later he also highlights a potential error with this type of learning because it makes you remember certain words, but not understand the underlying principles. This is great for passing an exam but bad for actually applying your knowledge to anything useful.

He also spends quite a lot of time explaining the importance of and joy of teaching others which to him was one of the most important activities of his life. He was by no means a guy that wanted to brag about his knowledge but at the same time he wasn’t afraid to speak up and display how knowledgeable he was either. Applying his curiosity of how things worked made him incredibly capable of applying his knowledge across all domains. This philosophy is exactly what he wanted to come across as he taught classes and had students challenge his beliefs. His Lectures on Physics has for a long time been on my wishlist and has just been amplified by the reading of this book – if only they weren’t so damn expensive!

I could write and highlight so many important points from this book. There are invaluable advice on learning, science, living; even entrepreneurship and how to deal with women – which I found especially amusing and surprising to find in this book. There are so many reasons to pick up this book and the fact that it at times makes you laugh out loud just adds to this.

But to finish of, if you are still not convinced, aren’t sure who this Mr. Feynman actually is or just haven’t seen this before, then please watch this interview with him:

Competition preparation do’s and dont’s

Preparing for a competition in most sports should be so simple, yet so many people get it wrong – even experienced athletes.

This great quote says it all:

You can’t win a competition in the last week of preparation – but you CAN lose it!

People suddenly get worried that they haven’t done everything right, especially within the last week and the “do more” paradox seems to kick in. This is especially common in this day and age with all the available information at your fingertips.

If you do it right, competition should be no different than your training – except for a bit more pressure of course. But if you prepare in the right way, then the pressure should be the only “new” thing you would have to deal with.

Let’s start with what you should not do and why. I will present my examples in the domain of sprinting – but it could be substituted with just about any sport, even team sports.

Don’t overcompensate in the last few weeks before competition

This can’t be stressed enough. Overcompensation during the last few weeks has led to so many injuries across all domains. Suddenly with a few weeks to go you come to doubt whether you have had done enough of say 300m sprints to prepare yourself for the 200m. This could be because someone suddenly questions why you haven’t had more or you read somewhere that you can’t compete without have x number of 300m sprints. Then you panic and the last week before competition you 10x the volume, run a lot of 300m sprints and either burn out, overtrain or gets injured. This is NOT the way to do it. If the advice is really good – then write it down save it and incorporate it in your long term planning for the next competition – NOT the last week before.

Don’t eat or drink anything special the day before or on competition day

With the rise of supplements, energy drinks and what not this really matters as well. Do not suddenly try a new supplement or energy drink on competition day, you have no idea how your body or stomach reacts. It might be the best energy drink or pre-workout supplement in the world but if it upsets your stomach you will be running for the toilet and not the finish line – that will only win you a fun story – not a medal.

A few weeks before actual competition, try to replicate competition day as much as possible. You shouldn’t necessarily go all out on effort, but replicate your meal- and supplement intake, at the exact time of day. If you for instance always train in the evening, but competition is in the morning, then try to replicate this and see how your body reacts. If you are into intermittent fasting like me, then you might want to break your fast early and have some carbohydrates. But common for all – try it a few weeks before and not on the actual day of competition. Even the meal in the evening before can have an impact. If you have lived of the same 4 meals for months and then suddenly tries something completely different the day before, like very spicy food, then you might be back to the race for the toilet as opposed to the finish line. Just don’t do that.

Don’t change your equipment or strategy on competition day

Don’t suddenly start your sprint with the left leg in front as opposed to your regular right leg because you have seen a Youtube video explaining this as being best – and yes I have actually experienced people who did that. Competition day should as far as absolutely possible reflect your training. Changing something on the day of competition is way more likely to ruin your competition than improve it in any way.

Don’t let other peoples preparation throw you off on competition day

Do not suddenly start your warm-up 1½ hour before competition because some of your competitors does so, if you have always used 45 min to warm-up. Or implement some of their stretching, preparation/warm-up routine. Stick to your plan! I actually caught myself almost slipping in this one a few months back. I always start my warm-up 45 min before a race. I like to keep it short and to the point – too much warm-up either bores me or wears me out. But at a 50 meter indoor sprint competition all my competitors started their warm-up a little more than an hour before the race. Until I caught my own thoughts, this actually made me a little uncomfortable. Had I missed something? Should I be warming up now? Is my warm-up too short? And of course the answer to all those questions is a big capital NO. My competitors preparation had gone inside my head and messed with it. I should do exactly like always and stick to my warm-up routine. It had worked for me in training so of course it would work for me in competition – and so it did – I won the event.

If you have done your training and preparation right then competition is simple. Not easy – but simple. You should not be doing anything you haven’t done before. You should be able to give your full attention to dealing with the stress of competition, the zippers and knots on your training clothes that suddenly jam, the 10 times you have to go to the toilet and try to pee etc. But you will have the mental capacity to deal with this because you know you have done everything else a 100 times in training so no need to worry about that or take any decisions.

Good luck with you next or first competition. Competing is and should be fun – being well prepared helps achieve this.

Cleaning up your procrastination

This may come of as a very unconventional tip for breaking procrastination or even hard to believe – I found it that way when I first read it somewhere – but again and again it somehow works for me, so it might work for you.

Even though I keep my productivity in close check and am very much aware of when it starts to drift, I still from time to time find myself struggling with procrastination or trying to fight my way through thick layers of “bran fog”. Sometimes work and creativity just comes easy. Getting in the zone and banging out several hours of creative work just comes as second nature – but then at other times this “zone” just seems to have disappeared altogether.

My usual ques to get into the zone, as for instance the same hour long mix played through earplugs, just do not seem to have any effect. And even the act of sitting down and put on the music is a feat in of itself. As though the body or the head somehow resists putting up the work. This is where this little tip more often than not have helped me tremendously.

Whenever I find myself in this deep hole, walls covered with brain-fog and with a heavy lid of procrastination on top, I clean my shit up.

Quite literally – whenever I end in this situation I will clean up my room/apartment. Whether it being putting everything back to its intended place, cleaning off dust or vacuuming – it just has to look mint again. The reason why this works for me might be that I make these small unconscious notes of where things are not in order or where in the apartment it needs cleaning. They are of themselves not that big of a deal, but they seems to pile up inside my head and at some point they tip over.

You need to clean up at some point anyway and if you are procrastinating you are not getting anything done anyways – so you might as well try cleaning your home.

As U.S. Navy Adm. William H. McCraven says in his commencement speech:

“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed”

And then goes on to say:

“Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made. And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

The full commencement speech is here if it caught your interest:

Give it a shot – you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Identity diversification

When you have figured out what your goal is, you should spend all your energy on reaching that goal, right? Yes and No. You should always strive to move towards it, but activities that may not seem to move you closer in the short run, may keep you from stumbling and rolling backwards in the long run. Let me explain.

If your goal is to travel around the world, you of course need some money, but what you do not need is to buy a house or get a full time job, apart from the latter being a means to get your money. You probably do not need to look for a steady relationship, unless you plan on bringing him/her along or loves to dilute all your experiences with a constant longing for your significant other and counting down the days until you are reunited.

If your goal on the other hand is to start a company or try to reach a certain position within your current one, then traveling the world for half a year may certainly not bring you any closer to that goal. A significant other may keep you sane at times, but may also limit your drive or ”hunting instinct.”

But let’s stay with the last example where you strive to build a company – that is what I can most easily relate to at the moment.

You could argue that in order to be successful you need to spend all your waking hours working on your idea. This is the goal you want to achieve – so more time and energy invested must equal more achieved – well not always. If you are building a pyramid and laying bricks, then yes – the more bricks you lay each day, the closer you will get to completion. But most endeavors are not that straight forward. Must are somewhat one step forward – then two back, two steps in the other direction – then one back etc. etc. This is where identity diversification comes into play.

If you derive all your happiness and feeling of achievement from one source, you could potentially dig yourself into a very deep hole, at times where your company are struggling. If you have given up all your leisure activities in order to spend 16 hours a day on your start-up, then you are signing up for some very dark days when things go bad – coupled with having getting rid of all your non-startup friends, then you can really sit in a depressing circle with similar friends all discussing how bad and hard you feel.

What you should do on the other hand is not only be Mr. Startup, but also be Mr. Fitness, Ms. Dancer, or whatever you may have of interests. These may seem like distractions when everything go according to plan, but once things start to get hard and against the plan they can keep you somewhat sane.

Let’s say you have had a very bad day because all the sales you tried this day failed, you feel somewhat down but still go out the door to join the weekly swim-session and your mates there. You are not that much in the mood for talking, because of this burning feeling inside of failure. Then comes the timing of your 50 meter crawl. You just propel all your anger out in each stroke and low and behold you end up beating your lifetime best, which you have tried to do all year. Now this is a good day! What before looked to be a bad day ends up being a good one. Your business-ego may have taken a beating, but as your swimming is completely un-related it does not in anyway dilute the awesome feeling of reaching a personal best.

The above could have been anything from you being a good spouse, sprinter, weightlifter or whatever. Then entire point is to not derive all your sense of worth from one source.

I nearly wrote of my gymnastics, because the cost would take a few weeks of cash away in a time where we were running on empty in my start-up and had no direct source for future income. But as I thought about it, it just made me so sad to think of all the good times and people I would miss by saying no to gymnastics. I luckily came to the conclusion that a happy and sane version of myself would out-work and out-smart a slightly depressed version of me, by way more than what I would save by saying no. The people I am around during gymnastics is by no means going to help my company – but that is somehow part of the point. It makes me relax and think of other things which makes me way more productive when I return.

Your main priority, whether you are a CEO, a father or an athlete is keeping yourself sane and feeling great – once you do that, you can perform at your best.