Sunday, October 10, 2010

Entrepreneurial angst in “Losing My Religion”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” via Inspiration Room

As an entrepreneur, most of the time you are either confronted with a Sophie’s Choice or if you are lucky, just a Faustian bargain… Except that, whereas our “lucky” Dr. Faustus had the good fortune of dealing with just one demon (Mephistopheles), as an entrepreneur you are haunted by many evil forces, which may be cloaked in the guise of equity investments, outdated regulations, frivolous lawsuits, bad hiring decisions, competitors, etc… 

So, it is no surprise that yesterday, as I was listening to the lyrics of Losing My Religion (the classic obsession song by REM, which only one other song can top in capturing the essence of Obsession: Every Breath You Take by The Police, of course), it instantly resonated with the entrepreneurial side of my brain. 

Here is a sneak peek into that side of my brain. The opening lyrics set the mood perfectly:

Life is bigger
It's bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no I've said too much
I set it up

Background: As an entrepreneur, you pour your heart and soul into an idea. And I am not talking about any old, fly-by-night idea. I am talking about that idea which you decide to make the Idea and build the Startup around it. Before you know it, that Startup becomes part of your identity. The boundaries between your life and the Startup get completely blurred. Even at night, your dreams mirror your daily reality, and just like the poor souls in Inception, you start losing your grip on what is real and what is a dream!

The Struggle for Perspective: At some point between the 18th and 24th month of the Startup (not sooner, because you don’t have the luxury to be philosophical about anything during the first 18 months), you realize that it is not healthy to lose your self in an idea, in something that has no guarantee of success or permanence. You realize you are drowning in some invisible quagmire, and the success that you have been striving for may be the very thing you should be running away from. You start fearing that you may never find yourself, your old values and your relationships again if you continue down this path. So you try to put a distance between you (your old self) and the Startup (which has become your new self). And you anchor this existential struggle by referring to “life” as something “bigger” that can provide a perspective from where the distinction between “you” and the Startup can become more clear. ‘Life’s got to be bigger than this Startup,’ you keep reassuring yourself, and ‘I am not the Startup either’ (and hopefully, through some strange transitive logic, you hope you are bigger than the Startup as well...).

Founder Guilt Syndrome: But here is the rub. As you try to put some distance between yourself and the Startup, you cannot help but feel extremely guilty because it was you that “set it up” and created all this mess anyway. And you fear that by putting down your Startup, you may have doomed your beloved idea to eternal failure: If the Founder (or Creator, as you will) stops believing, who will believe and make this a success against all the inherent odds? So, you wonder, are you being smart or just simply sabotaging yourself? Or as the song laments, have you “said too much”? 

Self Doubt: As an entrepreneur, you try to stay strong and confident. But there are also those moments that you project into the future and imagine what success would feel and look like, yet all you see is fear and self doubt. The following lyrics do a fantastic job of capturing those thought fragments (by the way, the phrase “losing my religion” is apparently a southern way of saying I am ‘at my wit’s end’ or ‘going crazy’)

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it

Oh, the Torture: Entrepreneurs are tortured souls (lawyers have nothing on us; I know, because I have been both!). Again, the song captures that sentiment quite masterfully as well:

Every whisper
Of every waking hour I'm
Choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool
The slip that brought me
To my knees failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around

At this point, it feels like I am saying too much as well. Please enjoy the music video to the song from 1991 (time flies) and do share your thoughts on how it relates to your entrepreneurial journey!

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