The hardest thing about the hard things is remembering how hard the hard things were.
Earlier this year I ran a marathon, one of the toughest challenges I have ever done. I remember crossing the finish line, feet blistered, legs aching, lungs on fire, and telling myself, and anyone that would listen, how proud I was but how I would never do anything like that again. Well, two months later I signed up for another one.
This isn’t uncommon. According to a recent study by Przemyslaw Babe, marathon runners remember their experience as being far less painful when asked 3–6 months later, than immediately post-finish. A combination of ‘feel-good’ endorphins, a sense of self-accomplishment and congratulations from others, nourish a sort of amnesia. A similar reaction has been proven to affect mothers after giving birth.
Well I would argue that the same can be said in the world of entrepreneurs. I’ve recently finished The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. A book I was recommended to read by someone I’ve come to consider a mentor. They told me it was the most honest and raw description of how tough it is to build and run a business. Since then, many more people have recommended the book. For all those of you reading this who have read Horowitz’s book, do I stand alone when I say that I was disappointed?
I use The Hard Things About Hard Things only as an example, and in some ways perhaps a touch unfairly for Horowitz details his experiences of being CEO of a massive tech firm whereas I have co-founded a small travel company called BackTracker and work on a team of 5. However, the fact remains that I am yet to find a blog, article or book that has managed to articulate the stress and anxiety that I experience on a daily basis building a start-up (cue recomendations).
Sure, almost all are honest about the hard truths, and generally seek to deconstruct the myth of building a company as some romantic, Quixotic quest.
In many ways I think that entrepreneurs are gluttonous for punishment out of some admirable desire to not be caught cheating. They reminisce on months spent sleeping on sofas, baked beans dominated meals and second jobs, and wear these stories as badges of honour. Only a few weeks ago I chatted with a friend who was enjoying his first weekend free in 2 years. He’d been building his business Monday to Friday and working food markets on the weekend. But this friend re-counted his tales with a sense of pride, a faint smile on his face, a retrospective enjoyment of his darkest moments. Although I’ve only been at it a few months, I catch myself getting a kick out of being busier than my friends.
However, much like the marathon runner, I also feel that successful entrepreneurs simply aren’t capable of capturing the emotions they felt at the time. Looking back in hindsight, when all has turned out good, they tend to see things differently, more fondly perhaps. They can offer excellent advice on overcoming obstacles and solving problems, and they can give you reassuring encouragement. But they simply cannot explain to you how hot the fire is. For they themselves have forgotten, and you yourself are yet to find out.
I want to write my story before the ending has been decided. There will be twists and turns, tears and laughter, the arrival of new characters and the departure of old, and who knows the main character may not even make it to the end himself. But surely that’s as real as it gets?