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The Second Arrow

Flaming arrow (Courtesy: Getty Images)

Founders these days are insanely stressed.

The economy sucks. The choices you have to make are tough.

If you think that your well-funded competitor is lucky, think twice. The bigger the raise, the higher the valuation and higher the expectations. Tightening the belt around a wider waist is always painful.

So, there are no two ways about this. The work ahead is insanely hard–for everyone.

Your startup may or may not survive this downturn.

You may make poor decisions.

But if you try to calm yourself, you may be able to tide over this tempest in better form than the one you entered.

To make my point, I want to share this famous Buddhist parable that I first came across in my childhood, which goes something like this.

The Buddha asked a student, “If an arrow strikes a person, is it painful?” The student said, “Of course.” Then the Buddha asked, “What if a second arrow now strikes the person?” The student said, “The pain would worsen.” The Buddha explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first and that we can choose to control”.

The turbulent economy is our first arrow. That trigger has led to tough choices for many and a dire outlook for some. We cannot control that.

But we can control our reaction to that. Is it best to sell now? If not, how much should you cut back and where? Fretting over those tough decisions endlessly or beating yourself up about what could have or should have been done is akin to inviting a second arrow or subjecting yourself to a full quiver of arrows. This inflicts unnecessary suffering all around.

Instead, be honest to yourself. Then, make thoughtful but swift decisions.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself and others, especially those you let go.

Remember that the first arrow that triggered this situation was not in your control. But how you react to it is well within your control.

You and the people in your life will always be invaluable compared to your startup.



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Vidya Raman

Vidya Raman

Vidya is an investor in early-stage enterprise startups. In reality, she is still trying to figure out who she wants to be when she is all grown-up.