Going forward, I will generally write alternating articles that cover the inner and outer worlds of being a startup founder.
First Be, Then Do
It is my goal to help build what I’m calling “common ground” for a better world. This first requires getting the “being” aspects of a human being right, and then taking action (i.e., our “doing” in the world) to help others experience better lives.
Ultimately, the quality of our state of consciousness prior to taking action will inform the clarity and effectiveness of what we do in the world, and will impact the lives of your customers, employees, and everyone with whom you interact.
The Outer World
I previously wrote an article about the outer world I’d like to help like-minded founders build.
It involves a world in which the concept of Warren Buffett’s “ovarian lottery” no longer exists.
More specifically, this means you have access to affordable financial services, including the guidance and tools to save enough for emergencies, the ability to borrow affordably if you fall on hard times, insurance products that yield income during critical disability or the death of a parent, a comfortable roof over your head, and long-term savings that provide for a dignified retirement.
As you come of age, you are able to obtain a quality education that enables you to gain respectable employment, and gain access to adult education to retrain if technology eliminates your profession.
You’ll also have access to healthcare services that offer quality health support when you need it.
That’s the outer. But achieving excellent operating results in your startup, and working tirelessly toward this objective, involves getting your inner world right first (what I call “right being”).
Why The Inner World Matters
There’s a famous saying that “the mind is an excellent servant, but a lousy master.” I had to learn this truth the hard way.
When I launched my first startup, I was completely blindsided by this concept. I poured every waking moment of my life into my work; it entailed working seven days a week, waking up before sunrise, remaining busy nearly every moment of the day, and often past midnight, ordering takeout because I couldn’t pull myself away from my work for 20 minutes to cook meals, and even finding bugs in my code during my sleep. I barely left the house, was wildly over caffeinated, stopped cultivating close friendships and time with family, and found myself simply lost in the work.
I was driven by all sorts of motivations and fears, but by no means was I operating with the level of clarity and insightfulness I knew I was capable of. My body suffered. My clarity of thoughts suffered. My friendships and family relationships suffered. I was a slave to negative moods, and experiencing a life consumed by this tunnel vision.
While it produced extraordinary results in the short term, I recognized that it was not sustainable, nor would it be fulfilling in the long term.
Eventually, I realized that I was being driven—in fact, fully subsumed—by my mind, rather than using my mind as the exquisitely capable tool it is to produce great results and insights, and putting it down to rest thereafter.
This process just didn’t feel right, and it would take me years to gradually realize that effective, clear action always follows “right being,” and not the other way around.
The Inner World
It’s clear that working out, lifting weights, and eating healthy on a daily basis have positive long-term effects.
With that in mind, why is there a corresponding lack of consensus about the benefits of cultivating the right inner world, the same way an olympic athlete might develop and stick to a daily exercise and diet regimen?
Have you ever started your day in silence, giving yourself an hour to meditate, immersing yourself in nature, or somehow allowing yourself to cultivate inner distance between your sense of awareness and the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that float across the landscape of your consciousness?
There are both practical and meaningful reasons to start down this path, if you haven’t yet established a regular practice already.
For purely practical purposes as a founder, your life is already hectic enough as it is. There’s no shortage of well-regarded, peer-reviewed research that demonstrates the purely practical benefits of this practice. Such benefits include sleeping better, stress hormone reduction, and improved emotional regulation, among many others.
The further down this path you go, the more you will realize that happiness is a choice. This is not a forced happiness, in which one pretends that everything outside is rosy during a pandemic where personal and collective suffering is immense. Rather, it’s the process of not allowing yourself to become rooted in the momentum of strong emotions that cause you to become a slave to the whims of your thoughts and feelings. This revised path places you back in charge. By watching as emotions come and go, one is free to experience what it’s like to not be lost in thought and negative emotions. Quite unsurprisingly, it actually feels pretty good.
Lastly, if we’re being completely intellectually honest here, we’d have to admit that the very nature of our existence is a fundamental mystery. We’re spinning on a ball of water and dirt in the middle of infinitely empty space, with a vast sky above us and an experienced sense of self within a living organism that we in no part created. A daily practice allows one not to have the answers, but rather, continue moving further into the mystery of being—the mystery of existence—and see what it’s like to live from that place.
Thereafter, as a startup founder, one can go out into the world with a deeper sense of clarity and motivation, less clouded by the storms of thoughts and emotions that are ultimately rooted in survival instinct, as opposed to the inspirational vision you’re looking to bring into the world.
From that place, one can speak with customers, develop and refine business plans, recruit talent, and live a life that feels authentic and well-lived by the bar you have established for yourself.