Be resilient: avoid the path of least resistance

The path to entrepreneurial success is forged via breakthroughs, small steps and iterations, each possible because you have your eyes and ears wide open and you’re able to reflect and adjust time after time, with the resilient mindset to keep going.

Resilience is the virtue that enables entrepreneurs to move through hardship and achieve success. No one escapes heartache, uncertainty and disappointment, yet from these setbacks comes wisdom, if we have the virtue of resilience.

Many misunderstand what’s at work in resilience. For me, it’s not about ‘bouncing back’, rather its about the ability to integrate harsh experiences into your entrepreneurial thinking, learn and apply the lessons, and then be motivated to go again, and expecting to go one better.

Entrepreneurs choose this life of challenge and hardship, gambling for achievement, seeking success with joy and humour, but also inevitably encountering times marked by confusion, chaos and disappointment. This is true of everyone’s lives, of course, but the entrepreneur consciously chooses a life in which they are likely to have higher highs and lower lows, in which the peaks and troughs are more vivid than if safer choices made.

Entrepreneurs jump on the roller coaster ride where the tracks haven’t yet been fully built. They’d have it no other way, happy with the wind in their faces and going round blind corners and crazy inclines. A good part of it is fighting the urge to revert back to their comfort zone, and fall back into old habits.

Please make yourself uncomfortable. Becoming a successful entrepreneur is never a straight line. There are lots of ups and downs and zigzags along the way. As it turns out, how you emotionally handle the downs is key. Resilience means not giving up, and being energised by what you have learned, experiencing multiple setbacks along the way, but persevering. As Thomas Edison said, I have not failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.

It is not all bad, but it is not all good, it is not all ugly, but it is not all beautiful, it is life, life, life – the only thing that matters, a quote from Thomas Wolfe, which summarises the entrepreneur’s attitude. So stop trying to be realistic, and be resilient.

And that enables you to fight back. It can’t be done. What? You want to build an airplane? You’re crazy. You’ll never make it. Everyone fails and so will you. 1,000 songs in your pocket? You must be kidding, right? An electrical car with a range of 300 miles? You want to be an artist? It’s safer to get a job.

You don’t need guts to get a normal job, and do the usual stuff. Most people are realistic. It’s not realistic to be the first one to build an airplane. It’s not realistic to build an electric car.

But what’s the fun of living a life when you know the outcome already and it’s steady away? Ok, if you never try, you never have to deal with the pain and hurt of failure I’ll give you that. But most of that is self-inflicted. But is that a reason to not do something? Life is also not a contest of ‘my problems are worse than yours’. If it’s attention that you want, get a dog.

The truth is this: you’re trying to be realistic, and I’m telling you stop thinking that way. Think outside the box. Think of flying cars. Unconventional being. Do extraordinary things. People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things said Sir Edmund Hillary, and he should know.

Being resilient means your life doesn’t have to play out like a video on demand that is looping, you’ve seen a dozen times. Is it still worth it to sit through it? Yeah, sure. But it’s not extraordinary. You know the plot, you know the dialogue and you know the we-all-live-happy-ever-after. The End.

So rather than being realistic, think Go. Go. Go, and be resilient. Ryan Holiday, in his book The Obstacle Is The Way, draws lessons from philosophy and history and says if you want to achieve anything in life, you have to do the work, be prepared for knockbacks – but most of all, be resilient.

The Obstacle Is The Way was the first book that I read back to back for some time. Yes, I read the book, thought it was so good that I flipped back to page one and started reading it again. This is a book that gets better every time you read it.

If everyone used the advice from the book, we would all be a lot bolder and mentally able to handle the pressure of running a startup. Here are some quotes from the book, which I think say a lot about building your resilient mindset.

Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective. When something happens, you decide what it means. Is it the end? Or the time for a new start? Is it the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Or is it just a setback? You have the decision to choose how you perceive every situation in life.

No thank you, I can’t afford to panic. Some things make us emotional, but you have to practice to keep your emotions in check and balanced. In every situation, no matter how bad it is, keep calm and try to find a solution. Sometimes the best solution is walking away. Entrepreneurs find it hard to say no, but that can be the best solution at times.

No one is asking you to look at the world through rose-coloured glasses. See the world for what it is. Not what you want it to be or what it should be. Hey, we’re back to being realistic – but it’s also about optimism, the mindset to expect the best outcome from every situation – and that’s resilience to make it happen. This gives entrepreneurs the capacity to pivot from a failing tactic, and implement actions to increase success.

If you want momentum, you’ll have to create it yourself, right now, by getting up and getting started. If you want anything from life, you have to start moving towards it. Only action will bring you closer. Start now, not tomorrow. Maintain active optimism, observing how others were successful in similar situations, and believing you can do the same.

Ask not that events should happen as you will, but let your will be that events should happen as they do, and you shall have peace, Epictetus, a Greek Philosopher said. It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit. Entrepreneurial life is competitive, and if you want to achieve anything, you have to work hard for it. When you think life is hard know that it’s supposed to be hard. If you get discouraged, try another angle until you succeed. Every attempt brings you one step closer. Don’t have a victim’s mindset, have courage to take decisive action.

Show relentless tenacity and determination. Remember, giving up is simply not an option. Learn that tenacity is self-sustaining when persevering actions are rewarded. Find tenacious role models, and garner the support of peers and friends. Great entrepreneurs become tenaciously defiant when told they cannot succeed. Then they get it done.

We must be willing to roll the dice and lose. Prepare, at the end of the day, for none of it to work. We get disappointed too quickly. The main cause? We often expect things will turn out fine, we have too high expectations. No one can guarantee your success so why not expect to lose? You try with all your effort, it doesn’t work out, you accept it, and move on.

Decisiveness mitigates adversity, helps you rebound, take responsibility, and promotes growth. Building decisiveness requires eliminating fear, procrastination, and the urge to please everyone. Practice making decisions as a positive learning experience. Understand that any decision is usually better than no decision.

The path of least resistance is a terrible teacher. Don’t shy away from difficulty. Don’t do things just because they’re easy. How do you expect to grow? Nurture yourself: gain strength from the unrealistic achievements of others. Surround yourself with high achievers. Avoid toxic people like the plague.

The world might call you a pessimist. Who cares? It’s far better to seem like a downer than to be blindsided or caught off guard. Just doubting yourself just doesn’t work, expecting things not to turn out and to lose is not good enough if you want to accomplish something remarkable. If you rehearse everything that can go wrong in your mind, you will not be caught by surprise when things actually go wrong. The Stoics called this Premeditatio malorum, the premeditation of evils. To be remarkable, you have to expect unreasonable things of yourself.

Don’t waste a second looking back at your expectations. Face forward, and face it with a smug little grin. We can’t choose what happens to us, but we decide how to respond. Successful, resilient entrepreneurs don’t just accept what happens to them. Everything happens for a reason. It’s all fuel that you can use to move forward. It defines you.

The great law of nature is that it never stops. There is no end. When you overcome one obstacle, another one waits in the shadows. Entrepreneurial life is a process of overcoming obstacles, one after the other. The obstacle becomes the way so you might as well enjoy it.

We all need a guiding light when adversity strikes. I’m pretty sure that if you reflect upon and apply one of the above quotes, you’ll top up your own entrepreneurial resilience. You don’t have to use every message from Ryan Holiday, just pick one quote, apply it, and see what happens. For me, it changed everything when I shared this with a number of my startup clients.

Resilience means rebounding back and getting right back in the game, remaining optimistic in the face of adversity. Resilience is accepting your new reality, but being able to take a step back to take a step forward. If you quit in the face of adversity, you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering about it. It’s never to late to be the person you could have been. The goal of resilience is to thrive in adversity.

I’m often struck by the ability of a single individual entrepreneur to change the world. Think Thomas Edison, Elon Musk and Anne Wojcicki, to name a few. They each started with no money and no technology, just their passion and perseverance.

Ultimately, three things make anything possible: People, technology and money. But money and technology alone, without the persistent and passionate human mind driving things forward, are useless.

If I had to name my superpower, it would be my persistence, resilience and mental toughness – maybe it’s my Northern grit – not giving up, even when everyone tells me it isn’t going to work. Had I given up in the face of the criticism or adversity, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post.

The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to be the last man standing when something needs to be done. I will not be outworked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things – you got it on me in nine categories.

But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple. For me, my resilience keep me going. Remember that true failure only comes when you give up.

Resilience: it’s never too late to be who you might have been

A truly shocking weekend for sporting results in the Brookes household, involving a couple of friends’ distress too.  It started at dinnertime Saturday with a defeat for Manchester City, and followed with a defeat for QPR after twists and turns in the game at Villa. Saturday finished on an extreme low with England’s calamitous defeat to Wales in the Six Nations. Then just when Sunday was looking better, Burnley succumbed to a 96th minute equalizer in the local derby with Blackburn.

Of all these, it was the rugby which hurt the most. England arrived in Cardiff with the opportunity to claim the Grand Slam, winner takes all, but left with their tail between their legs and the scoreboard recording their worst ever result against a rampant Welsh team, their resilience seemingly shot to pieces.

The venues and dates of England’s Grand Slam catastrophes have the bleak clarity of tombstones in a cemetery. Cardiff 2013 is added to Murrayfield  (1990, 2000), Wembley (1999) and Lansdowne Road (2001, 2011). The noise beneath the closed roof at the Millennium Stadium from the Welsh was filled with pride and passion, and spurred on by the bedlam, Wales retained their composure and put England in their place, physically and mentally.

As their conquerors celebrated and the fireworks went off, the England players stood in a forlorn, apologetic circle and recoiled from the reality of defeat. Second best for sure, against such high expectations. The Welsh back row of Warburton, Tipuric and Faletau led the way, out-performing their opposite numbers at the breakdown and making muscular strides with ball tucked under arm, but throughout the team there was a strength and determination that England could only sporadically match.

England were routed, brutally exposed by opponents driven by an undeniable sense of purpose. The Welsh showed resilience in bundles, even to those of us from the posh side of the Severn Bridge toll booth. The England team lacked experience in a match of such intensity. The fact that the World Cup-winning side of 2003 was similarly fallible in Grand Slam showdowns will be of little compensation. England coach Stuart Lancaster commented, Rugby is a pretty simple game, when you come down to it. This was not about psychology. We didn’t match their physicality. The words, delivered deadpan, had the ring of doom.

How will the losers from Saturday respond to defeat? Dealing with defeat is an inevitable part of life. At some point, everyone experiences varying degrees of setbacks. Some of these challenges might be relatively minor (drawing with Blackburn when you wanted a win…), while others are disastrous on a much larger scale, for example the loss of your largest customer from your business. How we deal with these problems can play a major role in not only the outcome, but also the long-term consequences and impact of the setback. Your resilience in times of adversity is key attribute if you are to ultimately be successful.

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to remain calm in the face of adversity, while others seem to fall apart? Resilient people are able to utilise their skills and strengths to cope and recover from problems and challenges, dig in and move forward quickly. Those who lack this resilience may become overwhelmed by such experiences, as it seemed early in the second half in Cardiff on Saturday. Generally, these individuals are slower to recover from setbacks and may experience more long-term distress as a result.

Resilience is the ability to pick yourself up again and keep on moving, even if the path ahead is tough or overwhelming. People who display resilience look at setbacks and failure as an opportunity to grow and develop, and they continue to keep moving forward because they’re determined to reach their goals despite the challenges they may experience along the way.

James Dyson exemplifies resilience and enthusiasm to succeed, as his autobiography, Against the Odds, outlines. Who would have ever dreamt the humble vacuum cleaner device would be so drastically redesigned and reengineered in the C20th? James Dyson did, and offers his insights on business success and what it takes to have your business idea become a ‘household name’. He narrates the successes, failures, and resilience to persevere.

Dyson is an inventor and industrial designer who has taken his bagless vacuum cleaner from the garage to a huge business. His distinctive approach to industrial design, his perseverance and gutsy self-confidence enabled him to show that even in the world of multinationals, there are still opportunities for the lone inventor to make it, big-time.

In the early development of the machine he made something like one version per day for over three years, varying things one at a time, measuring everything to exhaustion, all the while sinking further and further into debt. He was following the path of Edison for sure, but sometimes that is the only way, the ‘eureka’ quest for the quick breakthrough is actually a real obstacle to progress, and it’s down to mental toughness and resolve – perspiration as much as inspiration.

Dyson is a great story of a stubborn (bordering on the cantankerous), visionary designer turned manufacturing entrepreneur, but he sets down some key lessons about determination and resilience for entrepreneurs:

Ready yourself as a founder Too often, passionate entrepreneurs leap head first into a venture before thinking it through. To improve your readiness to succeed, take an honest look at yourself before leaping. The first step is clarify your reasons and your goals. Why are you doing this? What do you hope to achieve? What does success look like? Do I have the resilience for this journey? Whilst it may seem a daft question, at the outset ask yourself this as when times are tough, you need to understand your own mentality.

Attach to the market, not your idea Passion is an inner phenomenon, but all healthy businesses are rooted outside the founder, in the marketplace. To turn your passion into profits, focus on the market, always think about your business from the customers’ perspective; know your markets, strive to understand the needs and preferences of your core customers, and execute on your market opportunity by placing a priority on your customer’s experience and perception of value. You only have a great business if customers think so too, and buy your product.

Ensure that your passion adds up Passionate entrepreneurs tend to develop rose-coloured spectacles and thus have the same hue on their plans, over-estimating early sales, cashflow and underestimating costs. To convert your passion into tangible business value, have a business plan that makes financial sense and ask yourself ‘what if? Construct a compelling maths story, covering how the elements of your business come together in a way that is profitable over time. Think cashflow, cashflow, cashflow!

Execute with focused flexibility No amount of initial planning can accurately predict the unexpected twists and turns imposed by reality – we’re back to Cardiff again! To succeed, a new venture needs both iteration and agility. Establish an on-going process for translating ideas into actions and results, followed by evaluation. Test and adapt your concept as early as possible. Work on continually improving the fit between your big idea and the marketplace.

Cultivate integrity of communication Passionate commitment to an idea can breed reality distortion, aspiring entrepreneurs often see only what they want to see and rely on ‘feeling good’ about their venture as their only measure of success. To avoid these dangers, commit to truth-telling and welcome healthy debate and tough conversation from the outset. Curiosity, humility and scrutiny are good qualities to balance the adrenalin-fuelled rushes when headstrong self-belief demands reflection.

Awareness Resilient people are aware of the situation, their own emotional reactions and the behaviour of those around them. They are grounded in the reality of the situation, and as such maintain their control of the situation and think of new ways to tackle problems. ‘Keeping a level head’ in times of a crisis enables you to think with clarity and not panic.

Expect the unexpected Another characteristic of resilient people like Dyson is the understanding that life is full of challenges, and that they will come knocking at your door. While we cannot avoid many of these problems, we can remain open, flexible, and anticipate the need to dig in and face up to them.

Mental toughness Do you perceive yourself as having control over your own business, or do you blame outside sources for failures and problems? Generally, resilient people have what psychologists call an internal locus of control – mental toughness. They believe that the actions they take will affect the outcome of an event. Of course, some factors are simply outside of our control, but it is important to feel we have the power to make choices that will affect our situation, our ability to cope, and our future. At times on Saturday, England seemed to lack the doggedness and resolve to shape a purposeful response, the game was passing them by.

Problem-solving skills These skills are essential. When a crisis emerges, resilient people are able to spot the solution that will lead to a positive outcome. In a crisis, people sometimes develop tunnel vision, and fail to note important details or take advantages of opportunities. They don’t consider options and evaluate them. Resilient individuals, on the other hand, are able to rationally evaluate the problem and envision a successful solution. Oh for a Jonny Wilkinson on Saturday!

Have the mentality of a survivor, not a victim When dealing with any potential crisis, it is essential to view yourself as a survivor. Avoid thinking like a victim of circumstance and instead look for ways to resolve the problem. While the situation may be unavoidable, you can still stay focused on a positive outcome. Entrepreneurs like Dyson are notorious for their ability to press on with their ideas despite what other people tell them. Naysayers abound when innovators want to try things nobody has ever done.

So looking at your business, do you have the resilience to compete, the ability to absorb the unexpected and remain supple, open to re-educating yourself, even in the basics, which you may have taken for granted for too long? Are you responsive, able to remain engaged, alive and connected with a situation when under pressure, constantly identifying opportunities, challenges, and threats in your business environment? Are you able to exert and resist great force when under pressure and to keep going against insurmountable odds, with a focus on giving your best and fighting hard until the end, with persistent intensity?

The problems we encounter in business today are messier and more complex than ever before. They often can’t be solved in the ways others were. Look for new ways to think about these problems and, more importantly, look for fresh ways out of these problems.

Resilience means rebounding back from disappointments, mistakes and missed opportunities and get right back in the game, remaining optimistic in the face of adversity. We all need this marker of toughness to succeed in today’s business environment. It’s how you respond to setbacks that marks your future success. For England’s players and those from other teams who failed to achieve their aspirations this weekend, resilience start by accepting your new reality, however, if you quit in the face of adversity, you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering about it. So today,  just like James Dyson, go again. It’s never too late to be who you might have been.