Crossing the Atlantic to live and work in New York

Crossing the Atlantic to live and work in New York. Wow, what a sense of entrepreneurial adventure those ten words create! Grasping an opportunity like this, in pursuit of personal development and new professional experience is just as entrepreneurial as seeking to colonise Mars. The entrepreneurial spirit is the spirit of enterprise, an ambition to succeed, initiative in taking action, alertness to opportunity.

So my son, James, 25, a chip off the old block with the same attitude, spark and finely chiselled features as myself embarks on his own adventure, transplanting himself from Cake Solutions software development team in Manchester to the growing team in Union Square, mid-Manhattan.

There are many definitions of entrepreneurship, but I define it as essentially the act of having the ability to recognise an opportunity, shape a goal, and energise your ambition to make it happen. James has grasped an amazing opportunity to shape and write his own entrepreneurial story in New York.

New York’s skyline. Just the shapes, and the thought that made them, the will of man made visible. New York is a wellspring of inspiration, with action, romance, and fascinating strangers lurking around every corner. Ok, he may start wearing sneakers rather than trainers, develop an appetite for potato chips, and takeouts rather than takeaways and crisps, and talk about garbage instead of rubbish, but living in hipsterville Brooklyn is a great place to be right now. A life without dreaming is a life without meaning.

New York, the hustle bustle of the crowds and the traffic, a metaphor for the wrestling of humanity in all its dimensions, a place as tough, noisy and romantic as his home town of Rawtenstall. The Bowery, the High Line, Dominique Ansel’s Cronuts – a croissant and donut hybrid. Oh, but he’s gone there to work and learn too, on some of the coolest, most advanced software and technology you can have today.

Life is what you make it, and the entrepreneurial spirit is vital if you are to step up from the ordinary. The entrepreneurial mindset, taking responsibility for yourself, dealing with the hot-and-the-cold, the nice-to-have and the have-not moments, in harsh (not virtual) reality.

Entrepreneurs know that opportunity is not a game, it’s a race, a test. Taking full responsibility in action. You have to accept responsibility for whatever happens, and you have to make it happen. As every investment prospectus says, past performance is no guarantee of future returns.

The entrepreneurial spirit of leading a startup – or the startup of me – living on your own wits as a solo artist or striking out like James, is the spirit of individualism, the entrepreneurial self, full ownership and initiator of our own goals and actions. We speak of the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ as a set of character traits possessed by those who perform and live with a clear vision and purpose for themselves. In that sense, the entrepreneurial spirit is something that all of us can and should aspire to, pertaining to the pursuit of goals, self-ownership, and commitment to realising personal ambition.

Those folks holding an entrepreneurial outlook on life are aware that they must not only produce something of uniqueness and value, they also accept, that it carries risk and there is no safety net. Entrepreneurs are aware that economic change and its attendant risks are a fact of life. No one can entirely eliminate risk, but it can mitigated it by continually investing in your own knowledge and skills, making yourself relevant and rooted in the emergent future.

A key element to the entrepreneurial mindset is the need to build and maintain self-esteem, the emotional evaluation of your own worth, a judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self. Self-esteem is made up primarily of two things: respecting yourself and feeling capable. Every adjustment to these states of mind shouldn’t be viewed as a crisis, conscious learning doesn’t require the willingness to see it as suffering self-harm and reducing one’s self-esteem.

Reflection is a way to balance out the emotion. To overcome this self-doubt, you should define and measure your success in your own terms, because measuring success using quantitative measures is one dimensional and provides no insight in future worth or the value of investment put in to date.

At some point, you are probably fully invested – emotion, energy, time – into yourself, and so the concept of quitting, even during the toughest and most frustrating of times, is unthinkable but filling your head like an animated box of frogs. But quitting is not a remote possibility. During this stage of self-doubt, expect your determination to be renewed. Your entrepreneurial self is part of your personal identity now, and your commitment to it as a measure of your personal success is a high driver.

We’ve all had those quiet moments when we doubt ourselves, there are no shortage of black swans, those unknown unknowns.  But let the chips fall on the floor as they may, and do the hard stuff. As long as you’re honest with yourself and deal with it head-on, there’s nothing to fear from self-doubt. Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your entrepreneurial life, but define yourself. Build and hold your self-esteem.

The Six Pillars Of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden demonstrates compellingly why self-esteem is basic to entrepreneurial well-being regarding psychological health, achievement, personal happiness, and positive relationships. It was the culmination of a lifetime of clinical practice research and study, and is hailed as the most definitive work on the topic.

Branden introduces the six pillars as six action-based practices for daily living that provide the foundation for self-esteem, and explores the central importance of self-esteem in five areas: the workplace, parenting, education, psychotherapy, and the culture at large.

From a workplace ‘startup of me’ and entrepreneurship perspective, it’s an opportunity for self-reflection – but don’t over analyse. It forms a useful ‘conversation with myself’ structure. One thing that is important to grasp is that self-esteem is an indirect result of what you do. Branden breaks this down into the six practices highlighted below:

Live consciously This requires us to be fully in the present moment. This takes a bit of practice, because many of us are conditioned to disown the here and now, to survive what we have thought that we cannot handle. It’s about being comfortable with yourself, your persona, what you’ve achieved and what you stand for. Respect yourself at all times, what you’ve achieved and where you’re going.

Accept yourself We all have flaws and attributes, but you also have the opportunity to enhance who you are, by accepting everything about yourself. In fact, the only way to enhance who you are is to accept yourself. Don’t try to live in someone else’s skin or adopt their personality, simply be yourself for what you are. Measure your success by your own standards, not others.

Take responsibility for your experiences There’s a piece in the book which says: I have learned to be in conversations where I say to myself, “It comes down to ‘this is where you end, and I begin”. Giving yourself such an affirmation helps you to say what I will and will not experience, and this is quite liberating and fulfilling. Again it’s about asserting yourself to yourself – if you don’t respect you, no one else will. 

Assert who you are Like what you think, feel, believe, need, want and value is genuine, and don’t doubt yourself against some alter-ego or artificial model of what you want to be. Be comfortable with yourself.

Live purposefully Make an agreement with yourself to reach your highest potential, while you maintain balance in your life. You only get one chance, make it happen and realise your potential. Again, don’t covert or envy. Don’t look at the progress others are making, simply focus on your own model, execution and growth.

Maintain your integrity Know exactly what your principles and values are, and stick to them, no matter what others think or do. You started with a clear purpose in mind, don’t lose sight of it – it’s the ‘why I am doing this’ which is a vital reminder when you do hit the brick wall and doubt yourself.

The most beneficial effect of reflecting upon these six pillars of self-esteem is to make you more aware of what is important to you, and to keep honest with yourself. There is nothing irresponsible in choosing another pattern of life that works better. That’s the entrepreneurial spirit. The sense of self-ownership manifests itself in the kind of total autonomy, which involves a sense that the only person one answers to, ultimately, is oneself, to create our own sense of fulfilment and happiness.

In speaking of happiness, I do not mean momentary commercial and monetary success that gives a warm glow of physical pleasure. I mean the kind of satisfaction that comes from achieving the things we value across the whole course of our life. That kind of happiness is not the product of acting by whim or impulse.

I’m sure most of us want to move forward, but by definition, paying attention to the present keeps us where we are. Here’s the key: entrepreneurs spend time building and betting on their future even when there are more important things to do in the present. In other words, and this is the hard part, if you want to be productive in the future, you need to spend time doing things that have no payback in the present.

It’s up to you to go for it and make up your own mind. No one else can think for us, it is our responsibility to choose our own direction by first-hand thought independently. It is only these virtues that can help us navigate through the rolling waters of personal and business life. The entrepreneurial way of life is the human way.  The entrepreneurial spirit is a gift that inspires you to become the best you can be, the best version of yourself.

It’s all about knowing yourself, your capabilities and stretching yourself, being unreasonable with aspirations to achieve, competing against yourself, a trait you see in all entrepreneurs, the restless, relentless pursuit of achievement, stepping outside the comfort zone into the learning zone. I’m minded by Daniel Pink’s book Drive, and the role of intrinsic motivation, the kind that comes from within yourself, and the three elements of the motivation formula he identifies – autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy Our self-direction is a natural inclination. Pink asserts we’re all built with inner drive, some folks are just in a higher gear than others. James has never been passive and inert, he’s always gone hell-for-leather and go the extra mile as standard. Apparently this is because he has what Pink calls ‘autonomy driven motivation’. He’s curious about what he can achieve as a challenge to himself.

Mastery We want to get better at doing things. It’s why learning a language, new sporting technique or a musical instrument can be so frustrating at first. Mastery is the desire to get better at something that matters. Firstly, it is a mindset, in that we believe we can get better. Second, mastery is a pain, in that it involves not only working harder but working longer at the same thing. Finally, mastery is an asymptote, or a straight line that you may come close to but never reach. Learning is lifelong.

Purpose People who find purpose in their life unlock the highest level of the motivation game. Pink says that it’s connecting to a cause larger than yourself that drives the deepest motivation. Purpose is what gets you out of bed in the morning and into work without groaning and grumbling — something that you just can’t fake.

So, as I look some 3,300 miles to the west, I’m minded by the words of Michael Stipe: It’s easier to leave then to be left behind. James, you’re doing it for yourself, so make it matter where it matters most, inside.

The importance of self-esteem for a startup founder

Starting your own business is one of the most emotional things you will do in your life. The ups and downs can be dramatic, and the emotions involved in startup life can test the self-belief and resolve of even the most confident entrepreneur. Whilst we often think the success of a startup is down to the innovation and the idea, I think it’s as much to do with your self-esteem.

Self-esteem reflects a person’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth, a positive and negative evaluation and judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs – for example, ‘I am competent’ and emotions such as triumph, despair and pride – three feelings I know startup founder experience every day.

Self-esteem is made up primarily of two things: respecting yourself and feeling capable. Every adjustment in your startup business model shouldn’t be viewed as a crisis in self-esteem, nor every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. Adversity, and perseverance and all these things can shape you.

In many ways I view a startup as a completion with yourself. Negative thinking patterns can be immensely deceptive and persuasive, and change is rarely easy, but with patience and persistence, backed up by diligence and research, your startup can fly. Reflection is a way to balance out the emotion.

Research shows that there are four emotional stages that most entrepreneurs pass through on their way to becoming completely comfortable with their new startup life. The four are: the Busy Phase, the Second Thoughts Phase, the Self-Doubt Phase, and the Been There, Done That Phase. Although the phases’ names might seem slightly negative, understand that each stage is associated with a mix of emotions, both negative and positive.

The third stage of emotions research says most entrepreneurs experience during their startup, mirrors the first and second stage in many ways, in that there are both positive and negative moments. There are a number of negative emotions you can expect, but there are also many effective ways to cope with these feelings.

For example, performance anxiety. One of the toughest things about a startup is that it can be difficult to measure your progress. Setting milestones based on your MVP and customer development are fine, but finances are scattered and unpredictable, but with cashflow acting as a real measure of success in terms of survival, this can lead you to wonder about how well you are performing.

To overcome this self-doubt, you should define and measure your success in your own terms, because measuring your startup’s success using finance measures might not be an option at this point, it could be helpful for you to look to other types of milestones, such as those related to projects or personal goals. However, with new ways to measure success, come new ways for you to be disappointed.

Frustration will abound in equal measure with feeling positive. As you become more comfortable with your business, you’re likely to be thrown a curveball or two and some setbacks – anticipated new business not closing, new hires not taking job offers made, or even prototype development not hitting the mark. The good news, however, is that this is all part of the startup learning process.

Look back to those days when you were employed before you launched your startup – and don’t lose sight of the many reason you stepped into the world of entrepreneurship. Remember, you experienced days like this in your previous work life, the only difference now is that you get to decide how to handle the situation rather than relying on your boss. Just keep in mind during these frustrating times that every startup experiences setbacks – and regularly, too.

At this point, you are probably fully invested – emotion, energy, time and cash – into your idea, and so the concept of quitting, even during the toughest and most frustrating of times, is unthinkable. It’s not a remote possibility. During this stage of emotion self-doubt, expect your determination to be renewed. Your business is part of your personal identity now, and your commitment to it as a measure of your personal success is a high driver.

Frustration, performance anxiety, and determination are all emotions you’re likely to experience in your new life as an entrepreneur, and combine into a maelstrom to undermine your self-esteem. We’ve all had those quiet moments when we reflect and doubt ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, there are a raft of positive experiences along the way too, but be realistic, a startup is hard and there are no shortage of unknowns, unexpected challenges and risks.

But let the chips fall on the floor as they may. Simply roll your sleeves up, and strategise. Focus on asking yourself questions on strategy, and do the hard stuff. The insights you’ll gain by answering those questions will help determine if you’re on the right path or perhaps need to pivot or change direction.

As long as you’re honest with yourself and deal with it head-on, there’s nothing to fear from self-doubt. It’s actually a good mechanism for keeping you on the right track.  Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your startup life, but define yourself.

The Six Pillars Of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden demonstrates compellingly why self-esteem is basic to psychological health, achievement, personal happiness, and positive relationships. It was the culmination of a lifetime of clinical practice research and study, and hailed as the most definitive work on the topic.

As with all such ‘psychological analytical’ research, the key is to take the framework and apply it to yourself. There is no ‘right or wrong’ answer, simply an opportunity to frame your own situation and thinking against a useful framework, and ask ‘so what does this say to me?’

Branden introduces the six pillars – in essence six action-based practices for daily living that provide the foundation for self-esteem, and explores the central importance of self-esteem in five areas: the workplace, parenting, education, psychotherapy, and the culture at large.  From a startup and entrepreneurship perspective, it’s an opportunity for self-reflection – but don’t over analyse. It forms a useful ‘conversation with myself’ structure.

One thing that is important to grasp is that self-esteem is an indirect result of what you do. Branden breaks this down into the six practices highlighted below:

Live consciously This requires us to be fully in the present moment. This takes a bit of practice, because many of us are conditioned to disown the here and now, to survive what we have thought that we cannot handle. It’s about being comfortable with yourself, your persona, what you’ve achieved and what you stand for. Respect yourself at all times, what you’ve achieved and where you’re going.

Accept yourself We all have flaws and attributes, but you also have the opportunity to enhance who you are, by accepting everything about yourself. In fact, the only way to enhance who you are is to accept yourself. Don’t try to live in someone else’s skin or adopt their personality, simply be yourself for what you are. Measure your success by your own standards, not others.

Take responsibility for your experiences There’s a piece in the book which says: I have learned to be in conversations where I say to myself, “It comes down to ‘this is where you end, and I begin”. Giving yourself such an affirmation helps you to say what I will and will not experience, and this is quite liberating and fulfilling. Again it’s about asserting yourself to yourself – if you don’t respect you, no one else will.

Assert who you are Like what you think, feel, believe, need, want and value is genuine, and don’t doubt yourself against some alter-ego or artificial model of what you want to be. Your startup is a reflection of you.

Live purposefully Make an agreement with yourself to reach your highest potential, while you maintain balance in your life. You only get one chance, make it happen and realise your potential. Again, don’t covert or envy. Don’t look at the progress other startups are making, simply focus on your own model, execution and growth.

Maintain your integrity Know exactly what your principles and values are, and stick to them, no matter what others think or do. You started with a clear purpose in mind for your startup, don’t lose sight of it – it’s the ‘why I am doing this’ which is a vital reminder when you do hit the brick wall and doubt yourself.

If you are consciously aware of the real conditions of your startup life, accepting of yourself, take responsibility for yourself, assert yourself, have a sense of purpose and are rigorously honest, then self-esteem is the natural result.

High self-esteem, while often confused with cockiness or arrogance, is a trait that should be fostered in entrepreneurs and be sought after when building your team. Self-confident people are often positive and outgoing and those are the types of people you want on your side.

The most beneficial effect of reflecting upon these six pillars of self-esteem is to make you more aware of your own values and what is important to you, and to keep you honest with yourself. That’s the benchmark, not what others think of you, not what you think others think of you, or what you crave as a new model of you in your startup.

It’s when things go wrong that you must not quit. You’re doing it for yourself, so make it matter where it matters most, inside.