I’ve been reading meditations from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening every morning for several years. A few weeks ago, the reading from September 27 in the book struck a chord with me relative to the challenges of fear and panic in entrepreneurship. Here is that meditation and my takeaways:
“Few situations can be bettered by going berserk.” – Melody Beattie
It was the philosopher Michael Zimmerman who told the story of being a boy in school when someone passed him a pair of Chinese handcuffs, a seemingly innocent thimble-like casing with an opening at each end. It was passed to him without a word, and, of course, through curiosity, he slipped his left forefinger in one end and then his right in another.
Mysteriously, what made them handcuffs was that the more you tried to pull your fingers out, the tighter they held you. Feeling caught, he panicked and pulled harder. The small cuffs tightened. But suddenly, it occurred to him to try the opposite, and as he leaned his fingers into the problem, the small casing slackened, and he could gently and slowly work his fingers free.
So many times in life our pulling in panic only handcuffs us more tightly. In this small moment, the philosopher as a boy reveals to us the paradox that underscores all courage: that leaning into what is gripping us will allow us to work our way free.
I can personally identify with this story.
I have learned the hard way that panic begets panic. I know this to be true through all my life and business trials. I also know that the majority of the times I have panicked, especially as an entrepreneur, it has involved matters of money. But, it’s often not really about the money itself. It’s more about what the money represents—a lifestyle, security, safety, and the like, and losing those things strikes a chord of fear in us. Panic always comes from fear, doesn’t it?
As the handcuff story above tells us, the more fearful we become, the more we entrench into the past problem-solving approaches, and the tighter the gripping fear has on us. The story also tells us we cannot solve our problems using our first instincts—those stemming from our past experiences. Moreover, the story illustrates the way out is not to rely on what has worked in the past, but to look for new ways. We must lean into the problem, rather than retreat from it.
I can attest to this, too. The past gives us tools and experience for moving forward. But every situation is different because the internal and external forces that influence the situation are different, or of a different mix of forces. So, the context of each situation creates something new, even if on the surface it looks as though it may be the same. A mentor once helped me understand this by telling me, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I know it’s easiest to grab the hammer. It’s on top of our toolbox because we use it often. We have more tools in our toolbox, though. Our past experiences help us to choose the right tool for the job at hand. Yes, it’s easy to grab the hammer. But, it’s not always the right tool.
All of this is not to suggest that we act frivolously in our business decisions. Instead, when faced with challenging times as an entrepreneur, we must find the courage to lean into to the future, rather than retreat into the past. We must find comfort in the gifts of wisdom, talent, and the experiences to make the best decisions for moving forward on your journey. My hope for you is that you might make strategic decisions about your business that are born from dreams, rooted in practicality, and polished by optimism.
And, try not to get caught in those handcuffs.
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I try to catch the sunrise every day. There’s nothing like hearing life stir as the sun peeks over the horizon. With each one I witness, I remember I have the opportunity to begin again.
Each sunrise gives me a new start in life, whether it’s offering an apology for hurtful words, taking action to become a better person, or even changing my life direction. I have the opportunity for a “do-over.”
A “do-over” isn’t necessarily about correcting a past mistake, as the words might imply. It’s more about putting life on a different track or moving in a different direction. It’s hard to do the latter if we see each day only as part of the big picture of life. But, if we look at each day as a small part of the big picture–the living that makes up our life–the change we desire is far less overwhelming.
The privilege of waking this morning granted each of us the opportunity for a “do-over.” We should make the best of it, don’t you think?
Featured image/video: David Harkins
“Someday” can be an empowering word. It expresses a future without boundaries; a future for infinite possibilities of whatever it is we can dream. As much as we dream about the future, most of us will not make the choices necessary to get from today to “someday.” We choose instead to wallow in self-pity, covering ourselves with layer-upon-layer of negativity born from things we have not achieved, do not have, or times of situational sadness, all the while screaming, “Someday, life will be better….” Still, we choose not to take the first step in making our “someday” a reality.
Self-pity has become far too familiar today. There are those who would be justified in feeling genuine self-pity brought by physical or mental circumstances they did not choose. We rarely hear from them. Those who cry out the loudest are those who have made choices to be where they are, and they will not carry out the necessary decisions to change.
Those loud cries act as a beacon to call a tribe of like-minded people into what amounts to one huge pity-party where everyone wallows together. And it must stop. Pity parties have little purpose beyond encouraging self-doubt and negativity. We do not need people in our lives enabling the negative perceptions we have cast upon ourselves.
Instead, we need people in our lives who shine a light on our self-doubt and negativity and encourage us to make new choices. We need to be reminded we’re too self-focused, that the world does not revolve around “me” and what “I” don’t have, or what “I” didn’t get. We need to be told to “suck it up and move on” sometimes. We need to hear someone say, “life can be hard, but navigating life’s difficulties help us to learn.” We need to be reminded that all the sorrow and frustration we may feel now will pass. If, we chose to let it.
The word “someday” gives us hope for a life of possibilities, but only if we choose to pursue that life. If we choose otherwise, our “someday” seems at best hopeless, or at worst, a lifelong burden to remind us of what might have been had we the courage to take the first step in its direction. We must stop saying, “Someday, I might…,” and choose to say, “Today, I will…” if we are ever to begin our journey to happiness and personal fulfillment.
If you are still wallowing and waiting for someone to see your pain, I offer you this:
“That just sucks. I’m so sorry things didn’t work out the way you had planned. What will you do, now?”
There’s no better time to begin your journey.
How will you choose? Today, or “someday?”
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