I’ve been writing this blog for six years now, and we’re coming up to post no. 300.
Inevitably I have my favourites.
No. 99 – Make Good Art – is probably the one that I re-read most often. Written in May 2012 the post took its inspiration from a commencement address writer Neil Gaiman gave to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. Here’s how post no. 99 finished:
You should enjoy it – because the journey is what makes it worthwhile. Ricky Gervais was on TV the other night. He was asked about the large pile of folding stuff now nestling snugly in his bank account. I forget his exact words … but his point was simple. The journey – the hardships, the disappointments, the knock-backs – had made it worthwhile. If he’d won the lottery, it couldn’t have compared.
So the message from me is as simple as it ever was. Whatever you do, ‘make good art.’ And above all, enjoy the journey.
And now I’m going to take inspiration from another commencement address. This one – delivered a few weeks ago – was Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook, speaking to Berkeley’s Class of 2016. In the speech she makes a point about the crucial days on your journey – and it’s a point which is remarkably relevant to every entrepreneur I know.
Sandberg spoke of the death of her husband – Dave Goldberg, the former CEO of Survey Monkey. Goldberg had died “one year and 13 days ago:” her speech covered not what Sandberg had learned in life, but “what I learned in death.”
She described her grief and how she’d learned to cope. The lessons for the Class of 2016 and – by extension – for those of us running a business, were invaluable.
You will almost certainly face deep adversity. There’s loss of opportunity: the job that doesn’t work out, the illness or accident that changes everything in an instant. There’s loss of dignity, there’s loss of love and sometimes there’s loss of life itself. The question is not if some of these things will happen to you. They will. Today I want to talk to you about what happens next.
And then she makes a point that probably ought to be chiselled on the desk of everyone running a business:
The easy days will be easy. It is the hard days – the days that challenge you to your very core – that will determine who you are.
As we’ve discussed many times, being an entrepreneur is a lonely place. You can have all the coaching there is, any amount of peer support. But there are days when you’re on your own. There will be days when the cash flow isn’t flowing, when suppliers aren’t delivering and when that big client – the one where you’ve invested all the time and the money – turns round and says, “Look, I’ve been thinking about this…”
So how did Sheryl Sandberg cope? How did she go back to Facebook ten days after the sudden death of her husband and sit in a meeting when – by her own admission – all she could think was “What is everyone talking about and why does any of this matter?”
She quoted psychologist Martin Seligman and the ‘three P’s’ that determine how we bounce back from hardships.
Personalisation – when bad things happen it’s human nature to blame ourselves. But sometimes, bad things just happen. Sometimes you’re just unlucky. Don’t personalise it.
Pervasiveness – the belief that something will affect every single area of your life. Let me quote Sheryl Sandberg again: For a second [in the meeting at Facebook] I forgot about death. And that brief second helped me see that there were other things in my life that were not awful. My children and I were healthy. My friends and family were loving…
Permanence – bad things do not last forever. As the old saying has it, ‘this too shall pass.’ By all means recognise your feelings when things go wrong: but recognise too that those feelings will not last forever.
Sheryl Sandberg’s address is one of the most inspiring I’ve ever listened to. It lasts for 25 minutes and it’s one of the best investments of 25 minutes you’ll ever make. And her message is true for every one of us.
It’s the hard days that determine who we are: and it’s the hard days that will determine the success of our businesses.