There’s people out there who say that building a company is like having a baby. Or like….kiteboarding or gambling. I will venture to make another generalization and tell you why building a company is like climbing on the StairMaster. The StairMaster to nowhere.
I never really liked the StairMaster. Or the treadmill. When I run or climb, I like to know that I am “going places.” A calorie lost should always be awarded with a mile of a world seen and discovered while huffing and puffing to a destination. But a few days ago, at the gym, one of the trainers challenged me to a StairMaster session. He said he did not think I could last on it for more than 30 minutes. And just like any other immature go-getter in my position, I said “challenge accepted.” But what started as a silly challenge proved to be the (very painful) catalyst for a few epiphanies about my life as an entrepreneur.
Epiphany 1: When the going gets tough, having a real mission becomes vital.
The first 10 minutes of any cardio I do are fairly easy. Those are the minutes when I feel like a champion and think to myself: “Anda, I can totally see that you’ve been exercising lately. Look at that endurance you’ve developed.” And then the 10 minute mark hits, I start suffocating and a growing pain in my spleen makes my mind start re-prioritizing things. All of a sudden, the challenge I accepted is less and less important and I start asking myself…”Wait, but why am I really doing this? Why am I killing myself on this monster StairMaster? Maybe I could be doing yoga and be getting the same results. But wait, I am not actually doing this for the results, remember? I am doing this to prove that schmuck that I can last for more than 30 minutes on the StairMaster. But isn’t that immature? When was the last time I did a silly thing to prove someone how cool I was? Kindergaten?”And my mind goes on and on and on talking me in and out of pursuing this challenge while my muscles become growingly numb from the increasing pain.
If you are strong, you can most likely fight your mind and your desperate breathing and keep going. I did. At least for a while. Around minute 17, I realized that in spite of my fairly fantastic ambition to prove anyone wrong, I would not be able to sustainably motivate any type of prolonged effort in lack of an intrinsic motivator. By minute 21 I was convinced.
Epiphany 2: When you’ve lost your mission, at least you’ve got the obsession.
But at the same time, while my faith in my mission was quivering, my propensity to blindly obsesses about one thing until I achieve it kicked in. I became unilaterally focused on doing solely one thing: climbing to nowhere. And the more difficult it became, the more obsessed I was with climbing and more specifically climbing the right way. The repetitive and essentially motion-less action became a purpose in itself, especially when I realized I was in lack of a better one. And for 20-30 minutes all I did was look down and focus my eyes on the alternative movement of my feet. It helped me get through.
Epiphany 3: If you’re still on the StairMaster, you’re weird.
There’s something about the repetitive movement of the StairMaster that really emphasizes its already obvious futility in enabling one to “get places.” Most of the time you are “climbing away,” you feel like the only effect of this machinery is to drain you of life en route to nowhere. And the longer you push your patience and muscles, the clearer that becomes. It’s like there is a glass ceiling above your head and no matter how much or how hard you climb or how far up you can see, there’s no breaking through it. And in fact, if you’re on that StairMaster hoping to get somewhere, you’d better get off. Only the naïve and the masochist can last on that thing
For the entrepreneurs reading this, I am sure the above strikes a cord with you. How many times have you found yourself stuck in a repetitive and painful movement that is supposed to enable you to get somewhere and instead just teases you by keeping you still until you lose most if not all faith in yourself and your company? And in those moments, how many times have you told yourself – “Thank God I am blindly passionate about this mission, otherwise I would go do yoga in a split second?” ( to be read as take that high-paying job J). And after that, as a coping mechanism, how many times have you decided to obsess about some tangentially-related process just to distract yourself from the pain, embarrassment and whatever else you might have felt at the moment? And finally – when your “muscles” have already become numb and you’re still climbing up a sharp slope without really getting anywhere, how many times have you called yourself “weird” upon realizing that there’s no way you’ll ever stop?
Here’s what I tell myself. I say “Anda, you have a mission. And as long as you know deep down inside that you’re heading in the right direction, nothing (not even the painful paradox of climbing while standing still)…nothing can stop you.”
Needless to say, after that session I decided to never step on the StairMaster again. Some of us go to the gym to escape our daily routine, not re-live it in 30 mins at an increased intensity. And that’s the story of how I got into kickboxing.
Anda is an opinionated writer as well as the co-founder and CEO of Knotch, a community centered around real-time opinion-sharing. Pre-Knotch, she started three non-profit initiatives, worked in venture capital, and studied economics & international relations at Stanford.
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