Inaction is the sword of Damocles. Not failure.

My coach once asked me: What is that one thing that holds you back from doing what you want?

I said: Overthinking. The consequence is inaction. Analysis-paralysis – that’s my biggest challenge.

I was reminded of this when my friend T, called me a couple of days ago, to give me the big news that finally she was making that big career shift she has mulled over for a long time.  She is moving away from the comfort of salary, institution, and great colleagues to branch off on her own, to single-mindedly pursue the kind of litigation that matters to her.

T was sceptical about how this decision would turn out in time for her. Almost a year into doing this myself – she asked how it had gone for me. While encouraging her I blurted “at the very least you will grow and learn in unimaginable ways, and that will reveal the greatest stride in your career.”

I was taken aback by the conviction with what I said to N.  The past nine months the biggest bee in my bonnet has been –  being conscious and intentional in what I do and how I show up in building an early stage company. But in extra proportion and add a few triggers, this is precisely what also holds me back. It takes effort to not be bogged down by the voice of the ‘nay-sayer’ in me, who is ever ready with an “I told you so!”

Source: Daniel Pink, The Power of Regret

Managing this aspect about myself has been one of the biggest areas of growth as an entrepreneur. Here are a few learnings that I lean on to stay in an inspired zone:

1. Don’t be contracted in the ego: As we get older, and more professionally ‘established’ we start to lock down the sense of who we are and what we are not good at. Perhaps that does not allow you to stretch beyond what you see and remain in the comfort zone. I think it was Dewey who said smart people are the best rationalizers.

To beat that you have to start taking small risks. Risk taking is not a binary. Map out your risks to discern how fast or slow you want to move. Decide your pace.  There are different types of risks – intellectual, financial, emotional, social, physical, ethical, and political. An intellectual risk may involve creating an offering to address the needs of your clients.  A social risk may involve reaching out to a person who seems outside your league. An emotional risk might involve being the only one to disagree or bring up an uncomfortable subject amongst your business partners. With every small risk you take, who you are is changing.

2. An attitude of gratitude: Open your heart to noticing what others are doing for you and foster a mind that appreciates. Each of your clients, the hot leads that turned cold, the people wanting to close a deal but could not, those who are generous to refer you to others. Each of them play a huge role in getting you close to the goal you are striving towards.

Each of them could be spending their time on some-body else, but they choose to do it with you. Acknowledging them, appreciating them allows for more meaningful connections, and these partnerships go a long way in building your business. Don’t lose sight of that ever.

3. Great/successful ideas are a result of iterations of the not-so-great ideas: Beware of the need and the search for that unique bold idea that comes as a cataclysmic moment.  You have to carve a mindset that is willing to look at the not-so-great ideas from the lens of possibilities. Avoid the binary again – is it a good idea, bad idea. Don’t be quick to reject – look for the nuance. The nuance actually might bear the seed to creating something remarkable from a not-so-great proposition.

4. Failure is not your Sword of Damocles:  When you contemplate being an entrepreneur, there is sticky note all over head, office wall and laptop that is screaming “recent studies indicate that for every 4 new ventures, 3 fail. Actually 9 out of 10 ventures are destined to fail.” Somehow this sense of failure is fostered, even before you take the leap to act on what may be your calling.

Building a business from scratch has its highs and lows – but avoid attaching words like ‘success’ and ‘failure’ to what you are building. That is not the verdict you are waiting for, as you build the business.

I take inspiration from Tina Seelig, a Stanford University professor who specialises in creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. She talks about creating a failure résumé – a summary of all your biggest screw-ups – personal or professional. She says a failure résumé is as important as a traditional résumé of successes because it demonstrates that you have taken on challenges to expand your skills, and stretch your abilities. There are always great lessons and learnings from failure.

Finally, I recall Ameera Shah, the MD of Metropolis Healthcare sharing her lessons in entrepreneurship and her one piece of advice was – the person you are, is the most important part of the business. The character that the entrepreneur is, is the most important thing to work on, along the journey of building the nuts and bolts of the business. And, this is work to be done in parallel, alongside the business.

I take great comfort in her words that only by working on your own growth, and being self-aware of what you need to overcome, do you make the company stronger.

(PS: The photo is taken from Daniel Pink’s work on Power of Regret. His survey of about 4500 people reveals that inaction related regrets outnumber action related ones. Also, as people grow older, inaction regrets tend to dominate).

About Mandira Kala

Mandira is a qualified leadership coach. She is a graduate in Psychology from LSR, New Delhi, MSW from TISS, Mumbai, PhD in Public Policy from University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is passionate about developing leaders who contribute to their workplace by transforming mindsets, creating a culture of cultivating and harnessing people potential, and beating the odds to deliver beyond imagination.

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