Choosing curiosity, commitment & compassion, over fear
Ever since I was in university, I dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur. Then, I finally had an idea worth pursuing. I had high hopes and a big vision. I wanted to empower millions of people. I was looking forward to the freedom of being my own boss, scaling the company and creating a great place to work.
Years into the entrepreneurial journey, despite many successes, achievements and recognition, doubts come up. To the outside it seems like I’m living the dream, like I’m on top of the mountain. Others consider me a role model, invite me to give keynote speeches and want my advice. Yet, I’m never satisfied. Things always take longer then I imagine. I have so many ideas and no time to explore them. To earn enough money to pay the salaries feels stressful. I’m always thinking about creating monetizable products and marketing. I’m constantly outside my comfort zone, too often in panic zone.
I wonder: Is this how it’s supposed to feel, on top of the mountain?
I start questioning everything. Things didn’t work out the way I had hoped. Finally, I ask myself: Do I still want to keep this dream alive?
No. I decide to stop. It feels like the loss of my dream, like walking down the mountain, into a dark, unknown valley. And that is a good thing, in hindsight. In the moment, it felt painful and disorientating. What now? What to do with my one precious life, as Mary Oliver would ask? I need time to grieve: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance.
Why do I tell you this story of mine?
We all suffer losses, be it the loss of a dream, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of vitality, the loss of control that we thought we had, or the loss of hope for a better tomorrow. In the past three years, as a society, we lost many things that we took for granted, like job security, good health, mobility, sufficient energy and peace in Europe.
Life doesn’t always go our way. The question is: How can we keep up our spirit when things are hard? How can we dance in the rain?
What I learnt about turning disappointments into personal growth can be summed up as the 3 Cs: curiosity, commitment and compassion.
First, stay curious. Ask yourself: what can I learn from this? What is this teaching me?
Our fears will never go away. So we should aim at “choosing the path of curiosity over the path of fear” as bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert writes in “The Big Magic”. A tool that helped me to embrace curiosity instead of clinging to a mission or a solution is asking questions. Framing your endeavor as a question keeps you curious to explore and flexible to change direction. How- might-we questions are a tried and tested format in the innovation world. E.g How might we empower more women to share their ideas? or on a personal level: How might I live a creative life, given that I need security and stability?
Curiosity inspires creativity. And creative activity is proven to lift our moods, the next day, as a study from New Zealand by Tamlin Conner found out. One way, to benefit from creativity can be to start a project. Eve Rodsky calls this the Unicorn Space.
Second, choose commitments that help you grow, as bestselling author David Brook suggests in “The second mountain”. He talks about committing in four areas, being: spouse, calling, community and faith. Similarly, Mark Manson suggests to choose values to give a fuck about.
Third, be kind and compassionate with yourself. We’re all imperfectly perfect humans. We all sometimes feel overwhelmed with situations and emotions and suffer. We all have similar needs of belonging and understanding. Ask yourself: What do I need now? What can I do for myself? as they teach in the Mindful Self-Compassion course developed by Kristin Neff and Chris Germer.
So when life hands you lemons, choose curiosity, commitment and compassion, over fear. And serve this lemonade to everyone around you. It will inspire them.
@Melanie I like how you reframed it in terms of deeper values like curiosity and compassion over something more narrowly defined and worldly like entrepreneurship, or a job. Because I think then it frees us up from labels and gives us permissionless space to explore and grow in those values, in whatever form or format, in employment or self-employment.