Focus on what you can control

August 15, 2020

Last week, someone asked me to write about the mental ups and downs during our startup journey.

I spent most of the week how on best to capture and write about those ups and downs.

I didn’t want to write about any crisis or meltdown in particular - that’s not helpful to you. I also didn’t want to write some motivational BS like “ you gotta push through the hard times” either and call it a day.

Ups, or when things are good

These were the times when everything seemed to be going right and our way.

We were knocking out new app improvements and features every week, talking to more customers, and solving every problem that came our way.

Our mood would be high, and mental energy to take on any challenge at Red Bull level. The world seemed bright and on our side.

If a difficult challenge befell us, we would take it apart and find the element within it that we could influence, and get to work.

Downs, or when things were bad

These were the times when everything seemed to be going wrong.

We were barely shipping, if at all. We would be sad and dejected about WhatsApp API related problems, or some WhatsApp policy that affected app function. Or we would be upset about competitors who were gaming Shopify app store’s review system to gain ground on us.

Our mood would be low, and mental energy to tackle even simple challenges non-existent.

The world seemed gloomy and against us.

Reflecting on our journey

Off late, Sankalp and I have been reflecting on our past year quite a lot.

The purpose of reflection is two fold:

  1. Identify areas we didn’t do great at - how do we improve our thought process and decision making to avoid fucking up again
  2. Identify things we did really well - what worked for us that we should double down upon

Sankalp was telling me about this anime he's watching called Black Clover. It’s set in a magical world where the main character has zero magical abilities and is a huge underdog with everything going against him.

However, instead of wallowing in self-pity about what's wrong with him, the character focused on growing his physical strength to immensely high levels.

But that still wasn’t enough to compete with a world where everyone had magic.

One day he came across and managed to pull out the mythical anti-magic sword, which nullified everyone’s magic around it.

And suddenly, he was the strongest character in the show. Without their magic, none of the other characters were a match for the main character who had spent all his years training the one thing under his control - his formidable physical strength.

“Preetam, what’s this got to do with entrepreneurship?”

Ups and downs are a natural part of life, and even more so entrepreneurship where the swings can be wild, extreme, and unpredictable. Today could be a great day, your business could be on fire the next morning.

During our reflections, it became clear to us that the difference between the ups and downs weren't just about the events happening during those phases.

There would always be a bad customer, third-party API related problems, a competitor catching up or playing unfair even during the good times.

We could always be pushing app improvements, talking to customers, and solving every problem that came our way.

From our reflections Sankalp and I concluded - it's not the external events that determined our ups and downs, but our response to it...

Focus on what you can control

The "things were good" phase would be whenever we were completely focused on doing the things that are within our control, and ignoring everything else.

The "things were bad" phase would be whenever we were obsessively focused on things outside our control and brooding over them.

Over time, our minds naturally became better at handling these ups and downs.

And now that we have introspected on our past, we have a simple mantra for how to deal with the ups and downs that will come our way in the future.

It’s simple. You can adopt it too for whenever you face a problem in your life or business.

Focus on what you can control. It's all you can really do.

And leave alone everything that's outside your control. You can't do anything about it anyway.

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