Laurie (super star wife) and I were reading a little book called “Good Busy” this weekend. The author, Julia O’Grady, introduced a concept that fit well into the experience of starting a company. She shared that when people find themselves in unusually tough circumstances (death of a family member, struggling with an illness, etc.) that it is helpful to conceptualize driving through a tunnel.
Normally, you’re zooming along the highway, blue sky and wind, and freedom to go where you want. Speed up, slow down, change lanes, pull over… do whatever feels good.
But when you enter a tunnel, things change. Your options are severely limited. You have to do what others are doing. It’s dark and claustrophobic. Thoughts of being stuck and perishing in the tunnel pop into your mind and cause anxiety. There is very rarely any ability to turn around and go back… once you’re in, you’re in.
That said, if you’re reading this post, you’ve probably made it through all of the tunnels you’ve entered. That familiar “light at the end of the tunnel” shows up at some point, and you breathe your first sigh of relief. You make it out and you’re renewed… blue skies again. The lesson is that tunnels feel constraining, risky, and uncomfortable when you are in them, but that they almost always pass. By recognizing that the constraints are temporary, you can set your mind at ease, do what it takes to get through the tunnel and pop through on the other side.
The startup life is very much about going into a tunnel. You’re committed in ways that don’t occur in other career choices. You’re constrained financially. There’s a lot of obscurity… who knows when or how this will end. Your family is along for the ride. Things like college savings and home renovations all go on hold. Vacations are more basic, eating out is coupon-driven, and gifts shift to that which you can find on sale.
Recognizing the experience for what it is… temporary… is comforting. The tunnel won’t last forever. The familiar light will appear again. The blue skies are ahead.
And… just maybe… there are rewards on the other end of the tunnel that add a little something extra for those with the courage to persevere!