It's December of 2018 and my church (Life in Deep Ellum), as I’m sure many others around the world, is in the midst of a series around Advent. Today’s focus was on HOPE. The Bible says a lot about hope and, as usual, our pastors had a unique approach to the topic that really got me thinking. For a moment, I actually forgot I was at church and I had the feeling of being in a great training session!
Below you will find the key slide from the sermon as we examined hope from this perspective. Take a minute to review it and think about where you are personally and professionally.
If I’m honest, I related to all four of these quadrants at some point in the last year, but two of them really stand out the most: wishful and passive, which sadly results in both false and lost hope, respectively. Very rarely, outside of a fleeting moment, do entrepreneurs find ourselves helpless with no hope. I personally know entrepreneurs whose situation looks truly hopeless and somehow they fight their way out with a very active hope. But before getting to that, let’s take a deeper look at me as I reflect on 2018.
2018 was a very strange year, the most emotional year of my career -- filled with ups, downs and big swings of emotion. For months, I had this very odd-settling strange feeling -- almost an emotional depression. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It was a different type of emotion and I didn’t know how to break out of it, so it became this cyclical back and forth of feelings. Then during this service I finally saw it for what it was. It was me swinging back and forth from a wishful false hope to a passive lost hope.
There were times when I would take a real hard look at what I wanted to do and what I could afford to do and I would lose a little hope. I have such enormous plans that everyone I speak with agrees will be phenomenally successful if and when I can build a great team around me and have the capacity to spend on marketing and build a product sales team... Whew!
We are so far from that reality… It was this paradox that had me trapped, depressed, stuck and the result was an amazingly passive "me." For a go-getter like myself, I couldn’t understand why I would put off what I knew was important or settle for quick fixes that didn’t get me closer to my long-term goals.
So, I would dust myself off, get ultra-focused and allow that exuberant entrepreneurial ambition to lead me to believe in a hopeful outlook, but within a bit of a distorted or unrealistic reality leaving me basically wishful and powerless. As soon as most entrepreneurs can’t envision a pathway to their preferred future and when we lose control, hope begins to fade, our drive feels like a car being driven out of gear, clunky and uncomfortable, not at ease.
When one’s hope is tied up in false hope, real reality isn't good enough. For instance, I deflected and wouldn't even allow myself to focus on the areas of success driving my current business reality. One line of the business was experiencing a 50% year over year growth rate and trending higher for the new year while the core business was up 22% year over year. False hope, however, rendered that reality simply not good enough for joy.
The trick was to find myself with a hopeful outlook and embrace my real true reality; only there would I find real and active hope. I knew this in my head but this chart helped me to embrace it, put my arms around it, resolve my sense of depression and move from passive to active, yet hopeful as ever. And what do you know? My situation wasn’t hopeless at all. In fact, I had neglected how great the opportunity right before me was and thus we focused more keenly on the little things right before us. We built upon them and, though the future remained clear and cloudy at the same time, it was as if the fog had lifted. Once I embraced reality then I was able to leverage my active hope and, again, attempt the impossible.
It was then I sought after and found a technology partner who could also benefit from a future where our technology was the center of and, therefore, they decided to contribute their human capital to helping bring the tech to life. There are so many ways besides VC & PE funding to get to where you want to go. Sure, it’s nice to have all the resources necessary to aggressively pursue your plans but that alone won’t guarantee success.
This journey back to the active hope that got me here today and through all the struggles in my journey really started in Idaho while attending the Compleat Leader (check out the blog post for more). It was there as I was walking alone in the woods when I realized I had lost my joy and joy spawns hope because true joy isn’t circumstantial. I left there with renewed joy to begin to act differently not because I had all I needed to control and/or predict my future, but I was reminded it’s the small steps in the right direction that will get me there the quickest and surest and it’s in those small steps I must rejoice.
I’ve had to learn my true hope and joy isn’t primarily rooted in the size of my bank account or the ability to pursue the ridiculous goals I set. Hope is found in the little things like when I come home from a long day at the office and my son does this because he's so happy to see me!
He could care less about the pressures and intensities of entrepreneurship, he’s just happy to see me. He’s got hope written all over him as he shows me the new train track setup he’s made, and though he’s going to tear it down later that night, it will be rebuilt and a huge smile will be on his face the next day as well.
Making the most of each day and remembering it’s the little successes are the only path forward when the future isn’t so clear. I was reminded by Alison Levine, leader of the first all women’s expedition to the top of Mount Everest, not too long ago, “You don’t need absolute clarity to put one foot in front of the other.” Let that sink in a little bit. Read it again.
The Bible says it this way, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Did I mention the Bible says a lot about hope?