I’ve been on the road for the past two years, slow traveling and jumping from one startup hub to another. It started in Chile, then Singapore and now Saigon.
It’s always interesting meeting local entrepreneurs in different parts of the world and talking to them about their startups. It facilitates an exchange of knowledge and you can learn a lot along the way.
About six months ago, I thought I’d take a bit of a break from entrepreneurship. At that point, you could say I was drifting. The ventures I had started hadn’t worked out, so I wasn’t quite sure what to work on next.
I decided to go to Thailand. There was a martial arts training camp in Phuket I’d heard about and I thought it would be fun to train there for three months.
Little did I realize that those three months would change the way I looked at life and entrepreneurship. Here’s what I learnt:
Let go of fear
Letting go of fear is one of the toughest things you can do. Most people dream about starting their own business, but they never really start because what holds them back is their fear. Fear leads to inaction.
There’s no better proof of this than when you get into a boxing ring with a Russian guy three weight classes above you. At the Muay Thai camp, we’d end each training session with some sparring. You’re supposed to take it easy when you spar, so that you don’t injure your spar partner, but the Russians never cared. They just wanted to break things.
When I first started out, my fear would paralyze me, so I’d end up taking a lot of hits. Once I let go of my fear, I found I was able to move around, take fewer hits, and even land some of my own.
It works the same with entrepreneurship. Your fear holds you back and paralyses you. You won’t achieve anything if you don’t let go of fear. But the moment you do, you’re a changed man. You may still take a few hits and fail, but you’ll hit back and get closer to your dreams.
Take calculated risks
Starting a business means taking on a lot of risk. There’s a very real chance of failure. When you overcome your fears you’ll be comfortable handling more risk, but that doesn’t mean you go swinging for the fences. You don’t want to pour your life savings in your first venture only to find out that it was a bad bet.
Blindly trying to hit your opponent in the ring gets you nowhere. You’re simply opening yourself up to more hits. It’s a poor risk to reward ratio. The same goes for entrepreneurship.
You want to take calculated risks. Don’t play it too safe by not doing anything at all, but at the same time don’t go all in. Pick opportunities that you think you can profit from and try to minimize your investment.
Listen to your instincts
A calculated approach is great, but sometimes your instincts can be right. Learn to listen to them and act on them at the right time. Instincts are formed from subconscious thoughts, or through System 2 processes as Kahneman puts it. They take in real information that your conscious brain might not have noticed and process it much faster.
When I started trusting my instincts in the ring, I found that, at times, I could anticipate when my opponent was going to strike. There are subtle cues, like a shift in weight or a build up of tension. It’s tough to consciously keep track of all the cues, but my subconscious could do it. Of course, it takes time and experience to build up, and you won’t get it right all the time, so a bit of caution is also necessary. Calculated risks again.
Indecision is the bane of productivity. Too many times we get caught stalling on decisions, unsure of what step to take next. At best, we lose time, and at worst, we make a decision and then go back on it.
Fighting forces you to be decisive. There’s no stalling in the ring. It’s about making a decision and then committing. You punch when you have an opening and you put your full strength into it.
It’s wise to apply the same lesson to entrepreneurship. Learn to make decisions and then stick to them. I’m not saying you should be stubborn about sticking to a decision if it turns out to be wrong. You always need to reevaluate and then make another decision. But that’s better than not deciding at all in the first place and simply sitting on the fence.
Hard work pays
This one was a surprising lesson. It shouldn’t have been. I mean, obviously hard work pays, right? And yet we don’t put in the hard work. Oh sure, we do work, but we don’t work hard enough.
You see, we’re always looking for the easy way. The magic bullet. How to get rich quick. How to get 6-pack abs. That’s why we click on the links to posts titled, “How I made 1 million dollars in one month” or “How I got 6-pack abs with this 10 second exercise.”
You want 6-pack abs?
Do 3 hours of intense cardio, 1 hour of crossfit, 1 hour of weightlifting and finish it off with 300 sit-ups and 300 push-ups in 10 minutes.
Do this every day.
Six days a week.
For three months.
That’s how you get 6-pack abs.
I hate to admit it, but hard work does pay, and the only way to get to a million dollars is lots and lots of hard work. It won’t come fast, and it won’t come easy, but if you put in the hard work, it will come eventually.
Me, I’m not a millionaire. Not yet at least! But I am doing a lot better than I was before those three months of martial arts training. I’ve got multiple businesses and multiple sources of income.
Some of my ventures might fail, but that’s all right because I’m not afraid of failing. I’ll replace the failed ones with new ventures, taking calculated risks, fueled by instincts. I’ll be decisive in cutting out the bad investments, and for the rest I‘ll work extremely hard to make sure they succeed.
Sid is an e-commerce entrepreneur, currently running his businesses from somewhere in South-East Asia. He also teaches people how to start their own online stores at www.openastorenow.com.
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