Once you take everything away, what’s left?

I was struck and touched by a recent post I read by entrepreneur Chris Granger, who wrote movingly about dealing with his mother’s partner’s terminal cancer, and trying to build a company at the same time:

And this is the stark truth of startups: you are the last and only line
of defense against doubt. There’s no one else to give these questions
to. They are yours to stew in. They are yours to try to answer, though
they’re unanswerable. They are yours to overcome.
And the Fear that they
represent is what keeps you up at night, what will make you wonder if
this is really the “right” thing to do. I’m not sure anyone can truly
explain what that kind of doubt is like and if they did it would likely
only hint at the reality. But believe me that when people say startups
are hard, they are woefully understating the truth. Yet I’m still doing
one, and the reason why is rooted in the answer to the question my
cousin asked. I’m doing this because I believe that this is the greatest
contribution I can make.”

This is stark, unvarnished truth.  Being a CEO often feels like being an animal caught in a trap.  You know everything that’s wrong with your company, while reading flattering stories about your competitors.  You’re constantly full of doubt, but you can’t turn to anyone else in your company because you know that the only benefit of sharing your fears is the chance to feel a little better yourself…by dumping your problems on someone else.  You feel responsible for everything, but powerless to dictate the outcome.

And yet, that same difficulty is what makes starting a company so great.  If it were easy, everyone would do it.

If it were easy, your co-founders, investors, and employees wouldn’t follow the path you’re painfully breaking through the wilderness of uncertainty.

If it were easy, you wouldn’t be doing anything special.

The instant I read the quote, I flashed back to the Season 2 finale of Joss Whedon’s first great creation, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”  The titular heroine is fighting the Big Bad, who happens to be her great love, turned evil by magic, who is trying to destroy the world. She is alone and seemingly overmatched:

Angelus: No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away, and what’s left?
Buffy: Me.

When you take away all the trappings of the startup world–the press, the parties, the speaking gigs.  All that’s left is you.  That’s pretty scary.  But you know what?  That’s your chance to show your true power.

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