Steps and Stones
There are two Chinese quotations that nicely capture the journey of an entrepreneur: “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and “cross the river by feeling the stones.”
The first step is often the hardest. Because it means leaving something else behind, and starting off on a journey which is unknown and where the destination may not be reached. So, there are many doubts that flood us as we prepare to take the first step. Should I do it? What happens if I fail? What am I giving up? Why should I do it? What don’t I know? Can I really do this alone? How long will it take?
In my life, I have started on many such journeys. Only in a few did I reach the destination. In all cases, the first single step was taken with great optimism and planning. And yet in many of those passages, I ended up wandering off lost and lonely. It is hard to track back one’s steps and begin again.
The entrepreneur’s journey is a long one. Rarely does success come – and rarely does it come overnight. It is truly a journey of a “thousand miles.” It is done one step at a time, one day at a time. And each day, the entrepreneur must wake up with the same passion and positiveness that was there at the start. Because each day has to be navigated by “feeling the stones.”
The quotation has an interesting origin. Writes Colin Hanna: “It is generally attributed to Deng Xiaoping, who used it as a metaphor to describe China’s approach towards the reform and opening which kicked off at the end of the 1970s. On one side of the river was China’s closed, Marxist, centrally-planned economy. On the other was an open, liberalized, market-driven one. China hadn’t crossed this river before, and so would need to do so slowly, thoughtfully and carefully, by feeling the stones.”
For the entrepreneur, on one side of the river is the world as it is today, and on the other is the world the entrepreneur seeks to make. The flowing river is what the entrepreneur has to traverse – one step at a time, feeling what lies underneath, constantly improvising, and yet with each step, getting closer to the bank of success. There will be many cross-currents that will push in different directions. For the entrepreneur, the stones (obstacles) are the guide. Adversity needs to be turned into advantage; the challenges need to be embraced.
The steps and stones capture the essence of an entrepreneur’s life. And as one charts the path, one has to like the feeling.
Tomorrow: Part 58