Friday, March 9, 2012

Flow

"Only through freely chosen discipline can life be enjoyed and still kept within the bounds of reason" - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I am not religious, but I am guilty of evangelism.

I spent the first seven years of my professional life careening from one unsatisfying corporate job to another, working my way down the ladder from a company of hundreds of thousands (AT&T), to thousands (Claircom/McCaw), to hundreds (Patagonia), until I found myself in the weird and wonderful land of pirate ships (Adjacency, Judy's Book, Founders Co-op, TechStars, etc).

The farther down the ladder I climbed, the harder I worked, and the more alive I felt.

I didn't discover Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his concept of flow until my kids were in Montessori school, but I experienced an immediate flash of recognition when I read his words.

Flow is...
"...being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."
Entrepreneurship is grueling work. For every Mark Zuckerberg there are literally thousands of brilliant and anonymous founders toiling away on their dreams. For years. Most of these companies will fail. Most of these founders will never make vast fortunes or find their faces on the cover of a magazine.

But for all that, the fellowship of entrepreneurs is full of joy.

For those who haven't (yet) chosen an entrepreneurial path, it's easy to assume that startup founders are just bad at math, or greedy, or egotistical. Why else would they choose a life with such uncertain prospects and so little chance of success?

The answer is simple. So simple that it's impossible to explain to people who have chosen a different path.

Entrepreneurs have given themselves the gift of flow. Not all the time -- no one is that lucky -- but more often than they can find on any other professional path. And the older I get, the more I understand how precious and important this gift is.

Freely chosen discipline. Creativity. Autonomy. Exposure. 

My business partner has cancer. I spent the weekend with two old friends; one recently had a pacemaker implanted in his chest; the other had a brain tumor the size of a golf ball removed last year. As the Buddhists, say, "death is certain -- only the time of death is uncertain."

It's none of my business, but I just can't help myself. It took me too long to realize it for myself, and now I preach the gospel with the zeal of the converted.

Choose flow. Choose joy. Choose life.