Hi everyone, it’s Dan Murphy. We’re switching things up this week, as I wanted to share this blog from my own perspective.
In case you missed it, I had the pleasure of speaking at Venture Connector’s monthly lunch back on June 7th. The topic was “Entrepreneurship and the Human Element”. In truth, if I was speaking to a bunch of firefighters the conversation would have been called “Fighting Fires and the Human Element”, because regardless of the label we use to describe what we do or who we believe ourselves to be; we’re human first. What follows is a summary of my presentation from the 7th, focusing on the main points I wanted to convey to the audience.
Introduction: Background and The Beginning
I began my talk by establishing some street cred. ?
In September of 2015 I decided to start meditating in order to cultivate some new coping mechanisms I could use to address some newfound stressors in my life. Little did I know that this decision would lead me down a path of profound self-realization.
In those initial months, my meditation took me on an emotional rollercoaster. And as I continued to meditate, I was also taking in as much information to try and better understand what I was experiencing. I came to learn I was in the midst of a “Dark Knight of the Soul” experience. You can google that one.
It wasn’t until October 2016 that I had my breakthrough moment. I was lying in a hotel bed relaxing before an upcoming business meeting. As I lay focusing on my breath, my body and mind still carrying the anguish I had become accustomed to, everything seemed to slow down instantly. I felt an overwhelming sense of profound okay-ness wash over me. It was really the only way I could describe it at the time. The contrast between where I was for months to where I was at that moment potentially intensified the sensation, but I also realized what I was experiencing was very different and new to me.
I just laid there with this sense of peace and clarity, wondering if I had just leveled up. I wondered if at 37 years old I had finally arrived at the place where everyone else I knew was operating from. As a person who likes to share (and maybe overshare) at times, I immediately told my friends about my experiences: the changes in my perspective about myself, my world, and the world in general. It didn’t take long for me to realize that not everyone was operating from the same “place” as I was; what I was experiencing was something truly special. Nonetheless, I continued to share my journey with others while deepening my own practice.
Real vs True
In my talk, I used a story about a meditation retreat I went on in Colorado to highlight some things that I think happen far too often to us humans.
We aren’t taught how to handle uncomfortable emotional experiences in a healthy way. As a result, our minds have adapted to our desires to move away from discomfort. I think it could be argued that these adaptations can lead to some unnecessary suffering.
Oftentimes we get involved in situations that can lead to uncomfortable emotional experiences. Those emotions show up with stories created by the mind. They can be “what if” stories about what could happen next. They could be judgmental stories focused on what someone did or didn’t do. Or they could be stories criticizing us for our actions or lack of action.
Regardless of what kind of stories arise, they undoubtedly do the same thing: keep us from seeing things clearly and take us away from the present moment. We need to be able to allow our minds to calm down and our emotions to shift. Without the time and/or patience to relax, we can get lost in a very real experience but one that is lacking truth.
Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “Some of the worst experiences of my life never happened to me.” I like that quote because I think it depicts how powerful our minds can be. It can create experiences within the body just by us thinking about past hurts or the things that scare us. The fact we can feel the sensations associated with certain fears or what-if scenarios makes these experiences very real. However, there is no truth to them. It’s the lack of truth within these real experiences we need to focus on. Remembering to challenge our real experiences for truth can be the easiest way to step out of an uncomfortable place.
But as founders, we’re particularly prone to falling into this trap, whether comparing ourselves to others or creating realities that are not based on truth but feel very real. How often do we fantasize about why a potential investor isn’t getting back to us, or a potential customer has stopped returning our calls? How quickly can we be living the good life one hour and then spiraling down the “why is everything falling apart” rabbit hole the next? As entrepreneurs, we have enough hard things to do without compounding them with our fictitious stories. I think it’s important to become aware of when the stories ramp up so we can ground ourselves in the present to see things more clearly.
Where does the negative energy go?
When a gazelle faces a threat, it activates its fight, flight, or freeze response, allowing it to escape from danger. However, once the threat is gone, the gazelle resumes its normal activities and releases its excess energy by shaking. How do human beings handle that negative energy? After a stressful meeting or rough day at work, what do you do to unwind? Do you dump all that negative energy by shaking it off? Do you head to happy hour and replay the stories? Or do you go home and veg out to decompress?
It’s important to remember that humans are still animals. We can learn a lot from our four-legged friends. Shaking off a day can be more beneficial than just sitting down to relax. We don’t want to store any unnecessary negativity because that can build over time and put our bodies in a state of unease.
Similarly, as founders, we encounter stressful situations constantly that cause unconscious responses. It’s essential to find healthy ways to release the built-up energy and avoid becoming consumed by it. Not only will it reduce the stress on the body it will allow you to be fully ready for the next stressful situation.
Two Monks: Let Go of Suffering
I also discussed the concept of pain versus suffering. While pain is an inevitable part of life, suffering is a choice we make. This is a difficult concept for most people to get their heads around, and I had a difficult time when I first heard it too. It all circles back to what we’ve already talked about: the stories we tell ourselves.
Painful events are inevitable. But it’s how we respond that often leads to unnecessary suffering. When we replay the painful event, a lot happens: we get wrapped up in what we’re going to do the next time, we think about what we should have done this time, and we criticize ourselves for how things unfolded. This is that cycle of suffering. By staying grounded in the present moment and focusing on our breath, we can let go of unnecessary suffering. If we constantly pull our attention away from the replays, what-ifs, and self-criticisms, we can experience more peace within ourselves.
To illustrate, I shared the story of two monks and a river crossing. One monk helped a woman cross the river, breaking the rule of not touching someone of the opposite sex. The older monk let go of the incident once they reached the other side, but the younger monk carried the judgment and criticism with him. This story served as a reminder that we often carry unnecessary burdens and that true liberation comes from letting go of them.
No Good Nor Evil
I often receive mixed reactions when I talk about the idea that nothing is inherently good or bad. People tend to share their worst experiences with me, emphasizing how bad things can get. However, I believe that goodness or badness is subjective and is based on our own perspectives and experiences. Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, illustrates this concept beautifully. Even in the epitome of hell, people found reasons to live and moments of meaning.
As founders, we have a unique opportunity to recognize that the real value lies in the present moment, not just in reaching a specific destination. It’s not about escaping pain or finding a light at the end of the tunnel; it’s about turning inward and realizing that we’re the light within the tunnel. We often think we’ll feel better once we reach our goals. But the truth is that no matter where we go, we’re still ourselves.
Three Key Takeaways
Key One: Self-compassion is a powerful practice that teaches us to care for ourselves unconditionally no matter the circumstances. It involves treating ourselves with kindness, understanding, and support. By practicing self-compassion, we can offer ourselves comfort and encouragement when we face challenges or make mistakes. It’s through a consistent self-compassion practice that we can truly take care of ourselves and give ourselves the kind of care we often look for from others. By becoming our own best friends, we will change every relationship we have. Meditation serves as a gateway to developing self-compassion.
Key Two: Meditation allows us to increase our awareness and build a different relationship with our inner worlds. Meditation isn’t about clearing our minds. Meditation is the exercise of constantly returning to your anchor whether the breath, the body, or a mantra.
The goal of meditation is to anchor yourself: notice when you have left into a thought, memory, image, or fantasy and gently move back to your anchor. When you do this over and over and over, You’re strengthening your awareness and your ability to focus. You’re building a different relationship with your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. When you do this enough a clear mind will naturally arise.
Key Three: Yoga teaches us an important lesson in learning how to relax when things get hard. When difficult situations arise, a lot of the time our knee-jerk reaction is to tense up; we resist what is. There is a saying, “What we resist, persists.” Our pushing against what is can make a difficult situation that much worse.
In yoga, striving to maintain or to get into a certain pose is often hindered by striving. When we’re tense, we become rigid. When we’re rigid we become less flexible. By taking a deep breath and relaxing, our bodies can move further and have more energy to hold poses longer. When a difficult situation shows up, try accepting that things are difficult. See if you can’t relax into addressing the situation instead of pushing against it. The only thing we can control is the response to what happens, not the thing that has happened.
The Path of a Founder
As founders, we need to remember that we chose this path willingly. We stand at the edge of the woods, ready to embark on a journey toward our own version of success. There are different trailheads we can start on, with varying challenges and opportunities. Some are clearer paths than others, and at times you will have to veer of course. But, as challenging and scary as our choice may be, we’re the ones that made it.
Not too far from where you’re starting, there is a bus stop offering an easier route to success. It won’t offer the same adventure, we’re not sure the path it’s going to take, and you’re not the one driving, but it’s still there. When we’ve chosen the path less traveled, it requires grit and resilience. It isn’t easy. And we should commend ourselves for taking the hard path. For we’re the group that is creating the next set of experiences that others get to have.
In conclusion, my speech aimed to inspire the audience to reevaluate the experiences they’re having. I wanted them to see that there is more at play within our experience than just what we’re perceiving. Only by becoming aware of what is below the surface can a person truly take ownership of the experience they’re having. We can’t control our external world. It isn’t what happens that is the problem, but how we choose to respond.
I wanted to paint a different picture of how meditation and mindfulness can be powerful tools for finding peace, clarity, and self-compassion. By being present in the moment, distinguishing between real experiences vs true understanding, and releasing unnecessary suffering, we can navigate the challenges of entrepreneurship with greater resilience and insight.