The life of an entrepreneur is a rocky one–full of challenges that push you to your breaking point. But here’s one helpful tip: the cosmos doesn’t actually care what you do. That’s right, your legacy is largely irrelevant. The universe is 14.6 billion years old; there’s no way you can compete. So stop trying to create the next “Pinterest for gaming” or “eBay for social change.” Stop, breathe, and take some lessons from the universe.
In my experience, there are two kinds of entrepreneurs: those that build what they can, humbly accepting the reality of death, and then those that use entrepreneurship as a means of creating shrines for their ego, a type of afterlife strategy that is horribly misguided. The truth is that most entrepreneurs don’t understand some basic cosmological truths. So outlined below are some strategies for cosmos-proofing your start-up.
First, pretend you are a linguist from 200 years into the future. You have just discovered an arcane text. It’s your current business plan. Now as this future linguist, do you find the business plan inspiring? Is it something that in your analysis would have propelled the human race forward? Or, alternatively, are you put off by the jargon? Do you find the vision myopic and shortsighted? Ultimately, are you embarrassed that this text is an artifact of humanity? If, as a future linguist, you aren’t overwhelmingly excited by the business plan, then maybe it’s time to shelve your start-up.
Second, take a moment to truly contemplate death. Force yourself to envision a world of which you are no longer a part. Look up at the night sky and feel your smallness. Now recognize that you have one short and precious life to live. Out of all the possible things you could do, are you still committed to your start-up? Does it provide an intrinsic sense of reward? If your start-up is not now nurturing your inner core at this very moment then forget it. It never will. Don’t wait for some future payoff, or some day when things will be different. Scrap the idea and find something that really makes you come alive.
Third, respect yourself. You are only here once. Or at least, there is a strong likelihood that you’re only here once. Rather than spend life chasing the good opinion of venture capitalists, peers, and parentals, do your best to please yourself. Do you feel an inner delight when you think about your start-up? Or are you motivated by a sense of duty, obligation, or the pursuit of fame? From the perspective of the cosmos, these secondary motivations are irrelevant and short-lived drivers. The only thing that is everlasting (at least until your consciousness expires) is how you feel about what you’re doing. Make sure you feel good about what you take on. That’s a responsibility that you have to yourself, the only thing you can’t really outsource in a four-hour workweek, alas.
Finally, as Woody Allen wrote, “When the universe is expanding it can make you late for work.” But some degree of attention to life’s bigger questions doesn’t have to paralyze you. Ultimately, feeling some sort of awe and uncertainty about the world provides the only basis for truly prioritizing what’s important. The challenge posed by the identity of the entrepreneur is that one is constantly in a position of projecting confidence and control. This may start out innocent enough, but it’s ultimately a toxic path towards self-delusion that pushes you away from the nobler challenge of cosmos-proofing your business. It may be time to import more cosmonauts to Silicon Valley.