Fall down seven times times, get up eight? Have you ever asked WHY??
As some of you may know, I’m going through a period of significant personal growth — challenging the ways that I’ve been doing things and finding healthier ways of approaching “entrepreneurship”. I’m meeting a lot of people, opening up in public forums and welcoming people in to share with me their challenges and journey.
Hearing what resonates with people has been incredibly insightful. It seems we’re all rowing similar canoes, our personal challenges may be diverse, but the outcomes for us are eerily parallel. It looks like we entrepreneurs are all a bunch of over-achievers, with high personal standards and expectations, not enough hours in the day (or money in the bank) and a fairly outrageous view of what’s possible. No real shock there then.
But what’s surprised me is how many people have jumped on my sentiments around resilience. The lesson I’ve learned is that resilience is not a personality trait, it can run out. We get told our whole lives that we’re incredibly resilient, and what a wonderful bit of luck it was to have been born that way. And so our expectation becomes that we’re the living emodiment of the idea that if we “fall down 7 times, we’ll get up 8”. Perhaps for most of our lives this is true.
For me, the first time I fell down I was only 16. I’d been a straight A, over-achieving, sport-billy winning truck loads of awards (representative badminton, waterpolo, netball) — I had made my parents taxi-drivers and I was everywhere all the time. And then I got Glandular Fever and was told to go to bed, where I promptly stayed for the better part of the school year. It was a shock to my system, this busy-busy-hustle-hustle kid couldn’t do much of anything. There’s no doubt about it, it changed the course of my life. I left school, with no qualifications, so I got a job, etc etc….
My brother comforted my mother, “don’t worry about Jenene, she’ll make it work, she always does”. And so I set out on my alternative path, determined to prove everyone who thought I was a “high school drop out with no prospects” wrong. That signficant chip on my shoulder is what drove my determination, and my resilience.
In my 21st year I checked off an embarrassingly long list of life events: got married, bought a house, started an internet business (and this was 1999!), got a dog. I didn’t set out with a timeline, but faster was always better in my mind — I was always in such a hurry. That was the proving a point bit coming into play, I believe.
At 23 some of that crashed back around me, I got divorced, headed out on my own into the world (properly this time!) and learnt some tough life and work lessons. But I got back up and dusted myself off. I was determined that I wouldn’t let some poor strategic life decisions hold me back from having a great life or future relationships. I can’t say that I exactly inspected the why at that point.
Some of those lessons I learned sloooowly. Fast forward ten-ish years and I racked up a couple more failed relationships (including another divorce), started, changed, exited and failed in a bunch of different businesses and found myself back from Australia, post GFC with a broken heart and not much else.
But I got back up again.
And started over, again.
One of my investors through this period said, “one of the reasons we got behind you, is that you seem to have this resilience that is unbelievable to watch in action. You’re like teflon”. Thus continuing the perception that it was a personality trait and would always be there for me when the going got tough.
So fast forward another 8 or so years, and a bunch of other major challenges, including now my own health, a new blended family, becoming an instant-mum, navigating serious business growth and investment (12 rounds….), taking on new global markets, substantial product development, hiring, firing, restructuring, constantly ducking and diving. The ebbs and flows just built up and up and up, and then I came crashing down as I ran into a wall on my resilience (publicly no less).
Finally it dawned on me that not once had I considered the impact of the major events in my life. Not once did I take a moment to step back and think about “me” and how I might fair through these non-trivial challenges. Because I was resilient! I would be fine! This was my jam! I was made for this! I was always worrying about the impact on everyone else, the shareholders, the partners, the family, the financials, the employees. I put myself last EVERY SINGLE DAMN TIME. Because I could handle it!
When I finally forced myself to stay the fuck down and not get up quickly like usual (you know, the proving to everyone that you’re as reliable at getting up as they admire you to be), I finally moved past this never-ending phase. Throwing myself off the god damn resilience pedestal at last. It didn’t need to be a rollercoaster loop. It was still going to be a journey, but one where I travelled to a better place.
No longer did I need to rush up and state, “I’m ok! We’re great! All will be fine!”, I could actually just be and not be rushing so fast. This “sense of urgency” desire was bullshit, having a sense of priorities is way more important.
At first it was more sleep, then more contemplation time, more reading, more writing, more listening. It wasn’t more action, more hustling, more ducking and diving. Everything has centred around repair and consolidate, consider, then consciously move in a fashion that feels sustainable.
Of course nobody believed me that I was actually going to follow through with this — after all, I’ve been a tornado my entire life. I keep hearing people say, “god I bet you’re so busy!”. My response? “Actually no, not especially”. I really am making time and space, putting things in place to ensure that it is a permanent shift. And through that process I’m seeing more clearly, acting with more integrity and feeling better about myself, my world and my interests. Everybody benefits. My relationship is healthier (and happier), my kids are happier, the business is more focused. It’s the happy wife, happy life kind of idea! Anxiety is gone from my life, worry no longer cripples me.
I reflected on this today, riding my bike into work (hello, this really is the new me!), and wondering about the connection between pressure and anxiety. I hear from far too many parents about the crippling anxiety their teens are experiencing — and I’ve seen it for myself with our kids’ friends. And I wonder how much of this is at the base of it? Self imposed (or societal imposed) expectations have created enormous pressure for younger generations. Meeting real world expectations (do well at school, get a job, get married) was hard enough“in my day”, but nowdays they’re expecting to be self-made billionaires by 19.
I can’t imagine how much more extreme the self-expectations must feel in a world where you live it so much faster and more publicly. The pressure they have on themselves to “be successful” is intense (how many likes did my post get? Who’s following me? What am I going to do with my life that matters? Have an impact! How will I survive in the world when all the jobs are gone?). The world must feel hard, unfair, and with the odds not in their favour. Their expectations are unsustainably high and it’s unsurprising that it’s giving them anxiety.
I’m acutely aware of the impact we will have on our kids, how they approach the idea of resilience, success and expectations. And so the conversation isn’t about “try hard or you’ll fail”, but actually “be kind, be present and be open — everything else will happen as it needs to”. We ask them to listen to their emotions, and learn from their own mistakes (own up to them), but that making them is entirely ok. Too often as parents we want them to either learn from the ones we made, or we’ll fix the problems for them (looking at you, helicopter parents!). We simply encourage really open conversations, without judgement and hope that will put us in good stead as we get into the pointy end of the teenager years. We’ve told them a lot about what I’ve been going through, as tough as that was to admit to (it’s not like I come from a family or generation of people who were particularly good at communicating their feelings!)
Overall my goal right now is to keep being open, keep listening and hopefully learn more about the connection between my perception of self-expectations, life outcomes and how they intersect with resilience and emotion. I don’t want to keep falling down and just expecting myself to get back up and bounce back to the way I was. Every time you fall down, there’s something to be gained from the lesson that should help you the next time. But rather than just tweet or instagram that idea, I want to actually live it and demonstrate it. Maybe by doing so we can make it a thing that we’re okay with, a new way of considering resilience — a cup that needs filling and protecting.