I hope I land safely in Los Angeles. I’m sitting here stuck in the middle seat of row 14 on JetBlue flight 481, 35,707 feet over Colorado. We’re hurtling through the air in a metal tube at 470 miles per hour. And I have no control over when or if we get there.
Last week, I spent a good deal of my time trying to convince a big customer to extend their deal with us. I sent them a revised proposal, made myself available for a late night phone call, and carefully crafted a compelling argument of why they should renew. At this point, I’m still waiting to hear from them to see if the deal will be extended.
As an entrepreneur, I know that I can’t impact whether we get to L.A. safely, but want to believe that I can impact the decision of this big customer. I’ll sit quietly staring out the window of this plane through turbulence, while I stew about what else I can do to land this extended deal.
And yet, so many of the decisions that impact my company are out of my control. Despite what I want to believe, there is someone else piloting the deal, many external factors that I don’t even know about. There is only so much I can do to impact the situation. In the case of this deal, there are many factors that will determine whether or not we get the deal extension. As I reflect, it’s easier to see that the final decision is largely out of my hands. I’ve done all that I can do.
Just like in life, wisdom is recognizing the difference between things you can control and external things that are completely out of your control. I was reminded of this last night as I watched my football team lose a critical game of the season. Despite wearing my lucky sweatshirt and drinking out of my team mug, I watched helplessly as they committed mistake after mistake. I had no impact on their preparation, concentration or lack of execution. Yes, it hurt to watch, but I had nothing to do with it.
A few years ago, I had a conversation with a colleague about the economy. He insisted that the economy would impact our business in a significant way in the coming months. I remember my response was to tell him that there was nothing I could do about it. We would weather the storm if the storm hit – like a pilot, I would do my best to circumvent the bad weather. There is only so much I can do if the economy lags, and I don’t spend too much mental energy thinking about the impact of the stock market on our business.
Part of maturing as an entrepreneur is to recognize which things you are working on that are out of your control. As a start-up, you have plenty of things to worry about. Why fret about things that are out of your control? Why not focus on areas of the business that you can make a direct impact? Here’s a quick list of things you can impact as the pilot of your start-up:
• Are you employees happy? Have you checked in with individuals to see how they are doing?
• Do you actively work on company culture to make it a great place to work?
• Are you spending time setting the priorities so that everyone knows what is most important?
• When is the last time you looked closely at the competitive landscape? Are you pro-actively trying to out-maneuver the other players in the market?
• Does your development team have a product roadmap?
• Have you set a strategic direction for the next fiscal year? When is the last time you brought the key team members together to think about where you are headed as a company?
We’re 36,326 feet somewhere over southern Utah. The ride is smooth now, and I’m hopeful for a nice landing into LAX. But I know there’s nothing I can do to change the outcome of this flight.
In a start-up, time is your most precious commodity. Use your time and mental energy to impact the things that you control. Recognize when you’re the pilot, and recognize when you’re just a passenger.