Recently in a great post on AVC, Fred Wilson talked about the days he feels like “mailing it in” and had (what I thought) was a very inspirational post about his energy level and vision for his role as a VC. Down in the comments, Arnold Waldstein shared this comment:
Favorite quote of all time:
“Inspiration is for amateurs.”
This threw me off! At first it bothered me. I started to question my own motivation for this blog. Check my own personal tag line, right up top: “seeking perpetual inspiration as entrepreneurial fuel.” But I realized after some thought that this quote doesn’t conflict with how I believe inspiration works for entrepreneurs.
Energy from being inspired comes in bursts. There are highs and lows. Inspired days never last longer than a week or two at best. There will be low energy days for any super motivated entrepreneur. It’s important to accept this and have habits and awareness enough to know that you will have another inspired burst of energy soon and you must keep pressing forward until it finds you.
Here are some tips that can help manage the highs and lows of your energy.
- Have a good co-founder. This is so huge for entrepreneurs. Co-founders are critical when your inspiration and energy is low. Sometimes you will be low together, but most of the time you will have someone to lean on. Or even better, when your partner is feeling down, you can experience the great feeling of lifting him up out of the funk.
- Have healthy habits. Even when you’re low on inspiration, it’s important to keep your rituals going. Keep reading. Keep exercising. Keep listening to music. Keep relaxing. Keep balancing family intentionally. Habits are an extremely valuable stabilizer for dramatic swings in inspiration.
- Have disciplined work goals. Aside from the habits, it can also be helpful to have hard metrics that you’re working to achieve. Number of customer calls per week. Cold e-mails per day. Blog posts per week. Whatever the number, never give up pursuing it. This will press you forward. Rely on the external numbers to hit when the intrinsic motivation is low and your forward progress will continue. It may feel like a lot more effort to move a shorter distance when you aren’t feeling inspired, but the important thing is that you keep moving.
- Have self-awareness tools. For me self-awareness comes most frequently from two things: (1) writing this blog and (2) my monthly EO Forum meetings. On the blog side, it’s not that I write something and then immediately figure something out. It’s that I’ve not got almost a couple hundred posts of things I’ve figured out, and the act of writing, publishing, and often discussing means they are a little more burned into my psyche. In the lulls, so many times I think back and realize that I’m going against something I wrote. That helps me keep it together and press forward. Second, my EO Forum meetings provide a nice slow and relentless rhythm. My wife can always tell when it’s getting towards the end of the month long period between meetings. Every meeting I leave recharged, with a new perspective on my so-called problems and the energy that comes from focusing on how I can help my peers through their challenges. It’s mandatory rhythm for me.
There are plenty of other tips and tools, but the important thing is that I agree with Arnold. Inspiration isn’t a reliable enough tool to reach the levels you want to reach. We need to embrace the more mechanical necessities to be sure that constant forward motion is the norm.