THANKSGIVING WEEK FOR STARTUPS: Sources of hope and meaning
This is Thanksgiving week in America.
Some of you startup people may be finding life rather difficult at the moment, personally and professionally. So I have an fresh source of hope and meaning for you from an unusual source: The celebration of the Pilgrims on the first Thanksgiving Day in 1621.
Thanksgiving Day was intended by its founders the Pilgrims to be time of reflection, joy and thanks to God. The families gave their Creator credit for sustaining them during their perilous voyage and survival through their costly first year. Nearly half died of disease, with records showing signs of intense influenza compounded by pnemonia killing men, women and children.
Arriving in their new settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts on November 19, 1620, they began building houses, hunting for food and planting a few crops for the Spring. Original documents reveal their enthusiasm for freedom to worship Christ as they wished, beyond the dictates of the powerful government Church of England. They used capitalist incentives to get the difficult work done quickly (each family had to construct its own garden and house). And they shared a common, highly valued culture, the confidence that the founding of their village on the hill was God's will for their lives. Miraculous events occured and gave them hope and detrimination to stick it out, not to return to England (e.g. a friendly Indian who spoke English, Squanto, suddenly appeared and showed them how to hunt game, fish and plant corn).
Here are some thoughts for you to ponder from the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving celebration.
1. STARTUPS AND PILGRIMS MAKE PROGRESS THE SAME (DIFFICULT) WAY
I find startups begin life the same way, as these Pilgrimas, perhaps your new enterprise has also started this way:
- Founders' initial enthusiasm (for freedom from dominant forces in The Big Corporate World)
- First idea (what to to with that new freedom)
- Struggles to get started (financing, people to lead and work)
- Courageous start (begin building the first product/service)
- Near-death experiences (blows to nearly everything being constructed)
- Survival of First Phase of life (with several of the original people gone)
- Solid footing for Second Phase (working product/service, growing demand)
- Thanksgiving Celebration (of what the people of the company have done, who to thank for the "awesome" accomplishments, and what the new enterprise's culture stands for)
2. A PERSONAL SPIRITUAL FOUNDATION DOES NOT CRACK WHEN THE WORST HAPPENS TO STARTUPS
Startup leaders often feel alone when the media attacks their startup, when the thing does not work well, and as all the bad news arrives on the same day. When that happens to you (it will), try turning to the story of the Pilgrims for support and guidance.
There is good advice for startup leaders in this short article in the 2009 edition of a Wall Street Journal article about Thanksgiving.
It is a quick yet rich read that I found inspiring and practical. Its author, Amy Henry, discusses despondency and human emotions in troubled times and examines how the Pilgrims found encouragment.
"With Thanksgiving just around the corner, encouragement may come from an unexpected source: the Puritans.
Often misunderstood and perennially maligned, the Puritans—tested first by religious persecution and later by the elements in their primitive surroundings—grew not into the fuddy-duddy party-poopers of modern history books, but into a tenacious and stalwart people. They developed by sheer necessity one of the most highly defined and well-honed work ethics in history. If anyone knew a trick or two about surviving hard times, they did.
Defined primarily by their religious separation from the Church of England, the Puritans (not surprisingly) had a view of work in which God looms large. Living according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which states that "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever," the Puritans believed that all of life, including their work, was God's, and, as such, infused with purpose and meaning. They saw hardship not as a sign of failure, but as a path to growth and maturity, a mind-set that kept them from the kind of work-related despair seen in today's news."
So what does that do for startup leaders?
Think about these:
- Don't accept all of what you hear about people when they are maligned by the media. I've found great people among those souls whom the reporters knocked and the public mocked. Find out on your own. Make your own decisions about people. Then be ready for your day to be attacked by the media.
- Religious people work hard, together, for a shared vision, with enthusiasm. Those values are fundamantal to their values and deep beliefs. That is where their determination, loyalty and commitment come from. Those characteristics are precious to startups. Look for and welcome such stalwarts to your new enterprise.
- Faith in God keeps people from despair. All startups will get into serious trouble. Their leaders and workers need more than self-reliance to keep from falling into the dark pits of despair when the tough times arrive (they will). Faith in God is stronger than self-willpower. Such people make great startup employees. They stand up to blow after blow and keep on contributing to the overall good of the new enterprise.
BOTTOM LINE: There is a lot more to Thanksgiving than giving thanks. People of faith know that. They make great employees as well as leaders of new enterprises. They have a deep source of purpose and reason to work hard. It is part of their unfair advantage. Wise founders look for them.
Here is the third part of what I found helpful from the Thanksgiving Story of the Pilgrims.
3. KNOW YOUR SPECIAL PERSONAL TALENT AND GROW CONFIDENT
Thinking before you leap into a startup is wise. Pilgrims have some advice for you as you ponder making that big leap. Startup leaders often are in water over their heads. Others seem to be ever confident. The difference lies in how a person sees themself and their particular talent.
Much like modern work is separated into white and blue collar, 17th-century tradition held that sacred occupations (like priest or monk) trumped secular ones (like farming or blacksmithing). The Puritans, however, rejected such a distinction. Holding to "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might" (Ecclesiastes 9:10), the Puritans sanctified the common, believing that all work, however lowly, if done for the glory of God, was good. Christ Himself "was not ashamed to labor; yea, and to use so simple an occupation," said Puritan Hugh Latimer. The farmer's plow became his altar, his tilling an act of service to God every bit as holy and valuable as the priest's, reminding the unemployed that temporarily taking a step down in pay or status does not equate to failure."
So what is applicable to startup people? Ponder this:
- When looking for your own special talent, take ithe search very seriously. With God giving out the talent, this is serious business. So be careful to recognize what the specialness is about. You may be a techie who thinks he would make a great CEO founder, but that may turn into a disaster if you lack the talent. Ditto for other career jumper-wishers. But the search can also give you courage to finally jump onto the track you really were created to take, at last!
- Once you are on the right talent track you can be a lot more confident. Consider that perhaps your talent does come from God. Then He will support your choice. Your motivation for doing the work will be clear. That leads to greater certainty and courage when doing your startup.
- Humility follows from seeing all kinds of work as good. People in startups do what work is necessary, regardless of job title. Pride and politics are to be left in Big Corporate World. That kind of startup humility gets a lot done very quickly. It is central to the agility of startups that gives them a competitive superiority to giant corporations.