patience, perspective & poop: parenting & business

by Corey Kohn

IMG_1030.JPG Parenting and entrepreneurship are not that different from one another. They are both thoroughly immersive, deeply consuming and relentlessly demanding experiences. In my experience, both are also profoundly meaningful, acutely joyful, and boundlessly rewarding. And once embarked upon, being a parent and being an entrepreneur are also both choiceless ways of being in the world.

I became an entrepreneur years before I became a parent. And my experiences as a entrepreneur have, no doubt, in countless ways, influenced my parenting style and experience of motherhood. But there's no question that being being the unwitting parent to my daughter, Florence, has impacted the way I relate to my business, my leadership style, and my identity as an entrepreneur more than any thing else. For the sake of simplicity, I can sum up this influence of motherhood on my experience of entrepreneurship with these 3 P's of parenthood: patience, perspective, and poop.

  1. Patience. Things take as long as they take. There is likely no more valuable resource than accepting this as truth. The more equanimity I make available to myself in acknowledging this, the more it shows itself to be a super power of effectiveness, efficiency and competence. Whereas at some pre-child point in my life, it was possible to do something simple like leave the house to go somewhere, I now understand that to be a process that can take an unbounded amount of time for no sensible reason. Becoming ruffled, desperate and impatient does not speed up the process, and can, in fact, prolong it. That does not mean that exertion, pressure and clear command of the situation is not required. It just means that wanting things to be different than they actually are is not helpful. Do one thing at a time and then move on to the next thing. The same applies to business. Having a vision for the future is essential, but it is also imperative to relate to what is happening right now with full attention and without sweating that what is happening right now will take exactly as long as it's going to take, and we might not be able to fully predict how long that is.

  2. Perspective. As I've heard is the most commonplace experience of becoming a parent (and what is probably the single most salient factor in the survival of the human species), once I gave birth to my daughter, nothing else was as important to me than her and her wellbeing. Suddenly, previously critical elements of my day-to-day life, like the particulars of various relationships, ideas I had about who I was as a person, my need for sleep, my need for accomplishment, etc., showed themselves to be a whole set of relatively inconsequential dramas. Now, keeping a child alive and healthy, and eventually rearing that child as a kind and resourced person, always, always, always takes precedence to anything else. So this then puts the rest into perspective. My sense is that there is nothing, or very few things, that are absolute. This makes everything (else) relative. This is pretty straightforward in parenthood. In business, it sometimes feels less clear, but what I've learned is that most things are not that important. There are a few things that are really important and everything else can be related as a rich part of the overall picture, but not essential to it. I've learned that part of our effectiveness as entrepreneurs is figuring out what those really important things are and to release the rest from our grip of compulsive attention. Very few things are a matter of life and death- if they're not, don't let them them pretend that they are.

  3. Poop. Poop happens. It happens every day, sometimes a few times a day. It stinks, it's messy, and it needs to be cleaned up right away so that it doesn't cause a rash or other unfortunate mishap. Complaining about it or ignoring it is both useless and makes things worse. And not only does it happen, but it would bode ill if it did not happen. Regard it as a sign of health and relate to it quickly, unsqueamishingly and straightforwardly. In parenthood, this poop might also take on the form of spills, barf or dangerous behavior. In business, it can look like any of the number of things that I'd rather not get my hands dirty with on any given day. Sometimes it's boring day-to-day operations or human error glitches that need fixing, monotonous or difficult emails / calls / conversations, bureaucratic tangles or relationships that need extra tending or following up on uncomfortable hunches. All of these are a natural part of the digestive system of a healthy business. In themselves, they are no big deal, but if they go unaddressed and are not related to, they can cause a big mess and make things unnecessarily uncomfortable. Relating to little messes quickly and cleanly keeps them from turning into big, sticky messes.

These are three of the indispensable lessons taught to me by parenthood. But perhaps the most valuable is about being fortunate. The inconceivably good fortune I have to be Florence's mother, reminds me, daily, not to take anything for granted. It reminds that everything is fleeting and nothing is permanent.It reminds me that heartbreak is inherent. It reminds me to enjoy myself and have a sense of humor. It reminds me to put all my energy and will into the things I do, and not to take any of it too seriously. As is parenthood, so as in business, so as in life!