Hierophant’s Advice: After Losing Everything What Did You Gain?
A priest in ancient Greece who interprets sacred mysteries or esoteric principles.
The Fool, having created a solid foundation, is struck with sudden fear. What if everything he’s worked for is taken away, stolen, lost, destroyed, or vanishes?
In a panic, he heads to find the Hierophant and receive his teachings.
He tells the Hierophant of his fears and asks how he can be free of them.
“There are only two ways,” says the Hierophant:
- “Either give up that, which you fear to lose, so it no longer holds any power over you,” or
- “Consider what you will still have if your fear comes to pass.”
“After all,” the Hierophant continues, “if you did lose all you’d built, you would still keep the experience and knowledge that you’ve gained up to this point, wouldn’t you?”
Fear Comes to Pass
The fear of the Fool, actually, came to pass for me in December 2013. On the seventh anniversary of my loss, I am now getting the courage to talk about it.
I had a sterling record of growth and success in Corporate America, impeccable educational qualifications, including a Ph.D. in Entrepreneurship, and a successful sale of a startup venture. The latest startup, in which I had put a substantial portion of the previous gain, was in the Inc. magazine’s 500/5000 fastest growing companies in America and the Top 20 companies in its industry for 5 years in a row. I had confidently stepped aside to devote time to a foundation for underprivileged children. It was all rock solid. What could go wrong?
The company survived the steep downturn of 2008, as planned, but got caught up in the totally unexpected Federal Government shut-down. It was a big setback for an organization, with two-thirds of its’ business in that segment.
The subsequent political solution was ‘continuing resolution.’ Our business model of doing new and innovative things, our biggest asset, became our killer liability. No detailed strategic or contingency plans, we regularly made, had ever contemplated such a body blow.
Meanwhile, we were betrayed by the ‘irregularities’ of a few senior members, an arrogant early investor partner who refused to make any concessions, and another investor who turned out to be a ‘loan-to-own’ shop.
The rising success had previously covered up the hidden fault lines that were laid bare. I was forced to step back into the company to salvage it. But, despite sleepless nights and tireless efforts, the hurt was too deep.
Alas! The company itself survived and continues on today as part of another. But after a lifetime of success after success under my belt, this was a stunning personal blow!
Themes similar in nature, but different in details, play out today with many ventures. The Covid19 pandemic will generate numerous similar stories. In hindsight, many of us will second guess the specific decisions, judgments, and actions taken. That is not the story.
This story is about the pragmatic advice of the Hierophant!
The Downward Spiral
Power is the Ultimate Loss, like Death.
As a founder entrepreneur of a fast-growing company, I had raw power. This was a jolt. I tried to push forward only to find that I no longer had that power.
Revenge is Counterproductive
I dreamt of all kinds of ways to get back, be manipulative, and seek revenge! This obsessive desire, generated by the loss of power, only cost me lost time and energy.
Emotional Load of Thrashing Around
I confronted this loss again and again with friends, relatives, colleagues, etc. Many shareholders were friends and colleagues, and they had lost a lot of money. While not legally responsible, the emotional load was significant. I fought against new restrictions and thrashed around in panic as the walls closed in, getting nowhere.
Loss Begets Other Losses: Life out of Control
Professionally I had a place in society, my responsibilities, and my social standing.
Now all of it had become topsy turvy. How did I fit in with people, groups, and peers who were so important before?
I had to redefine, understand, and crystallize my own real relationships with others. People who were at my side slinked away. Employees had work to do. Friends did not know what to say. As the person in charge, shareholders laid the blame on me.
Things have to come to a near-stall before the direction reverses. This is agonizing when we are impatient for instant results.
Meanwhile, we stew!
Personal Circle Evolves
The previous personal circle faded away. While I met some new people, I was reluctant to establish new serious friendships or join a new group. Over time the satisfaction and quality of the various relationships revealed themselves.
Transitions: The Ending and Neutral Zone
Regaining Power through Acceptance and Self Transformation
After a long stewing in these juices, a time comes for weeding out, letting go of lost causes, making clear choices, taking responsibility, and leaving the past behind. With time I have learned to accept the new limits.
In 1979 William Bridges wrote a landmark book: Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. I have given that book to dozens of people who were going through life’s Changes. It was time to re-read the 25th edition book for the umpteenth time. The step by step of any Transition has three stages: The Ending, The Neutral Zone, and then, The New Beginning. I had reached The Ending and was in the Neutral Zone.
Health issues that were neglected, while not serious, had come to the forefront. I was attracted to alternative ways of eating, self-study, and mindfulness. Dr. Daniel Cohen, a neurologist, an expert of the brain, had done path-breaking work on understanding the brain and mind in his quest to understand himself. His revolutionary therapeutic technology is described in Addicted to My Ego. Dr. Cohen was a great personal guide.
I was forced to face my own demons and haunting fears that were undermining me. The crisis forced me to clean up what was hiding in the closet of my mind. It was uncomfortable but ultimately a huge relief.
New Partnerships and Associations
I weeded out many superfluous social associations and joined new ones that are consistent with my new direction. Many people have faded away, and at the same time, true supporters have come forth. I am also clear on what I could realistically offer in return.
Think Less, Feel More
As an engineer, I am a thinker and weak in feelings (MBTI: ENTP). I am learning to feel more and think less. Experiencing intense feelings can actually lead us toward healing and eventual empowerment.
I am a digital immigrant. In my previous life, I could rely on experts in the company for digital tools. Alas! No more. I had to learn new methods, technologies, and tools. The ending became an impetus for new learning.
Conference on Failure
I co-convened a conference, The Phoenix Rising: Learning from failure to create success, designed to help people navigate through the rough waters after a failure. Presenters, who are practitioners — came together to share their stories and strengthen the resolve that failure need not be debilitating or stop someone from becoming successful. The greatest beneficiary was me!
… and New Beginnings
The purposeful Universe had a clear reason to send me here. So what is it? I had preached that the best way to find your purpose is to review accomplishments and failures. It was time to apply it to myself.
Historical Source of Joy: Mentoring Young Entrepreneurs
My greatest sense of accomplishment was when helping my entrepreneurial students with knotty problems. I reconnected with various entrepreneurial organizations and offered my services to rediscover the fun and satisfaction of mentoring emerging entrepreneurs. It provides me with the thrill of helping them see farther and over the walls. The reality is, I am the one getting more benefits out of mentoring young entrepreneurs.
Rebuilding: Reorganizing the Existing Components
The pieces were all there: Engineering background, theoretical underpinnings in entrepreneurship, Higher ed teaching, consulting in innovation, corporate experience, experience with rapid growth, and deep knowledge of predatory practices to watch out against.
I had to break apart my previous model and reassemble the component pieces to fit my new revised purpose.
Hierophant knew it all along, “if you did lose everything, you still had all the experience and knowledge.”
The knowledge and experience are still intact. They had to be reassembled into the different mosaic — Mentoring.
One of the strategies that have served me well over time is that a market leader, in its wake, leaves many lucrative niches. Following it again, I narrowed my specific niche in the broad spectrum of mentoring.
The Institute for Innovators and Entrepreneurs (IIE)
Minnesota has 50 incubators, many angel groups/individuals, hundreds of meetups, numerous events, and several universities. All of these incubators are willing to work with quality seedlings and grow them into trees. But, someone else has to be the nursery that sprouts those quality seedlings from the many, many seeds.
We are all familiar with a person approaching us with a raw idea and asking for investors' help. We shake our heads but have no place to send them for preparation. Not at scale anyway.
The biggest impediments to the entrepreneurial ecosystem development are:
- Many aspiring entrepreneurs, uninitiated in the complex process of building a successful business from scratch, believe having an idea deserves the investment to grow it into a successful business.
- They expect any nurturing to be at little or no cost to them.
- Economic development requires the capacity to screen a massive number of ideas to find and nurture the few promising ideas that are opportunities now.
Moreover, based upon Kauffman Foundation reports, Minnesota ranks poorly even compared to other states in the nation in terms of creating New Ventures.
The first step of screening and polishing raw ideas into quality ideas through formal pre-incubation is broadly missing today. It leads to an inordinate number of needless failures.
At scale, a pre-incubation intervention can dramatically impact the quality, success rates, and the consequent number of entrepreneurial ventures.
Also, businesses of all sizes were already facing major disruptions due to several emerging technologies. On top, the shock from COVID19 has created a profound shift in the economy. Many successful startups were born during a past crisis and will do so again, as things may never return to 2019 normal.
Minnesota Institute for Innovators and Entrepreneurs (IIE), an NGO with a mission to increase entrepreneurial potential in Minnesota, was formed to mentor aspiring entrepreneurs with an idea, a web-based pre-incubation curriculum. Ideagist (www.ideagist.com) is the largest global digital incubation platform in the world that uses lean practices and is followed by a pre-incubator, offering ten tools. This platform has been user-tested by 350,000+ globally, spanning over 450+ communities in 195 countries.
My purpose is now clear: “I help aspiring entrepreneurs focus, prepare and develop their mojo.”
But first, I had to regain my own!
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Dr. Rajiv Tandon is an Entrepreneur, Educator, and Mentor. He is executive director of the Institute for Innovators and Entrepreneurs and an advocate for the future of entrepreneurship in Minnesota. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.