Question: If you lose your fear, do you lose your drive? It’s a question many entrepreneurs ask themselves. They seem to have bought into the idea that you can either be content or you can be driven, but those two states cannot coexist. But that idea is flawed.
In reality, we are the stories we tell ourselves, becoming the characters (hero or villain, creator or victim, etc) that we believe and repeat. Once set, these identities and these stories rule our lives. For the same conditions or situation, they determine whether we are thriving or surviving, growing or just getting by, content or disatisfied. And yet, we often make this selection sub-consciously.
One of the leading experts on peak performance, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, coined the term “Flow” in his seminal research on top performers. We sometimes call it being “in the zone,” performing at the top of our game and enjoying a sense of mastery and ease rather than enduring the “fear and angst” that can accompany performance.
Mihaly defines Flow as:
“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.“
How do we get into it and why do we fall out of it? It’s all about what’s driving you. Is your motivation internal/intrinsic or external/extrinsic motivation? This is the heart of my blog and my framework below.
At a high level summary, the key to enjoying sustainable success rests on Arete. This is the Greek concept around striving to become the “highest version” of ourselves as defined by us (intrinsic) and not as defined by others (extrinsic). This is motivation driven by moving towards something aspirational versus moving away from fear.
IDENTITY is at the heart of all of this. If we define our core Identity in empowering ways, we set ourselves up for Flow. If we define ourselves in ego-centric, inflexible ways, we set ourselves up for terrible suffering. Identity has a host of components ranging from core values, narratives, identity statements, behaviors, life segments, etc. We have a core identity and then layers that we use to define ourselves i.e. Mother, wife, boss, coach, athlete, daughter, friend.
EXPECTATIONS flow from the Identities we choose. These are often subconscious but dictate our lives. When reality shows up differently from our expectations, we begin to feel anxious and suffer. Being conscious around the Identities we chose and understanding the Expectations that arise from this is half the game.
There is a Cherokee story of a chief talking to his grandson. He describes that he has Two Wolves battling inside of him. One is full of ego, greed, anger and pride. The Other is full of truth, hope, empathy and service. When the boy asks “which wolf wins?”, the chief responds “The one that you feed.”
In selecting our identities and in embracing specific narratives about our lives, we feed one of the wolves. Do you work for personal glory or in service to something greater? How critical is external validation to your happiness? Is your inner voice on fire or can you find windows of inner calm?
For example, belieiving that life is a zero sum game and defining yourself as a successful entrepreneur who doesn’t fail can set you up for misery. Things won’t go your way on a daily basis. Setbacks confirm the harshness of your reality and this identity will light up your ego and your fear. Anxiety sets in. “This shouldn’t or can’t be happening.” “What will people think?” You might project negative scenarios causing the voice of your inner critic to get louder. Why? Because you defined yourself and your Identity in a way that plays to ego, requires external validation and has limited flexibility.
However, if you view experience as driving growth, then challenges/setbacks become a means to grow and improve. If you identify as “a resilient & creative entrepreneur who uses persistence in confronting challenges “, your expectations and your interpretations change. In a perfect world, you would welcome these challenges to sharpen your craft and skills. Your value isn’t reflected in what others think of you but rather how you grow and improve your mastery. This is a simplistic example but it shows you the importance of answering: Which wolf do you feed?
Challenge: What is your current Identity and Narrative and how can you define what a “Higher Version” looks like to incorporate more intrinsic motivation and Flow?