Week 20 — You Don’t Exist, Only The Task Exists
Launching a new business, project or a product is incredibly stressful. Things pile up, holes that you failed to identify begin to rear is ugly head at the eleventh hour.
That’s when you blame yourself, you blame other people and tempers flare up. That’s what a lack of composure does to people, the moment emotions hit boiling point, sometimes unintended words or deeds spill out.
This week’s episode in the VB18 show, Sherman, Vanessa and I dive a little deeper into preparing for the launch of Pratu.
With the soft launch of Pratu imminent next week, there were many details that needed establishing. What seemed like simple tasks that any commerce site could support just wouldn’t work for us because of legal and compliance issues. So, what resulted from these constraints were cumbersome workarounds that surely would cause some friction between our buyers and the site.
This friction inadvertently creates a whole realm of problems that cascade from one to another. Our job this week and the next week is to ensure all of our operations are mapped out clearly and in an extremely detailed manner so that all stakeholders can view it from their perspective, understand it easily and spot potential issues more apparently.
As the team went about this week, we focused much of our time thinking and planning. It takes a toll on you mentally and I found that for myself at least, physical exertion helps incredibly to cope with the the stressors accumulated through the day.
But beneath all of that, I found that it exerts a different side of my mental capacity, one that would be closely associated with building mental toughness.
That’s one area of life that I’m personally very intrigued about. Growing up in Singapore, most of us live sheltered and privileged lives. Not all of us, but most of my peers can say that there wasn’t a time where our homes were threatened by extenuating circumstances like the Asian Financial Crisis, SARS, the Great Recession and even now, dealing with the economic onslaught of Covid-19.
Because of this sheltered reality that has set into the Singaporean youngsters, the older generation nicknamed us the strawberry generation. This generation is assumed to be unable to tolerate hardship nor stomach the grueling treatment that their own parents and grandparents have withstood. They now enjoy the fruits of hard work, grit and tenacity laid down by their predecessors and are allowed to flourish.
I belong to that generation.
I’ve never liked that label. Growing up it always felt like a box that society was keeping me in, it was like a crutch that people would use to oversimplify behaviour when they could not understand why a millennial would not make the same decisions as they would.
“Oh he’s just being a millennial, or they are from the strawberry generation.”
For some period of time in my youth, I actually believed in that label simply because I couldn’t see any other way to shake it off. I allowed those false statements to penetrate my inner self and became everything I swore not to be.
I’m not saying that my physical expression became soft and I would be easily bullied, but internally, my mind was soft. Peter Hu always cautions us, if you do not learn to define who you are, others will be quick to do that on behalf for you. That’s not to say that everyone who does that has malice intent in their hearts, but honestly in a fast paced world that we live in, people need to know how to ‘categorise’ you so that they can plan and move forward with their own plans. So it becomes a matter of convenience and speed rather than of control.
Being labelled this way does put a slight chip on my shoulder when people use it, but it also forced me to think about my options: what kind of decisions could I make to take my mind and body out of it’s comfort zone to experience a little more ‘controlled danger’?
That answer for me comes from exploring martial arts. Fighting has to be one of the purest of sports out there that I’ve sampled because there’s just so little room for error. There is no lying in fighting, you cannot pretend to be a good grappler or a good striker. Well, you can pretend, but you’ll be found out pretty easily whether or not you’re the real deal. The outcome can be devastating if you do not give yourself a truthful assessment of your mental, physical and technical level.
The mental aspect of fighting is tremendously crucial. Having a perfect body may help, but when you’re put in that much danger, those superficial aspects get thrown out and the only question staring in front of you is whether you can, or cannot. Fight or flight.
I’ve always viewed fighting in close parallel to entrepreneurship. There are so many things you can’t control, like the external circumstances that causes your company’s revenue stream to dry up. Just like fighting, literally anything can happen to you. Make one mistake and you’re out cold on the floor, head bouncing off the canvas, it is a very real possibility.
And so, this week I learnt something crucial. Former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson recounted that his trainer Cus D’amato once told him this:
“You don’t exist, only the task exists”
The impact of this statement reaches deep beyond sport and it bleeds into your internal psyche. It’s easy to face a problem and start giving excuses like “Oh, it’s too hard for me.”, “I’m too small, too stupid, too inexperienced.”.
But when you shut all those excuses down and noise that your brain is telling you to listen to prevent you from getting hurt, all that remains is extreme clarity.
You know what you have to do, and you do it. When you strip everything down, your emotions, your baggage and your anxiety, what’s left is the task at hand.
You cease to exist, only the task exists.
I may not know what it takes to become a tough individual, nor do I know if I’ll ever get to that level of proficiency, but I have to try.