Sometimes, inspiration comes from unlikely places.
Rainer Maria Rilke is a favorite well-known poet of the early 20th century. One of the great legacies he left behind is a volume entitled Letters to a Young Poet which was published posthumously by the young man whom he generously corresponded with for nearly five years.
Letters to A Young Poet is a volume of 10 letters written to a young man named Franz Kappus. Kappus was 19 years old, about to enter the German military, and he wrote Rilke looking for guidance and a critique of some of his poems. Rilke was himself only 27 when the first letter was written. The volume is a virtual owner's manual on what it is (and what is required) to be an artist and a person.
While reading his advice to his young artist friend, it occurred to me that these suggestions apply to young entrepreneurs as well, artists in their own right.
1. Live in the question.
“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. ...live in the question.” -- Rilke
When I was starting out as a young entrepreneur, living on my sister’s couch, I had so many unanswered questions. I didn’t know how I was going to continue my athletic career while I was recovering from the injury that took me out of professional football, but I was determined not to give up on my dream to be a pro athlete. I knew a few things for certain -- that I didn’t want to work for anyone else and that I wanted to build a business that would allow me to have the lifestyle and freedom I desired.
Rather than trying to figure it all out at once or being stunted by “analysis paralysis," I put one foot in front of the other despite the questions and followed my strengths. The things that I built my business on were my passions then -- networking, sports management, and speaking. Things change as we follow those footsteps, so learn to understand it is the journey that counts, not the destination.
We live mostly in the questions anyway, not in the answers, so we need to relax into those questions, set our goals, and enjoy the ride.
2. Maintain an attitude of gratitude.
“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” -- Rilke
I was a pain in the ass most of my childhood, always mad at the things I didn’t have. Things shifted drastically in my 20′s when I started putting an emphasis on gratitude. Once that happened, I saw abundance everywhere no matter what my circumstances.
Focus on the good in your life, not the things you lack. Each day we have the opportunity to learn something new, apologize for our mistakes, and reiterate our commitments.
3. Let your fear be your compass.
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.” -- Rilke
There are ways to handle situations and instances in your life, but worrying about them never does much. Feel your fear and do it anyway.
My friend and sports psychologist Dr. Jeff Spencer told me this once and it stuck with me. Elite athletes feel fear just like everyone else, but they channel that fear to fuel their spirit and passion for competition.
Generally, that thing we are most afraid of is exactly what we need to tackle to take our growth in business and life to the next level.