Make More Happen

The Hard Truth of Entrepreneurship: You Will Suffer

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

This is a famous quote that has often been incorrectly attributed to Buddha. Not only is the citation incorrect, the advice is too. It’s an absolute lie, suffering isn’t optional. The truth is that suffering is mandatory, unless of course you want to toil away in obscurity and barely survive.

There is a lot written on customer service, leadership, sales and innovation, but not a lot about the most important aspect of being an entrepreneur -- suffering. Or should I say, learning the value of suffering.

Related: Persevere, Laugh at the Absurd and Let Nothing Get on Your Nerves

There’s a lot of lip service paid to the value of going the extra mile, doing a little more, over-delivering and a host of other tired old expressions. There isn’t a whole lot of discussion on the value of suffering, which trumps all the other aforementioned areas combined.

If you want to achieve something outstanding and get results you never got before, you’re going to have to suffer. You will have to go against your inner voice that tells you to hold back, stay in the routine you’re comfortable with and play it safe.

Do you have to suffer every single moment? Absolutely not. But make no mistake about it, to get from where you are to where you want to be you’re going to have to suffer. To get what you’ve never gotten before you must do what you’ve never done before. And doing what you’ve never done before often is somewhere between uncomfortable and downright painful.

It’s a lesson I’m learning right now. My goal at age 44 is to get in the best shape of my life, even better than when I was a college athlete. So I invested in a personal trainer, Joe Carabase. (Coaches need coaches too!) The first thing he talked to me about: suffering!

“John, It’s not going to be easy, nothing worthwhile is," he tells me. "Are you prepared to suffer both physically and mentally?”

Sounds a lot like entrepreneurship, doesn’t it?

We changed my diet and workouts dramatically. Joe’s rationale is “if you eat what you’ve always eaten you will weigh what you’ve always weighed. And if you train the way you’ve always trained you’ll be in the shape you’ve always been in.”

Related: Richard Branson on Entrepreneurial Determination

This is also the truth about your business. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

I’m changing, and I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't suffering. But I know what’s on the other side of suffering and the long-term gain is well worth the short-term pain.

It’s a great metaphor for entrepreneurship because to get to that next level in your business you’ve got to go against your inner core and fight through your emotions. Our feelings are a lousy leader. They lie to us and tell us to quit when really we should be digging in. They lie to us to try to convince us to slow down in the face of adversity when we should be running through the adversity. Emotionally, they tell us we’ve done enough, when intellectually we know that there's more to be done.

There is suffering on the last few miles of a marathon, but the sense of accomplishment at the finish line makes it all worthwhile. In this instant-gratification society, we need to remember that running a business is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be suffering during the various mile markers or phases of your business -- startup, growth, expansion -- but you need to remember suffering makes you stronger.

Mohammed Ali was once asked if he liked training. His response: “I hated every minute of training, but I said to myself, 'don’t quit, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'”

To win the championship in your industry you need to do the same. You may hate every minute of studying the market, pitching investors, prospecting and facing rejection, but if you learn to embrace short-term pain, you’ll reap the long-term gain.

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs are undisputed heavyweight champions of lying to themselves, because denial is more comfortable than action. The suffering is what makes entrepreneurship great. It’s supposed to be hard.

Related: 5 Essential Ingredients to Doing What You Love For a Living