Why Resilience Is the Key Ingredient for Successful Entrepreneurship

To be an entrepreneur requires a special combination of boldness and humility. It’s a beautiful thing to say that you are going to build something that the world needs, but that, you believe, none of the billions of people who have gone before you or live beside you now has ever seen or achieved.

To get there, though, requires the humility to confront a hundred small errors every week. The path to success is forged via a thousand small adjustments, each one possible only because the entrepreneur has their eyes and ears wide open and is able to adjust -- time after time -- to all the failures before them.

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When I came home from Iraq, I started my own company. At the same time, I started a nonprofit organization, The Mission Continues. I’ve learned that:

1. To build something from nothing is difficult. To build something meaningful, strong and lasting from nothing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

2. To build a team, take on a worthy challenge and together make other people’s lives better and brighter by what you do is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

2. To be a successful entrepreneur requires resilience -- lots of it. I don’t think that I understood this fully seven years ago.

When I started working with veterans, I lived for months on an air mattress in a near-empty apartment, wondering if my organization would survive. When a veteran lied to us and tried to steal funds, I wondered if the effort was worth it. When we were turned down by donors, I wondered why no one else saw value in what we were doing.

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Resilience is the virtue that enables people to move through hardship and become better. No one escapes pain, fear and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength -- if we have the virtue of resilience.

A lot of people misunderstand what’s at work in resilience. It's not about “bouncing back.” Resilient people do not “bounce back” from hardship. We cannot “bounce back” because we cannot go back in time.

You will not be the same person after "fill in your own hardship here." You will change. Resilient people are able to integrate hard experiences into their lives in a way that makes them better.

Entrepreneurs choose a life of hardship. They choose a life that will hopefully be marked by joy, achievement, laughter and satisfaction, but will also inevitably be marked by confusion, chaos, change, fear and disappointment. This is true of everyone’s lives, of course, but the entrepreneur chooses a life in which he or she is very likely to have higher highs and lower lows, in which the peaks of joy and troughs of dread are likely to be more vivid than if he she made a safer choice.

That’s good. That’s fitting. Entrepreneurs jump on the wild roller coaster ride of life where the tracks haven’t yet been fully built. They’d have it no other way. They’re happy that way -- with the wind in their hair.

To be both happy and successful and bold and humble requires the development of one virtue above all, and that’s resilience.