How the Book 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' Changed My Business

Lessons from this French novel keep me grounded and focused when times feel uncertain.
How the Book 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' Changed My Business
Image credit: Europa Editions
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the December 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Seven years ago, I was in a dark place. I had left my job in trading — a career I’d spent all of college preparing for — and I was trying to figure out what the rest of my life would look like. I was so depressed that some days I could barely get out of bed. 

Related: How a Historic Book of Textiles Inspired a Forward-Looking Garment Factory

One thing that brought me joy was my rescue dog, Zeus. He not only served as a comfort during this time but also inadvertently brought me to the book that changed my life. It happened one day when I was at BookCourt, a beloved, since-closed bookstore in Brooklyn. As I stood waiting to check out, Zeus began licking the cover of a book on a nearby shelf. A store employee saw and reprimanded me, so I felt it was only right to buy this “damaged” book instead of the one I had chosen.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Catharine Dockery

The book Zeus “picked” for me was French novelist Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I started reading it as soon as I got home and honestly think it saved my life. It’s full of little wisdoms, but the concept that stands out to me most comes from a line toward the end: “Thinking back on it, this evening, with my heart and my stomach all like jelly, I have finally concluded, maybe that’s what life is about: There’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never.” 

Finding an always within never is about finding moments and relationships that feel like they’ll always exist in a world that’s constantly changing, and not always for the better. 

Related: 5 Ways Leaders Can Bring Certainty to Business in an Uncertain World

The beauty of The Elegance of the Hedgehog helped me through a trying period of my life, but this line is something I return to over and over again now that I run a venture capital firm. When you fundraise, you become used to hearing the word no. My fund focuses on vices: We invest in nontraditional verticals like cannabis, alcohol, CBD, and sex tech, so I’ve received my fair share of noes. Instead of letting them get to me, I focus on what the meeting does for me. It builds a relationship with an investor, one that will hopefully be there long after our meeting ends. 

My original copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog is tattered and missing its cover (thanks, again, to Zeus). But there’s not a business trip or meeting I go to that I don’t bring it. That book is my always within never. 

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