Entrepreneurship is an 8-year Journey

Framework curated by Luke DeCoste, Entrepreneur-in-Residence and MindFrame Connect Advisor

Acknowledging Entrepreneurial Adversity with Serial Entrepreneur and MindFrame Connect Advisor, Erik Severinghaus  

Entrepreneurs bring forward amazing visions for the world – whether through better internet, healthier food, or lower carbon emissions. They enthusiastically launch these ventures in hopes of realizing this desire for both change and personal growth.

Enthusiasm is common though – it is endurance that is rare, according to Dr. Angela Duckworth, author of Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance, and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Recognizing Adversity is Key to Enduring through It

To endure adversity, we must learn to honestly acknowledge the challenges ahead. To do this, we need to cultivate new ways of thinking, which is a core focus of MindFrame Connect.

The idea of needing to work to see clearly is laid out in detail by serial entrepreneur and MindFrame Connect advisor Erik Severinghaus in his how-to guidebook - Scale Your Everest: How to be a Resilient Entrepreneur.

As Severinghaus tells us in this video - even for the smartest and hardest working person in the room, building a company is a lengthy and challenging journey.  "The entrepreneur’s journey is just a magnified and extremely intense version of the human journey," writes Severinghaus.

Research Confirms the Challenges of Entrepreneurship

The challenges are recognized by the research. “Self-employment is often associated with high levels of risk-taking, income and job uncertainty, required work effort, decision autonomy, and responsibility, which yield considerable negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, loneliness, and mental strain” (Patzelt, Shepherd, 2011).

There is an “even greater adversity for equity-seeking groups (access to networks, mentors, capital, other challenges),” according to a report on Inclusive Entrepreneurship discussed in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Adversity Amongst Equity Seeking Groups

A new survey of over 300 black entrepreneurs in Canada found that systemic racism and widespread barriers face Black Canadians who are looking to start and grow businesses.

Commissioned by the African Canadian Senate Group and Nova Scotia Independent Senator Colin Deacon, the survey found that most Black entrepreneurs face real challenges accessing capital, building supportive networks, and developing the skills needed to succeed in business.

This report echoes the findings of research with other equity-seeking groups looking to start businesses.

This report, which can be accessed here, was co-authored by MindFrame Connect advisor Alfred Burgesson, who discusses inclusive mentorship here.

Delusions that Increase Feelings of Adversity  

Through our work MindFrame Connect will continue to raise awareness of the importance of developing the Entrepreneurial MindFrame, an idealized version of the mind that is able to see reality more clearly and respond to challenges with greater optimism. For example, psychiatrist and entrepreneurial well-being researcher Dr. Michael A. Freeman explains how we must not always believe what we think in this video for MindFrame Connect.

Freeman also wrote the Foreword to Scale Your Everest by Severinghaus. A key theme of which, is that to endure through adversity, we must learn to objectively acknowledge the reality in front of us. The book identifies several ways in which entrepreneurs delude themselves, increasing the difficulty of the journey ahead. Severinghaus highlights two specific stages where entrepreneurs are prone to not see reality clearly, and both are underpinned by research from David Dunning and Justin Kruger that resulted in a model called the Dunning Kruger Effect.

Delusions of Grandeur - “The Dunning Kruger effect shows that people who are incompetent in a given field are unable to recognize their own incompetence,” summarizes Severinghaus. As a young entrepreneur, Severinghaus made assumptions about the inadequacies of others who had struggled in the past, assuming he would easily rise to the challenges. As he explains in insightful detail, his journey was anything but easy. He advises us to “be conscious about the things you don't know, as skepticism of one's own knowledge will help calibrate expectations.” Self-awareness is a crucial skill in the journey of entrepreneurship.

Imposter Syndrome - On the other side of this over-confidence, is debilitatingly low confidence. As entrepreneurs progress, they learn more about what is needed and just how little they know about the challenges ahead. Individual confidence declines just as abilities are increasing, resulting in what is known as “Imposter Syndrome.” As Severinghaus notes, this is compounded by prospective and current investors, employees, and customers beginning to positively appraise your work. The gulf between feelings of insecurity and the outside world’s praise is a heavy load to carry.

How Fear Contributes to Feelings of Adversity

With lessons from building companies and climbing Everest, Severinghaus’ offers us four abilities that will help us overcome entrepreneurial adversity – discernment, forgiveness, stillness, and presence. While all four have elements help you see clearly, discernment is particularly applicable to recognizing adversity.  

Discernment - The ability to see what’s there. Learning the neuroscience behind our thoughts described in Severinghaus book will save you incredible hardship.

Our brains evolved to help us survive until reproduction so we could pass on our DNA, but the brain is poorly optimized for modern life, especially for the highs and lows of entrepreneurship.

As Severinghaus notes, the human brain can be divided into three parts, each with a different role. The most primitive part is the brain stem (“the Jellyfish”), which sends signals to our muscles. The cerebral cortex (“the Philosopher”) is responsible for logic.  The limbic system (“the Crocodile”) is responsible for emotions.  

Scenarios we perceive as dangerous can cause our emotional brain to make decisions and sends direction to the brain stem before our logical brain even realizes what is happening. We may also be sent into a state of fight, flight, or freeze, which impairs our ability to process information objectively.

This also contributes to the unconscious bias that contributes to unconscious discrimination and stereotyping based on gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, and age. You can learn more about how entrepreneurs can address this here.

Unfortunately, as Severinghaus notes, our minds struggle to separate the danger of a bear about to eat you, and that of your early-stage investor creating bad optics by not re-investing in your company.

Such worries of entrepreneurs have been researched by Dr. James Hayton and Dr.  Gabriella Cacciotti. They defined “entrepreneurial fear of failure” as a “temporary cognitive and emotional reaction to a threat to potential achievement.” Their work identified and validated seven sources of fear for entrepreneurs laid out in Figure 2. Cacciotti and Hayton found that certain types of fear can be motivating in helpful ways, while others can reduce effectiveness.

Figure 2 - Seven Sources of Entrepreneurial Fear of Failure

Seven Sources of Entrepreneurial Fear of Failure (Hayton and Cacciotti)

  • Ability to fund the venture
  • Financial security
  • Personal ability/self-esteem
  • Potential of the idea
  • Threats to social esteem
  • The venture’s ability to execute
  • Opportunity costs

Strategies for Thinking more Clearly

By curating insights from experts like Cacciotti, Hayton, Severinghaus, Freeman, and Duckworth, MindFrame Connect helps entrepreneurs build the psychological resilience to overcome the adversity described here.

As these experts do in their work, we will provide strategies for better outcomes across four domains – behavioural, emotional, social, and cognitive.  

To receive these insights, subscribe to MindFrame Connect.

If you would like to book a consult on delivering these ideas to your entrepreneurs and innovators, sign up here.


Scale Your Everest: How to be a Resilient Entrepreneur – Erik Z. Severinghaus (Link)

Grit: The power of passion and perseverance – Ted Talk by Dr. Angela Duckworth (Link)

Negative emotions of an entrepreneurial career: Self-employment and regulatory coping behaviors – Journal of Business Venturing – Patzelt and Shepherd - 2011 (Link)

Inclusive Entrepreneurship report by African Canadian Senate Group (Link)

How Fear Helps (and Hurts) Entrepreneurs by James Hayton and Gabriella Cacciotti (Link)

How Entrepreneurs can Help Overcome Unconscious Bias (Link)

There is a mental health crisis in entrepreneurship. Here’s how to tackle it (Link)

Founder burnout is real: 5 ways to prevent it (Link)

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