Just Look Up
Certainty through absurdity
I’ve been learning to surf lately. It’s going okay.
Okay, in the sense that I’m in the sea and there is a surfboard attached to me, so I guess I could call it surfing.
If you define surfing as sunbathing and chilling in the sea mixed with moments of panic and clumsiness then it’s going brilliantly.
One thing I have trouble with is looking up. As you try to stand up and steer in the wave you really want to know what your board is doing. So naturally, you look at it.
The problem is that by looking at your board your body leans in the wrong ways which make you more unstable. You also aren’t steering it along with the wave in any way and lose its momentum making you more unstable. So the very thing you are looking at in the hope of finding stability is preventing stability.
However, what you need to do is look up and direct your attention towards a point on the shore to your left or right. Then your body naturally arranges itself in a more stable position. You steer the board along with the wave without actually thinking about it, and well you are actually surfing.
This sounds easy.
However, in the rush of the moment as the wave hits you and you’re trying to catch it but also stand up and also not fall off and also not feel embarrassed by everyone looking at you as you inevitably fall off you slightly forget what it was your teacher just told you.
It’s a tricky situation felt by learners of various things where you try to do too many things at once.
As it was sunny and I was enjoying myself I regularly found myself singing things. I decided to try and think of something that would help me remember this important point of looking up. Having watched ‘Don’t look up’ a few weeks ago I ended up mindlessly chanting to myself.
“Don’t Look Up - Don’t Look Up - Don’t Look Up”
It totally worked. I think it was because of the absurdity of the movie and the stupidity of the people who were choosing to deliberately not look up at the asteroid about to destroy the planet. It deeply drove home the importance of looking up for me.
I really didn’t want to be that blind to my situation!
I wanted to focus on where I’m going and be aware of what the hell I’m doing instead of narrow-mindedly causing myself problems.
It spoke deeply to my identity of who I think I am and want to be.
I started looking up. Thus, control naturally flowed into my body and the surfboard beneath me. I started moving in the direction I was aiming at and actually surfing.
And now I’ve progressed from the ‘junior’ class to the ‘intermediate’ class.
I know what you’re thinking….
However, the principle of “Looking up” applies to more than just surfing and asteroid impacts and we can all learn from it.
Anyone who has learnt to drive has felt exactly this.
When you first drive a car you experience the panic of trying to deal with steering, accelerating, braking, checking mirrors, traffic, not damaging your car, not killing yourself, not embarassing yourself infront of other occupants and not running over any children or puppies - all at the same time (and changing gears and balancing clutches for the non-US members amongst us).
In fact, it is a proven fact that new drivers look at the road a few metres in front of them. This leads to erratic and jerky driving with the frequent moment of panic as they swerve to avoid things that have only just entered their vision.
Experienced drivers look farther down the road at upcoming turns and hazards. They anticipate the things they need to plan for. They naturally drive through the current situation smoothly and in control.
There are a LOT of other analogies that apply to things all around us that we can all learn from.
Sport is obvious - Skiing, rollerblading, basketball, soccer - any sport where you need to move and be in control and aware of whats going on…
Running a Business
Launching a startup is a scary stressful endeavour where you are constantly learning new skills and putting out fires and trying to do everything at once. If you don’t look up you fail to plan for the major things that will kill your business.
Experienced founders seem to have a more natural ability to keep their eye on the horizon as they run their business and intentionally build towards where they want to go.
Being focussed on the short-term leads to not addressing the things that kill a startup such as:
Founder conflicts and founder burnout
Not achieving product-market fit
Not building a sustainable revenue model and simply running out of cash
When you look up and truly assess these things you can be sure that operations are leading towards the vision for the business. It naturally drives your priorities and forces you to rebalance yourself and drive the business towards its goals.
I’m not saying it’s easy. Everything is hard for the first time. It will involve many moments of panic and awkward clumsiness.
In time you will find a system that works for you that involves some ways to regularly look up and keep your eye on the horizon:
Setting daily/weekly/monthly planning time
Engaging your mentors
Regularly meet with your peers and ask each other hard questions
Using a founder coach
If you struggle to remember to do all of these things try chanting to yourself.
“Don’t Look Up - Don’t Look Up - Don’t Look Up”
If the absurdity of not looking up speaks to your identity as a human, it can help nudge your priorities as a founder.
This naturally pushes you to keep your eye on the things that matter and shift towards a more level leadership style your business needs.
Other things you might want to find your own “Look Up” analogies for situations that apply to you in:
Enjoy looking up!
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