Lessons from Life of Pi: Don’t Let Fear Stand in Your Way

August 22, 2006


I am beginning to see more doom-and-gloom posts lately.  So I figured I’d take a moment to write a post about the single biggest obstacle standing between anyone who is thinking about running a business and their success: FEAR of FAILURE.

That’s right. It’s not money, or strategy, or talent, that stops entrepreneurs.  It’s fear of failure that stops them – in many cases, it stops great businesses before they even begin.

Many people dream of starting their own business, but they shy away citing one reason or another (“the kids, the house, the pension…”).  It’s very very easy to rationalize why you should not do something risky. Very easy. But there is nothing like running your own business, and the beauty is, anyone can.

If you have ever thought of running a business, read the following excerpt.  If you are running a business and you are afraid of your competition, your impending deadlines, or of making a change in the way you do things, read this quote.  It’s by Yann Martel from the Life of Pi:

Lesson from Life of Pi

“I must say a word about fear.  It is Life’s only true opponent.  Only fear can defeat life.  It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know.  It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy.  It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always.  One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy.  Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy.  Doubt meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out.  But disbelief is a poorly armed foot soldier.  Doubt does away with it with little trouble.  You become anxious.  Reason comes to do battle for you.  You are reassured.  Reason is fully equipped with the latest weapons technology.  But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low.  You feel yourself weakening, wavering.  Your anxiety becomes dread.

Fear next turns fully to your body, which is already aware that something terribly wrong is going on.  Already your lungs have flown away like a bird and your guts have slithered away like a snake.  Now your tongue drops dead like an possum, while your jaw begins to gallop on the spot.  Your ears go deaf.  Your muscles begin to shiver as if they had malaria and your knees to shake as though they were dancing.  Your heart strains too hard, while your sphincter relaxes too much.  And so with the rest of your body.  Every part of you, in the manner most suited to it, falls apart.  Only your eyes work well.  They always pay proper attention to fear.

Quickly you make rash decisions.  You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust.  There, you’ve defeated yourself.  Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you.

The matter is difficult to put into words.  For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation, such as you feel when you are brought face to face with your mortal end, nestles in your memory like a gangrene: it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it.  So you must fight hard to express it.  You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it.  Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”

What to Take From This

If your fear is fear of failure, you need to embrace your fear, TRY TO START YOUR BUSINESS and see where you wind up.  My favourite discussions with entrepreneurs, are discussions of failure…where and how.  You will make mistakes, but that’s okay because you will learn, not just how to run a business successfully, but you will learn the rewards that reside on the other side of your fear.  Good luck.


about the author

Co-Founder & CEO, FreshBooks Mike is the co-founder and CEO of FreshBooks, the world’s #1 cloud accounting software for self-employed professionals. Built in 2003 after he accidentally saved over an invoice, Mike spent 3.5 years growing FreshBooks from his parents’ basement. Since then, over 10 million people have used FreshBooks to save time billing, and collect billions of dollars. A lover of the outdoors, Mike has been bitten so many times it’s rumoured he’s the first human to have developed immunity to mosquitoes.