My first childhood house was deep in the woods of rural southern Arkansas — about 30 miles away from the nearest grocery store and 100 away from the nearest mall, to give some perspective. The place was unabashedly country, not quite David Lynch but certainly not Rockwell or even Garrison Keillor in the pantheon of rural American archetypes. My dad loved trees — it’s what got us out there in the first place — and he spent a fair bit of time growing what a hipster might call an artisanal arboretum* in our backyard. To him, he was just growing interesting trees. A variety of pine, sycamore, cypress, poplars and other plants probably not meant to grow in the south rose out of the ground behind our house.
But the distance from civilization was taxing. The talk of moving was always close at hand, but it took several false starts before it finally happened.
During one of those false starts — I was probably 8 or 9 — I came upon my dad planting a new sycamore tree a hundred feet from our back deck. As my mind was occupied with thoughts of a move, I asked him: “If we’re moving next year, why’re you planting something? Why does it matter if we’re just going to leave?”
He paused for a moment as he put down his shovel, catching his breath in the humid southern spring day. And he said something that I’ve remembered to this day:
“Until then, there’s life.”
With that, he picked back up his shovel and kept digging.
When starting a company, it is easy to focus on the destination rather than appreciating the journey. Entrepreneurship is somewhat unique in this way — most teachers, for instance, are content to be teachers. They don’t consider “teaching” something that happens along the way to a greater goal. There’s a certain stability and peace in this. But because the popular lore of entrepreneurship has been built around the huge mega-exit, many founders focus solely on the goal and forget that until then, there’s life.
This is why I advocate entrepreneurship as a career choice as opposed to than the one-off notion of “doing a startup”. The venture business is a long game best played by those with time and patience. As as the canon of entrepreneurship is written by people like Eric Ries, Fred Wilson, Mark Suster, Steve Blank and others, the gulf between the founders who have taken the time to learn entrepreneurship as a vocation — usually by doing it repeatedly and immersing themselves in the community — and those who have not will widen. In the end we’ll judge ourselves not by the destinations we’ve reached, but the journeys we took to get there and the stuff we did along the way.
* As of this writing, there are zero results on Google for the phrase “artisanal arboretum”. You can thank me for this addition to the lexicon of artisanal things at a later point.