Find Your Motivation in Unlikely Places

Mike Peña, Stanford University May 4, 2015

An entrepreneur, as the quintessential self-starter, naturally looks inward for inspiration when the road gets rockier and the hurdles higher. But no matter how awesome you are, people can’t always be walking nuclear reactors that generate a constant supply of motivation in a contained, self-sustaining way.

And you don’t necessarily need to max out the memory of your tablet with a bunch of the latest books by big-name motivational speakers. You need only look around you to replenish your emotional reserves when the entrepreneurial journey begins to wear you down.

Perhaps the most obvious source of motivation outside yourself are the people around you. Imagine you’re the head of a fast-growing startup, confident you’re about to receive a $50 million infusion from several large investors. Then, all of a sudden, you get a call that they’re backing out. Visions of laying off all your loyal and hardworking employees – who laid everything on the line up to this point — cause you to break out in a cold sweat.

This is precisely what happened at the biotech startup Invitae at a critical point in their pre-IPO days. But the shared determination of everyone on the team, from the founders to the bankers representing them on the phone, pulled them through, Invitae President and Chief Operating Officer Sean George says in this video clip:

Motivation can also be found in the mission of your venture — that is, if it’s lofty enough. Again, the path of entrepreneurship is riddled with adversity, and day after day, people will want to dismiss your idea and say you can’t do it. Sooner or later, you’ll wake up one day and ask yourself whether it even makes sense to keep going.

For Ron Gutman, founder and CEO of HealthTap, his startup’s mission is “to help people live healthier, longer and happier lives” through on-demand patient treatment services made possible through an app that connects paying members with a network of over 67,000 doctors. A mission as important as that, Gutman says with a smile, “never gets old.”

A less obvious, but very valuable source of inspiration is the challenge itself — but not so much in the sense of someone simply rising to the occasion. As personal-brand expert Tristan Walker described when he came to speak at Stanford last year, an obstacle is simultaneously “a blessing.”

The founder and CEO of Walker and Company Brands learned this after speaking with filmmaker Tyler Perry, and he shared the advice with Stanford Professor of the Practice Tina Seelig at the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar series: that every challenge an entrepreneur faces yields a lesson on how to deal with it next time.

In that sense, the lesson is simply a gift, Walker goes on to explain in this final clip. And once you understand that challenges are just gifts in disguise, you’ll always be able to find motivation in the face of adversity.