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Introspection’s Place in Entrepreneurship

Akaash Nanda, Stanford University March 26, 2015

Taking time to reflect and understand what matters most to us, both professionally and personally, provides us with a strong framework for making decisions. In addition, staying clear on what matters to us often leads to a greater sense of fulfillment in life altogether. Whether implicitly or explicitly, some of our most recent speakers in the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar series discuss how introspection keeps their efforts in line with their values.

Joshua Reeves, CEO and co-founder of ZenPayroll, raises the familiar point that professional success does not equal personal happiness, and hence, how crucial it is to choose our path carefully. In other words, take the time to understand what gives you a genuine sense of purpose and, yes, “mission.”

In college, Reeves says the academic quarter system provided built-in breaks from work to reflect on where studies were leading you. But even after launching into a career, he insists that we can structure our lives in a way that allows for periodic reflection and soul searching. That’s how Reeves realized his passion for developing technology that empowers others to do what they love.

Be it during a stroll through a neighborhood park or while commuting to work, taking the time to ask ourselves questions about why we do what we do can get us back in touch with what we consider meaningful and what our real priorities are.

Again, it comes down to choice, according to longtime venture capitalist Kathryn Gould. We can spend our time responding to the many opportunities that come to us, or we can choose to actively seek out the opportunities that truly excite us. For Gould, one of the first women venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, the choice was clearly the latter.

However, it is also important to distinguish between what we desire most deeply and when we can compromise. For John Collison, co-founder of the online payment system Stripe, it was always about creating a way for commerce to be seamless across different countries and currencies. Everything else, such as app features and design elements, become bendable means to a steadfast end.

This is especially relevant in entrepreneurship, where success depends largely on constant iteration based on customer feedback. But as Collison explains, understanding when to heed others and make adjustments, and knowing when not to budge, only comes after much self-reflection.

There are a few principles in life that keep us on track: a strong sense of what matters, our personal values and our vision. Adopting a ritual that allows for routine reflection keeps us asking the right questions of ourselves and, ultimately, allows us to lead a more fulfilling life. So think for a moment – are your actions in line with what matters to you?