You’re just one big aha moment away from figuring it out. Right?
They spend their lives having one epiphany after another, always telling themselves that they’ve finally figured out what’s holding them back. An epiphany strikes and they think they’re finally going to be productive and creative.
At last, they’re going to turn their life and business around!
Except they don’t.
Because epiphanies suck. They don’t work.
A breakthrough… isn’t.
And yet, all around the world entrepreneurs keep pursuing the next hit of “I got it!” like they’re on drugs.
This article explains why you should avoid epiphanies like the plague. It also offers up the alternative: The tactic successful entrepreneurs use to rapidly learn and grow.
As The Shrink for Entrepreneurs, this is a damn hard article to write.
I’m a purveyor of the world’s finest introspection. You’d think that I encourage big breakthroughs and skull-rattling epiphanies. I don’t.
Your next aha moment might actually derail your growth. It’ll hamper your bottom line and put the freeze on your psychological development.
Sudden Clarity should make you nervous
The problem with epiphanies is that, by definition, they happen quickly. Talk to any seriously successful business owner about their past. Almost nothing will have happened overnight.
Hell, look back over your own life. Try to remember the really big realization moments (notice how hard it is?) and ask yourself “How did that work out?”.
Most entrepreneurs, when they look honestly at their lives, will admit that the biggest breakthroughs were slow-cooked. The slow growth is what really made mastery or a difference happen.
As much as we want the Karate Kid myth to be true, there isn’t a moment when we overcome our inner turmoil and multiply our skill and success instantly. Real life doesn’t include training montages.
The risk of the quick fire epiphany is the myth that we tell ourselves. A big epiphany gives you cause to believe you’ve broken through and that things are about to change. You pat yourself on the back and promptly do nothing.
The danger of epiphanies is that, having figured it all out, you promptly stop trying to figure it all out.
Epiphanies rob entrepreneurs of curiosity and uncertainty. It’s dangerous to live and do business without either.
There are two types of people who feel like they’ve got the world figured out: Entrepreneurs, at that pivotal moment of getting it. And schizophrenics.
Most people assume that the crux of a paranoid, delusional schizophrenic episode must be severely confusing for the person experiencing it.
They couldn’t be farther from the truth. The most psychotic moment is actually the clearest, when a sudden new explanation for the world makes total sense and everything is cast in a new light.
The crazy person has the most clarity at the precise moment they’re the craziest. A radical new hypothesis for why things happen and how the world works is confirmed and locks into place as a rigid belief.
The problem with epiphanies is that you’re certain you’ve got it. Too certain.
Just like a crazy person, the entrepreneur and his epiphany dangerously simplify his world.
“I’ve realized that all I ever need to focus on is…”
“I just figured out the secret to boosting sales, period!”
“I know what my purpose is!”
These are the utterances of someone flying high on grade-A epiphany.
Just like a crazy person, an epiphany causes the entrepreneur to adopt a rigid belief about the world. Simultaneously, they stop paying attention to alternatives and evidence to the contrary.
When an epiphany happens, rigid certainty begins and learning stops.
Fear not! Speedy, sexy epiphanies have a competitor! Insert tortoise-and-hare metaphor here.
If epiphanies are sudden, rigid and clear then the alternative is slow, amorphous and confusing. Let’s break down these alternatives:
Slow – The way real change and learning happens
Think about the primary skills your businesses success is built on. For me, it’s my understanding of psychology, sales and marketing. These three areas have taking years and years to figure out. I don’t even feel like I’m all the way there yet, either.
True mastery takes time. Anything that promises otherwise is a lie.
Amorphous – Learning with complexity and subtlety
Life is complex. When you figure out the next big realization your business needs to “go to the next level” or “pivot”, it’s easy to let the epiphany seduce you. It convinces you that what you’ve decided is the only way.
For every nugget of deadly definite insight you have, there are thousands of options available to you, that you aren’t aware of. Hovering on the periphery of your vision, metaphorical or otherwise, these options start to vanish the more certain of your epiphany you become.
Epiphanies give you tunnel vision.
The value of working with a coach and consultant, by the way, isn’t in having them suggest bigger and better epiphanies to you. In fact, you should avoid this at all costs. The value of a truly good coach lies in their ability to expose you to the options and resources you didn’t know you had.
When a coach attempts to deliver a mighty epiphany upon you, they’re no longer coaching but dictatorially teaching.
Confusion – That feeling that precipitates real growth
A funny thing happens, right before any human starts to ride a rocket to the stratosphere of success. They get confused.
It’s as true in psychotherapy as it is in business. Confusion begets change.
In those moments when we can’t make sense of our world, we open ourselves up to serendipitous possibility. The entrepreneurs brave enough to take action despite their confusion get set firmly on the fast track to personal and bottom line growth.
The epiphany addicted entrepreneur, when met with confusion, will stop what they’re doing to be still. They’re sit and figure it out – hunting for another hit of epiphany and simplistic certainty.
Epiphany is the bastard child of Analysis-Paralysis. Real progress is born out of confusion and a relentless commitment to forward movement.
As the Shrink for Entrepreneurs, I tread a fine line with epiphany. It’s something many of my clients want. It’s dangerously seductive for me too, in that it’s easy for me to manufacture the sensation of a big breakthrough.
Manufactured breakthroughs will always pale in comparison to the results simply “holding space” can produce. My hour-a-week space with clients is built explicitly to contain an enormous expectation for their success and a fierce commitment to forward movement regardless of temptations to pause.
Most of all, I aim to pivot back and forward. When a client seeks the certainty and comfort of a friendly epiphany I’ll push them towards complexity and uncertainty. When they’re overwhelmed with options, we’ll reel it back in toward the simple and clear.
A consultation with a coach could superficially be seen to enable “analysis paralysis”, but the point is for the entrepreneur to gain a perspective from outside the fishbowl in which they’re swimming circles.
By outsourcing your analysis, you can end the paralysis. Focus on the doing, and leave the epiphanies to the experts.
It’s the doing, after all, that gets you paid.
No article on epiphanies would be complete without a grand and sweeping conclusion. Except that there can’t be one. There’s a bunch of exceptions to what I’ve said here and you’ve probably already thought of some of them.
Let’s dive into the complexity and subtly! Leave a comment below (there can’t be wrong answers) and share this post with people whose perspective you’d value.