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The Willingness to Overcome Difficult Circumstances

One of my takeaways about many important things in life is that they are a learning problem. You are almost always having to figure things, situations, problems, and challenges out. 

The problem with such a reality is that it can be tiring. 

Partly because learning is time-consuming and hard. Partly because most life lessons require multiple instances to learn. We are always making the same mistake twice. 

This is a time-consuming, sometimes demoralizing, and often frustrating process. 

Most people take the predictable route in the face of relentless boredom, they give up after a certain point without realizing that giving up is rarely a solution. You will always run into these learning limitations. 

While I think I have always intuitively grasped this problem, this has been crystalized recently watching my newborn daughter. She just turned 75 days old and is slowly learning to find her agency. Seeing her navigate an unknown world and grow has been an education for me. The human child is a true miracle. 

A child is always learning about the world. For my daughter, the lessons don't come easy. My daughter is always failing. 

For instance, she has been learning to move her hands and reach for things. But her motor movements are not stable yet. So, her hands rarely listen to her intention. She tries, fails, tries, fails, tries, fails. Although she is apparently in a painful loop of failure, she keeps poking and pulling. It is frustrating yet incredible at the same time to watch her keep at it without giving up. 

Sometimes I can sense she stops trying and lets her hands and legs be. But make no mistakes, she doesn’t plan to give up. After a brief pause, she keeps throwing her hands and legs up and down again. Yesterday she managed to briefly hold my beard. I think it was an accidental success, and she still has not achieved the superpower of reaching for and holding things. 

However, although she is not yet there where she has some control over her motor movement that she can be intentional about, I’m certain she will get there in no time because she is willing to endure the failures. I do not see her getting frustrated or giving up. 

Somehow, she knows that learning to operate and gain motor control will take learning, and it will take time, and it involves a lot of failures. 

The second-order cue of learning failures in life is that learning demands resilience. 


This is the lesson I think we forget as we grow older. We somehow come to believe, arrogantly so, that things should simply work. What we learned from our past mistakes should simply carry us forward. 

This sentiment about life makes people less resilient. Unlike my daughter, they give up in the face of minor motor failures. They can’t endure difficult circumstances. 

In business, this dilemma is more pronounced and even more important. 

Business is one of those problems that follow Murphy's law—anything that can go wrong will go wrong. 

It means it takes an incredible amount of resilience and ability to deal with difficult circumstances to achieve enduring business success. 

If you go through the stories of successful founders this much is apparent. The challenges are constant and varied. 

I recently published an interview with the founders of Blubird Interactive, a software services company based in Dhaka. I recommend you read the interview here

The types of challenges they faced are truly fascinating. A few months into the business, they faced a challenge of extortion where local goons asked for a hefty sum of money for them to continue running their office. At the time, Blubird founders were just fresh college grads trying to build a business despite tacit disapproval from their family and friends. There was no way they could tell their latest predicament to their family due to the fear that their families might force them to abandon doing business entirely. 

After overcoming the initial shock, they started to make calls and reach out to people and eventually found a way to overcome that challenge, but only to plunge into another challenge where their office equipment got stolen in broad daylight. 

Over the next few years, they faced challenges with people, failed to deliver clients’ work on time, and faced business difficulties because of overreliance on one single client. But they kept at it. They did fall several times. They had to let go of their teammates on several occasions. But they have managed to survive. Today, the company has been thriving business and is expanding into new verticals. 

The lesson for me is that you have to be willing to suffer. Your education has to come full circle. 


One caveat in this instance is that most successful founders learn this reality by the time they achieve some level of success. But that is not the case for someone who is just getting started today. 

For someone who is getting started today, the expectation is that the road will be relatively smooth. People do expect certain challenges in any journey they undertake, which is a good thing. The problem is that people usually underestimate the nature, frequency, duration, and scale of these challenges. They naively expect their challenges to be predictable. 

But your challenges will be anything but predictable. 

This much is true for entrepreneurship for sure. As above mentioned Blubird's founders told me that they never anticipated the number and nature of challenges they faced and continue to face. 

Since these challenges often come unanticipated and at a rate beyond what we initially expected, it makes people unprepared and many people can’t continue. 

The ones who manage to overcome these challenges somehow intuitively sense that you have to be willing to overcome difficult circumstances. 

Restaurant mogul Danny Meyer talks about this in his excellent biography Setting the Table. He writes in the book: 

“One of the core business lessons I’ve taken from the continued success of the Union Square Café is that willingness to overcome difficult circumstances is a crucial character trait in my employees, partners, and restaurants.” 

I’ve almost always underestimated the amount of resilience and resourcefulness it takes to make something work. You can’t expect things to be easy. And you must not fold at the face of minimum resistance. 

I think people and organizations who achieve resilience learn early that there are hard problems in life. Business is a hard problem. Life itself is a hard problem if you see it from a particular point of view. They understand that being willing to overcome this hard problem, instead of trying to avoid it, is the most optimal route to take. 

The part of life we all struggle with is that you have to live it daily. You can’t solve life once and for all. You have to wake up every day, eat every day, work every day, endure difficult conversations every day, and so on. Business is no different. You have to run it daily. And every day is equally challenging. Problems are the only constant. It doesn’t sound like a very fun game. 

In a setting like that, the only skill that matters is a willingness to overcome difficult circumstances. And this is the only trait that is common among successful founders as well as successful people in any field. 

I think there are broadly two categories of people when it comes to struggles and difficulties. One group is like a weak branch of a tree. They break down in the face of the slightest rough wind. They complain. Get discouraged. And often give up. 

Then there is a second category of people who are like fire. Every obstacle makes them grow harder. It is the second group who survive and thrive in life. 

My daughter, at her current stage, is decidedly in the second group and I pray she remains as resilient the rest of her life. 

Cover photo by Vojtech Bruzek on Unsplash

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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