I start this piece two days after the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp has come to an end. I’m not sure if this is the right time to download my thoughts as they continue to evolve and change daily but it is an important step towards closure as I round out my post-bootcamp ‘come down’.
It’s 1.00am; a clear indication that my circadian rhythm is still erratic post a week of 7.00am starts and 3.00am finishes. Sleep regularity was quickly replaced as a state of deprivation became the new norm. Psychologist’s and sleep experts describe the effects of sleep deprivation as comparable to the effects of alcohol; impaired judgement, reduced functionality, and a misconception that one’s alertness level has stabilised even though performance continues to worsen.
The lack of sleep did not bother me greatly. I am a night owl who can continues to function if I am passionate enough about the work I am doing. I found great difficulty staying alert during the morning lectures though which was of some disappointment. These invaluable windows of knowledge were gifted by industry experts and leaders who inspired and fascinated a room full of closed lids and zombified expressions. We did our best to look alive but the lack of available matchsticks to keep our eyes propped open meant we were not always successful.
How did I get to this place? Who can be sure. Hundreds applied, fewer were interviewed and a small selection from around the globe were accepted. I was one of them. Faced with a burning desire to change the world and grow people’s social and emotional intelligence, I was particularly interested in the potential for disruption in education. I embarked on this journey into Disciplined Entrepreneurship to learn to scale ideas into realities and commercialise what can often feel like an uncommercial sector. What I got was a stern lesson in anti-fragility, teamwork, self awareness and global networking. From a business sense, it was the greatest gift of all. On a personal level, I got a reawakening that both destroyed and re-enforced my original reasons for attending.
Throughout the sleepless week, we formed, stormed and performed in newly arranged teams. This was an exhaustive process as we wrestled with finding the right abilities, passions and personalities to spend an intimate week with. The obvious challenges of age, gender, language and cultural barriers were worked through at surprising pace. The harder lessons lay within individual vs collectivist thinking, varying levels of commitment to a common goal and a pressure cooker of negative, positive, and occasionally BS advice from people that were in mentor roles.
I likened a handful of them to ‘Dementors’ accurately described in the Harry Potter books as those who “..drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them”. They would push us, contort our views and debase our ideas. It was their role to ensure that we left with a robust proposition and an anti-fragile persona. They left me with a bad taste and a resistant attitude as I tried so sort the constructive messages from the bollocks. Luckily, there were more than a handful of advisors that also offered practical advice, clear direction and even, shock horror, compassion. Between the lack of sleep and mental rollercoaster, I learnt that there are many parts of me that make up a fragile person.
At first I hid it. I had taken on the role of CEO in my team and I was there utilise my transformational leadership style. Under the circumstances this was both difficult and rewarding on a daily basis. My team of five comprised of an exceptional group of overachievers whom excelled in a multitude of different industries. An American, an Australian, a Dane, a Mexican and a Peruvian walk into a bar…it had the makings of a great joke and we certainly had many laughs throughout the week (*ho, ho, ho*). We were an eclectic mix from around the world and together we took our ideas and frustrations and formed a team, ironically named Tribe.
My fragility finally gave way on the second last day. The amount of conflicting advice we were taking on board could no longer be taken seriously. Is this what I had paid for? To be dismantled daily? Enough. This moment of no return could have gone two ways but thanks to some real, genuine advice from a previous bootcamper, I changed my personal strategy and the direction of the team.
With less than 20 hours to go, we threw out all of the great but slow work we had done thus far. With a fresh new perspective and a reinvigorated leader, we created a completely new business that ticked all the boxes for us to finish the week with a complete product and all the trimmings. We pitched our new incomplete draft to a room of five mentors and teachers the day before our final Demo Day and…they loved it. We were finally on to something. Was it a product any of us would ever bring to market? I don’t think so. But it did teach us all an invaluable lesson on how much we can achieve when we focus and work together. It also taught me to listen to my gut instinct and question people’s intentions much earlier. Not all that glitters is gold (no matter how impressive the resume).
The day after the bootcamp wrapped up, an unofficial, non-compulsory event was added to the schedule. It was a “Fail Night”, an event where guests were invited to come and discuss a time in their entrepreneurial journey where they failed or experienced failure and could share what they learnt. I was tired, exhausted and not sure if I wanted another evening inside the MIT campus but these opportunities don’t come along every day, so I pulled myself together and got out of the cab with everyone else.
I sat and listened to an array of bootcampers, teachers, and mentors tell their stories of failure and fuck ups. For the first time this week, they revealed a different side to themselves. It was a side of rawness and vulnerability. Drawings on the chalkboard grew as each speaker added a new perspective from their own experience. I noticed something interesting forming on the board and my heart began to pound. Finally another speaker got up from the audience and added the missing piece in this complex venn diagram. Once drawn, the final circle revealed the ‘Ikigai’ model or as previously discussed on this site, your ‘reason for being; the thing that gets you up in the morning’.
The passion that had burned inside of me prior to coming to bootcamp had lit up once again. I felt moved that not only was someone else aware of this way of life but that it had manifested right in front of my eyes. Without knowing about it directly; the whole room had contributed to it. The collective consciousness caught my breath and I knew right away that I must get up and say something.
For the first time this week, my heart began to race and my anxiety levels were through the roof. It was an unfamiliar feeling as I had felt relatively comfortable in my role as ‘hustler’ navigating through moments of extreme extroversion, public pitches, and large audiences. I took the watching faces through my bootcamp experience; how strange it was to be ok with being a University drop out in the initial interview, the high of getting accepted into the course, the creation of this very site where I found solace in the ‘Ikigai’ model myself, the reality of coming to bootcamp and having a really amazing and occasionally shit time, the intimate moments of meeting some truly mind blowing people, and now; a moment of wonderful clarity, purpose and understanding.
I had come to MIT to learn how to reconnect people with themselves and each other. Throughout the week perhaps I was searching and straining in all the wrong places. The greatest connection was around me the entire time. The people, the network, the global diversity; it was endless, nurturing, inspiring. I walk away from this week, not with a go-to-market product. I have been gifted something much more valuable. I walk away with lifelong friendships, priceless business connections, a selective group of wise mentors and most of all, a burning desire to continue to work on my true passion regardless of its ability to be commoditised.
I will dedicate my life to bringing us closer, making us all more vulnerable, understanding the value of emotional and social intelligence and connecting with each other on and offline as much as possible. I met people that I will do future business with, that I will have long lasting relationships with, that I will change the world with, that will inspire me daily, that will support me unconditionally, that will open my heart and expand my mind, and that will forever and ever be connected to me via this crazy, wild and emotional bootcamp experience.
You can’t say you know me…until you know that I survived MIT Entrepreneurship Bootcamp and came out the other side more happier and connected than ever.