This article was developed in partnership with Between the Lines, a newsletter that tells stories about the Claremont Colleges’ entrepreneurship and technology community. Started by two Claremont alums, Miles & Josh, they share insights from interviews with Claremont alumni, use data to tell stories about the Claremont ecosystem, and share career opportunities from Claremont employers. Subscribe here to learn more! 

In early October, 2021, I was walking the streets of Portland, Oregon when I received a call from a woman who wanted to write a book about her son. He was homeless and had serious mental health issues, and her goal was to call on government leaders to create pathways for those like him to more easily reenter everyday society.

Her vision was noble, honorable, brave, and courageous. The Bryan of the past would have half-listened, withheld empathy, and gone into solution mode. I would’ve tried to help her think immediately about how to write the book and bring her ideas to the forefront, then I’d share how our company, BW Missions, could help her achieve her goals. Like so many people, I had become an intensely focused entrepreneur committed to one thing: building my business. To keep on track with the destination of my GPS, I looked at where the car needed to go and could never slow it down to “be” in the moment for what was right in front of me. Simply put, my internal GPS told me I couldn’t relax until I had provided a solution, reached the goal, or solved the problem.

But, as I’ve been on a personal journey the past seven months, the new Bryan thought Wow, this woman must live with a great deal of pain every single day. A mother with a son who struggles to integrate into society. A quote by Rich Keller, someone I’ve worked with both personally and at the brand level, came to mind: “A parent is only as happy as their least happiest kid.”

For one of the first times in a business sales call, I truly was operating from the heart space. I didn’t care whether the sale happened—I just wanted to listen and be there for the mother on the other end of the phone. See, the Bryan of the past was unconscious and not present to the world around him. I was following a very rigid GPS, and when it tempted to take me off course, I didn’t listen or process those internal feelings out of my fear of loss. I just kept the functional sprint on the treadmill going. Because getting off the treadmill and shifting the internal GPS sounded far more painful than to sit in the stew of my awareness and presence and truly understand what was going on around me. Instead, I found the next sprint on the treadmill, to keep the car (myself) moving in the right direction.

Like so many entrepreneurs, as a result of my past, entrepreneurship was my vehicle to define life on my own terms and nothing was going to stop me from achieving what I had in mind. That is, until a triggering life event and a trip Westward gave me the ability to reassess my life in the deepest way possible. Entrepreneurship became the perfect career for me to unconsciously pour myself into. I continued to build more goalposts and tasks for myself to complete, burying myself in an unfulfilling cycle that shielded me from living in the natural discomfort of the real world.

But as I’m finding out, my story isn’t so unique. We all have our own versions of my story as entrepreneurs, and I’m discovering that the longer I’m on this journey, the more unaware and unconscious entrepreneurs I meet who don’t realize that they are on a never-ending and unfulfilling treadmill—or those who’ve tricked themselves into thinking that they’re only going to run the treadmill for a short time. I believe there’s an opportunity to change this narrative. There’s a chance to slow the car down, let the internal GPS flow with a little more serendipity, and break the cycle of the treadmill trap that comforts us.

The Problems When Entrepreneurs Don’t Slow Down and Live in the Moment

Entrepreneurs, authors, top-level creatives, and c-level executives all share subconscious motivations that drive them from behind. They usually stem from our past and push us forward. From the events of our past, they can create a lack of self-worth, confidence, fear of loss, fear of abandonment, and appeasement. When we never dig to the root and settle them, they will influence us at every step … until we do.

These pushes can be both healthy and unhealthy—especially if we are not aware and don’t slow down. We are so blind to them until an event happens where we can’t escape the heaviness and are forced off the ledge in freefall, making us become aware (cancer, death, breakup, product/company failure, etc.)

One of the reasons we never dive in or are able to skate by and perform well on the surface is because entrepreneurship, while as risky and hard as it is, gives us a sense of control. Building our own worlds can be an escape, especially when things are going well. I have been that person the past 10 years, until I was forced out of that self-made world and into one more integrated with present reality.

The problem when we live like this is that we don’t recognize the emotions and feelings of others around us, or even ourselves. When we are so tightly gripped on our own predetermined GPS, and our business is our comfort zone, it’s truly hard for us to see the impact of our actions on those around us.

I’ve noticed another severe problem with this fixed GPS mindset. Many entrepreneurs think in the progression of the following: I will do this once I build that. We are always seeking to hit the constantly shifting imaginary goalposts and are never able to appreciate and be consciously present to the moments in front of us. This strips us from experiencing moments of joy along the way.

Lastly, living at the center of our universe, unconscious to what is around us, similar to how David Foster Wallace describes in his This is Water commencement speech, we sometimes are scared to lean into personal development outside our professional work. It forces us to stay and operate in more linear and one-dimensional ways of being, hurting us from being able to show up in conversations that are mostly one-sided from another’s viewpoint without being able to contribute on our own.

Finding Hope in Going Inward, Processing, and Becoming Conscious

While the consequences are severe, the opportunity on the other side is actually quite profound. When we as entrepreneurs do the work on ourselves, get clear on who we are (our triggers, our past, and learn how to let go of the GPS structure) and find the best path forward through a more adaptable and fluid way of living, we build our empathy muscles. We lean in, chisel down the layers, and become a more present, engaged, and aware leader. We see the pain the world faces, but also relish more in the moments of joy along the way.

In order to do this though, as David Foster Wallace says, we need to remove ourselves from the center of our own universe. We must be aware and conscious of the external world and learn to navigate in the discomfort of life without running and numbing from the past. Instead of being a passenger, we must become the driver. When we do this, we can show up in the most authentic and wholehearted versions of ourselves and live the most aligned path meant for us.

The questions I want to leave all of you with, are this: what GPS are you following, why are you following it, and are you sure that is where you want to go? Take the time to be conscious about these decisions and don’t just unconsciously let the GPS tell you where to go. Don’t be Michael Scott.