Forged In Fire: How Adversity Makes Entrepreneurs Stronger…To A Point

Forged In Fire: How Adversity Makes Entrepreneurs Stronger…To A Point

by | Dec 23, 2018

My 7-year-old son is a constant source of amazement. He’s an exceptionally bright young man whose interests are broad and deep. The topics he finds interesting are not what you’d expect from a second-grader.

His latest obsession is a History Channel show called “Forged In Fire,” which is a game show in which various blacksmiths compete to create different sorts of knives and historical weapons in a timed environment with limited tools and resources at their disposal.

While “competitive blacksmithing” isn’t a something I ever expected to dive into, as a parent,  it’s important to be a part of your children’s passions. As I’ve learned the ins and outs of this esoteric topic, I’ve become aware of an interesting parallel to entrepreneurship.

Adversity can make you stronger…up to a point

For those of you who are not familiar with the finer points of forging blades, the process is pretty simple. You heat steel, hammer it out into your desired shape, apply more heat, and then “quench” the blade in oil to harden it.

I think most of us have heard variations on the theme that strength is forged through adversity, and it’s mostly true. In fact, many times people draw on the analogy of blacksmithing to help drive the point home.

However, such sentiment often simplifies the message by ignoring a few key facts. For example, heat treating a blade does make it stronger, but only when you time it correctly and adequately cool it via the “quench.”

A blade left in the forge indefinitely will burn, crack, and become brittle. Likewise, a blade that is overheated or quenched improperly will become permanently warped or can break in half due to the shock.

This realization made me think about the need for balance in all things. As entrepreneurs, we’re tested on a daily basis. The stress, fear, and adversity we face are akin to being thrust into the fire of the forge.

If handled correctly, this adversity can make us stronger. If managed poorly, however, it can damage us beyond repair.

Keep careful watch of the temperature of your forge

One of the common “Forged In Fire”  mistakes my son loves to point out is the fact that people tend to get their forges too hot during the heat treating process.

Competitors often think that hotter is better and that a more extended heat treatment results in stronger blades. The reality, however, is that the correct temperature depends on the makeup of the steel and other environmental factors.

It takes a skilled artisan to know these factors and develop the proper environment for the heat treatment.

I think the same thing applies to entrepreneurs. I’ve known so many who accept adversity without exception in the hope that it will make them stronger. Unfortunately, many times the pressure is too high for their constitution, and it ends up breaking them.

That’s why you see so many entrepreneurs fall into cycles of depression and substance abuse.

Like the master craftsman who knows just how much a given blade can withstand, entrepreneurs must look inward and identify their limits before they break.

 This is not to say that we shouldn’t push ourselves; far from it. Growth is won incrementally, not all at once. We have to continually push ourselves, expanding our comfort zones while still being mindful to avoid burnout and long-term damage.

Be careful how you quench

One of the most interesting components of the forging process is the quench. That’s when the craftsman pulls the blade out of the fire and dunks it into an oil bath. The result is a big fireball and (hopefully) a hardened blade.

People who quench their creation too early end up with a soft blade that won’t stand up to any test. Those who wait too long to quench often see their blade shatter from the stress.

Again, it takes a degree of balance to deliver the hardened, strong blade that they desire.

The same applies to entrepreneurs. We tend to push ourselves hard and then “quench” when we reach a finish line. Some of us quench too early, taking our foot off the gas before we’ve reached the finish line. Others wait too long, damaging our personalities and relationships by failing to find the proper rest.

I’m guilty of this on many levels. I tend to push myself too hard, only to get burned out and let opportunities pass me by. Others I’ve known try to “quench” by abusing alcohol or drugs. Neither approach works.

Instead, we must get to know ourselves and find the balance that will enable us to emerge from hardship stronger for the experience.

This isn’t easy, but it is possible. Just like a master artisan, this skill takes time, practice, and caution to master.

As entrepreneurs, we’re fooling ourselves when we say that all hardship is created equal. Yes, hardship can make us stronger, but only when we time it correctly, keep it in perspective, and find healthy ways to “quench” the fire

Chris Myers

CEO | BodeTree

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Chris Myers

CEO | BodeTree

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