I met my high school friend yesterday after a few years. We headed to Greenwich Village, close to a university campus, since who does not like to be in the midst of college students. 

Work was on his mind. He’s a stellar guy, professionally and personally. At a relatively young age, he has carved a niche for himself as a trader in the financial services industry and has been looking for the next challenge. 

What would the next challenge look like? He could move to another bank where he would get even greater responsibility, and manage a larger book of business. Or, he could start out on his own. 

Start out on your own. Uh Oh. 

The initial reaction was one of reactance. He’s planning to buy a new car and recently took on a mortgage. Fed’s low interest rates help but monthly cash outflows were real. Then there was his family he needed to fend for. And on top of it all, the probability of successfully launching a fund is low, to begin with. 

We worked through each of these points one by one. 

True to his discipline, he seemed to have built a savings reserve that gave him runway for 12 months or more, even if he did not generate a single cent in earnings. This cushion was a great starting point and gave him psychological comfort that he would not be putting his family’s well-being at risk, were he to take the plunge.

Moving on, the mortgage was good, because he needed a bigger place, and at some point paying rent is akin to burning cash. But did he need a new car? Seemed that he was quite happy with the public commute and could rent a car on weekends when he needed one. That was easy. 

So what was holding him back? Objectively, his track record was good, and by his own admission, he was one of the few traders on the street who could successfully value the indices he had been tracking for almost 10 years now. The market valued his niche and his expertise. And he had the hunger to do more. 

It boiled down to the fear of the unknown. 

Starting something new at some level entails taking a leap of faith. Embarking on a new path – professional or spiritual – makes you encounter things that will bring discomfort. While it is true that the same discomfort is a catalyst for growth, the mind resists it. 

And in unleashing its tools for resistance, the mind starts building its defences, predicated on fear. There’s the mortgage. There’s the car. How would launching a fund work? There are so many funds that fail every single year. Jeez, this does not sound worth it, especially when I have a great gig. And so we build an internal narrative to discourage us from starting out. 

Taking a step back, this makes me think of something else: ever wondered why certain ecosystems of innovation – Silicon Valley or New York City – churn out more successful startups in a few square miles, than other cities around the world? 

There are a few viewpoints for what makes ecosystems thrive but here’s one: Silicon Valley makes it easier for entrepreneurs and investors to overcome their minds. Take for instance failure. Quite famously, the Valley celebrates failure and by doing so it has over time lowered the psychological barriers for starting a company. The mind’s ability to conjure an internal narrative weakens in such an environment, and it becomes easier to just flow. And a close cousin of flow is a distinct bias for action, which really is what starting up often entails, at least in the first few years of its existence.  

Food for thought: what would it take for us to create an enabling environment, a culture where the mind is a good servant but never a master, to begin with? How do we inject this culture into the companies we build, the families we live with, the schools we run, and the people we interact with? One can only imagine how such communities where the mind recedes to the background become a distinct force multiplier for the good. We don’t need to look beyond Sri Badrika Ashram as a living, thriving example of this. 

Going back to our high school friend, as we paid our dues at Greenwich Village, he had a glint in his eye. Somewhere within, he knows he’s ready to start this fund. And somewhere within he cannot wait to get started. Now, comes a new, different challenge: convincing his wife. For that, we both pray for some divine intervention. Just kidding.

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Kunal Lunawat

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