21 Aug LTFF Blog: Sometimes, It IS Your First Rodeo
By Jeff Thompson, Mother Road Market General Manager
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
~ Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
At the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation, we’ve had the pleasure of spending the past few months with some youthful and intelligent interns, and with summer winding to a close, they’ve gone back to school for the year. Our Mother Road Market intern, Paige, said that one of the key skills she wanted to develop was how to get better at asking questions. I was floored by the humility and wisdom she displayed with this simple concept. It was at the same time, an example of her aspirations and her willingness to be honest with herself – the refreshing comment of someone with nothing to prove and everything to gain.
Mother Road Market has such a dynamic and diverse mix of entrepreneurs who are all at various stages in their business development, and for almost all of them there is some aspect of their venture at 1124 S. Lewis Ave that is new territory: a first business ever; a first iteration of a new concept; or a first time to try menu innovation in a public setting. No matter what the uncharted landscape of their journey may be, the Mother Road Market merchants are bound as a community by this common experience of being outside their comfort zone. It’s a powerful bond that develops when people create something new together, and even though I’m along for the ride, I’m enjoying this vantage point of watching each person’s adventure unfold.
When I first started my role at LTFF, I was surrounded by so many competent and accomplished peers, that I was a little bit intimidated. As a typically insecure male, I was tempted to “have the answer” even in situations where I was outside of my area of expertise. It can be easy to forget that sometimes “I don’t know” is the best response. The blessing of working in an organization which is richly infused with entrepreneurial energy, is that we are constantly surrounded by people of a teachable demeanor. Their influence has inspired me to embrace my areas of inexperience, which is essential to learning and growing as a professional and a person. The following are some key insights that seem to be easy to lose sight of in our results-driven world. Some say that the worst vice is ad-vice, but here are some thoughts to consider:
- Mistakes are sometimes our best teachers:Most of the things I do well are things I used to do poorly. The learning came from wanting to do better, and that meant that I had to give myself permission to fail and that I also needed to surround myself with a community that valued lifelong learning and growth. The great philosopher Yoda himself said that failure is our greatest teacher. I think people often start out on a course of learning, and they get discouraged by their failures and mistakes, and without an encourager in their community, they might not “get back on the horse” and keep moving forward. We mustn’t let mistakes stop us before we arrive at our goal.
- Sometimes, it IS your first rodeo:I often hear the phrase: “It’s not my first rodeo” and there are times when that’s the appropriate thing to say. As someone who encourages and supports entrepreneurs, I think it’s equally valid to own up to and embrace our lack of experience, especially when we are trying something new. Mother Road Market is a new thing for Tulsa, and for LTFF, and even though I have a wealth of experience in operations and new business openings, I’ve never done THIS before. I’m so grateful that I am surrounded by peers who have appropriate expectations about this project. It’s a huge undertaking, and it’s okay to be mindful of that. The challenge is to balance the humility with courage to move into the unknown.
- Courage isn’t the absence of fear:In the presence of a new opportunity, many people say “I don’t feel ready for this”, and that becomes the excuse for staying in the comfort of the familiar. Entrepreneurs must not allow fear to stop them from taking the next step. True courage feels the fear but takes action anyway. That’s the inspiring thing about watching Mother Road Market take shape, is that everyone has had to deal with their own fear and uncertainty along the way, and perhaps the communal sense of shared risk makes all of us willing to move further out of our comfort zones.
- Laughter and fun are essentials:Having fun at work or school isn’t just a way to make time go by faster. Studies show that learning and retention increase dramatically when people are having fun, and laughter is truly medicinal, as it lowers the stress hormone cortisol by as much as 45% in some cases. When we are outside of our comfort zone, it can be too easy to slip into “serious mode” and lose our sense of play. I’m all-too-guilty of this myself. Typically, I’m a fun, goofy person, but in a situation where there are big results at stake, I can lose sight of the importance of levity. Keeping things lighthearted and fun doesn’t negate the importance of the work. I think of it like keeping some elasticity in the spirit, as opposed to brittleness.
- Beginners Mind isn’t just for beginners:In Soto Zen Buddhism, “Beginner’s Mind” or shoshin refers to an attitude of open mindedness, enthusiasm, and lack of preconceived ideas when approaching a subject, even if one has advanced knowledge of the subject. One of the beautiful things about an entrepreneurial community like Mother Road Market is that even the veterans and experts have a love of learning and sharing knowledge. This type of humility makes for a nimbler approach to learning, because the new ideas don’t have to elbow their way into the crowded mind of fixed facts. An open mind receives new information much more readily, and thus we can grow and adapt more quickly.
Mother Road Market is so much more than a destination. It exists as a fixed place and a fluid idea simultaneously. Much like the historic highway from which its name comes, Mother Road Market is a scenic pathway, which makes the journey itself even richer than any stop along the way. See you there, this fall, or somewhere along the way.