Frustration: Your Greatest Asset

Let’s talk about frustration—specifically, the frustration that comes from the people closest to you when they don’t support your idea or dream. Or the frustration from being rejected by bankers and business people who discount your abilities or even your worth because you don’t fit their idea of what a successful entrepreneur looks like. The roots of the frustration that’s motivated me for the last decade run even deeper.

I’ve had a bleeding heart since childhood, and my goal from the age of twelve was to do mission work in Africa. For a long time my biggest frustration was having to send out so many sponsorship letters to bring in so little money to fund my mission trips. And then it became frustration with my own lack of skills and the limited impact of my efforts to make a difference—to be a force for good in the world.

I’d go on these summer mission trips, help a few people, and leave for home knowing they still needed a lot more help. Sometimes it was God I was frustrated with for showing me only a small piece of the puzzle at a time instead of giving me the whole picture. And often it was my discomfort with being “pushed” into the business world and with the whole concept of wealth that was the source of my frustration.

What I’ve learned is that frustration is one of the best things you can ever experience because it means you have a vision of a higher standard, a sense that there is far more you are meant to accomplish with your life. I came to realize that when you’re feeling that kind of frustration you have two options:

  1. To become what I call a “hater activist,” a person who is unable to channel their frustration and anger and passion into finding a solution. They may rant and rail about the injustice of it all, but they don’t seem to be able to harness that energy in a productive way. What a terrible waste of a passion that could become a force for good.
  2. Turn your frustration into inspiration and develop the capacity to do something about the things causing your frustration. If you can distill what irritates and frustrates you into inspiration, you can build a team around that idea and accomplish great things. That’s the route I try to choose every day.

The first step on that route is recognizing your human capacity. For me, that recognition came on the day I looked into the eyes of a little girl robbed of her voice by the damage done to her vocal chords when her father sexually abused her at the age of two. I looked into that little girl’s eyes and saw nothing but hopelessness and fear, and I knew there was no chance her life would ever be any better in a place where what had happened to her was socially acceptable. And I also knew that because I live in the United States, if I cared enough and tried hard enough, I would one day have the opportunity and the resources to do something about this. (Remember, at the time I was 17 and absolutely broke!) Since that day, every time I am overwhelmed by frustration or feel like quitting, which is embarrassingly often, I remember that child’s eyes.

I also remember all the times people told me, “You’re an idiot,” “That’s too big a risk,” “You’re never going to make it.” Those comments have become like a checklist for me. Every time I try something new, if I don’t check all of those off, then I know I’m too late to the party. My idea isn’t innovative enough, because if it were, everyone would be telling me I couldn’t make it work!

In my experience, frustration keeps you going, and rejection is the best training you can ever have, especially when it comes from people who are really close to you. You know they care about you, and their rejection of what you’re trying to accomplish is an expression of their concern, so you don’t want to respond with anger. Of course, they’re not going to support you in pursuing something radically new and different. Why would they think your idea is going to work if it’s never been done before?

So you respond to rejection with confidence and determination. You acquire the skills and knowledge you need, and you keep putting one foot in front of the other. And when you succeed, you share your story. You show others what can be achieved. And the next time someone who doesn’t fit the mold pitches a great idea, maybe the bankers and investors and experts won’t be so quick to say “no.”

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