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Frustration is Good: Part 1 [Entrepreneurship
Posted on July 30, 2014 @ 08:03:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In my previous blog, Wishing Well, I briefly touched on the relationship between wishing and entrepreneurship.

In this blog and the next, I want to examine the role of frustration in entrepreneurship where frustration can be defined as the flip side of wishing that occurs when you engage in action to fulfill a wish but you are thwarted in your efforts. The emotion that generally accompanies this situation is frustration.

Frustration is good. Without it, we wouldn't 1) come to grips with reality, 2) achieve wishes of any significance, or 3) experience heightened satisfaction with life. There are quite a few blog postings on the frustrations that are common or unique to entrepreneurs, but I'm not aware of "frustration and entrepreneurship" actually being studied much in any academic way. It might be interesting, for example, to see how successful entrepreneurs vs 1st year university students deal with a frustration task (e.g., unsolvable anagrams task) to see if entrepreneurs persist longer or react differently (e.g., more or less anger, ascription of cause to internal or external factors, etc..). As far as I know, we don't know the answer to such basic questions regarding how successful entrepreneurs deal with and process frustration.

One surprising place we might find some insight into the role and operation of frustration is in psychoanalysis. A book that examines this in some detail is a book by psychoanalyst Adam Phillips titled Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life (2012). The ensuing set of blogs on frustration and entrepreneurship will draw upon insights from this book. The book itself elicits a large range of reader reactions from positive to negative. The negative reaction's appear to come from the frustration that he does not offer solutions to life's frustrations, instead mostly literary and psychoanalytic analysis of the nuances of frustration. I'm not offering solutions either, just discussion that might stimulate some deeper thinking on the topic of frustration and entrepreneurship. The title of this blog, Frustration is Good, suggests something that appears not to be true - and it might not be - but it serves the purpose of stimulating some thought on the role and purpose of frustration.

In this blog, I want to address the claim that without frustration we cannot come to grips with reality. This is a basic principle of psychoanalysis and the primary text to consult is Freud's Formulations on the Two Principles of Psychic Functioning (1911). In Freud's analysis, as a child grows up it needs to distinguish between the fantasy world it lives in and reality, and the key experience that puts the child in touch with reality is frustration:

whatever was thought of (wished for) was simply hallucinated, as still happens every night with our dream-thoughts. It was due only to the failure of the anticipated satisfaction, the disillusionment, as it were, that this attempt at satisfaction by means of hallucination was abandoned. Instead, the psychic apparatus had to resolve to form an idea of the real circumstances in the outside world and to endeavor actually to change them. With this, a new principle of psychic activity was initiated; now ideas were formed no longer of what was pleasant, but of what was real, even if this happened to be unpleasant. This inception of the reality principle proved to be a momentous step.

Lets take this out of the early development context and think about the role of frustration in later life. Here Adam Phillips has some wonderful prose to describe the critical role of frustration in later life.

We need to bear with, to know about, our frustrations not simply to secure our satisfactions but to sustain our sense of reality. In the psychoanalytic story, if we don't feel frustration we don't need reality; if we don't feel frustration we don't discover whether we have the wherewithal to deal with reality. People become real to us by frustrating us; if they don't frustrate us they are merely figures of fantasy. The story says something like: if other people frustrate us the right amount, they become real to us, that is, people with whom we can exchange something; if they frustrate us too much, they become too real, that is, persecutory, people we have to do harm to; if they frustrate us too little, they become idealized, imaginary characters, the people of our wishes, if they frustrate us too much, they become demonized, the people of our nightmares. And these, we might say are two ways of murdering the world: making it impotent or making it unreal. If this was quantifiable we would say that the good life proposed by psychoanalysis is one in which there is just the right amount of frustration. (p. 29-30)

The process of raising funds can be a frustrating process for an entrepreneur. The investor is not the cardboard character you might have imagined him or her to be. They are real people with certain demands that might appear to be designed to frustrate you in your wishes, but might also help bring you closer to fund raising reality and the accomodations you must make to eventually realize your goals.

My goal in this blog and the next is not to claim that a psychoanalytic interpretation of frustration is correct; it is to dabble for awhile in some of this literature for possible insights into the relationship between frustration and entrepreneurship. What I will claim is that it is worth spending some time reflecting upon the role of frustration in entrepreneurship because if we can become more mindful of the positive role of frustration, perhaps we can work with it to become more successful as entrepreneurs.

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