Apathy: The Unsung Ingredient in Success

Business: To care or not to care?
The connotation that most people associate with the term ‘apathy’ is, that of not caring anymore. But, not caring to the extent of negligence. The unhealthy kind.

This one exists, say, when you have reached 'breaking point' with an emotionally inconsiderate, significant other; and you don’t care anymore. You can’t wait, and need, to leave him/her. Then, there is the other connotation to apathy:  where there is a lack of concern for anything.

This is the apathy that plays a critical role in success.

The difference between the two?

With the latter, you are usually in situations where you have to make the best of the best, even when you feel as if you may not. You see, with the first version of apathy, you can leave the toxic spouse or partner.

In the second version, most times, you cannot afford not to reach the goal of 1000 people. A target that was set for you by big-name corporates, for them to be able to take you seriously and negotiate deals with you for your food promotion business, as was the case with my business partner and I.  

For if you do not meet the target, your business will not take off the ground. Meeting the goal is imperative, you have no other option.

Next to the ability to persevere, apathy stands, to make an exquisite recipe for success. 

As always, there is light before dark

Anybody who has run a business, failed or not, knows how difficult it is to get the name of your company out there, in the beginning. The constant effort and people not responding entirely the way you had hoped for them to.

For example,  managing the company’s Facebook account, and posting posts that ‘reach’ 300+ people, but when looking at the stats, you notice that, only 12 of the 300 people actually clicked on the post, and five people liked the post.

Finding ways to better those numbers, can be difficult, stressful, and at times, just draining. Especially if your business is an online business. Even if your product is interesting, and you know people like it. There can be increased interest every day, more people are ‘liking’ the page. You can even have more people email to your inbox you every day, and so forth.

But for some reason, that rate of interest is not the same as the one you had wished for or need. But then again, in a world where most of us want things to come immediately, the rate of absorption will never be as good as we want it to be. But you still have to reach the ‘1000 people’ target, regardless.

Apathy in action

Picture this:  At the moment, your business has an insanely tight budget. The numbers of customers, however, are increasing at a higher rate, as more people know about the business. It’s still not as good as you would like. You have to make it better, you have a trick in the bag. You can expand your target market.

Instead of targeting your local neighborhood, go to schools or universities. That will increase the numbers. But you encounter some ever-unpleasant ‘red-tape’ within these organizations. The challenge of getting the brand out there continues.

We had the idea to present to classes of students in my university. At that point, we had 435 of the 1000 people needed. Within 3-4 classes of 250 students, we would surely reach the '1000 people' target in no time.

Naturally, I went to one of my lecturers and asked to present.

She said she didn’t have the authority to make such decisions, and suggested I go to the Head of Department. I did.

He then sent me to the Registrar.

The Registrar sent me to the Director of Student Affairs. Finally, she outlined the process for getting permission to present.

Apathy's aftermath.

Long story short, this whole process of getting permission was going to take two weeks (if I was approved by the various boards).

Two weeks, for a five to ten-minute presentation?!

Yeah, it didn’t make sense to me either. Especially because we had a deadline to meet that goal. At this point, you can picture this. Slowly escaping from ‘slower than wanted’ rates of acceptance, and a bucketload of red tape, sinking into--you can imagine--despair and apathy. My energy was sapped. If I was a car, I would have no more gas in my reserve fuel tank. And, indeed I did not.

A slice of success.

A delicate mix of frustration, apathy, and untiring perseverance can fuel your drive to go on. I decided that I was just going to do whatever I wanted, circumnavigating the routes provided by the University. Especially if they weren’t illegal.

You see, I had no concern for any of the structures anymore. I had a target, and I needed to meet it. As long as it was legal, I was going to meet the target by any method possible. So, I did that. I printed posters and stuck them around campus, went into lectures where I got permission and so forth, and promoted the daylights out of my business.

As we stand, we are 100 odd people away from the target. The confidence and perseverance that comes with running a business, was driven despite that paralyzing apathy and then by that apathy. Apathy that comes from frustration - the justified kind. It kicked me in the butt and sculpted the fervent belief that I was of value and my product or service had value.

You have to know that you will do whatever it takes to put your product out there. When you are just starting out, and do not have the amount of traction that you need -- you can't allow apathy to chart your path unbidden. Undoubtedly, all the obstacles that will confront you along the way will tire you out. But it is how you respond to them, that makes or breaks your business.

Lessons learned

In business, there is a tendency to just speak about perseverance. Which is good. But, people never explore further, and speak about the point where, you genuinely think of giving up and then you genuinely give up. You are done. DONE. But what you are really doing is running your business on ‘autopilot.’ 

You see, apathy comes in when you are drained and have no emotions left.

You don’t feel anything, not sad, not tired, you are just numb. However, you know that you won’t quit, and you have goals to reach. That is the beauty of apathy. Alongside perseverance, it fuels success.

By all means, you can choose to adopt the first connotation of apathy and ultimately give up, and leave your dreams behind.

Or you can reach that point of not giving a shit, and use that. Not giving a shit is apathy, and it can help you if you will let it.

Use that type of apathy in conjunction with perseverance, to make something awesome happen. The choice is yours. Apathy is a beautiful thing. It is probably, as an entrepreneur, your biggest asset, next to the ability to listen to what people are saying, and never giving up.

For more inspiration, check these Startup Grind guests out:

(Katlego Maphai, CEO of Yoco). The good stuff starts at around the 10:00 minute mark. It’s better to watch the whole thing, though.

(Catherine Luckhoff, Founder of NicheStreem). The good stuff starts at about the 10:30 mark. Here, it is also better to watch the whole thing, just for context