I have once flown from Bali to China to LA in a day. Another time, I flew from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Las Vegas for just a conference. In 2018 and 2019, I did 27 trips.
I know flying.
At least that is what I thought.
In July 2021, I experienced one of my weirdest flights ever. It was both breathtakingly beautiful and scary as hell at the same time.
As my partner says “You are an anxious flyer at the best of times.” and for this flight in Costa Rica, I really had to push my limits.
Looking back, this flight reminded me of my journey of becoming an entrepreneur and running a digital marketing agency of eight people. You might wonder why…
Look, here is the thing: Today, I can easily travel to Costa Rica because I want a taste of my favorite lifestyle – life in the tropics. I am free to enjoy the lush wilderness, the kind people, the clean turquoise water and the long, empty, white sand beaches. All whilst running my remote business as per usual. Living the dream.
For a naturally introverted person that gets anxious quickly, coming out of my shell has been both the hardest and most important step towards navigating the world of business with grace and precision.
Small everyday travel moments like asking a stranger for help, or asserting what I want in an argument with security, have been the building blocks to a more empowered life. And it all bleeds over into my business life (and ultimately my profits). And practicing this can help you achieve the same.
In this article, you will not learn what it takes to start a startup in a typical way. There will be no talk about go-to-market strategy, accounting or sales calls.
You will learn that everything that you desire, the freedom, the profits, the success and fame, lie at the other end of your fears.
And life holds countless moments that allow you to transcend your fears and take a step towards that dream business of yours.
1. Become Radically Self-reliant – The Ultimate Tool To Riches (And Your Sanity)
A week before the trip, my friend Christa, who is a flight attendant, posted on Facebook that we should not expect any customer service on flights these days. Because of the hygiene requirements in a COVID-19 world, there would not be a blanket, no food and most likely not even a refill of water on the flight.
I came prepared. I had brought warm socks, a hiking down jacket, 1 liter of water, 0.5 liter of orange juice and sandwiches. I also had taken both a PCR and an antigen test, since I was not sure what was required.
I followed the principle of radical self-reliance, which I had learned from Burning Man where I camp in the middle of a desert for ten days. They say: “Discover, exercise and rely on your inner resources.”
Radical self-reliance means showing up for your future self, instead of hoping that someone else will do it for you. Radical self-reliance is crucial when starting a startup. And it is an empowering practice. It makes you independent, and it allows you to move things forward.
Now, what happened on the flight? KLM did not want to see my test, they had blankets and pillows, and served three meals and endless drinks.
Have my efforts been wasted? No! My preparation could have saved me from a very uncomfortable 15 hours if my friend’s experience would have been true for this airline
In business — and travel — don’t wait for anyone to come up with a Plan B for you. Make your own Plan B.
2. Become Friends With Uncertainty. It’s All Going To Hell Eventually.
Since my final destination was not San Jose but a cozy hipster beach town named Nosara, I had booked a connecting flight. The booking was the biggest adventure in itself, but we will get into this in a moment.
I left the airplane and walked towards immigration. My next flight was in 1.5 hours, so it was tight.
Then we got stopped.
“Visitors in this lane”, said the lady. And whilst everyone else continued walking, I found myself stuck. I double-checked with her “I have a connecting flight to Nosara,” but she was firm that I had to stay in the line.
I immediately felt worried. I started pacing around my spot trying to see what was happening. I was weighing my options. Should I stay put and risk missing my flight? It meant having to book a night in the airport hotel and another flight the next day. That’s around 300 USD. Worse, I would miss an entire day at the beach – and I only had a week to begin with.
I had tried to move ahead in the line by double-checking but I had failed. I felt small and powerless realizing that this was not even immigration. Just a random wait in the hallway. My disappointment was growing and as we slowly moved ahead.
Luck was on my side. Turns out this was the temperature and health check due to COVID. And also turns out, I was through in about 15 minutes. A quick rush of excitement hit me.
But not for long. I turned around the corner and saw my nightmare had become true:
The line at immigration was massive. No way that I would make it through on time.
I guess I had been naive. I just thought I would be fine and that 1.5h would be enough to go through immigration, pick my bag and find the domestic terminal.
I felt a bit stupid and tried to be kind with myself. It is what it is. Only now my heart rate was up and I started to sweat.
Then and there, I made a big decision: I decided to switch gears. This was enough being passive and letting it happen to me. If this were to continue, I would surely miss my flight as well as the coconut at sunset that I was dreaming of.
It was time to be proactive and make things happen.
The lesson? Expect your nightmare to become true. The ones that you saw coming and the ones that you naively ignored.
As you make it through challenge after challenge, and problem-solve on the spot, new challenges will always arise.
Startups have endless challenges. Product development blasts through timelines and budgets. Customers reject your favorite feature and ask for something different. Sometimes your customers aren’t even the ones you set off to serve.
The thing is: If you want to succeed in business, you better make friends with uncertainty and unwanted changes of events. If you learn to collect yourself, switch gears and become proactive, you will have the ultimate super power.
3. Don’t Be Afraid To Take Up Space.
Even though there were hundreds of people in front of me, I made it through immigration in about 10 minutes. How?
I stood up for myself and asked for help.
Talking to strangers is already a challenge for me when at a community event with people that I love. Now, I was alone, nervous and under pressure. Asking for help at this moment did not come easy to me.
Despite feeling vulnerable and barely speaking Spanish, I spoke to a nearby staff member who was playing on his phone and had just turned down another passenger – nightmare alert. I explained that my flight was going in about 1 hour and that I needed to reach check-in.
He asked for my flight details and put me into a priority lane. I congratulated myself for my assertiveness and deemed myself safe.
Until another staff member removed the group in front of me from the priority lane! She asked why I was here.
I explained. This time with a lot less confidence. In a weird and magical turn of events, I was allowed to stay – again – and make it through the line within minutes.
In life and in business, take up space for yourself. You have a right to be here, be seen and be supported. Stand up for yourself when you need help, and reach out. Being proactive in asking for help will be your magic trick to turn complicated situations around.
And by saying that, I acknowledge how incredibly challenging that is. This is why you don’t want your 100k ARR deal to be the first time when you have to stand up for yourself. Practice assertiveness on a small scale, so you can make it work for you when things matter.
Are you negotiating client contacts from a position of assertiveness? Are you able to be upfront when you can’t meet a deadline or deliverable?
If you can master the ability to express your needs (without trouncing the other ones) then your sales will continue to grow, client relationships strengthen, and your business will gift you the freedom that you strive for.
4. Make Friends – Rescued By A Stunning Woman Amidst The Taxi Hustler Madness.
By now, you might have guessed it. Of course, my bag was not at baggage claim after I saved so much time in immigration. I wasted the rest of my time waiting around with nothing that I could do. I just kept staring at the clock and saw minutes run by.
My bad was one of the last ones to make it out to belt 5.
When I finally left the baggage belt and customs, I had reached the time when check-in was meant to close. I could have already lost my connecting flight at that very moment, and I didn’t even know where the domestic terminal and airlines were located yet.
I somehow was not ready to give up yet. It was now or never. So, I decided to run with a huge black backpack on my bag and my computer bag on my chest.
I ran out that door and saw a sign to the domestic terminal to the left. I followed it and found myself amidst the taxi hustlers. Several guys approached me and tried to negotiate a taxi deal.
Oh no! I looked around and had no idea which way to go.
Next to me, a beautiful black woman with a tight colorful dress and a huge rose suitcase got approached by a taxi hustler as well. She was stunning, confident and seemed way out of my league in my stressed state and sweaty pyjama outfit.
I heard her use the words “domestic terminal” and “Sansa airline.” This is where I was meant to go! And I did something that I would normally never dare to do:
Within seconds, I ran over and sprung into the conversation “That is where I am going, too”. My hope was that we could share a cab and save some costs.
To my surprise, she answered immediately “Great, let’s walk together.”
We left the taxi guy, and she thanked me for jumping in because he was bothering her. Saved a sister, and now this sister saved me. She knew where the terminal was because she was a regular at this airport.
Whilst we were almost running, I explained that I was late, that I was from Germany and she told me that her mother had been in the military and had been stationed in Erlangen, Germany, before. She was still stunning, still beautiful and as it turns out incredibly kind and deeply human. I trusted her on the spot.
In the end, the domestic terminal was right around the corner. Even though I probably would have not found it. My new friend had saved me.
In life and in business, even though you want to be prepared to do it by yourself, making friends is what will allow you to ultimately succeed.
Your friends, colleagues and connections will share ideas, offer guidance and more importantly, share their knowledge about the things that you don’t know. I am friends with countless SEOs and digital marketing agencies. A smaller mind would consider them my competitors, to me they are the backbone of my success.
Keep an open heart. Stay human and kind, even in the most stressful situations. Because friends and acquaintances will have your back.
5. Keep Driving Even While the Wheels Are Falling Off.
My new friend and I entered the domestic terminal. Three counters for Sansa Airlines, and only one couple waiting in front of me.
At this point, I am a few minutes after check-in has closed, but I am expecting the laid-back attitude of Costa Rica to kick in. Pura vida.
Meeting my new friend gave me my confidence back. Plus, she confirmed that no one would care if I was late. I knew that I had made it and I was proud of myself for pushing through the adversity that was this layover.
I step to the counter and here is the thing: I have no boarding pass or booking confirmation for this flight.
While researching how to get to Nosara, I figured that I could pay 250 USD for a private taxi, wait and leave by bus at 5.30 am the next morning, and take a 6-hour bus ride — or book a domestic flight.
I had learned about the flight on Tripadvisor but was not able to find the flight on Skyscanner. Furthermore, the booking system of Sansa Airlines had always crashed on me, and I could not book directly.
In the end, I found a Costa Rican travel agency, sent them my details via Facebook and had paid via a link online. All I received was a PDF from the travel agency saying that my booking was confirmed — but no official paperwork from the airline.
For my German mind, this is hard to process and trust, but since I knew this is how things run in many places of the world, I was certain that my plane was booked. Luckily, I had learnt to handle this kind of uncertainty in the past.
I handed in my passport. He did not even comment on me being late, and he handed me my boarding pass.
It was a reusable, laminated piece of blue plastic that said “Nosara Boarding Pass 1.” No gate, no flight time, no code scan. It dawned on me that this would be a very small plane.
My friend and I stepped through security and saw three tiny airplanes.
I guess I should have seen this coming.
My domestic flight was in a 12-seat, propeller machine.
After the flight has not been listed on any major platforms and I paid a travel agent via Facebook, this really should have not been a surprise to me. But it was. My new friend was laughing and jokingly teasing me – she had known it all along.
What is the “I guess I should have seen this coming” in business?
Sometimes, we have to set our dreams and preconceived notions aside to realize that reality has been staring us in the face all along.
You can force yourself to see a swan in the duck. But if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.
6. Make It Work – Smashing The Square Peg Into the Round Hole and Getting Paid For It.
I am not going to lie: The thought of flying on an extremely small airplane like this made me uncomfortable. As said: I am a frequent yet anxious flyer.
That moment in every flight, a few minutes after take-off, when the engines reduce the sound and the airplane goes from upward to horizontal always makes me freak out. I am still wondering if we will nose-drive right back into the earth – every – single – time.
Before my tiny airplane flight, I went to the bathroom to take off my extra layers of clothes from the freezing cold KLM flight. I took them off because I know that travel nausea often comes with heat waves for me. I bought a bottle of cold water and decided to not have any snacks or food. I was back in the “Let’s make this work mode”, I was not going to give up.
They called our names, I said goodbye to my friend, we walked outside and climbed into the airplane. I could not even stand up, and we had to squeeze ourselves through a tiny aisle to sit down. I took an individual seat to the left, and thought that I still had a plastic bag from my liquids that I could use in case I needed to throw up.
When the plane took off, it was super loud and pretty shaky. I closed my eyes and focused on my breath. Long out-breaths to calm my nervous system. Even longer breaths, when there were little bumps and my stomach jumped up.
To my surprise, I realized that it was noisy as hell but the plane was super stable. I opened my eyes and the experience of flying was much more immediate than it has ever been in a big machine.
Two rows in front of me were the two captains, no cockpit. I could see all their dashboards, knobs and levers. I looked out of the window, and Costa Rica unfolded beautifully and green underneath me. It was breathtaking.
And somehow, I was calm. Even happy. I made it. I spent two hours pushing through my insecurities, making it happen and conquering my fears. And here I was enjoying a unique experience.
This 45-minute flight would save me 6 hours on the bus and a night in an airport hotel. In less than 1.5 hours I would be in my hotel, the Green Sanctuary, enjoying the jungle and the beach.
In life and business, we are invited to make it work with what is present.
If you want your startup to succeed, problem-solve, iterate, make the unexpected work for you and transcend your fears. There is no such thing as the one path that will smoothly lead to success.
There will be strange turns of events, and challenges, but if you have a Plan B, stand up for yourself and make some friends on the way, then you, too, can make your startup work. Business is more nuanced than a business plan. These seemingly softer or more emotional skills can make or break you.
And on the other end of this journey, this is a work week that I will spend on the beach in Costa Rica. The weather is beautiful and sunny. The beach is empty and clean. There are as many coconuts, juices and smoothies from tropical fruits as you want. I work a few productive hours per day and get to enjoy this magical place for the rest of it.
All of this would not be the case, I had not practiced to transcend my fear, be a stronger person and have fun whilst doing so.
Now, all that is left for me to do is press publish on this post and enjoy the paradise.